So the gloom of the recession is on us. The press is suggesting a global meltdown. The good news is that the dollar is actually staging a staggering recovery and international currencies are losing value vs. the dollar. Time magazine published a good article on the best places to travel during the recession. It lists Iceland, Canada, Australia, Great Britian, and South Korea. All of who’s currency has dropped against the dollar, especially Iceland (down 51% vs. the dollar!). How different things are from a year ago when the Canadian dollar was actually valued higher than the US dollar.
I’m always an advocate of the cheap out of the way destinations, off the beaten track, away from the crowds. All through Central America, India, Southeast Asia, and in parts of South America, you can travel for $20/day. Here a post on the places to learn to surf for $20/day and how to travel in Southeast Asia for $20/day. Happy travels!
You’re hip savy adventurous traveler trying to stay ahead of the pack. You’ve been through Southeast Asia, hit the full moon party before the movie the Beach came out, and partied on the beaches of Bali before you’re friends decided it was the honeymoon destination du jour. Your bookshelf has a dozen beaten copies of the Lonely Planet. Now you can’t seem to stay ahead of the New York Times travel section. The NYT travel section recently published an article on staying ahead of the crowd. What to do?
There’s obvious advantages to getting to places before the rest of the world does. It’s incredible and rare to find a place undiscovered by the hordes. And it’s easy to see why people all flock to the same popular destinations. There’s safety in numbers. If you get only 3 weeks off a year from work (like us Americans) then you don’t want to roll the dice on some backwater unheard of travel destination. You’d rather go with somewhere safe, somewhere you’ve heard of, but somewhere that also sounds exoctic. So you end up on the beaches of Phuket or Rio. And after a few days, you realize that there’s more exotic, exciting, and out of the way destinations in Nevada than Phuket or Hanoi or Antigua.
Exploring is a mindset, you can find out of the way places in California or close by (Baja), you don’t need to fly around the world. If you have that mindset then you’ll be able to find the these spots anywhere. All it takes is an adventurous attitude and a realization that you don’t have to take the packaged tour, you don’t have to follow the Lonely Planet Guide (not so Lonely anymore).
Costa Rica blew me away because of no matter how traveled the place seemed to be, everyone ended up in the same dozen or so destinations. It’s one of the easiest, safest countries to rent a car and run off and explore. I ended up at Mal Pais/Santa Teresa after a week of driving up and down the entire coast, and found one of my favorite places I’ve been. It’s not completely off the beaten track, but the New York Times has yet to write an article on the remarkable strech of beach home to great surf, a few tucked away yoga studios, and some incredible food.
The amazing thing about it, is that there are entire countries that area relatively untouched. Guatemala, Nicaragua, Columbia, among others are known in backpacking circuits, but how often have you had friends venture off to these places.
Here are a few other gems from my travels:
- El Tunco, Mexico (a sleepy fishing village north of Zihuatanejo)
- the entire peninsula of Baja, Mexico (all 1250 miles of it!)
- Roatan, Honduras (some of the most incredible diving I’ve experienced)
- India (get there before they build highways)
- Chang Mai, Thailand and surrounding areas
- Florianopolis, Brazil
- San Marcos, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.
I’ve tried to teach dozens of friends over the last few years. I’ll take them out in small surf, show them a few things, they get the hang of it, buy and board and never use it again. The same barrier seems to hit everyone: the surf is too crowded. My advice to everyone has been to head off somewhere tropical and surf everyday for a week. You just won’t get better at something, especially something like surfing, going once a month. It’s a way to guarantee you won’t really enjoy the sport. Also, paying an instructor in the US is going to be $80-100/hour for individual instruction! Add the price of renting a board and wetsuit and it’s $150 or more a session.
Flying off somewhere tropical and spending a week on the beach is a lot cheaper than you’d think. Aside from the cost of a flight, staying in a cheap beach hostel can cost as litte as $5/night. More reasonable accomodations can be $10-20 night in the right places. Board rentals are around $50 a week and you can always find local surfers willing to give instruction for $10-20/hour (probably free if you’re a girl). The waves are likely to be less crowded depending on where you head (beach breaks are ideal at first because they spread the crowd out), and you’ll be in warm water surfing and drinking cerveza on the beach after each session. You’ll fall in love with surfing and get good enough to be able to navigate the line-ups when you get back home.
Here’s a list of the cheapest places to go to learn to surf (also check our previous post on the best places to learn to surf). The surf season is from March until September, but this is when the surf is biggest and can often be far to big for beginners. Better bet is to go during the surf off-season when the waves will be smaller and the line-ups will be empty.
El Tunco, El Salvador – Small surfing village outside of La Libertad, El Salvador. Walking distance from one of the best waves in the area: El Sunzal, a gentle long right, ideal for beginners. El Salvador has become much safer than in the 90s. El Tunco is nothing more than a couple guests houses, restaurants, internet cafe and a few families living there. Accomodations range from $5/night to $25 for a private room with AC and a pool. For more information on traveling and surfing in El Salvador, check out the surf travel guide for El Salvador at SurfThereNow.com.
San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua – San Juan Del Sur is a beautiful, sleepy fishing village in Southern Nicaragua not far from the border with Costa Rica. Although the town itself doesn’t have surf, you can take a daily shuttle out to Playa Maderas where there’s playful surf all year long. It’s cheap to stay in SJDS and there’s multiple options starting at $8/night for the cheapest accomodations. There’s plenty to do, restaurants and bars as well. If you want to graudate to a more intermediate spot and stay right on the beach, then you’re best bet is to head up the coast a hour and stay at Playa Colorado’s.
Santa Teresa/Mal Pais, Costa Rica – The adjoining towns of Santa Teresa and Mal Pais are on the southern tip of the Guanacaste Pennisula on the Pacific in Northern Costa Rica. The towns are beautiful and hardly developed, offering just enough options to eat, drink, sleep, and surf well. The beach is stunning and pristine and goes on for miles offering miles of empty surf. Many first timers to Costa Rica head to the only place they’re head of: Tamarindo. Tamarindo is over-developed and the waves are crowded. Mal Pais is just the opposite. Accomodations here start at $10/night, not as cheap as surrounding Central American countries but still plenty cheap. There’s waterfalls and a national park close by to check out as well.
Bali – Bali is everything budget travel should be: incredible scenary, beautiful beaches, exotic culture, welcoming locals, and cheap, very cheap. Although flight will cost more than destinations in Central America, you would be surprised at how little it costs to get by in Bali. $5-8 for the cheapest accomodations. Bali has become a hot spot in recent years and in addition to the beaches and culture, it has a thriving nightlife, music, and art scene. It also boasts some of the best surfbreaks in the world on the Bukit Pennisula. Bali get good surf year round, with the best swells arriving from March to September. Kuta Beach is a long beach with smaller surf, ideal for learning. You can party all night and walk out to the surf at sunrise. For more on Bali, see the surf travel guide on Bali at SurfThereNow.com.
I just had a friend email me on a daily budget for traveling. It depends a lot on the area you’re headed to, but in my travel experiences Central America and Southeast Asia ranked the cheapest. Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, among other destinations can all be done on $20/day if you’re really willing to push the budget (don’t expect AC or your own room). Some places like Cambodia could be pulled off for even cheaper. I stayed for a night in Phnom Pehn for $8 for a clean private room with AC and bathroom, dorm room at the place were $2/night!!! Central America was cheap but not this cheap.
I generally budgeted about $30/day in Central America and Southeast Asia and would occasionally splurge for a private room and/or AC. Most places this worked pretty well, but I’d sometimes end up with some dingy options and then just upgrade to a hotel nearby. Some of the cheapest places I traveled to were Cambodia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras. It goes without saying that the more touristy and more well established a destination (Costa Rica, Thailand, etc) the more expensive they’ll be.
Mint has a good blog post on some of the areas in Southeast Asia that are the cheapest.