For more than a decade, my wife and I traveled around the world with only our backpacks and our sense of adventure. We visited big cities, small towns, and jungle huts in the middle of nowhere. Needless to say, the places we stayed the longest were often the cheapest ones we could find.

During that period of extended travel, we found budget destinations everywhere we went. It wasn’t hard either. Between our trusty guidebooks (we traveled in the era before smartphones) and the advice of fellow travelers, we always had a hot tip for a cheap place to stay. Plus, since we spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia, we also got to take advantage of the budget airlines we could book on FlightHub.

With that intro out of the way, here are 5 of the cheapest and most awesome places we stayed around the world.

A wall of homes in the McLeod Ganj skyline
A wall of homes in the McLeod Ganj skyline

1. Bhagsu, India

I could probably write an entire list of just cheap places to visit in India. It’s the most affordable place I’ve ever traveled. This was even true in the town of Bhagsu – which is basically next door to where the Dalai Lama lives. You would think that for a town of this importance, it would be super expensive. But we were getting luxurious guesthouse rooms for $8/night.

The entire place has a very local vibe. Even though Bhagsu is a popular destination on the hippie circuit, it still has a very Indian vibe to it. The Israeli restaurant is across the street from a Shiva temple, which is a few blocks from the Iyengar Yoga Institute. It’s a must-visit.

Inside the Shiva Temple in Bhagsu, India
Me, sliding out of the mouth of a snake in the Bhagsu Shiva Temple

2. Bagan, Myanmar

I love photographing ruins and ancient cities. Seeing the details through my lens helps me appreciate all the small things that I might otherwise have missed. At the same time, I sometimes look back at my experience in these places and wonder how much I missed by not looking up from my camera. Was photography making me more present – or less.

Bagan, Burma, was a longtime staple of my travel bucket list – and the reality exceeded my expectations. For four days, I rode an electric bike around a landscape dotted with the ruins of 4,000 ancient buildings. I awoke for sunrise, zipped around all day, waited for the light to be perfect, and even had a private sunrise photo session with a monk. Oh, and then there was the hot air balloon ride over the landscape of temples, stupas, wats, dagobas, and more.

A monk reading at sunrise in Bagan: the Land of a Thousand Temples

3. Hampi, India

India is full of small towns that hippies and backpackers flock to and seem to get sucked into and stuck in. As a result, these feel more like Western communities than a local town. Sure, the shops are run by locals and there is never any doubt that you are in India, but at the same time you are surrounded by white people and everything is catered to them. Restaurants serve more international food than local fare and even the English sounds like that of the travelers rather than the normal Indian version.

When we visited Hampi in 2009, it set the record for the “cheapest hotel room of our travels.” For a mere $1/night, we got a paper-thin mattress on a cement slab – covered by a mosquito net. We didn’t stay long, but that’s because Carrie got sick and we moved to a more comfortable place (for a whopping $3/night).

Anyway, Hampi is probably way more expensive now, a decade later, but it’s still gotta be way cheap by Western standards.

The rice fields of Hampi, India, as seen from the Anegondi Hanuman Monkey Temple
The rice fields of Hampi, India, as seen from the Anegondi Hanuman Monkey Temple

4. Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador

OK – South America is admittedly more expensive than India or Southeast Asia. But, it’s still quite cheap compared to prices here in America. For instance, in Baños, we paid $21 for a nice private room in a guesthouse. When we wanted to eat, a filling meal cost around $5. And fresh fruit smoothies were about $2. Mmmm… I’m getting hungry.

As for Baños, the town is surrounded by amazing nature and tourism infrastructure that gives you plenty of ways to interact with that nature. Want to take the backpacks, ride a bike, zipline into a canyon, hike to a waterfall, and get a ride back in a pickup truck? That’s one day’s fun. Then, there are the rafting adventures, nearby hikes, and plenty of chill spots to kick back and watch the world go by. Oh, and they have a fondue restaurant!

Bungee jumping off a bridge in Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador

5. Copacabana, Bolivia

At some point in our travels, Carrie and I stopped going for those $3 hobbles and started treating ourselves to nice hotels that cost a bit more. In Copacabana, we had our biggest splurge. $50/night for this insane room at La Cupula with a hot tub, 360 panoramic windows on the roof, a fireplace, and a sick view of Lake Titicaca.

Outside of the hotel was a vibrant city, filled with touristy things to do and plenty of places to relax with the locals. One of my favorite memories was going for a 15-mile hike out of town and through the villages that surround it. Then, of course, having to hitchhike our way back into town.

Years after our visit there, an old friend of mine was going to Bolivia and asking for recommendations. Long story short, she stayed in the same room!

Inside our luxary holiday suite at the Hotel la Cúpula
Inside our luxary holiday suite at the Hotel la Cúpula
Copacabana has the most spectacular sunsets.
Copacabana has the most spectacular sunsets.


While I’ve had the travel bug for most of my life (thanks, mom and dad), it really kicked into overdrive in 2005. That’s when I sold my stuff, moved out of Washington, DC, and lived with Carrie in a small village in Nicaragua called Murra. She was a Peace Corps volunteer at the time, and I was smitten.

Since I was there for seven months, there were lots of opportunities to travel around the country – usually by school bus. The food vendors that would get on these buses were reason enough to rude the bumpy roads. Freshly fried dough things, cheese and tortillas, empanadas, mmmm. Sorry, I got distracted by food again.

Anyway, Nicaragua is a super amazing country and I really look forward to the next time I visit

Estile Express Murra School Bus Chicken Bus Nicaragua
The Estelli Express, a refurbished American schoolbus, is the best way to get in and out of Murra. Here, it’s waiting for passengers during a town celebration.