The World’s Cheapest Destinations

Ashley Steel's picture

You might not think that “how to travel for cheap” and “how to travel with kids” have much in common. Think again! I just read Tim Leffel’s The World’s Cheapest Destinations: 21 Countries where Your Travel Money is Worth a Fortune - and I was mesmerized. His travel philosophy struck home right away.  For example, “If you build in the opportunity for surprise, your travels will be far more interesting.” I’m not sure why folks feel the need to over plan their vacations but they do … and those same folks are missing out, whether they have kids or not. 


The World's cheapest destinations


When you try to save money traveling or when you bring along young companions, you push yourself off the beaten path and open up the door to spontaneity. The fabulous value of travel underlies the whole book.  It’s not too expensive if you do it right. Tim points out that how we spend our money tells the world a lot about who we are: “If you can’t afford to travel, take a hard look at where the rest of your money is going and decide what’s important.”  Travel and cultural education are important. We don’t have a new couch, a nice car, or fancy clothes - but we see the world. And the 4th edition of Tim’s book has totally inspired us to travel even more by visiting cheaper places.


Even if you don't think your family is traveling soon, you'll enjoy reading this engaging book. It might make you travel somewhere exotic sooner than you think! The book's main purpose is to provide travelers with budget details for 21 countries where travel is cheap. Once there, Tim encourages folks to seek out local food, be adventurous while avoiding the major risks, and move at a slower pace. Since the first edition of his book, he started traveling with a child, so he now includes clever tips for finding family lodging and great anecdotes about traveling with his daughter.


The respect for other cultures that we hope all travelers share shines through every page. He reminds readers that one should bargain, but with respect.  You may be haggling over pennies - but the vendor may be haggling over dinner for his family that night. Bits of cultural etiquette are sprinkled throughout.  He spends more energy on backpacker hangouts than I would. Khao San Road, for example, gives me the willies and has nearly nothing to do with Thailand except its location. But, of course, this was originally a book for backpackers so it wouldn’t be complete without describing these hotspots. It’s still a book for backpackers, but it’s also a great resource for all sorts of other travelers too, including families.  The book lists the best souvenirs, whether or not to buy beer, and what expensive tourist attractions should not be missed. Entrance to Angkor Wat is expensive but don’t be so cheap that you miss out.


Our family at castle ruins in Slovakia, one of the cheap European destinations recommended in the book.

Our family at castle ruins in Slovakia, one of the cheap European destinations recommended in the book.


Strangely, I found the details about luxury options entrancing. Really? You can stay at a 5-star hotel in Bangkok for $300/day. There is a "sumptuous" train from Bangkok to Singapore for $2200? Cool! We won’t be doing that but it’s fascinating. And there are fantastic budget ideas - $200 a month for a restored mansion in Granada?


My favorite part of the book is the "What can you get for a buck or less?" section at the end of each country chapter. Tim manages to convey something about the culture with his selection of super cheap offerings - perhaps his own brand of a Harper's Index? I skipped ahead and read them all. I couldn't stop myself.


I contacted Tim to get some specific advice about traveling as a family on the cheap. He was traveling when I first contacted him, but I finally caught him and here’s what he had to say:

Before you had kids, you traveled a lot! How did you expect that kids would change your travel patterns? Did your travel patterns really change after you had kids - and how did they change?

I just have one child, now 12, and the desire to keep traveling is part of the reason I only have one. I did have to scale back a lot for a while and just do visits to relatives, but we that only lasted a few years. I've taken her on family trips to Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Canada, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Not to mention places in the U.S. But sometimes my wife and I have dropped her off at grandma's and taken off somewhere on our own. And of course I travel solo a good bit for work, researching articles. You have to travel differently with kids, as you know, but beyond the toddler years it gets much easier.


How old was your daughter when you took her on her first international trip?  Where did you go?

We got her a passport when she was three and we went to the Yucatan, in Mexico. All-inclusive in Cancun, but then regular travel in Merida. We ended up buying a little beach house near there and have gone back there many times since.


Your book is packed with cheap travel trips for specific destinations. Could you share a couple of generic, cheap travel tips for families? 

First, go to a cheap destination and your travels will be much more comfortable, with much less stress. You can get a suite or connecting rooms instead of cramming into a double. Ground transportation---including taxis---is a bargain. Feeding a family costs $10 instead of the $100 it may be in Europe. Otherwise, make use of coupons, Groupons, and whatever other kind of deals you can get your hands on, especially in the U.S. And seek out free activities, playgrounds, and entertainment. Every city has loads of them no matter where you go. Move from place to place slowly and don't over-schedule!


Sculpture from Hungary, another cheap European destination recommended in the book, The World’s Cheapest Destinations

Sculpture from Hungary, another cheap European destination recommended in the book, The World’s Cheapest Destinations


Once they've picked a destination, what are the most important things families can do to save money when traveling?

Besides the above, seek out non-chain, locally owned hotels. Guidebooks are a good place to start, as are regional booking sites like EuroCheapo and (for Asia). If you're coming up empty, check a good guidebook or borrow a whole series of them from the library.


We love traveling with our kids.  What are some of the best or most rewarding experiences you've had traveling with your daughter?

Seeing Tikal with her in Guatemala, Uxmal in Mexico, and Ankor Wat with her in Cambodia would have to be near the top. We've also lived in Guanajuato for a year and will return there for two soon. Taking the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Banff was pretty darn cool, though I think my wife and I appreciated it more than she did. She liked sleeping on an overnight train in Vietnam a lot more. Traveling bunk beds!


Where does your daughter want to visit next and why?

She says she wants to go to Paris, but I think it's just because she has seen it in movies and on Disney Channel shows a lot!



Tim has also written Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune: The Contrarian Traveler’s Guide to Getting More for Less and Traveler’s Tool Kit: Mexico and Central America as well as TRAVEL WRITING 2.0: Earning Money from your Travels in the New Media Landscape.  He also writes and The World’s Cheapest Destinations: 21 Countries Where Your Dollars Are Worth a Fortune can be found online, including at The book sells for $15.95 on Amazon and the Kindle Edition is $8.98.  Buy it! Read it!  Take piles of notes in the margins just like we did! And, get inspired to travel to every single one of those 21 countries with your kids!




Book review by Ashley Steel, Author of Family on the Loose: The Art of Traveling with Kids and Wandering Educator’s Traveling with Kids Editor.  She also has her own blog on family travel at