Travel Destinations Where Your Dollar Will Go the Farthest
Smart Money
Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Feb 14, 2019

Are you itching to travel this year, but watching the wallet? There are plenty of places domestically and abroad where you can see new places without going into debt. These are destinations with lots of free or low-cost things to do, and they’re easy to get around. Reasonable food options abound. Here are four options to put on your bucket list:

Merida, Mexico

This Yucatan capital attracts those more interested in Mexican culture than the beach. Don’t miss a trip to the Lucas de Galvéz market, where locals stock up on fruits, vegetables, spices and housewares. Inside you can get a torta, a cochinita pibil (specialty pork) sandwich for a dollar. Just outside the market is the City Museum, no cost to enter, but providing an excellent history of the town. For more of that history, show up for a free 90-minute walking tour provided by the tourist office. It takes you around the buildings surrounding the Plaza Grande, the main square. They’re also free to enter, so once you have your bearings, you can go back and explore on your own. Saturday nights, crowds gather for a poc ta poc demonstration, the traditional Mayan ball game. And on Sundays, the main square, Plaza Grande, hosts a market with food stalls, music and crafts, a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

Chang Mai, Thailand

It’s hard to choose a city in Thailand that provides the best bang for the buck. You really can’t go wrong in any of them, whether you want time on the beach, a city experience or a mountain trek. Chang Mai is a smaller city than bustling Bangkok. It’s known for Doi Suthep, with its golden Chedi, or temple crown, up on a lush mountain. The Old City has a fun and crowded night market, and by day you can visit Wat Chedi Luang, once home to the famed Emerald Buddha. In Chang Mai, like in other Thai cities, grab a delicious meal – better than many restaurants – by eating street food. Choose a busy vendor and have equivalent of a dollar two handy, in Thai currency. And don’t miss getting a Thai massage, which can be inexpensive depending on where you go. This is unlike the Swedish massage. The Thai ladies do yoga to you, while you lie clothed on a floor mat, in a room with other people.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

As the Constitution’s birthplace, the City of Brotherly Love has plenty of American history at your fingertips. Walk the cobblestone streets in the historic part of Center City, and get a free tour of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Choose walking routes through Fairmount Park or the Italian South Philly streets. Penn’s Landing, on the waterfront, has seasonal activities, from free yoga classes and dance lessons, to low-cost outdoor ice skating (bring your own skates and admission is $4!) to al fresco concerts and food stands. Run up the steps like Rocky, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. When you’re hungry, head to Reading Terminal Market, with dozens of vendors selling everything from cheesesteaks to Pennsylvania Dutch doughnuts.

New Orleans, Louisiana

It may feel like you’re in a foreign country, even if you’re just in Louisiana. Mardi Gras is a season, not just a weekend, running January through March. That means parades a plenty – at no cost to you. Hop on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar – it’s only $1.25 a ride, and it takes you through Garden District, where you’ll ogle the mansions, or on the Canal Street line, where you can see the famed cemeteries, where burials are above ground. The streetcar driver may even give an informal tour as you ride. Hitch a free ride on the Algiers Ferry. It’s a short ride on the Mississippi River, from the French Quarter to the Algiers neighborhood. There are low priced options to get to any of these destinations, depending on your location and flexibility. To keep costs low, consider lodging outside the town center, whether it’s a hostel, a budget hotel, or privately rented rooms or apartments. Plus, there’s always couch surfing – a great way to meet locals and get to know a neighborhood. Just repay the favor when your friends’ friends come to town.

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