It’s now so common to open Instagram or browse the internet and see a bunch of beautiful pictures of rich and luxurious destinations from across the globe. Naturally, as budget conscious travelers, we often come to think that destinations like these are entirely out of our modest budget. But are they?
Believe it or not, every single luxury destination in the world has a more accessible and budget-friendly side.
I’m not rich, by any means, but I’ve managed to visit countries famous for their luxury travel styles –like the Maldives, the United Arab Emirates, Seychelles, and others– for just a fraction of what high-end travelers pay, and still get to enjoy most of the best experiences each destination offers.
The trick lies in looking for local oriented alternatives and being proactive with your travel planning by searching online, asking in forums, and even asking locals for their best recommendations once you’re there.
Here I’m going to show you seven budget alternatives to some of the most famous luxury destinations in the world.
Home of the current tallest building in the world –the Burj Khalifa– and several lavish projects that only this city can pull off; Dubai is no stranger to luxury, and it is not afraid to show it. But still, Dubai conserves its more modest side, which is more interesting than you think.
Instead of staying along the newer skyscraper-filled strip with its over-the-top hotels, stay in the old part of town – by Deira, Bur Dubai, and Al Hamriyaa. These areas are full of budget hotels and hundreds of restaurants that cater to locals – thus low in prices. Visit the souks and bazaars, where the real life of the city is. Taxis are cheap in Dubai, and the metro connects most of the important sights in the city, so you can move around with ease, and without spending much.
Hunt for tours in the old town, as tourist shops there are more open to bargaining the price. So, make sure you have good bargaining skills!
This archipelago is synonymous with clear waters and white sandy beaches, not to mention the expensive over-water bungalows. For decades, Maldives was a destination exclusive to high-end travelers, but not anymore. While it still caters to luxury travelers, budget tourism has consistently grown over the past few years.
Instead of staying in a resort or over-water bungalow, stay in traditional guesthouses and hotels in Hulhumale, Maafushi, Guraidhoo, and Male – among other inhabited islands. Renting an Airbnb is also another great budget option to reach other atolls for a fraction of the resort price. (If you haven’t tried Airbnb yet, I recommend it. With this link you get $40 off your first booking).
If you want a taste of the luxury side of the Maldives, visit the resorts on a one-day pass to see the over-water bungalows, relax at their beaches and pools, and enjoy their watersports. This will cost you a fraction of the price of staying there for the night. Once in The Maldives, you can ask your hotel or a tour agency to recommend the most accessible resorts with day passes. I share more budget tips for the Maldives in this post.
Surrounded by the blue waters of the Aegean, this rugged beauty is famous for its sunsets, exquisite wine, and its beautiful white and blue Mediterranean architecture. With its snow-white cubist villas and candlelit dinners, Santorini has served as the perfect luxury destination in the Mediterranean.
But, can you enjoy the same for less? Sure! Instead of staying in the villas in Oia, rent a villa or an apartment in Thira. You can find them for as low as 20 Euros a night with some bargaining. Sites like HotelsCombined are full of budget-friendly villas all over Santorini.
Thira is small enough to walk all around it, and a bus to Oia (to see its world-famous sunset) is easy to catch and cheap. Enjoy the cheap street eats like gyros and meat skewers, among other local dishes. They are delicious!
New York City
Being the financial capital of the US, luxury can be easily perceived all over New York City. Walk along Fifth Avenue, Soho, and the Financial District, and you’ll see the true meaning of extravagance with the over the top burgers with gold flakes, the indulging spas, exclusive restaurants and clubs, and the luxurious penthouses and rooftop bars with the best skyline views. It seems like New York City is just for the rich and famous, but the reality is that this city is much more inclusive.
New York City also caters for the budget traveler with alternatives like hostels, apartment sublets, and budget hotels. Instead of staying in Midtown Manhattan, why not stay in areas like Chinatown, Harlem and Hamilton Heights.
Alternatively, head to Brooklyn where you can find even cheaper accommodation along Williamsburg, Prospect Heights, and sometimes in Park Slope. For cheap food, New York City is full of food trucks and cheap international restaurants, especially on the Lower East Side and around college areas. These are places where students go to eat and drink cheap! If you love pizza, you can’t beat a cheap meal with the famous $1 pizza slices found all over the city.
This small enclave located off Mainland China has established itself as a “must visit” luxury destination. In the last few decades, Macau has transformed itself into a modern gaming getaway without losing its Portuguese colonial historical charm. Macau’s luxury travel can be seen through its casino hotels, like the Venetian, its stunning top-end hotels and resorts along the beach, and even a unique hotel in a 17th-century Portuguese fort.
While it might be Asia’s version of Las Vegas, Macau also has a fascinating history that can be experienced without a high budget. Instead of staying on the island side of Macau, where most of the casinos and resorts are located, head to the mainland part of the country to dip into its colonial history. Cobbled stone streets, fortresses, ancient temples, and churches are reminders of its unique Portuguese/Chinese past. This area is also great for budget hotels and cheap eats that blend the best of Portuguese and Cantonese meals. Macau has an excellent bus network, so going anywhere in the country is easy, affordable, and safe.
As one of Asia’s most attractive cities, Hong Kong has established itself in the forefront of luxury destinations. Scenic drives along the coastline, showcases of art and design, and private appointments with leading antique shops and designers are some of the things luxury travelers love to do in Hong Kong.
Skip that. Instead of staying in Hong Kong Island, head over to Kowloon, where modestly priced hotels can be found (even if they are the size of a shoe box). Head to the cha chaan tengs for cheap food, which are cafes and restaurants known for their eclectic and affordable menus. They are located all around the country, and they serve Hong Kong-style western food.
Take a public bus to Victoria Peak and walk the paths around the summit. The skyline view from up there is magnificent! Also, visit the waterfront at night along Kowloon’s side to see the free skyline spectacle of Hong Kong Island skyscrapers. It starts every night at 8:00 pm.
Famous for being an over-the-top wedding destination, Seychelles is popular among honeymooners and wedding parties looking to splurge on their special occasion. For me, though, Seychelles stands as one of my favorite beach destinations in the world that didn’t break my pocket!
For cheap accommodation, I recommend using Airbnb if you’re looking for a guesthouse vibe, and HotelsCombined if you’re looking for resort deals. For cheap eats, try their local “creole-like” food from their take-out shacks. They are not only cheap, but they are so delicious too!
Moving around is also easy. While I recommend renting a car, should your budget not allow that, you can move across the islands with their excellent bus service. In islands like La Digue, which is pretty small, you can just rent a bike to visit anywhere on the island. Intra islands flights and ferries can also be cheap if you book them ahead of time. The truth is that Seychelles is more accessible than most people think.
And, last but not least, relax and enjoy all of their beaches, which are gorgeous and free! Even the beaches reserved for resorts are free to visit if you call the resort ahead of time and schedule a time to visit. I recommend doing this with Anse Georgette beach. Call the Constance Lemuria Resort and tell them you want to schedule a visit to the beach. You won’t regret it!
Ready to enjoy these luxurious destinations on a budget?