So you're planning a solo trip on a budget for 2021.
We're not suggesting that you go right away but planning is a good idea. Before getting into our destinations for solo travelers on a budget for this year, I want to direct you to a few important posts.
- Before you get too far in your planning process read Travel Planning 2021: Essential Information to Protect You & Your Money
- Have you been sitting more than usual? Then this post is important even if the trip you're planning is not particularly demanding: Physical Training for Travel: Getting Fit for Demanding Trips.
- While you're waiting for your trip to actually happen follow some of the tips in What to Do When You Can’t Travel.
- If you're in your 20s and 30s, you're in our largest demographic of readers. Read this.
- If you're in our second largest demographic, read Solo Travel Over 50: Reasons, Benefits, Destinations & Safety.
Below is our shortlist of great destinations for solo travelers on a budget in 2021. Now, I have to admit, it's the same list as last year since who could have acted on our suggestions last year? However, I have updated the numbers to give you a more current sense of the cost.
To come up with our budget lists, we have reviewed recommendations from other publications and considered their analysis, consulted fellow travelers, including members of the Solo Travel Society, and put it all through a solo travel filter to come up with our top 5 budget destinations each year. This year, there is one destination in each of Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America.
It should be noted that our suggestions are based primarily on research. We haven’t visited all these destinations so they are not personal endorsements.
Here’s how the list was determined.
- Affordability. Naturally, the affordability of a destination depends upon your home currency. We’re based in Canada and our currency is low against just about every other western currency right now. However, most of the information below is given in US dollars unless it says otherwise as most of us know our exchange rates in relation to the US dollar.
- Cost of transportation. If the trip is short, the cost to get there is very important. If you’re planning a month or two in a destination, that cost is less significant as it will be prorated over a longer period of time.
- Safety. I’ve listed the US and Canadian government advice as of January 2020 for each destination. Most of the budget travel destination lists I've reviewed have not included this information. While it needs to be placed in context, we’ve decided to share it here. At the time this list was created, I chose destinations with a maximum rating of “exercise a high degree of caution.” Please read the section on understanding government ratings for more on what this means.
- Will it be interesting and fun? A great destination offers access to a new culture, fun things to do, or both. I’ve given you a very brief overview of both for each recommendation.
Check out our recommendations for budget destinations for solo travelers from previous years below. A number of them are still good bets.
Fundamentals for Finding a Budget Destination
Here are two fundamentals for finding a budget destination.
- Go where the crowds are not. Janice wrote about overtourism in How and Where to Travel to Avoid the Crowds. You'll save money if you don't travel to hotspots or choose to go in the shoulder or low season. It's basic supply and demand. The more tourists, the higher demand, the higher the prices are.
- Go to places that have endured hard times. Destinations that have endured financial or natural disasters such as hurricanes are usually less traveled and welcome tourist dollars. This pushes prices down and makes your tourist dollar all the more appreciated. It might be a rare chance to visit an overcrowded destination when it’s not crowded at all.
Understanding Government Travel Advice and Advisories
Due to the pandemic all safety ratings by the governments of Canada and the US are high as they are not advising to travel anywhere. For this reason, we have left the safety ratings as they were last year.
Governments create travel advice and advisory alerts for the sake of their citizens who are planning to travel to other countries. Both Canada and the US have a 4-tier rating system. While a country may receive one overall rating, specific areas within it may receive a different rating to indicate regionally specific concerns. These may be related to natural disasters, safety and security, health hazards, etc. This allows you to avoid areas that may pose a higher risk.
While the language varies slightly between the two countries, basically, the four levels are:
- Exercise normal security precautions. There is some inherent risk in any international travel, but there are no significant safety and security concerns here.
- Exercise a high degree of caution. There are identifiable safety and security concerns, or the safety and security situation could change with little notice. (To put this in perspective, Canada currently rates 96 countries as Level 2, and both countries rate the United Kingdom as Level 2.)
- Avoid non-essential travel. There are specific safety and security concerns that could put you at risk.
- Avoid all travel. There is an extreme risk to your personal safety and security.
Levels 1 and 2 are considered travel advice while levels 3 and 4 are considered travel advisories.
This distinction is important as there is a possibility that the validity of your travel insurance could be impacted if your country issues a travel advisory for the country to which you are traveling. Always read the fine print of your insurance policy and check your government’s advice before leaving home. You can easily find this by searching “government of (your home country) travel advice” then searching within that site for your destination country.
None of the destinations on this year's shortlist have travel advisories at time of writing.
The Shortlist of Destinations for Solo Travelers on a Budget 2021
Note: For consistency, all flight prices listed were found on Google Flights and depart from Toronto or New York during the last week of February with a return date two weeks later. Use your own home airport to see what you’d have to pay for flights. The room rates listed are for the same time period and were found on booking.com. All were checked during the week of this post’s publication. The hotels and hostels are not personal recommendations. They were chosen based on their price, review scores (minimum 8/10 customer ratings), and central location and are intended to give you an idea of what you can get for your money. Average prices for food and transportation in the destination were gleaned from Expatistan. Unless otherwise indicated, all prices are in US dollars.
Top Budget Destination for Solo Travelers Africa: Windhoek, Namibia
I have friends who have fallen so in love with Namibia that they return again and again and now lead tours there for friends and acquaintances.
When asked if Namibia would qualify as a safe, interesting, inexpensive (once you get there) destination for a solo traveler, Jan said, “Absolutely! It has been a democratic country for almost three decades. With high unemployment, there is petty crime in Windhoek and one should exercise caution after dark, take taxis, etc., as in any large city. The country is safe for driving holidays; has a good infrastructure, water as well as roads; and one can drink water from the faucet.”
Affordability: One US dollar will buy you about 11.70 Namibian Dollars. A basic lunchtime menu (including a drink) in the business district will cost approximately $13.00. A beer in a neighborhood pub will set you back roughly $2.25. A 5-mile taxi ride runs about $8.50.
Cost to get there: From Toronto, return flights start at C$1,247.00. From New York City, return flights start at US$1,074.00.
- US Government: Exercise normal precautions in Namibia.
- Canadian Government: Exercise a high degree of caution in Namibia due to the high level of crime.
Top Budget Destination Asia: Yerevan, Armenia
I have wanted to travel to Armenia for a very long time, ever since falling in love with the films of Atom Egoyan. Armenia has a lengthy, interesting history, incredible landscapes, and delicious cuisine – not to mention being home to the world’s oldest known winery.
Take a walking tour of the city to see and hear about the history, architecture, art and culture of Yerevan, including Republic Square, the Blue Mosque, the Opera House, the National Gallery and the History Museum of Armenia. Climb the stairs of the Cascade for sweeping views of the city. Picnic in Lover’s Park; tour the Ararat distillery and taste the famous brandy; visit the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute; take a day tour to Geghard to see the medieval monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site; and in warm weather, take a seat on an outdoor patio to enjoy the atmosphere and a delicious dinner.
Affordability: One US dollar will buy you about 470 Armenian Drams. A beer in a neighborhood pub will cost about $1.83. A 5-mile taxi ride will be roughly $3.00. A basic lunchtime menu (including a drink) in the business district will run about $3.87.
Here is a hotel for US$55.00, very close to the center, but set back from the main road, and including breakfast. Here is a hostel with a 9.8/10 rating for $8.00 in an 8-bed dorm or $16.00 for a private room.
Cost to get there: From Toronto, return flights start at C$1713.00. From New York City, return flights start at US$874.00.
- US Government: Exercise normal precautions in Armenia.
- Canadian Government: Exercise a high degree of caution in Armenia due to occasional demonstrations and protests.
- Both countries advise against travel to the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Top Budget Destination for Solo Travelers Europe: Tirana, Albania
Declared “The City Poised to Become Europe’s Next Affordable Creative Haven” by The New York Times, Tirana is the capital city of Albania. Art galleries and museums, including the intriguing House of Leaves; Ottoman, Fascist and Soviet-era architecture along with modern glass structures; the 289 hectare Grand Park; and bars and restaurants featuring a mixture of Greek, Turkish and Italian along with traditional Albanian cuisine are just some of the reasons to visit this fascinating city surrounded by castles, ruins, and Mount Dajti National Park.
Affordability: One US dollar will buy you about 101 Albanian Leke. A basic lunchtime menu (including a drink) in the business district will cost about $8.92. A cappuccino in an expat area, roughly $1.56. A monthly ticket for public transportation runs around $16.70.
Here is a boutique hotel for US$43.00, including breakfast, within walking distance of downtown. Here is a hostel for $12.00 in a 4-bed dorm or $43 for a private room, with breakfast available for $3.00.
Cost to get there: From Toronto, return flights start at C$1,135.00. From New York City, return flights start at US$904.00
- US Government: Exercise normal precautions in Albania.
- Canadian Government: Exercise normal precautions in Albania.
- Both countries advise avoiding travel to the southern city of Lazarat due to crime.
Top Budget Destination North America: St. John’s, Canada
Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada’s most easterly province is home to friendly people, rugged coastline, and gorgeous scenery. The capital of St. John’s, one of the oldest cities in North America, is colorful, with its jellybean houses, vibrant arts community, tasty culinary scene, and personality to spare.
Affordability: One US dollar will buy you about $1.27 Canadian Dollars. A beer in a neighborhood pub will cost about $5.50. A 5-mile taxi ride will be roughly $10.20. A basic lunchtime menu (including a drink) in the business district will run about $15.00.
Cost to get there: From Toronto, return flights start at C$782.00. From New York City, return flights start at US$623.00. Note: these prices are almost double last year.
- US Government: Exercise normal precautions in Canada.
- Canadian Government: Sit yourself down while I make you a cup of tea.
Top Budget Destination South America: La Paz, Bolivia
This description from The Guardian sealed the deal for me in terms of placing La Paz on this year’s shortlist of destinations for solo travelers on a budget.
An amalgam of architectural styles, cultures and beliefs, it has everything from offerings to the goddess Pachamama to incense-filled colonial churches, food stalls to trendy cafes, bowler-hatted cholitas to hipsters among its theatrical street life. It’s frenetic, chaotic, often frustrating but never dull. More than ever, it’s championing its culture, from local artists to age-old crafts. There’s a gastronomic revolution under way, with restaurants that use only Bolivian produce and bars that mix homegrown spirits. And Mi Teleférico, the world’s longest and highest urban cable car network, is making it easier to get around the city.
Affordability: One US dollar will buy you about 5.41 Bolivian Bolivianos. A basic lunchtime menu (including a drink) in the business district will cost about $12.75. A beer in a neighborhood pub will be roughly $3.88, and a 5-mile taxi ride, $17.37.
Cost to get there: From Toronto, return flights start at C$1100.00. From New York City, return flights start at US$845.00.
- US Government: Exercise increased caution in Bolivia due to civil unrest.
- Canadian Government: Exercise a high degree of caution in Bolivia due to the continuing political and social tensions and frequent illegal roadblocks throughout the country.
If you travel solo to one of these destinations, or any others that you would recommend to fellow travelers, please consider submitting your story and photos in a Solo Travel Destination post here.
For more on budget solo travel, check out these posts:
- How to Plan Your Solo Travel Budget – On Any Budget
- Cheap Solo Travel: Your Guide to Money-Saving Advice
- Save Money on Travel: 32+ Tips
- Backpacking Solo: Your Complete Guide for a Great Budget Trip
Here's the 2019 list of destinations for solo travelers on a budget
The Shortlist of Budget Solo Travel Destinations 2019
Note: In doing the research I wanted to offer apples-to-apples comparisons. So, all the flights I checked leave on February 28th with a return date of March 15th. The room rates I found are for the 28th of February, 2019. All were checked during the week of this post’s publication. The hotels and hostels are not recommendations. They were chosen based on their price and review scores and are intended to give you an idea of what you can get for your money. Also, I’ve used Toronto and New York City as points of departure to keep the numbers consistent. Use your own home airport to see what you’d have to pay for flights.
#1 Budget Destination for 2019: South Korea?
South Korea and Fiji were both mentioned on more than one budget travel short list for 2019 but when I compared the cost to get there, there was no competition. Flights to Fiji were three times the cost of those to South Korea. And when comparing the cost on the ground, Fiji was again far more expensive. South Korea was the winner hands down.
Affordability: 1 US dollar is about 1,100 South Korean Won (SKW). When you're purchasing something, to make it easy just consider 1,000 SKW to equal US$1. According to Expatistan, Seoul is 10% less expensive than Toronto and 30% less than New York City. There are many options in affordable hotels in Seoul. Here’s a sample of a highly-rated hotel you’d get for about US$95 that's in the center of the city. Here’s the central hostel with an 8.5 rating for US$38.
Cost to get there: From Toronto, return flights start at CAN$755. From New York City, return flights start at US$526.
- US Government: Exercise normal precautions in South Korea.
- Canadian Government: Exercise normal precautions in South Korea.
Interesting and fun: While I based the above information on Seoul, there is so much more to South Korea than its capital city. There are mountains and beaches, great diving, and hiking for outdoor enthusiasts. And, of course, there's a fascinating history over many centuries to be found in modern cities and more traditional villages. A little bit of research and you'll know why it's a great destination.
Best European Budget Destination for 2019: Łódź (pronounced woodge), Poland
When I saw this city on a budget destination list I just had to check it out to see if it would be right for solo travelers too. Eastern Europe is a bargain compared to Western Europe. It has much of what the west has to offer and more. Poland's culture is a product of its geography. It's had West Slav, Germanic, Hungarian and, to some extent, Western European, Byzantine, and Ottoman influence. It has fascinated me for some time.
Affordability: 1 PLN is about 25 US cents. That's an estimate. So, in managing your money on the ground, divide a price by four and you'll know the approximate price in US$. Łódź is 53% less expensive than Toronto and 68% less than New York City. There are many options in affordable hotels in Łódź. Here's a centrally located B&B/Hotel on Booking.com with an overall rating of 8.9 for US$37. Hostels are even cheaper.
Cost to get there: From Toronto, return flights start at CAN$1,106 non-stop or CAN$975 with a stop. The extra $31 is worth it. From New York City, return flights start at US$570 non-stop or US$440 with a stop in Oslo, Norway. These are fairly normal flight costs to Europe from North America.
- US Government: Exercise normal precautions in Poland
- Canadian Government: Exercise normal precautions in Poland.
Interesting and fun: Łódź is Poland's third largest city. It fell into into decline after WWII but since 2000 it has been reinventing itself. It's now famous for its architecture, street art, museums, and art galleries. The centerpiece of the restoration is EC1 which was the Łódź power plant. The east side of this building serves as a cultural space hosting workshops, art exhibitions, and other cultural events as well as a Planetarium and the National Centre for Film Culture. EC1 West houses an interactive Centre for Science & Technology and a 3D Omnimax Cinema complex.
Best Budget Destination to Commemorate a Major Event: Houston
Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. Were you alive? I was. I saw the landing on a TV outside at Girl Guide camp. We could look at the moon and watch the TV at the same time. That was 50 years ago this year and Houston is celebrating, which is why this destination makes my budget bucket list. Visitors to Space Center Houston at NASA’s Johnson Space Center get to imagine they are witnessing the history-making events from the Mission Operations Control Room and others which have been restored to their 1969 appearance, complete with vintage furniture. Read further for more budget options for solo-friendly Houston.
Affordability: Houston is 10% less expensive than Toronto and 38% less than New York City. Hotel accommodation is neither cheap nor expensive in Houston but is offset by the number of free things to do in the city. Here's a Hotel in the city center on Booking.com with an overall rating of 8.3 for US$120. However, I found great deals on VRBO. This is a self-contained apartment for one or two with great reviews for $59. One thing to note about booking on VRBO is the cleaning fee. VRBO is not a great option for only one night.
Cost to get there: From Toronto, return flights start at CAN$631 non-stop. From New York City, return flights start at US$209 non-stop.
Safety: Exercise normal precautions.
Interesting and fun: The 50th anniversary of the giant leap for mankind is a great reason to visit Houston but there is more. A great starting point is Houston’s Museum District, which has 19 museums within walking distance: 10 of them are always free and the others offer special free days. For a full list of free things to do in Houston check out this page.
Best Budget Caribbean Destination: Puerto Rico
It's been just over a year since Puerto Rico was hit hard by Hurricane Maria but the island is ready for tourists again. It's an affordable Caribbean destination with beaches and an interesting history. It's a destination to enjoy and one that would benefit from your travel dollars.
Affordability: The local currency is the US$ so we don't have a conversion to consider with this destination. San Juan, Puerto Rico is 6% less expensive than Toronto and 35% less than New York City. There are many options in affordable hotels in San Juan. Here's a centrally located guest house on Booking.com with an overall rating of 9.1 for US105. Hostels are even cheaper. I also found a studio apartment near the beach with excellent reviews on VRBO.com for US$55, VRBO is favorite site of mine.
Cost to get there: From Toronto, return flights start at CAN$475 with one stop. From New York City, return flights start at US$235 non-stop.
- US Government: Exercise normal precautions in Puerto Rico.
- Canadian Government: Exercise normal precautions in Puerto Rico.
Interesting and fun: The island has enjoyed Spanish, African, Indian, and U.S. influence, which, according to Puerto Rico's visitor bureau, is mirrored in the food, music, and architecture of the island. San Juan, Puerto Rico's capital, has a free trolley that will take you around San Juan and its National Historic Sites but you could spend a full day exploring the walled city of Old San Juan alone. Beaches are the ultimate budget travel activity and Puerto Rico has many wonderful beaches to relax on or explore. Puerto Rico is on the migration path of humpback whales. January to the end of March is the best time for whale watching.
Best Budget Destination in South America: Argentina
Argentina has spectacular natural wonders including Glaciers National Park, El Chalten, and Iguazu Falls, all bucket list destinations for the adventure travelers. But, of course, there's Buenos Aires and the tango! And then there are gauchos, Argentinian cowboys. Yes, there's much to make Argentina an exciting destination for any traveler, budget or otherwise. While other countries in South America may be cheaper, Argentina is one that has the safety rating I was looking for.
Affordability: 1 Argentinian peso is about 2.5 US cents. That's an estimate. So, in managing your money on the ground, divide a price by forty and you'll know the approximate price in US$. Buenos Aires is 59% less expensive than Toronto and 71% less than New York City. There are many options in affordable hotels in Buenos Aires. Here's a centrally located guest house on Booking.com with an overall rating of 8.9 for US$89 including breakfast..Here's a hostel with a rating of 8.4 for US$13.50 for a single bed in a four-bed, female dorm. And that includes breakfast. If you'd like an apartment I found this fabulous, 5-star unit on VRBO for US$78/night.
Cost to get there: From Toronto, return flights start at CAN$1095 non-stop. From New York City, return flights start at US$627 non-stop.
- US Government: Exercise normal precautions in Argentina.
- Canadian Government: Exercise normal precautions in Argentina.
Interesting and fun: There are lots of free and cheap things to do in Buenos Aires. There are, of course, free tours to enjoy but plenty more. Go to the Mataderos Fair, a Gaucho market on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, and see the gauchos show off their skills; take a walk through the 80 hectare woods at the Bosques de Palermo; or explore the graffiti in the northern suburbs. If you're in the neighborhood of Belgrano on a Sunday, go to the bandstand at Barrancas de Belgrano park for the free tango lessons from 7 pm. You can then watch the experts perform for a fee.