Global travel authority Lonely Planet revealed its annual hotlist of trending destinations for the upcoming year. To mark its 50th anniversary, their Best in Travel 2024 includes two new categories: best value and best sustainable options, noting traveler trends in seeking economical and ecotourism vacations.
Although inflation has been cooling steadily since the start of 2023, it won't be gone by 2024, putting pressure on many people's budgets. With increased costs of food, housing, transportation, and more, many travelers are looking to cut costs on vacations this year. But that doesn't mean cutting out vacations altogether. High prices mean budget-friendly travel is a priority.
After years of lockdowns and travel restrictions, people are still eager to get out and enjoy a change of scenery. Daniel Durazo, a spokesperson for the Allianz Vacation Confidence Index, expects that 2024 will set a new record for “revenge travel,” taking a vacation to “get back” at time lost during the pandemic.
Hilton‘s new study predicts that consumers plan to spend more on travel in 2024, with their budgets at the forefront of their plans. In that report, Kevin Jacobs, Chief Financial Officer and President of Global Development at Hilton, says that despite economic uncertainty, travel demand has remained strong as consumers continue to prioritize the value of experiences and connections over things.
Economical vacations allow travelers to satisfy their wanderlust while being mindful of their wallets. For the cost-conscious traveler, Lonely Planet suggests Algeria, Romania, Ikaria, Greece, and Normandy as often overlooked destinations that offer great value.
Head to the Midwest
Ranked as the top value destination by Lonely Planet, the American Midwest is cooler than you think, with cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, and St. Louis offering an art and food scene that rivals either coast.
Food and Wine named St. Louis, Missouri, the next great food city thanks to nationally-acclaimed hot spots like iNDO, Sado, and Vicia, and crowned Steven Pursley of Menya Rui one of the Best New Chefs in the country for 2023.
As a bonus, half of all Americans can skip the expensive plane tickets and take a road-trip destination to Midwestern cities. A vacation to Cincinnati, the largest metro area in Ohio, costs 25% less than a trip to New York City and half the price of a San Francisco getaway.
“From James-Beard-nominated chefs to global cuisine and iconic fast food, one of the best things to do in Cincinnati is eat,” says Monica Fish, a frequent traveler. “Trained at the top restaurants in New York City, enjoy the same caliber of meals at one of Jose Salazar's James Beard award-nominated restaurants. Pick from Salazar, a New American farm-fresh outpost, or Mita's with a tapas-like menu and killer cocktails. Or if David Falk's infamous Boca is out of your budget, drop into Sotto, his trattoria located in their basement space.”
Europe isn't often considered a budget-friendly international travel destination, but Poland shines as one of Europe's most affordable places. Matt Berna, Intrepid Travel President, The Americas, says, “In Europe, as a rule, the further east you travel, the cheaper the destination.”
Perched on the edge of the Baltic Sea, Poland offers a destination rich in history, food, and architecture. Berna adds, “At traditional restaurants such as Kurna Chata in Wroclaw, you can feast on pierogi with sauerkraut for less than $8, and pair it with a glass of wine for around $3. And wandering around the stunning streets of Krakow, for instance, is absolutely free.”
Nicaragua is ranked as the third best-value location for travelers seeking a blend of natural beauty, cultural immersion, and affordability. With surf, sun, tropical forests, the cobblestone streets of Granada, and 78 nature reserves, there's plenty to explore.
Jeremy Scott Foster, Founder & CEO of TravelFreak says, “With a daily budget of around $50, you can easily enjoy this developing country's insanely cheap options. The stable inflation rate makes basic services and goods relatively affordable. When you visit, you should avoid booking hotel rooms or services online, as this can add to your costs. Most of the hotels that don't have an online presence are relatively cheap.”
Nicaraguan food is often available at street stalls and local “fritanguerias” at prices significantly lower than tourist-centric spots, making daily expenses more manageable. Beyond black beans and rice, local favorites include chancho con yuca, which is pork with cassava, nacatamal, a corn dough stuffed with meat, vegetables, rice, and spices and then steamed, and tamuga, a tamale with ground rice, beef, and chili peppers.
Jim Campbell, CEO of Honeymoons.com, adds, “An often overlooked strategy is to travel during the wet season, spanning from May to October. Not only do these months offer a lush, verdant landscape due to the rains, but it's also when prices for accommodations and certain activities tend to be at their lowest, allowing for significant savings without compromising the richness of the Nicaraguan experience.”
Explore Northern Africa
Algeria and Egypt are Lonely Planet's top value destinations in Africa for 2024, at number 8 and number 6, respectively. A three-hour flight or less from much of Europe, Algeria is one of the most exciting destinations for adventurous travelers. Enjoy train journeys, well-preserved Roman sites, and fine historic cities, like the pastel-colored hilltop citadels of the M'Zab Valley.
Egypt's Nile, the mighty Pyramids of Giza, and the tombs of Luxor offer historical sights that don't cost a fortune to visit. Travel planner Narcisa Rusu says, “Egyptian cuisine is not only delicious but also cost-effective. Local eateries serve dishes like falafel, koshari, and shawarma at very reasonable prices, making dining out an economical and flavorful experience.”
Greek Islands, for Less
A hidden gem for budget-conscious travelers, Ikaria, Greece, offers affordable accommodations, delicious local seafood-heavy cuisine, and stunning beaches.
Nathan Russo, Director of Operations at Destin Vacation Rentals, agrees. “Ikaria is stunningly beautiful with plenty of things to do, yet tourism is relatively low, with most Greece tourists heading to places like Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini. Ikaria's peak tourist season is between June and August, but even then, prices aren't too high. Between December and February — that's when prices are at their absolute lowest.”
For wallet-friendly trips that don't skimp on experiences, mark your 2024 travel calendars for these remarkable destinations offering unbelievable affordability.
Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, NYT Bestselling Chef, and founder of Delish Knowledge and Plant-Based Juniors. She focuses on making whole-food, vegetarian eating deliciously simple. Her nutrition expertise and must-make recipes have been featured in Forbes, Today, The Washington Post, Parents, Vogue, Food Network, and more.