6 Budget-Friendly Travel Temptations for 2009

If hearing about the recession day in and day out makes you want to skip the country and head off on a long, luxurious weekend in la-la land… but you don’t think you have the budget to do it… I have good news for you.

Although most vacationers need to make their travel dollars stretch further, that’s no reason you should suffer the indignities of backpacker hostels. Recession or not, the world is still brimming with exotic destinations where your dollar buys more than a stay in a ratty room and a hot dog for dinner.

I’m talking about world-class spas… quirky antique markets… cheap Persian rugs… decadent chocolates… even an apartment in Paris… for much less than you’d expect.

Here are six of my favorite low-budget destinations for 2009, all places I certainly wouldn’t say “no” to this year or any…

Bangkok, Thailand

Night bazaars, lady-boys, and golden Buddhas always distract, but one theme for the Big Mango is inexpensive luxury. Going rate for a traditional Thai massage is $8-$10, and Bangkok’s hotels have slashed prices. As I write, agoda.com has doubles in the deluxe Sofitel Grand Sukhumvit for $85 a night. (Two-star hotels start at $12.)

Then there’s “the world’s best street food.” From papaya salad to green chicken curry, sidewalk vendors create delicious dishes for 50 cents to a dollar. Start your culinary adventure with yen ta fo – noodles in red soy bean paste with fried fish, squid, and morning glory.


Twelve months ago, 1 U.S. dollar bought 62 Icelandic krona. Today, you’ll get 123 krona – twice the amount. If you dream of visiting this island of geysers, glaciers, and 10,000 waterfalls, there may not be a better opportunity. Since its currency collapsed last year, Iceland has become a lot more affordable.

Icelandair has round-trip fares for $399. An even better deal is their $479 “Budget Getaway,” on sale until April 2009. It includes round-trip airfare from either Boston or New York-JFK, and a 2 nights’ hotel stay with Scandinavian breakfast.

One must-do is the world-famous Blue Lagoon and its mineral-rich geothermal waters. Day passes are $26, and you can slap on silica mud face packs for free.

Brussels, Belgium

The symbol of Belgium’s stylish capital is the Mannekin Pis – a statue of a boy taking a leak. That’s understandable. You can drink your way through around 400 alarmingly strong ales here, many brewed by Trappist monks. Try Mort Subite (Sudden Death) and Delirium Tremens.

With flea markets, antiques, and multicultural Ixelles – known as Brussels’ Notting Hill – this could be 2009’s best bet for a European cut-price weekend getaway. When businesspeople leave town on Fridays, rates drop. Two nights plus breakfast for doubles in the classy NH City Centre (nh-hotels.com) go for 129 euro. Or go chocoholic. At the Neuhaus factory shop, 6.6 pounds of gourmet liqueur chocolates cost just $18.75, and samples are free.

Paris, France

Nothing dents the appeal of romantic Paris. In the first half of 2008, the number of visitors actually increased 2.2 percent. But as self-catering allows vacationers more control over spending, why not rent an apartment?

When last here, I rented a place off Rue Montorgueil in Chatelet-Les Halles district. Monet painted this foodie heaven street, and its shops include La Maison Stohrer, one of Paris’s most famous bakeries. In business since 1730, it’s credited with inventing rum babas – small, rum-soaked cakes.

A studio in this neighborhood costs $76 per night through homeaway.com.

Sanliurfa, Turkey

Turkey is always a great bargain destination, even if rug merchants lurk in the background. My best buy last year was an exquisite Persian wool sumak a flat-weave kilim rug overlaid with hand embroidery from the mysterious pilgrimage town of Sanliurfa. (I haggled it down to $75.)

With prices way below those in touristy Istanbul, Sanliurfa’s bazaar is full of magical imagery. Coppersmiths, leatherworkers, and shoppers with indigo-blue tattoos on their hands and faces. And, of course, carpet traders. Other enticing bazaar towns in this region include Gaziantep and Mardin.

Abruzzo, Italy

You’ll find proof that “affordable Italy” exists by visiting the Abruzzo region. Fringed by golden Adriatic beaches, this secret corner of Europe’s most seductive country stitches together mountains, olive groves, and picturesque hill towns. Including wine, dinner one night in a village restaurant cost only $101… for seven of us.

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Steenie Harvey gets paid to visit white sand Caribbean beaches… wildlife sanctuaries in Borneo… Indian Ocean hideaways… Rome… Paris… and beyond. To read more about how Steenie got her break in travel writing, click here.]

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