Dreaming of taking a Big Trip in 2010? Finances a bit tight? Well, take a look at the following destinations. Magic, thrills and adventure, yes. But for the budget-conscious globe-trotter, what's equally important is that these are places where your dollars will stretch a long, long way. As a travel writer, I'm lucky enough to have experienced all 10 – but I'd love to revisit every single one as a vacationer.
Vietnam packs a lot into its borders. Highlights include misty Halong Bay with its fairytale seascapes of limestone outcrops and islands; the Mekong delta with its floating markets; the old Vietcong tunnels at Cu-Chi near Saigon – now officially known as Ho Chi Minh City. (Do not worry about getting stuck: one tunnel has been particularly widened for westerners.) Backpacker beds are exceptionally cheap, but decent hotels often cost less than $ 40. A filling bowl of pho bo beef noodle soup or six seafood spring rolls is less than a dollar. In local hangouts, Saigon Export beer costs 40 cents a bottle.
For the ultimate traffic tale to tell the folks back home, head for Hanoi's old quarter. Any attempt to cross the road turns into a heart-racing adventure. Not only are you contending with psycho-cyclos (rickshaw bikes), there are thousands of motorbikes and scooters who riders regard a red traffic signal as a suggestion rather than an instruction. Best place to experience the utter chaos is from within a cyclo rickshaw.
Eastern Europe, Lithuania
The southernmost of the Baltic States, visitors usually couple Lithuania together with Latvia and Estonia. However, you can easily spend a week in Lithuania alone. Quirky cities like Vilnius and Kaunas are steeped in art, music and historical curiosities … mushroom-spotted woods and farmers riding on haycarts … mysterious sites steeped in pagan traditions … the windswept sands of the Curonian Spit where you can beach -comb for amber.
Mid-June would be a great time to go. A national holiday in Lithuania, the old pagan festival of Rasos marks the summer solstice. It's an all-night affair with singing, dancing, bonfire-leaping, hunting for "magic" ferns, and floating garlands down rivers. Despite some serious alcoholic partying, most people manage to stay awake to greet the sunrise. As for prices, how about $ 2.54 for three potato pancakes with smoked salmon and sour cream and $ 1 for a glass of Svyturnys beer?
From the laid-back colonial city of Granada, you can do a lot in a week in Nicaragua: tackle volcanoes … take Spanish lessons … visit Masaya craft market and also the villages where rocking chairs, hammocks, and pottery are made … explore the Selva Negra's cloud forests and coffee plantations … chat with expats in the beach surfing town of San Juan del Sur … go to colonial Leon, where you might get to meet indigenous Indians.
Settling into a rocking chair with a cold Victoria beer is a pleasure that generally costs under $ 1 and spending more than …