These days, cost-conscious travelers have more options than ever. The question is no longer "Where will we go?" but "How cheap can we get there?" Rest assured, we're here to tell you the answer: pretty cheap! As evidence, we've compiled a list of the ten most budget-friendly travel destinations to watch out for in 2014. These places show it's totally possible to plan an unforgettable trip to a unique, accessible, and culturally interesting destination, and still feel like you're getting a deal. Trying to fit all these fabulous trips into a single year? Well, that's another question...
Though previously overlooked in favor of more visited Eastern European destinations like Prague and Vienna, a recent swell of wistful travel features have helped Krakow gain cred in both the art and fashion worlds. Is this by accident? Probably not: in the past month, Krakow was designated a UNESCO City of Literature (the seventh city in the world to receive the honor), based in part on its wide range of citywide events and festivals (not to mention concerts, film festivals, and art exhibits). The distinction underscores Krakow's reputation as Warsaw's artsier, more spirited neighbor to the south. It's also less expensive to visit. In Warsaw, the average cost of a four-star hotel is around $150, but that number goes down in Krakow, where intimate, upscale boutiques (Queen Boutique, from $110; Hotel Wentzl, from $142) sit alongside charming, full-service apartments (Venetian House Courtyard, from $64), and they're all within easy reach of the Old Town's quaint, meandering alleys.
2. Mexico City
An increased police presence – specifically, one police officer per every hundred citizens, which is the highest officer-to-citizen ratio in the world – and a focus on architectural advancement make Mexico City ripe for renaissance in 2014. Whether you're sun-bathing and museum-hopping in the Bosque de Chapultepec, trekking through Ancient Aztec pyramids at Teotihuacan, or indulging in a glass (or four) of smoky mezcal in the midst of panoramic mountaintops, Mexico City offers plenty to see. The recently-opened Museo Jumex (tickets from $2.30), designed by architect David Chipperfield, showcases Mexico’s contemporary art scene. But rather than just another homage to Diego Rivera, it’s an anchoring artistic voice in Latin America. Another exciting tourism development? Mexico City and New York City agreed to their first ever city-to-city partnership, and as part of the agreement, Aeromexico is offering $399 round-trip flights between the two cities through March, 2014. The newly developed Downtown Mexico, ideal for both budget and luxury travelers, occupies one of the city’s few remaining 17th century palaces, blending mesoamerican traditionalism with contemporary flair. (See also: 5 Serene Parks In Totally Chaotic Cities)
Sitting in your hotel room overlooking Lower Broadway, you hear the rumbles of stomping boots from the bars. For music aficionados, soul-searching songwriters, and those looking for an inexpensive dose of Southern hospitality, Nashville’s a natural choice. At the Country Music Hall of Fame (tickets from $22), you'll get a detailed history of the two-century-old genre, and the new Johnny Cash Museum (tickets from $14) illustrates the legend's career through archival footage, artifacts, and memorabilia. Meanwhile, there's no cover charge at all in the bars along Nashville's famous Honky Tonk Highway, where you can catch live sets by up-and-coming artists. Just outside of the city’s downtown lies a replica of the Greek Parthenon in the center of the beautiful Centennial Park, perfect for an afternoon stroll. A quick drive out of the city takes you to The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s plantation. For those looking to experience the lush, mountainous landscape of Appalachia, Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, just a few hours outside of the city, offer inexpensive adventures like adrenaline-packed hikes, Dollywood, and horseback riding (See also: Quick Detour: Nashville, Tennessee)
In late 2014, the people of Scotland will decide for the first time since 1707 whether to become become an independent sovereign state once again. With that in mind, next year is a great time to visit Edinburgh, the city that has served as Scotland's political and cultural capital for the last 1,000 years. Tours of the deconstructionist-style Scottish Parliament building are free. From there you can tour Holyrood Palace (the Queen's official Scottish residence) for £11, then wander through the hilly, cobblestone streets of the medieval Old Town, up the historic Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle, which has sat perched on Castle Rock since the 12th century. But not all of Edinburgh is so steeped in history: the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is, like most museums and galleries in the city, free to enter. If you happen to be in the city in August, you'll run headlong into the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world, where you will see up-and-coming acts at rock-bottom prices. Our favorite thing, though, about this beautiful city? Affordable flights on Aer Lingus from Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Boston, and Miami – especially in the cooler months – make it an easily accessible escape for U.S. travelers. (See also: 5 Day Trips from Edinburgh)
Travel to the place that touts itself as the "happiest Caribbean nation" just got a lot easier. Starting in 2014, new nonstop flights on JetBlue from New York City (starting February 24) and Fort Lauderdale (starting May 1) will head to Trinidad and Tobago's sun-drenched capital, Port of Spain. Once you arrive, it's easy to use the city as a home base as you day-trip to nearby beaches, like the ones at Maracas Bay. Or, take a 25-minute charter flight to Tobago – for about $48 round-trip – to relax on more pristine beaches, discover the nation's penchant for eco-tourism, and enjoy its affordable street food scene. Budget accommodation in the area includes major hotel chains (like the Hyatt Regency, pictured above). Or, try a secluded guesthouse or bed and breakfast. Those can start as low as $55 per night.
The Panama Canal turns 100 years old next year, and Panama City, which lies on the Pacific side of the Canal at its mouth, is opening its arms to visitors -- and lots of new investment. Some of the brands flocking to the city are pillars of American affordable design, namely, the Ace Hotel and the Aloft. The Aloft is already open, and the Ace opens in the fall of 2014. With a keen focus on offering beautiful digs for fewer dollars (or Panamanian balboas, as it were), these hotels are just a piece of the city's redevelopment, and the prices can't be beat. Rooms at the Aloft in the new year are going for $122 per night... for a suite. The city also has new public transit, and incoming flights on nearly every major U.S. carrier, plus budget carrier Spirit. Upon arrival, guests can wander the historic old town with its colonial architecture. A day trip can take you into the country's farthest jungles and nature reserves, or stay in the city to view Panama's signature pillar of man-made modernity: You can watch vessels go through the Miraflores Locks. It takes ten minutes for a single ship to pass through one of the locks, and requires the transfer of about 52 million gallons of water.
7. Avarua District (Rarotonga), the Cook Islands
Between highly-visited Fiji, trendy Tahiti, and the thousands of other islands that dot the South Pacific, lies one of Oceania’s lesser-known destinations, the Cook Islands. The most populous of the Cook Islands, Rarotonga, is home to the Avarua District, which functions as the capital and tourism gateway. With its friendly, English-speaking population, lack of commercial development, abundance of white-sand beaches and colorful coral lagoons, Avarua makes for an ideal island retreat. Direct flights from Los Angeles, and a variety of low-priced accommodations, make it an affordable one. Fly to Rarotonga directly from LAX via Air New Zealand with round-trip flights starting at $894; flights to Fiji and Tahiti cost over $400 more. If New Zealand is your final destination, consider a stopover in Rarotonga. The airline often lets you stopover at no additional cost. Once in paradise, you may choose to stay in a no-fuss hotel like Vara's Beach House for as little as $17 per night; the quintessential Magic Reef Bungalows from $229 per night; or a more lavish property, such as the Pacific Resort Rarotonga from $480 per night. With only 7,500 North American visitors annually, the Cook Islands are primed for discovery. We suggest getting there before everyone else does.