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The streets of Tunis. Photo: WomEOS

When I was in Nicaragua in 2011, I had a friend who was renting a room with her boyfriend in Managua. They each paid $25 per month for rent. The bus ride to their job cost 10 American cents. Point being: There are places in the world where your dollar can go a very long way.

This is important. If you’re a traveler, it correlates directly to how much traveling you will actually be doing. I’ve also spent time in places like Australia and New Zealand, where transportation costs alone can drain you. Petrol is expensive. Car rentals. Sure, you can hitchhike, but the truth is you’re just not going to travel as much because everything is so expensive.

If you’re a writer / photographer / filmmaker, as a lot of Matadorians are, then keeping living costs as low as possible is a major priority. Look at the Beats: Paul Bowles hiding out in Morocco penning novels, the same with Burroughs in Mexico City. Even Rolf Potts has said he prefers to write in countries where his money goes as far as possible.

These places do exist. And they’re quantified — quarterly — by the website xpatulator.com. These guys compile cost of living data into nice little lists like “Cheapest Cities in 2013.” They also have a thing called “hardship,” which looks at how much different the place is going to be from somewhere like the US — or how big of an adventure, depending on how you think about it.

Here are the 10 cheapest as of April, 2013.

Thimphu, Bhutan

Bhutan sounds cool. You could trek the Himalayan Mountains, immerse yourself in Buddhism, and adopt the clean life, since cigarettes are illegal and alcohol is expensive. Xpatulator ranks all other costs as “very low,” however.

The country’s constitutional monarchy continues to take creative and unique approaches to solve the problems of their people and the planet. It was their king who coined the term Gross National Happiness, which led to a whole new economic paradigm now called “subjective well-being.” They also plan to ban pesticides and be the first country to go completely organic.

Job-wise, you’ll find English teaching and more.

Tunis, Tunisia

If you’ve been following reports from the Arab Spring movement, Tunisia might seem dangerous. Tunisians ousted their government in 2011, which led to revolutions throughout the Middle East, including the ongoing conflict in Syria. The US has issued a travel warning for Tunisia, citing a violent attack on the US embassy last September.

But if you’re reading Matador, you’re probably aware of the difference between ground-level truths and AP headlines. According Chris Barfield, American expat writer, Tunis is livable and fun:

There is political uncertainty here, but I don’t think any aggression or frustration is directed at expats — the events at the American embassy in September notwithstanding. I never have felt unsafe in Tunisia. There is a reasonable amount of harassment, especially for women, however.

On nightlife, he emphasized that “Tunis is a totally fun city to live in,” and recommended this story on the club Le Plug in Tunis. He also commented that healthcare is “especially cheap.”

Managua, Nicaragua

Nicaragua is attracting literally millions of tourists these days. They come to hike the volcano on Isla Ometepe, for the colonial architecture in Leon and Granada, and the consistent surf on the Pacific. There are also humanitarian jobs in Nicaragua, and the Peace Corps have a program there.

As a word of caution, Transparency.org, a site that indexes countries based on their perceived level of corruption on a scale from 0 to 100, with 100 being least corrupt, scores Nica at 29.

Bucharest, Romania

Bucharest is the Romanian capital of two million and the 11th largest city in the EU. Alcohol, groceries, and healthcare costs are “very low.”

Contemporary Romania is a melting pot of disparate cultures past and present, from the Ancient Romans, to Saxons, Turks, and Slavs, in a kind of East-meets-West motherland. Among other inspiring events in Romanian history, this was a place where demoralizing execution methods led to the legend of Dracula.

Learning Romanian should be easy, according to Anne Merritt.

Sofia, Bulgaria

Bulgaria is Romania’s like-minded southern neighbor. They both became EU members in 2007. And they both have lots of outdoor activities, whether that’s tanning on the Black Sea, skiing the Balkan or Pirin Mountains, or fishing the Danube River.

Algiers, Algeria

Political and economic instability has left Algeria relatively untraveled by outsiders. The US Department of State issued a travel warning for Algeria in February due in part to government inefficiencies and corruption (CPI score is 34) and continued activities of extremist militants. This is an “extreme hardship” area.

Recent attempts have been made to stabilize the government and economy and focus on attracting tourists. And there are great things to see there, like seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Calcutta, India

India is the land of variety: over 400 different languages, 500 varieties of mangoes. Here are a few things you can do in India: Snowboard the Himalayas, ride rivers, visit Tikam Chand, go clubbing in Calcutta, get an ayurvedic massage, skateboard, surf.

Grocery costs are “very low,” though a significant percentage of Indians live in extreme poverty. Calcutta is actually one of the less impoverished places. Read Jed Purses’ budget travel experiment to learn how cheap it really is. And check out these books.

Kathmandu, Nepal

Nepal is a small country (slightly larger than Arkansas), but contains Mount Everest, the highest point on earth above sea level. For mortals, there are other treks.

Nepalese is the official language, but many others are spoken (Maithili, Bhojpuri). 80% of the population is Hindu. Kathmandu is the capital, with 990,000 people. One quarter of the population lives below the poverty line; the unemployment rate was at 46% as of 2008. This is another “extreme hardship” area.

Check out these photos of the people and place by Matadorian Will Manley. All things considered, Nepal would be amazing.

Islamabad, Pakistan

There’s no denying Pakistan would be an awesome place to live — in a few years. Right now, maybe not.

The US issued a travel warning for Pakistan last April, citing the presence of “several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups.” The Kashmir region is the site of the largest and most militarized territorial dispute to date. 2.9 million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan.

Hyderabad, India

Hyderabad: the city of pearls…and slums. 23% of Hyderabad live in slums, according to estimates from the census of India (Calcutta comes in at 6%), which makes me wonder why Xpatulator ranks household accommodation costs as “average.”

Hyderabad would be eye opening to the lives of what Henry Rollins called the “intolerably and unacceptably poor.” Hardship is “high.”

Are there stories or insights into the places listed you’d like to share? Any other places you think are super-cheap to live? Where would Burroughs go?

Budget + Backpacker

 

About The Author

Ethan Walker

Ethan is originally from North Carolina and has traveled through New Zealand, Mexico, Nicaragua, Australia, and Indonesia.

  • Anna Rivas

    hi

  • Anna Rivas

    hi

  • Anna Rivas

    hi

  • Victor Popescu

    Bucharest? Cheap? AHAHAHAHHAHAH! Nice try :)

    • Vilém Obrátil

      Well, it might not seem cheap to you as a Romanian. But when I visited Romania last year, I found everything considerably cheaper than in my homeland, and that’s already quite something.

  • Elian Ionescu

    Wrong info about Bucharest…

  • Elian Ionescu

    Wrong info about Bucharest…

  • Elian Ionescu

    Wrong info about Bucharest…

  • Elian Ionescu

    Wrong info about Bucharest…

  • Elian Ionescu

    Wrong info about Bucharest…

  • Elian Ionescu

    Wrong info about Bucharest…

  • Elian Ionescu

    Wrong info about Bucharest…

  • Elian Ionescu

    Wrong info about Bucharest…

  • Elian Ionescu

    Wrong info about Bucharest…

    • Andy Weisner

      I second that . I doubt it .. I been born in ROmania .. and wile I have not visited recently my parents who do and friends who live there always tell me how food and most things are so much more expensive there ( compared to Germany) , despite most romanins having way way lower wages.. why ? Even drinks in clubs are way more expensive..I sadly have no idea but its sad. So unless you live off booze and are vegan I do not see Bucharest as cheap … you better come to Berlin if you want cheap

    • Andy Weisner

      I second that . I doubt it .. I been born in ROmania .. and wile I have not visited recently my parents who do and friends who live there always tell me how food and most things are so much more expensive there ( compared to Germany) , despite most romanins having way way lower wages.. why ? Even drinks in clubs are way more expensive..I sadly have no idea but its sad. So unless you live off booze and are vegan I do not see Bucharest as cheap … you better come to Berlin if you want cheap

    • Andy Weisner

      Even back in the 90tie so many things were more expensive.. I recommend villages and smaller cities in Romania more .. and yes romanian people are very nice and very friendly and many women beautiful ;-) as is the nature there This might make up for the expensive things

  • Sheena Harms

    Doesn’t Bhutan cost a couple hundred dollars a day just to be there? How does that make it affordable?

    • Alexander Navarrete

      I thought the same thing when I read this list

    • Alexander Navarrete

      I thought the same thing when I read this list

    • Alexander Navarrete

      I thought the same thing when I read this list

    • Alexander Navarrete

      I thought the same thing when I read this list

    • Alexander Navarrete

      I thought the same thing when I read this list

    • Alexander Navarrete

      I thought the same thing when I read this list

    • Alexander Navarrete

      I thought the same thing when I read this list

    • Alexander Navarrete

      I thought the same thing when I read this list

    • Alexander Navarrete

      I thought the same thing when I read this list

    • Alexander Navarrete

      I thought the same thing when I read this list

    • Evan Timpy

      Hey Sheena, thanks for pointing this out. Tourists do have to pay a $250 fee per day. If you’re teaching english, or find some other job there, you wouldn’t have to pay that fee.

  • Alexandru Amoq

    Splendid.

  • Alexandru Amoq

    Splendid.

  • Alexandru Amoq

    Splendid.

  • Alexandru Amoq

    Splendid.

  • Alexandru Amoq

    Splendid.

  • Teacher. Traveler.

    Currently living and teaching in Bucharest. Met my beautiful wife in Romania! Compared to Western Europe, yes, Eastern Europe is “cheap.” My wife and I are going to Kathmandu in a month! :)

  • Teacher. Traveler.

    Currently living and teaching in Bucharest. Met my beautiful wife in Romania! Compared to Western Europe, yes, Eastern Europe is “cheap.” My wife and I are going to Kathmandu in a month! :)

  • Teacher. Traveler.

    Currently living and teaching in Bucharest. Met my beautiful wife in Romania! Compared to Western Europe, yes, Eastern Europe is “cheap.” My wife and I are going to Kathmandu in a month! :)

  • Mira Veselinova

    To say Sofia and Bucharest cheap is a total lie. Yes, they can’t compare with London, New York, Tokio or Paris but they’re closer to them than to Managua for example. A small apartment in Sofia center is 500 EUR per month, one in the suburbs is not less than 250 EUR, this is soooo far away from $50. And the bus ticket is 10 times more than 10 US cents. They might be cheap for some British, Americans or Western Europeans but they are far more expansive from so many big cities and capitals around the world!

  • Mira Veselinova

    To say Sofia and Bucharest cheap is a total lie. Yes, they can’t compare with London, New York, Tokio or Paris but they’re closer to them than to Managua for example. A small apartment in Sofia center is 500 EUR per month, one in the suburbs is not less than 250 EUR, this is soooo far away from $50. And the bus ticket is 10 times more than 10 US cents. They might be cheap for some British, Americans or Western Europeans but they are far more expansive from so many big cities and capitals around the world!

    • Mira Veselinova

      Taxis are cheap, that’s true

    • Marko Švagelj

      I don’t remember Bucharest and Sofia being so cheap as the article says :/

    • Mira Veselinova

      Definitely not!

    • Alex Rambetius

      Bukarest cheap? Bullshit!

  • Liz Mamo

    I would suggest including places in SE Asia! Tons of beautiful cheap cities such as Puerto Princesa, Philippines, and places in Vietnam. Decent hotels can be $10 a night, and living costs are low.

  • Andrew Michael Todd

    You can find amazing places to live on less than $500 a month in Mexico or Guatemala. Check out San Pedro la Laguna on Lake Atitlan.

  • Ellen Besso

    But don’t you have to spend about $200 per day to be allowed to enter & stay in Bhutan?

  • Ellen Besso

    But don’t you have to spend about $200 per day to be allowed to enter & stay in Bhutan?

  • Ellen Besso

    But don’t you have to spend about $200 per day to be allowed to enter & stay in Bhutan?

  • Ellen Besso

    But don’t you have to spend about $200 per day to be allowed to enter & stay in Bhutan?

  • Ellen Besso

    But don’t you have to spend about $200 per day to be allowed to enter & stay in Bhutan?

  • Ellen Besso

    But don’t you have to spend about $200 per day to be allowed to enter & stay in Bhutan?

  • Ellen Besso

    But don’t you have to spend about $200 per day to be allowed to enter & stay in Bhutan?

  • Ellen Besso

    But don’t you have to spend about $200 per day to be allowed to enter & stay in Bhutan?

  • Ellen Besso

    But don’t you have to spend about $200 per day to be allowed to enter & stay in Bhutan?

  • Ellen Besso

    But don’t you have to spend about $200 per day to be allowed to enter & stay in Bhutan?

  • Ellen Besso

    But don’t you have to spend about $200 per day to be allowed to enter & stay in Bhutan?

  • Ellen Besso

    But don’t you have to spend about $200 per day to be allowed to enter & stay in Bhutan?

  • Ellen Besso

    But don’t you have to spend about $200 per day to be allowed to enter & stay in Bhutan?

  • Ellen Besso

    But don’t you have to spend about $200 per day to be allowed to enter & stay in Bhutan?

  • Ellen Besso

    But don’t you have to spend about $200 per day to be allowed to enter & stay in Bhutan?

  • Ellen Besso

    But don’t you have to spend about $200 per day to be allowed to enter & stay in Bhutan?

  • Ellen Besso

    But don’t you have to spend about $200 per day to be allowed to enter & stay in Bhutan?

  • Ailsa Ross

    The lack of self-awareness in this article is a real shame. Of course, the general cost of living in a city doesn’t mean that there aren’t huge disparities in the wealth of the people who live there. London houses the country’s richest people, and its poorest.
    Still, I wish it was more expensive to live in Bhutan, or Algiers, or Managua. The fact that they’re cheap locations for Western dreamers means that the country isn’t developing, and that’s not good. True, this article doesn’t fetishize the world’s immobile poor, as Kerouac, and his Beatnik cronies who you seem to revere, were so fond of doing. This article doesn’t actually say anything at all.
    In truth, I am no better than anyone else. I’m probably worse. I live in Berlin, in part, because it is a cheap place to live. Cheap for me. Cheap for the other Western dreamers who come here for the promise of cheap rents and good times. Still, our idea of cheap is different from the Turkish population who have lived in neighborhoods like Kreuzberg for decades, but who, over recent years, have been priced out of their homes because our idea of a great rent deal is different from theirs.
    Now the neighborhoods that they were born and grew up in are too expensive for them to live in. Now the neighborhoods that they were born in and grew up in are overrun with hipsters and New York delis, artists’ studios and dive bars. There are protests about rent rises, by parts of the Turkish population, every week. Why does this article not address the social and economic impact that privileged Western dreamers have with their blind visitations on the world’s inert poor?

    • Summer Kennedy

      Alisa: I can appreciate what you have written to a point. “Privileged Western Dreamers” means exactly what to you? To me it sounds like you are stereotyping someone like me. I am from California and I have been homeless for over a year while looking for a job nearly every day and fighting the Government for monies my husband paid to them as it is mandatory for a “disability” fund in the U.S. when you are working. I am not disabled and I am nearing middle aged and I cannot even find work or be offered an interview for a gas station even though I have a degree. When my husband and I are finished suing the United States and the State of California we will still only have a meager amount of money to live on and he needs to have reasonable healthcare with his physical problems and then I will need it as well as this country is about to kill me with all of the stress they cause just to get your own money back from them after paying for 10, 20, 30, 40 years.
      This “Privileged Western Dreamer” you call me is extremely stereotypical and I resent it greatly and if you would like to “visit the world’s

      • Summer Kennedy

        My God in Heaven … This is a world belongs to everyone in it and if I travel or live in any country this world contains then I have attained my God given right to live and I will do it anywhere I damned well please. Look up the word WORLD and discover your pretentious attitude.

  • Christine Minto

    Web Design Philippines | FYDesigns is a web design and web development company focused on websites, ecommerce, facebook app and search engine optimization. Outstanding Result, Low Cost and Total Customer Support make us your best provider of choice.

    Check our website services here: http://www.fydesigns.ph.

  • Christine Minto

    Web Design Philippines | FYDesigns is a web design and web development company focused on websites, ecommerce, facebook app and search engine optimization. Outstanding Result, Low Cost and Total Customer Support make us your best provider of choice.

    Check our website services here: http://www.fydesigns.ph.

  • Ash Gabriel

    tounes ar5es hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ti 3aychin féha bel paille.

  • Ash Gabriel

    tounes ar5es hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ti 3aychin féha bel paille.

  • Ash Gabriel

    tounes ar5es hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ti 3aychin féha bel paille.

    • Ƌniïiƨ TƎin

      le plug :D

  • sofiane lassami

    hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ALGIERS

  • judge

    i think the Philippine is cheapest than these countries

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