Our top budget culture vacations
CULTURE BREAKS WITHOUT BREAKING THE BANK
Money doesn’t have to make your world go around. You can spend time absorbing some of our planet’s greatest cultural wonders, be it the Taj Mahal, Ho Chi Minh City, the pyramids at Giza or the Mayan marvels of Central America on a trip that won’t cost you much more than a couple of hen weekends away. And often a lot less than that annual ski trip you can’t live without. Swap the pistes for Petra or a shopping weekend in New York for cocktails and dancing in Cuba instead. And for the real spa experience, try bathing Japanese style. Culture vultures can fly far but still go cheap. Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep.
Central America overland tours
The overland route through Guatemala, Belize and Mexico, once dominated by the Mayan people, is a top budget way to see this idyllic isthmus. And although you will never tire of masterful pyramids, palaces and ancient principalities, there are also both Caribbean and Pacific coasts to explore. Contemporary culture is very influenced by the sea, cayes and coves, so rude not to really.
Very zeitgeist, very price is right. Especially if you travel with a company tying in with the local community, local guides and staying in casas particulares (homestays). Which is the best way to see Cuba, unlike the five star resorts. Choosing either an independent tailor made trip or a small group tour, you can fit in the cultural joys of Havana and Camaguey, Trinidad and Las Terrazas, all buzzing with culture.
Going to Egypt on a budget does not mean joining large coach loads to the pyramids, going all inclusive in Sharm or compromising on culture. Quite the opposite. It is possible to see the great sites of Giza, all things awesome at Aswan, navigate the Nile and swim in the Red Sea on a budget. And you don’t need to go luxe at Luxor, where the Pharaonic tombs and Colossi of Memnon are priceless.
Yes, you have your luxury palaces and Orient Expresses, but the hippy trails through India still exist, and traveling here on a budget is still a wonderful way to go. Whether you are visiting the deserts of the north, the backwaters and beaches of Kerala’s south, or crossing overland from Delhi to Goa on a truck, India has a plethora of budget cultural trips, all with a responsible ethos.
Few people realise you can do Japan on a budget. Street food is both great value and great. Rail passes for the Bullet Trains are fab, so you can zip off to see Kyoto’s temples, ancient and contemporary culture of Tokyo or Hiroshima’s Peace Park and Memorial Museum. You don’t even need a small group tour; budget tailor made vacations are possible, especially if you are happy to twin up on a tatami.
You don’t need to be rich to see Jordan’s cultural wealth. One of the best ways to see the precious sites of Petra, Jerash or Amman on a budget is by doing an overland truck trip, many of which cover Egypt and/or Israel as well. Traveling with expert local guides, spend time with Bedouins in the desert and float on the Dead Sea. Float on cloud nine when you see what great value Jordan can be too.
Budget small group tours to Turkey do exist. And responsible ones too that not only do everything local, but also take you to see the country’s cultural greats. As well as the iconic sites of Istanbul, those historic names of Troy, Pergamum, Ephesus and Pamukkale evoke ancient tales. And ancient trails, such as the Silk Road. You don’t need a silk purse to pay for this feast of Turkish delights though.
Traveling the length of Vietnam from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh is possible, taking in Halong Bay en route, the former ancient capital of Hue, swapping tuk tuks for sleeper trains and eating sumptuous street food. And by staying at small locally owned guesthouses, for that virtuosic Vietnamese welcome. And you can up the cultural ante by doing it all on the iconic Reunification Express railway.
Budget culture vacations travel advice
TIPS FROM OUR FRIENDS
Egyptian food tips
Danniell Saunders at our supplier of budget cultural vacations, Encounters Travels, shares his tips on visiting Egypt on a budget: “There are a couple of things that I think people should definitely try when they visit Egypt, but they are often a bit scared to. The first one is sheesha – which was originally invented in India – ask your guide to explain what it is and give it a go. Definitely try local foods and snacks too. I always recommend that people try kushari, which is a pasta and lentil based dish that’s so cheap, it’s virtually free. You get a bowl with rice, lentils and pasta in it and then they give you chili oil, garlic sauce, béchamel sauce, tomatoes – whatever you prefer flavour-wise and then you just mix it all up and eat it. It’s delicious, filling and very nutritious.”
Ralph Foulds from our budget culture vacations expert supplier, Encounters Travels:
“You won’t feel overcrowded on our trucks. The maximum group size is 24, and there are often free seats on the truck. We also offer limited dates where numbers are limited to 12 people, which guarantees you a window seat. They are a bit more expensive, but if you want to have that small group feel, and have even more space, then they are ideal. Although the windows are really big, so even if you have to share a seat, there is plenty of room to see. The windows do open so there is plenty of air blowing through. We do have seat belts in all our trucks and we put charging points in them too.”
Enjoying the ride
Ralph Foulds from our supplier, Encounters Travels:
“It’s an important to go in with a ‘can do’ attitude – you always get more out of it the more you want to pitch in and help. And you get to know people better. The better relationship you have with your guides and tour leaders, the more you are going to get out of it.”
Marcel, a guide with our supplier budget cultural vacations supplier in Cuba, Latin America Journeys, explains how Cuban casas particulares (homestays) work:
“People say they absolutely don't want to stay in a casa. They think that they have to socialise and are obligated to do things. But really you have your own room, and if you don't want to have any conversation with the owners it's no problem – but they are of course open - and the more you put into in the more you'll get out.”
Budget vacations travel advice
TIPS FROM OUR TRAVELLERS
At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.
We have selected some of the most useful Budget culture travel tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation - and the space inside your suitcase.
“As with all group travel, it helps to "go with the flow" in order to get the most from your trip. I was with people who were at least 15 years younger than me and I occasionally had to remind myself that I had been their age once!! …You don't know what the demographic of the groups will be...it's all part of the adventure! The trip itself is more about experiencing or getting to know the culture and customs of the Vietnamese and is not a "sightseeing tour" in the traditional sense - there is no wall to wall commentary but if you've read up a bit beforehand or take your Lonely Planet guide with you, then you can supplement the information given by the tour leader. The true value of the tour leader is their local insight.” – Gail Morris on our Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh trip
“Take small gifts from home to pass on to hosts you stay with – healthcare is free but medicine is very expensive so medical supplies are much appreciated: plasters, paracetamol; ibuprofen.”- Ka te Davenport on a Cuba tour
“Spend time making sure the itinerary is what you want. We changed ours several times before finalising the trip and that really paid off. 7-11 convenience stores are very convenient and good for ATMs and charging IC transport cards… The most memorable part is hard to identify as the whole experience was fantastic. A few highlights...Hakone open air museum, Kabuki at Kabukiza in Tokyo, live outdoor jazz at Rappongi Hills. Traveling by shinkansen is great.” – Perwina Whitmore on our Japan tailor made tour on a shoestring
“A most enjoyable experience, the accommodation at times would not have been out of place on a luxury tour. The contrasting people and sights of India really do make this a unique experience. Even if you are a seasoned traveler, this tour will provide you with experiences that are very different from previous ones. Having such a cool, respected and knowledgeable guide in 'K.V.' benefited the tour immensely.” – Jonathan Kenyon, traveling overland from Delhi to Goa
“Never used a tour operator before because we never saw the need but didn't regret it at all; didn't seem to add much to the cost and made sure we covered twice the ground in half the time, plus we had the benefit of all their experience.” – Mike Waugh, on a budget vacation in Kerala, India