Budget travel: The world's 50 greatest cheap experiences

It costs only a euro. That's something that takes a while to sink in. The best coffee in the world, coffee that people travel all the way to Italy specifically to enjoy, and it costs the equivalent of about $1.50 for an espresso.

This is cafe culture in Rome. It's cheap. It's really cheap. And this isn't something special, it isn't a happy hour discount or a rare deal you have to search for. It's normal. It's just how much coffee costs.

It's also one of the world's great everyday bargains from which you can benefit day in, day out, on your travels. For travellers, these are gold nuggets, many of which are enjoyed by locals, too.

They're the items and experiences across the globe that aren't on special, that aren't discounted – they're just really cheap. Always have been, and probably always will be.

The following is by no means an exhaustive list but it does represent some of Traveller's all-time favourites, and they're a great way for globetrotters to ensure they're spending as little cash as possible while still enjoying the world.

A TRAGHETTO RIDE IN VENICE, ITALY

The classic Venetian tourist experience is to hire a gondola – however, that will set you back the equivalent of at least $120. For $3, meanwhile, you can ride across the Grand Canal on a traghetto, which looks and feels exactly the same as a gondola, for only a fraction of the price. See en.turismovenezia.it

A FIVE-STAR HOTEL IN MALAYSIA

If you love luxury but also love your bank balance, Malaysia is the place. Five-star hotels here, even in the biggest city, Kuala Lumpur, are within the average traveller's reach – there are plenty of resorts that cost less than $150 a night, and five-star hotels in cities for less than $100. See malaysia.travel

A WINE IN SOUTH AFRICA

It's an amazing feeling, doing a wine tasting at a South African vineyard, somewhere like La Motte or Glenwood Vineyards in Franschhoek, and finding something you love. How much is this, you wonder? Look down the list: it's invariably less than $10 a bottle. Probably as little as $5. See southafrica.net

FINE DINING IN NEW YORK

NYC's fancy restaurants are often eye-wateringly expensive. However, dine at the bar at Eleven Madison Park (the world's number one restaurant) and your meal will be a fraction of the dining-room cost. Eat lunch at two-Michelin-starred Jean-Georges and it will be half the price of dinner; same goes at Le Bernardin. See nycgo.com

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AN AIRBNB STAY IN PORTUGAL

Everything is cheap in Portugal: food, wine, transport … everything. So it makes sense that Airbnb apartments would be the most affordable in western Europe, with travellers paying an average of $80 a night. You have to head east to find a better deal: Serbia, Albania and Bulgaria offer great value. See airbnb.com.au

A BOUTIQUE HOTEL IN ARGENTINA

Stylish Argentinian cities such as Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Bariloche feature plenty of beautifully designed boutique hotels that are also eminently affordable. Five-star properties such as Fierro, Nuss and the Duque in BA, and the Lares de Chacras and Bohemia in Mendoza cost $200 a night or less. See hotels.com

THE SWISS TRAVEL PASS

SunFeb11coverbargains?best travel bargains ; text by Ben?Groundwater credit: Shutterstock ** EDITORIAL USE ONLY ** Re-use permitted Zermatt, Switzerland. Gornergrat tourist train with waterfall, bridge and Matterhorn. Valais region.

Photo: Shutterstock.com

A three-day Swiss Travel Pass costs about $322, which may not sound cheap, but the pass allows holders unlimited access to all Swiss trains, buses and public boats, plus 50 per cent off mountain railways and cableways, and free entry into more than 500 museums. Use it wisely and you'll save a bundle. See myswitzerland.com/rail

A HIGH QUALITY MEAL IN VIETNAM

Vietnamese food is good – really good. And it's also really cheap. We're talking about sensationally tasty banh mi, or pork rolls, for $1 each; bowls of bun rieu, a crab and tomato soup, for $1.50; or an absolute feast of fresh seafood for $15 a head. See vietnamtourism.com

A BUDGET FLIGHT THROUGH ASIA

As long as you're willing to put up with the odd hassle or cancellation, it's possible to fly to Asia with budget carriers for an almost insanely small amount of money. Travel with Air Asia X and Scoot and you could be on your way for only a few hundred dollars return. See airasia.com; flyscoot.com

A TAPAS MEAL IN SOUTHERN SPAIN

What counts as cheap tapas? How about zero dollars and zero cents, in the city of Granada? There, if you order a drink at a bar, you'll be given a tapa for free. In other Andalusian cities such as Seville and Cadiz, a small plate of great food will set you back $3-$4. See andalucia.org/en

A WALKING TOUR IN BERLIN, GERMANY

To understand Berlin's underbelly – the street art, the music venues, the former squats – take a walking tour with Alternative Berlin. These tours are run by residents, and reveal a side of the city that's rarely explained. Best of all, they're free. See alternativeberlin.com

SKI LIFT TICKETS IN JAPAN

While you're looking at more than $100 a day for a ski lift pass in Australia or North America, in Japan it's a different story. Prices vary from resort to resort, but most charge about 4000 yen, or $45 a day. And the snow is amazing. See jnto.org.au

A STROLL ALONG THE HIGH LINE IN NEW YORK CITY, US

Though it's easy to spend money on tourist attractions in New York, one of the city's best experiences is free: a walk on the High Line, a 2.33-kilometre public park and pathway built on an old freight railway line that is raised above the city streets. See nycgo.com

TAKING A VIA RAIL TRAIN IN CANADA

You could live it up aboard a dedicated scenic train ride in Canada, to see the Rocky Mountains through glass-domed carriages complete with five-star service. Or you could travel with Via Rail, the national carrier, which runs on the same tracks. See seat61.com/canada

A HOTEL ROOM IN LAS VEGAS

Thanks to the Vegas casinos' wish to get as many people through the door as possible, hotel rooms on the famous strip are surprisingly inexpensive. Expect to pay less than $200 a night for a five-star room in the thick of the action. See visitlasvegas.com

A JAPAN RAIL PASS

Long-distance train travel can be painfully expensive in Japan. The way around that is to buy a Japan Rail Pass, which costs about $327 for seven days, and allows unlimited travel on Japan Railways trains and buses, including bullet trains. See jtbtravel.com.au

A COFFEE IN ROME

For shame, Australia. Here we're used to the standard $3.50 for a flat white, or even more in some places. In Rome, at the stand-up cafes so popular among locals, you'll rarely pay more than €1, or $1.50, for an espresso, and $2.30 for a cappuccino. See turismoroma.it

A LONG-DISTANCE BUS IN EUROPE

Long-distance bus travel isn't everyone's idea of a good time, but if you're on a budget in Europe it's extremely affordable. A bus from London to Edinburgh can be as little as $17. Travel from Berlin to Paris for about $60. And the list goes on. See busradar.com

A BIA HOI IN HANOI, VIETNAM

Bia hoi is the greatest. It's home-brewed beer that's dished up at no-frills bars across Hanoi for as little as 20¢ a glass. Pull up a plastic stool and pair your beer with some tasty snacks, and you have the cheapest, most enjoyable night out imaginable. See vietnamtourism.gov.vn

AN INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT

Remember when it cost more than $3000 to fly to South America, or Africa, or sometimes even Europe? Those days are long gone. Now you can jump on a return flight with a full-service carrier to almost any destination for $1500 or less. Truly, this is travel's golden age.

A MASSAGE IN THAILAND

You could buy, say, a coffee and a train ticket in Australia. Or for the same price you could get an hour-long Thai massage in somewhere like Phuket or Khao Lak. Massages in Thailand (and in much of south-east Asia) are so affordable you could have one daily and go nowhere near breaking the bank. See tourismthailand.org

A SKI IN BULGARIA

It doesn't have the cachet of a ski holiday in Chamonix or Zermatt, but what Bulgaria does have is value for money. At resorts such as Bansko and Borovets you can get a lift ticket for about $40 a day, and accommodation and on-mountain food are similarly affordable. See bulgariaski.com

A TOUR OF NORTHERN INDIA

You might think a guided tour would be an expensive way to travel. However, Intrepid Travel's 22-day "North India Revealed" tour, which includes accommodation, transport, most meals and activities in places such as Agra, Jaipur and Varanasi, costs $67 a day. See intrepidtravel.com

A DISCOUNT TICKET ON BROADWAY, US

This isn't a special that you need to keep an eye out for – it happens every day. Simply wait in line at the TKTS booth in New York City to pick up heavily discounted theatre tickets for shows that day. There's a similar system for London's West End. See nycgo.com

A MUSEUM VISIT IN LONDON, ENGLAND

There isn't a city in the world with as many high quality, free museums and art galleries as London. Access the Natural History Museum, the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Tate Modern and many, many more for no charge. See visitlondon.com

A LIVE MUSIC SHOW IN AUSTIN, TEXAS, US

The self-proclaimed "live music capital of the world" holds up its end of the bargain by staging nightly gigs across the city. These concerts, at venues such as the Scoot Inn, Shady Grove and Hole In The Wall, are sometimes free, or cost little more than $5 to $10. See austintexas.org

A BEACH IN AUSTRALIA

Australia's beaches are arguably the country's greatest natural assets, and pretty much every single one is open to the public, and free. Spend some time in Europe and you'll come to appreciate what a gift that is. See australia.com

A FREEDOM CAMP IN NEW ZEALAND

You can't camp just anywhere in New Zealand. However, if you do find a "freedom camping" spot, or one of the more basic Department of Conservation campsites, you'll be able to pitch a tent or park your motorhome there for free. See newzealand.com

A LUNCH AT A RESTAURANT IN JAPAN

Many high-end restaurants in cities such as Tokyo and Osaka offer far cheaper menus for lunch than they do for dinner. And there are other ways to eat cheaply in Japan: ramen bars sell bowls of goodness for $10 or less, and chains such as Yoshinoya offer quality food on the cheap. See jnto.org.au

AN OVERLAND TRIP IN EAST AFRICA

There are two ways to do safaris in east Africa: the five-star way, staying at beautiful properties that cost a bomb; or the "overland" way, travelling around in a big truck, sleeping in campsites and doing things on the cheap. The animals don't mind which you choose. See tucantravel.com

A BOUTIQUE SHOPPING SOJOURN IN BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA

Take a look around in the Argentine capital: everyone is immaculately, stylishly dressed. BA residents buy their clothes in the boutiques in areas such as Palermo and San Telmo, making the most of some of the cheapest designer fashion around. See argentina.travel

A MICHELIN-STARRED DINNER IN SINGAPORE

You can spend a lot of money on food in Singapore if you want. However, the city's hawker stands – including the Michelin-starred Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle – dish up the best food around for as little as $2 or $3 a plate. See visitsingapore.com

A RIAD STAY IN FES, MOROCCO

Moroccan riads are traditional houses or mansions that feature beautifully tiled walls and cool interior courtyards. They sound expensive, but in the city of Fes you can pick up a riad room for as little as $100 a night. See visitmorocco.com

A METRO RIDE IN DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Everything is bigger and better in Dubai – and sometimes that applies to prices, too. So it's a relief to discover you can ride the excellent Metro system for $1 a ride. On the subject of public transport, Melbourne's free trams within the CBD are an absolute steal. See visitdubai.com

A HIGH-END DINNER IN LIMA, PERU

The Peruvian capital is home to some of the finest restaurants in the world, including Central, ranked number five by the coveted World's 50 Best restaurant awards; Maido, ranked number eight, and Astrid y Gaston, ranked 33. Forget the high prices though – a meal at these restaurants costs a fraction of what you'll pay in Europe. See peru.travel

A MOUNTAIN GUIDE IN ASPEN, US

Aspen Snowmass ski resort has long been associated with all things rich and famous, but not everything costs a pretty penny. The resort offers free daily mountain tours, led by local ambassadors, as well as free yoga classes. See aspensnowmass.com

A FEED OF LOBSTER IN BELIZE

Arrive in this Central American haven between June and February and you'll be in for a treat: fresh lobster, from the warm Caribbean, served in restaurants for about $20 a kilo. Same goes in Sri Lanka, too, where a whole crustacean will set you back about $30. See travelbelize.org

A STAR FERRY IN HONG KONG, CHINA

It's a beautiful thing when public transport becomes a tourist attraction, because you know the costs will be low. A ride across Hong Kong's harbour on the famous Star Ferry costs $0.35. You can't beat that. See discoverhongkong.com

A STROLL THROUGH JERUSALEM'S OLD CITY

It feels as if you should have to pay to wander Jerusalem's Old City and see world-famous sights such as the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But it's free. See goisrael.com

A BLUE BIRD TAXI RIDE IN BALI, INDONESIA

Forget the hassle of haggling. Forget fighting about using the meter. In Bali, Blue Bird taxis have forged a reputation as being trustworthy and affordable. You won't be ripped off, and you'll get where you need to go. See bluebirdgroup.com

A TAILORED OUTFIT IN HOI AN, VIETNAM

You can't miss the fact that Hoi An, in central Vietnam, is all about the rag trade – and if you have missed it, someone will quickly fill you in. Here you can have a suit or a dress knocked up in a few days, for a fraction of the price you'd pay at home. See vietnamtourism.gov.vn

A FRENCH WINE FROM THE BARREL

Visit some of the smaller, co-op run wineries in French regions such as Bordeaux and Languedoc and you'll be able to fill up a litre bottle of wine straight from the barrel for as little as €1. See au.france.fr

A LUXURY HOTEL IN ISTANBUL, TURKEY

Stylish Istanbul is filled with luxury boutique hotels, particularly in suburbs such as Beyoglu and Sultanahmet, and they're cheap. According to hotels.com, Australian travellers pay an average of $170 a night for five-star accommodation in the city. See hotels.com

A SUPERMARKET BEER IN EUROPE

Beer and wine in Europe are cheap anywhere you buy them; however, if you're picking up a few bottles in a supermarket, beer in particular is ridiculously inexpensive.

A MANLY FERRY IN SYDNEY

Why pay for an organised harbour cruise in Sydney when you can simply jump on the Manly Ferry at Circular Quay and see the NSW capital in all its sparkling, mansion-lined glory for the princely sum of $8.90? See transportnsw.info

A FOOD TRUCK FEED IN THE US

Follow the hungry hordes in cities such Portland, Los Angeles and Seattle and you'll find they're not heading to restaurants, but food trucks. These mobile diners offer inventive, delicious cuisine at affordable prices. See visittheusa.com.au

A MARKET SHOP IN LA PAZ, BOLIVIA

Doesn't matter if you're after handmade clothing, unique souvenirs, homemade snacks or witchcraft supplies – you'll find it at a market in the La Paz, Bolivia, and it will be cheap. Don't miss the Mercado 16 de Julio, the Witches Market, and the Mercado Negro, or "Black Market". See bolivia.travel

A CATHEDRAL VISIT IN PARIS, FRANCE

Entry into Paris' most famous cathedrals – Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur and Sainte-Chapelle – is free any day of the year. It's also free to view permanent collections at the Musee de la Vie Romantique, and all Parisian national museums have free entry on the first Sunday of the month. See en.parisinfo.com

AN UNRESERVED TRAIN TICKET IN INDIA

Travelling on a budget? Fancy yourself as being intrepid? Book unreserved second-class seats on Indian trains. They won't be comfortable, and you'll have to pack into a scrum of locals to grab a space, but it will be an experience, and it will be cheap. See seat61.com

A BLOCK OF SUPERMARKET-BRAND SWISS CHOCOLATE

You could spend a lot of money on Swiss chocolate. A lot. Or you could call into a Coop, the local supermarket, and pick up their home-brand chocolate – genuine Swiss chocolate – for about $3 a block. See myswitzerland.com

See also: The six dumbest things travellers do to save money

See also: 23 things you must do before you travel

FIVE EXPERIENCES THAT CAN BE WORTH THE PRICE

A HELICOPTER OVER THE GRAND CANYON

You're looking at about $350 a person to fly from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon. However, as soon as that magnificent landmark comes into view, and the ground drops away beneath the helicopter, you'll know it's been worth it. See visitlasvegas.com

See also: The grand canyon by helicopter

A FINE DINING MEAL IN SPAIN

If you want to dine at legendary Spanish establishments such as El Celler de Can Roca (rated No. 3 in the world), Asador Etxebarri (No. 6), or Mugaritz (No. 9), it's going to cost more than $300 a person. But you want to try the best, right? See spain.info

A MALDIVES OVERWATER BUNGALOW STAY

Picture it: crystal-clear water, white sand, a warm ocean breeze … there are few things more enticing than an overwater bungalow in the Maldives. You just have to do your best not to picture the price tag, which will probably be $750 a night or more. See visitmaldives.com

A FIVE-STAR AFRICAN SAFARI

Though we've spruiked the benefits of a budget overland tour of Africa in this story, there really is nothing that can compare with the full five-star safari treatment, the glamping tent, the fine dining, the expert trackers and guides. It's worth every penny. See classicsafaricompany.com.au

A CRUISE TO ANTARCTICA

There's really no cheap way to sail from the south of Argentina to Antarctica, and nor should there be. This is an experience that should be done right, with a good ship and professional crew. It's a long way to go, and it's the journey of a lifetime – why scrimp? See chimuadventures.com

FIVE TIPS FOR SAVING ON ANY TRAVEL EXPERIENCE

BOOK AHEAD, BOOK ONLINE

Whether you're booking flights or train tickets, museum entries or theme park rides, you'll almost always save money if you book ahead, and if you do that booking yourself online.

USE AGGREGATORS

You can't cover every single travel website out there looking for the best deal. Instead, use aggregators such as SkyScanner, Kayak, Adioso, hotels.com, Hostelz and more to find the cheapest deals.

TRAVEL IN THE LOW SEASON

If you can put up with inclement weather, this is the best way to travel on the cheap. You'll save on airfares, hotel rooms, entry into attractions and so much more, just by travelling when no one else wants to.

SIGN UP TO MAILING LISTS

Your favourite airline is having a sale? That cruise company has discounts? Hotels are going cheap? You'll be the first to know if you sign up for various companies' mailing lists.

DO YOUR RESEARCH

This is the key. The more you know, the less you'll pay. Can you book an experience online? Can you get cheap lunches at a fancy restaurant? Can you cook your own meals at certain locations? Knowledge is key.

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