Tim Leffel, author of The World's Cheapest Destinations: 21 Countries Where Your Money Is Worth a Fortune ($14.95, Booklocker.com Inc.), says when problems put a nation in the headlines, tourists often shun the whole region — even when it's perfectly safe. "You can get a deal of a lifetime," he says.Even if your budget is stretched, 2011 can still be a year of travel. It's just a matter of choosing the right place.
Far from resenting your presence, local business owners are glad to have you there filling hotels and restaurants. Leffel shares his tips for this year's bargain vacation spots with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
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Although drug-related violence has been concentrated near the U.S. border, many travelers have avoided the entire country. That means incredible bargains in Cancun, Cabo San Lucas and other resort areas, Leffel says. "There are so many rooms they are trying to fill, so every week there are unbelievable deals." Bargains are even more eye-opening in interior cities. "You pay what the Mexicans pay," says Leffel, who is spending the year living in the colonial city ofGuanajuato. 800-446-3942; visitmexico.com
You don't have to be a mountain climber to experience the home of Mount Everest. Visitors can take fascinating cultural tours out of Kathmandu, while fully outfitted whitewater rafting trips are available at less than $50 a day, a fraction of the cost in North America. Recent political problems mean that tourists are staying away, and bargains are even greater than usual, Leffel says. welcomenepal.com
The Asian country has been a bargain destination for a decade, and there's no reason that will change in 2011, Leffel says. Resort islands like Bali are easy to reach, and although the country is popular with Australians, most Americans don't realize how much Indonesia has to offer. "It's a whole chain of islands and it's got everything: beaches, diving, mountains and culture," Leffel says. indonesia.travel
With first-class diving and Mayan ruins, Honduras has long been a bargain vacation spot. But tourists have stayed away since a political power struggle in 2009. Despite higher prices on Roatan, a popular cruise ship stopover, "they like to bill it as the Caribbean without the Caribbean prices, and it's less than half the price for hotels and diving. You can pay $30 to $40 a dive," Leffel says. 800-410-9608; letsgohonduras.com/
Whether you're a backpacker looking for $5-a-night flophouse, or a high-end visitor seeking a luxury hotel, you'll find bargains here. Vietnam is one of the few Asian countries where the dollar gained value in 2010, up about 5.5% for the year. "It's a wonderful country to visit and it's easy there. You can set up tours at hotels, and the food is great," Leffel says. vietnamtourism.com
This Mediterranean country has been attracting tourists for millennia, and despite its recent debt crisis, that's not going to change. But the protests and strikes, compounded with the recession that has cut the number of European visitors, means there's excess capacity now. "They're hurting for business and rolling out the discounts," Leffel says. Look for bargain tours, cruises and island vacations. 212-421-5777; visitgreece.gr
It's likely the Emerald Isle's financial crisis will bring travel discounts this year, Leffel says. The country added scores of hotels during its recent economic boom, and now hoteliers are reporting trouble filling rooms. "Anytime a place is onCNN— that sticks in peoples' heads longer than it should," Leffel says. 800-742-6762; discoverireland.com
Not only does this African nation have incredible ruins and scenery, but its currency dropped more than almost any other — nearly 30% against the dollar in 2010. Ethiopia suffers from its location next to troubled Somalia. Leffel suggests traveling with a tour group to reduce the hassle out of exploring the undeveloped country. "There's a lot to see and do here, but it's for the heartier tourist," he says. tourismethiopia.org
This Eastern European nation has all the charm of its western neighbors at lower costs. The country hasn't yet adopted the euro, and its currency fell more than 10% against the dollar in 2010, making it a greater bargain. Leffel recommends avoiding pricey Budapest and heading to the wine country. gotohungary.com
Few people realize what a travel bargain they have at home. Look for deals in places that depend on conventions, such as Las Vegas and Orlando. If you stay away from holiday and peak travel periods, you can find great deals, Leffel says.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel_Tourism/State_Tourism.shtml