Extravagance may be the enemy of tight budgets, but there’s no need to hit the brakes on your expensive tastes. Sure, you might not be travelling in first class, but you can still indulge in a little VIP treatment – without maxing out the credit card.
Salvation lies in these affordable luxuries: star-spangled dining, castle sleeps and VIP treatment, all tailored for limited travel budgets.
Thermal bath for less in Reykjavík, Iceland
Melting into a naturally heated pool is a classic Icelandic experience. Best known is the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavík, but you can soothe your muscles without shedding all those kronur. Head to Nauthólsvík instead (nautholsvik.is): this dainty strip of white sand has a pool of simmering seawater and a couple of hot tubs. The admission charge elicits as ardent a sigh of delight as the silky water: it’s free in summer and in winter is just Ikr500; compare that to Ikr5400 for the most basic package at the Blue Lagoon.
Low-season safari in East Africa
Travel in low season. You’ve heard this wheeze before: lower prices, but severe penalties when it comes to weather and sights, right? Not so in East Africa, where venturing out on safari in rainy season offers more than a shaving off money and crowds. The wet seasons (March to June and October to December) also have luminous sunsets and plenty of animals nurturing their young – excellent reasons to brave the rain (which, by the way, is patchy rather perpetual downfall). You don’t need to camp, self-drive or give up on luxe aspects like guided game drives, but you can save up to 40%.
Michelin stars for spare change in Hong Kong, China
If your belly rumbles only for globally acclaimed cuisine, follow the fragrant steam towards Hong Kong’s Tim Ho Wan. Dim Sum lovers swear by the barbecue pork buns and golden-fried turnip cakes of the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant. Now a global sensation, chef and founder Mak Kwai Pui has new branches in Singapore, Sydney and Melbourne. Go now while the original is still the best.
Budget-friendly fragrance in France
Quality perfume doesn’t come cheap, and bespoke blended scents bust the bank balance even more – unless you follow your nose to the French Riviera. Centuries ago, abundant blooms and Mediterranean sunshine made the town of Grasse a centre for perfume-making. These days, travellers hoping to cloak themselves in fine fragrance linger among Grasse’s cobbled alleys and apricot-coloured buildings. Buying perfume from the source means rock-bottom prices, and workshops allow you to blend your very own scent.
A sauna of your own in Sweden
In Scandinavia, saunas aren’t luxury, they’re a way of life. These muscle-soothing hot rooms are considered so intrinsic to good health that they are built into hotels and apartments. And even in notoriously expensive Sweden you can snap up not only mid-range accommodation with sauna facilities, but your own private sauna. Apartments with private saunas in the lakeside winter sports haven re start at Skr4045 (US$490) for a week, beating the price of Swedish spa hotels.
Cheap sleeps in a castle in Germany
You don’t need celebrity clout to commandeer a castle in the Rhine Valley. Fabulous fortifications abound in this rugged green slice of western Germany, and even travellers with light wallets can bed down in Burg Stahleck. This spiky-turreted castle is the real deal: a 12th-century fortification that has seen sieges, explosions and ownership scuffles aplenty. Burg Stahleck has been raising its portcullis for visitors for decades, in between stints as a military hospital. Best of all, you can enjoy this family-friendly youth hostel accommodation and its superlative views without having to stand and deliver your purse (jugendherberge.de).
Personalised cocktails in London, UK
Your thirst is fickle, your palate easily bored. Instead of paying hand-over-fist for the same old gin fizz, how about a devoted mixologist catering to your every whim? In a bare-brick cellar in the British capital, your capricious taste buds are BYOC’s command (byoc.co.uk). Pay the entry fee and bring a bottle of booze that’s gathering dust. Expert mixologists will draw on their alchemist’s chest of syrups, salts and cordials to craft cocktails according to your mood.
VIP for free in Las Vegas, USA
Cover charges, resort fees, a little flutter turned all-night bender… Sin City sinks serious dollars. But you can sashay into nightclubs even after you’ve lost your shirt – just sign up for Free Vegas Club Passes (freevegasclubpasses.com). They’ll put you down for free and VIP entry and tip you off about the night’s locations by SMS. Ladies and gents can enjoy free entry to some usually wallet-wilting nightspots, and the ladies might get a few free drinks too. As if you needed more of an excuse to misbehave.
Budget spa bliss in Fez, Morocco
Buffing, exfoliating and massaging until your muscles turn to butter – nowhere does it better than Morocco. Riads and hotels are keen to cash in on travellers hungry for a hammam experience, but if you follow the locals you can spend perhaps 20 dirhams (instead of hundreds). Arm yourself with a towel, soap and small change to tip attendants and rent a kiis (a scrub glove that will polish you like marble). Once you’re through the doors, alternate between warm, hot and cool rooms and rinse lavishly. Throw in a few dirhams for gommage with olive oil soap and you’ve got a royal scrubdown at pauper prices.
Rock-bottom ryokan in Japan
The words ‘shoestring ryokan’ suggest hard tatami sleeping mats with little of Japan’s famed omotenashi (hospitality). But a traditional inn experience can be enjoyed for a fraction of the usual price, without forfeiting hot baths and sublime in-room dining. Start by tweaking the location: ryokan-seekers are drawn to Kyoto, city of swaying lanterns and cherry-lipped geisha. Some plum deals for luxury ryokan lie further afield, like Sera Bekkan in Hiroshima. A night in a traditional room, with a feast served right to your bedroom plus bathing facilities to simmer in, costs a mere ¥10,000 (US$85).