5 Surprisingly Cheap Countries to Travel from Australia and How to Make it Even Cheaper with Points!

Sarajevo, one of the places you can travel very cheaply from Australia

Travelling to countries has been made more expensive after the COVID pandemic. Australia’s extended border closures meant a lot of airlines had stopped flying to the country, only exacerbating the problem. As flights start coming back, travel demand remains high, and the prices have not come down. This means anyone bitten by the travel bug might struggle to find a holiday they can afford, so here are some unlikely ideas on cheap countries you can travel to and how using points will make it even cheaper for you.

Many Southeast Asian destinations are known among Australians for being cheap. I have tried to avoid these to give you some inspiration for destinations a bit less well-known in Australia. While these European countries seem pretty far away, they all have one common quality – they’re cheap to travel around, cheap to find accommodation in and, most importantly, stunning!

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    Türkiye

    Cappadocia region in Turkey, an almost martian landscape full of beauty

    Türkiye is one of the most diverse countries I’ve ever visited. From the sprawling metropolis of Istanbul to the beaches around Kaş. There is something to see for everyone here, and I encourage people to explore as much as they can. Domestic travel within the country is cheap and easy. I used a combination of domestic flights and car hire, which were good options. For those who prefer there are bus tours available, but I think car hire allows more exploration of the beautiful landscapes Turkey has to offer.

    Costs as you’d expect, are variable. Accommodation in Istanbul can be pricey but if you stay in quieter areas, such as the Asian side, it can be much cheaper. A nice 3-star hotel will cost about $75 a night, while a 5-star hotel will be more than $300 a night. These costs come down significantly once you leave Istanbul. For instance, the wonderful Araf hotel that I’ve stayed at previously. Food is extremely cheap with full meals routinely available for less than $20 for two including drinks. Most hotels will also include breakfast in the price. The country is undergoing an economic crisis, so prices can fluctuate. For instance, we bought the 15-day Türkiye Museum Pass for 800 lira, and by the time we had left, we had to pay 1500 lira for the same thing.

    Croatia

    Dubrovnik, the narrow alleyways and tall, narrow streets will leave you wandering for hours

    Croatia is a popular holiday destination among Europeans. Still, I would say it’s less well known in Australia, likely as it isn’t as well connected to Australia as the rest of Europe. Croatia is a beautiful country with plenty to offer. Zagreb has wonderful food and plenty of national parks a short bus ride away from it. The island of Hvar has a wonderful seaside town that offers a stunning Mediterranean retreat. Dubrovnik, made famous by Game of Thrones, is an intricate maze of ancient buildings that allows you to get lost for hours down tiny alleyways.

    Croatia is becoming more of a holiday destination and towns like Dubrovnik are tourist hotspots. Accommodation here can be expensive, and food is as pricey as you might find in popular Western European countries. Zagreb remains affordable as many people use it as a base to travel to the rest of the country rather than spend time here. Smaller towns such as Zadar and Split offer plenty to see and do, especially if you have a car to explore the surroundings but also offer a gateway to Croatia’s many islands to access by ferry. These are much cheaper and remain beautiful in their own way.

    Hungary

    Miskolc, Hungary a beautiful small town in the Hungarian countryside

    While Hungary is quite a well-known country with many people visiting Budapest, the rest of the country is often forgotten and not very well explored. Budapest is a beautiful city steeped in history with many places to explore. Less popular towns such as Lillafüred and Balatonfüred are incredibly beautiful and easy to get to by train from Budapest. Visiting Balatonfüred during the summer lets you see the expansive Hungarian lavender fields and relax by the lakeside. It’s truly a destination enjoyed by the locals and gives you a glimpse into people’s everyday lives if that interests you.

    Accommodation outside of Budapest is extremely cheap. I stayed in an entire apartment at a bargain price making it the perfect hub to traverse the region. Train travel around the area is also very cheap, although few people speak English in the area so be prepared for this when trying to ask for directions. The area receives many German tourists, and most locals also speak German in addition to Hungarian.

    Bulgaria

    Buzludzha monument, a stark and impressive reminder of Bulgaria's Soviet past

    Sofia is a city with an extensive history starting from the Romans. The city has so Roman ruins within one of its metro stations! You can also find remnants from its past as a socialist republic and Soviet ally (like the Buzludzha monument above). Outside of Sofia is the town of Plovdiv, another Ancient Roman city with a reconstructed amphitheatre and a Roman stadium on show. Among Europeans, Bulgaria is famous for its cheap skiing for beginner and intermediate skiers costing less than one-third of the price of its equivalent in Australia.

    Accommodation in Bulgaria is relatively affordable. I found hotels in Sofia were quite reasonable for the service offered. As far as accommodation in smaller towns I would highly recommend the Old Plovdiv guest house. Getting around Bulgaria is, again, not an easy feat. While the capital, Sofia, has an extensive metro, the trains and busses are slow and can be unreliable. I managed to hire a car for $40 for four days so if you’re comfortable driving I would highly recommend going this route.

    Bosnia and Herzegovina

    Strbacki buk, a famous waterfall in Bosnia - a very cheap attraction to travel to when you're in the country

    Bosnia is a country that was not so long ago mired in conflict. While tension and economic issues remain in the country, the conflict is behind them. The country is small with its capital, Sarajevo, home to only 500,000 people. Nevertheless, the country is unique, with so many places to see. Natural attractions include the famous Štrbački buk, a waterfall you can get incredibly close to and only a short drive from the Croatian border. The town of Mostar with its Old Bridge and unfortunate history in the recent civil war remains a must-see. Another unlikely sight is the relics from the Winter Olympic Games held in Sarajevo in 1984, including the old Ski jumps and bobsled tracks.

    Getting around Bosnia is difficult without a car as travel between cities is by bus. Buses leave from both Sarajevo and Dubrovnik to go to Mostar infrequently, and while this is doable and cheap, if you are comfortable driving I recommend going this route. Accommodation and food in Bosnia are very affordable with a chain 3-star hotel starting at about $50 a night up to $200 per night for a 5-star hotel. It is effortless to find meals for less than $5 per person.

    Using your points to get you to Eastern Europe

    Flights to this part of the world can sometimes be expensive, so you should use your frequent flyer points to make your journey even cheaper. These journeys are more complex to plan than many points journeys as there are fewer flights in and out of these destinations and other than Istanbul, they tend not to be near hub cities. Here are the strategies I would use to get here.

    1. Find flights to any Central/Western European destination as these are much easier to find reward flights with, given that many Asian and Middle East carriers fly here. An example would be Frankfurt, Vienna, Milan, Prague or Budapest.
    2. Look for reward flights from Asia to Europe. Reward availability between Asia and Europe is much higher than from Australia. Booking a flight with Scoot or Air Asia to Singapore, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur and finding a reward flight from there is much easier.
    3. Fly European budget carriers to your destination. Although carriers like Ryanair and Easyjet often receive a bad rap, if you are across all the rules, they can be hassle-free and a great way to save money over full-service European carriers. Budget airlines also offer you flexibility if you’re able to do without the frills, saving you more money.

    Here is an example Eastern European itinerary that I’ve put together. This is, of course, not the only option but one of many. To give you a comparison, a cash fare from Sydney to Zagreb is $2,400 return at the time of writing.

    Date Route (Airline) Cost
    15 October 2023
    Sydney to San Francisco to Frankfurt (United Airlines)
    59,800 Velocity points + $132
    16 October 2023
    Frankfurt (Hahn) to Zagreb (Ryanair)
    $110 (with checked bag)
    Alternate to avoid airport change
    Frankfurt to Zagreb (Croatia Airlines)
    $160
    30 October 2023
    Budapest to Doha to Sydney (Qatar Airways)
    75,000 Velocity points + $302
    Total
    134,800 Velocity points + $704

    Here you have saved almost $1700 per flight compared to a cash fare. This saving is magnified if you’re travelling as a couple or family. The cost of the points is negligible here as, if you’re doing it right, they don’t cost you anything to acquire. There are likely even cheaper flight options than the one I’ve shown you above, but here are a couple of points to highlight about the advantages of using points for cheap holidays:

    • It removes the most expensive part of reaching these cheap destinations. Travelling to Eastern Europe is costly from Australia. If you use points, you can reduce this cost significantly. You then get all the benefits of cheap accommodation, food and sightseeing at the destination.
    • It allows much more flexibility. As you can see, you aren’t limited to just a return flight when booking with points. While booking these so-called “open jaw” flights with airlines is possible, using points gives you this ability, plus adding stopovers when desired with no extra costs involved.

    Once you’re in the country, you will need a way to get money out easily, especially if you’re going through multiple countries, as only Croatia is part of the Eurozone. To avoid the hassle of converting from one currency to another and losing money each time, consider one of the other cheaper and easily accessible options on the table. You might also need a SIM card when you’re travelling. Countries like Bosnia aren’t included in free EU roaming plans and signing up for local plans can sometimes be challenging. I find it easier to get a cheap instant eSIM which you can buy using the airport/hotel WiFi before you need it.

    As you can see, there are many cheap countries to explore and getting to them from Australia is easy once you know how to take advantage of your points and use budget airlines to your advantage.

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