Cheap Countries for Student Backpackers - TheStreet

Cheap Countries for Student Backpackers

With the U.S. dollar so weak, it's tough to afford a vacation. Here's where young people can go and still make a buck stretch a long way.
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The dollar's low, the Euro's high, and young American tourists are losing out.

The U.S. dollar is currently worth nearly half of a British pound, and just two-thirds of a euro. Does this mean that this year's crop of recent college grads will go Eurail-less?

Not necessarily.

Though student travel in Asia and South American has seen an "uptick," says Amanda Webb, spokeswoman for STA Travel, "Europe is still our number one seller for summer. Students are finding alternative methods to make their money go further."

These days, students are booking their cheap hostels and border-crossing bus rides in advance, rather than leaving it to chance.

But if single-engine planes and hostels are too much for you,

kiss Europe "auf Wiedersehen," and try South America and Asia

.

Here are some places where college students can satisfy their wanderlust on the winning side of the exchange rate. And, for good measure, some wallet-friendly travel tips as well.

Cambodia

Who needs beaches in the South of France? Cambodia has its own coastline and big cities to boot. Angkor Wat is "heavily touristed for a reason," says travel writer Jeff Koyen, because it's a "stunning place." Phnom Penh, a "Wild West kind of city."

Both places are easy to manage on $20 a day. You can find $1 meals and "a cheap but dirty room" for $5, Koyen suggests.

The Jasmine Lodge in Siem Reap is an "author's choice" in

Lonely Planet

's Cambodia guide, says spokeswoman Rana Freedman.

Siem Reap is the gateway to the temples of Angkor and it's a center for the new wave of visitors passing through each year. The guesthouse costs $2-$15.

Laos

Laos is landlocked, mountainous and "made for young backpackers," says Koyen. The country offers the same $20 a day budget as Cambodia, and so far, is unblemished by chain stores, he says.

Lonely Planet

's Laos guide suggests a home stay with a Laotian family, because the "'real Laos' is village life," says Freedman. The guidebook says you'll probably bathe in a stream (meaning, in public!), go squat outside for an outhouse, and eat sticky rice for most meals while sitting lotus-style on mats on the floor.

Did we mention

Lonely Planet

says you'll be sleeping under a mosquito net and that you should bring your own toilet paper?

Argentina

"If people had their heart set on Spain, go to Argentina," Koyen suggests. The South American country is an "awesome value" because it's still recovering from a 2000 currency crash.

Buenos Aires was a thoroughly modern city before the plunge, so it offers more modern amenities as well as a rich cultural history.

Buenos Aires is like a bigger version of Barcelona

, Koyen says, and it's the place to be if you want a European vibe.

Danny Palmeree, author of

Lonely Planet

's Argentina and Buenos Aires guides, says his favorite hostel is Hostel Carlos Gardel in the San Telmo neighborhood. "It's in a converted century-old house and absolutely beautiful."

Guatemala

Another alternative to Spain is Guatemala, which has beautiful colonial cities, like Antigua, that cozy up to volcanoes. The Central American country is as cheap as Laos, Koyen says, with $3 meals and the most expensive rooms costing about $12 a night.

Freedman recommends students hire local guides in Nebaj and hike across the mountains to either Cocop or Acul.

"This is a great way give back to this impoverished community as the money from your tour (about $10) not only pays the locals who run the tours, but also goes towards community development projects," she says.

Travel Expert Jeff Koyen's Thrifty Travel Tips:

Don't Travel on a Credit Card

.

A credit card might seem like your safest bet internationally, but you, my friend, are going backpacking and that means leaving behind the comforting bosom of

American Express

(AXP) - Get Report

.

That little village in Guatemala may not take plastic, so bring cash and keep it in your small bag.

If you must bring an ATM card with you, "sign on with a bank that won't charge you international ATM fees," advises Koyen. Those transaction fees can add up fast.

Eat Local Food, But Always Drink Bottled Water

.

"Talk to people, make friends and eat local food," Koyen suggests. He eats "street meat," like chicken on a stick, and says he got sick from "street meat" only once -- in Pakistan.

But don't test your luck with local water; just bring bottled water in your bag.

Pack Light

.

"Never pack anything you can live without!" Trust us -- you'll be lugging your bags up and down stairs, so leave your six pairs of shoes at home.

Keep your valuables (passport, plane tickets, etc.) in a small bag that is with you at all times, says Koyen, and leave the less-significant stuff like T-shirts in a larger bag that you can be less cautious with.

Don't Wait for the Next President to Fix the Economy

.

Go see the world! Koyen says, "Take the time now -- there's always time for work."

Jessica Wakeman is a staff writer for MainStreet.com.