Looking for an unforgettable travel experience? Start by picking a destination that isn’t necessarily known as a “tourist” spot. The world is full of remarkable and well-known places, but an equal number of hidden gems worth exploring await.
GOBankingRates teamed up with Couchsurfing, a social-networking platform that connects travelers with free lodging, to come up with a list of not-so-visible locations. In fact, about 400,000 people around the world welcome visitors through Couchsurfing.
So, if you’re looking for a cheap vacation, these under-the-radar places are relatively affordable.
- Estimated airfare: $1,161
- Stay with 1 of 22 Couchsurfing hosts
Nuku'alofa is the capital city of Tonga — a tiny Polynesian island in the South Pacific with a population of just 107,122. Travelers will enjoy long stretches of white beaches, nice weather and some of the world's best opportunities for snorkeling.
According to Jasmin Dodge, a Couchsurfing host, most travelers visit to swim with the whales and experience a culture where people live simply. “The family dynamics and traditional lifestyle are definitely what makes Tonga unique,” she said.
- Estimated airfare: $1,057, with change of airline in Iceland
- Stay with 1 of 1 Couchsurfing host
Kulusuk is one of the most beautiful places in the world when it comes to viewing icebergs and experiencing a culture dependent upon hunting and fishing. Colorful houses are trickled throughout the small fishing village of approximately 260 people, with snow-capped peaks in the backdrop.
Air Greenland, the main airline carrier for Greenland, recommends taking a tour to see spectacular views of the enormous icebergs in the Denmark Strait.
- Estimated airfare: $746
- Stay with 1 of 11,832 Couchsurfing hosts
Although Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria, the city does not get the attention it deserves. In recent years, Sofia has been named one of Europe’s most affordable places to visit.
According to travel site Trip Advisor, Sofia lies near the popular ski mountain, Vitosha, and is one of Europe’s oldest cities. Known for its stunning architecture, Sofia offers visitors plenty of sightseeing with its historic sites, beautiful churches and parks.
- Estimated airfare: $722
- Stay with 1 of 22 Couchsurfing hosts
If you want to travel as north as you can get, head to Barrow — now known as Utqiagvik. It's the northernmost place in America. The city, on the Arctic Ocean, is home to Inupiat Eskimos, one of the largest Eskimo settlements in the state.
Summer is the time to visit this area, where daylight shines 24 hours a day between May 10 and Aug. 2. Tours of the area include polar bear viewing, photographing snowy owls or learning about the North Slope’s culture, according to TravelAlaska.com.
Visitors can also visit National Register of Historic Places sites Cape Smythe Whaling and Trading Station, as well as the Birnirk archaeological site.
- Estimated airfare: $1,009
- Stay with 1 of 32 Couchsurfing hosts
Situated on the Horn of Africa, Djibouti offers a little bit of everything: volcanic formations, grandiose canyons and Gulf of Aden beaches. According to the Lonely Planet, travelers will enjoy hiking, diving and whale-shark sightings in the Gulf of Tadjoura. A whale-sighting excursion costs about $70.
Benin, West Africa
- Estimated airfare: $1,323.
- Stay with 1 of 3,680 Couchsurfing hosts
Benin is another underrated Africa destination and the birthplace of voodoo. Attractions include the Parc National de la Pendjari, which is considered among the best wildlife parks in West Africa, according to the Lonely Planet. There, you’ll discover cheetahs, elephants and hundreds of other animal types.
If you want to explore the voodoo culture a bit further, visit in January, when there’s a voodoo festival on the beach of Ouidah.
- Estimated airfare: $768 to fly into Zurich, Switzerland
- Rail from Zurich to Vaduz, Liechtenstein: $8.23
- Stay with 1 of 975 Couchsurfing hosts
Landlocked between Switzerland and Austria, this tiny country with mountain slopes rising above the Rhine Valley is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s the perfect destination for outdoor adventurers with “a remarkable number of trails to hike and slopes to ski,” according to the Lonely Planet.
The Vaduz Castle overlooks Vaduz, the capital city. The 12th-century castle continues to be the home to the royal family. There are also many museums to explore.
- Estimated airfare: $446 to fly into Barcelona, Spain
- Bus ticket to Andorra: $28.05
- Stay with 1 of 532 Couchsurfing hosts
Andorra is small, but it pays to visit this tiny independent principality snuggled between France and Spain in the Pyrenees mountains. Travelers will find snow-capped mountains and quaint villages among the spectacular things to see.
Andorra also could provide the ideal shopping adventure. The country offers duty-free shopping and bargains galore.
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Rotorua, New Zealand
- Estimated airfare: $1,413
- Stay with 1 of 395 Couchsurfing hosts
Rotorua is known for simmering mud pools, natural hot springs and Maori culture. Although travelers visit Rotorua for these attractions, there are still destinations off the tourist path that are equally breathtaking and don’t cost a thing.
Take Hamurana Springs, for example. According to Rotorua-Travel-Secrets.com, a travel blog website dedicated to the destination, the water has trickles of turquoise, jade and emerald and is away from the hustle and bustle.
- Estimated airfare: $897 to fly to Pula, Croatia
- Bus ticket from Pula to Rovinj: From $5.08
- Stay with 1 of 73 Couchsurfing hosts
The belief is that Croatia is expensive, but it really could be considered one of the best cheap vacations — if you plan your trip right.
According to Forbes, you can rent a car and island hop by ferry, which are both relatively affordable. Plus, traveling to less well-known coastal towns, such as Rovinj, can save money.
Rovinj won’t disappoint. According to Croatia’s tourism site, the church of St. Euphemia is a must-see site and a copy of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. Tourists will be charmed by the fishing town’s cobblestone streets and stunning beaches.
- Estimated airfare: $1,044 to fly to Faro, Portugal
- Bus trip: $8.23
- Stay with 1 of 127 Couchsurfing hosts
Tavira is a city rich with history and charming plazas, and it’s also home to gorgeous beaches. Travelers won’t want to miss the Cemetery of Anchors on the Praia do Barril Beach, a memorial to the area’s former fishing trade. For a day outing, rent a kayak or visit some of the area’s historic churches.
Tavira is part of Portugal’s Algarve region but attracts fewer visitors than Lagos, where there’s more nightlife and lively beach resorts. In essence, travelers might get a more authentic Portuguese experience that accommodates more budgets, according to a regional travel guide.
- Estimated airfare: $649
- Stay with 1 of 677 Couchsurfing hosts
When you think of Peru, iconic wonders such as Machu Picchu likely come to mind. However, there is much more to this South American country.
Take Piura, for example. The Global Grasshopper, an independent travel blog, named the city as one of the most beautiful Peruvian destinations for its incredible and relaxing beaches. In the city, travelers can get a true understanding of Peruvian culture and history with its many monuments and museums, as well as its endless Spanish architecture.
- Estimated airfare: $477 to fly to Gillette, Wyo.
- Bus trip from Gillette to Buffalo: From $26
- Stay with 1 of 19 Couchsurfing hosts
Some of the most beautiful destinations and cheap vacations are on U.S. soil. Buffalo happens to be one of them, especially if you love the outdoors.
Nestled in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains, you’re certain to see elk, moose and other wildlife. Its downtown is a throwback to the American Old West, with historic buildings and the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum.
- Estimated airfare: 2,102 to fly to Heraklion, Greece
- Stay with 1 of 2,970 Couchsurfing hosts
Crete is Greece’s largest island, but there’s more to it than the path most visitors follow. According to Tourist Guide of Crete, a travel agency and private tour company, the village of Archanes is a recommended travel stop for those seeking an unknown adventure. The town is situated in the wine-producing region of Crete and is famous for its Cretan architecture.
As for cheap vacations, Greece isn’t the cheapest — but there’s money to be saved. According to the Budget You Trip website, the average daily price for traveling in Greece is $122. You can cut that expense nearly in half just by staying with a Couchsurfing host.
Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, Calif.
- Estimated airfare: $227 to fly to Santa Rosa, Calif.
- Stay with 1 of 75 Couchsurfing hosts
Glass Beach is truly a trash-to-treasures story — and a beautiful destination to explore. It's located in MacKerricher State Park near Fort Bragg.
What travelers see now is beautiful abundant sea glass created from years of garbage dumped into the area. It’s illegal to take any pieces home with you, so take pictures instead. There are trails that will take you outside park boundaries for further exploration.
Estimated round-trip airfare starting at Los Angeles International Airport was sourced from Google Flights for Feb. 3 to Feb. 10, 2018, unless otherwise noted. Costs and number of Couchsurfing hosts are current as of Aug. 24, 2017.