“The best things in life are free. The second-best things are very, very expensive.” ~ Coco Chanel
You can experience the wonders of luxury travel on a backpacker’s budget.
How do I know?
Because the most luxurious time in my life was spent traipsing through Asia for 13 months with nothing but a backpack and a laptop.
Let me explain.
By luxury travel, I’m talking about the energized, eye-opening kind of travel that makes your heart burst out of your chest and your soul dive headlong into the present moment.
Sure, there might be a fancy hotel room involved, or a tropical drink sweating in the palm of your hand, but those things aren’t the point. Those things aren’t what makes travel luxurious.
True luxury can’t be bought. Oh sure, you can spring for a stay at an all-inclusive resort, guiltily tip your dedicated waitstaff as they tidy your 16-bedroom beachfront bungalow, or enjoy wine tastings on a yacht made of diamonds.
All of that’s well and good, but none of it is enough to make you feel luxurious in your mind and your heart.
True luxury is time. True luxury is freedom. True luxury is a break from stress, responsibility, and the cares of the world.
While traveling long-term in Asia, I experienced true luxury travel even though I was more “flashpacker” than luxe traveler.
By working as I traveled and carefully choosing midrange hotels, I experienced the luxury of having money for the first time in my life.
- I ate out every single meal
- I stayed in high-rise beachfront hotels
- I stayed in riverfront bungalows
- I had my laundry sent out
- I even splurged on the occasional massage or mani/pedi!
…and all of this on a budget of about $15-$25/day.
But the perks of being an American traveling in South and Southeast Asia had little to do with the threadcount of my sheets or the view from my hotel room.
Simply having the free time to travel and the money to see, eat, and do whatever I wanted was easily the most luxurious experience of my life.
Now, in order to experience this kind of luxury travel, choosing the right destination is key. I could probably have never gotten away with this in Europe, or North America, or even in pricier Asian cities like Shanghai or Ho Chi Minh City.
But by choosing destinations that were more affordable, I was able to live as luxury traveler on a budget of about $15/day.
Da Nang: The most luxurious budget travel destination in Southeast Asia
Da Nang, Vietnam is one of the best luxury travel destinations on the planet, regardless of your definition of luxury.
There are scores of resorts that line the coast between China Beach and Hoi An, and they run the gamut from $200/night hotels to $10,000/night luxury villas.
But Da Nang is truly decadent because of the possibilities for backpackers and midrange travelers.
- The beautiful beaches lining China Beach are free and open to the public. If you’d like to drink or dine somewhere posh right on the water, you can enjoy happy hour for less than $10 USD.
- There are amazing outdoor seafood restaurants everywhere in Da Nang. They offer fresh-caught, live seafood in all shapes and sizes. Customers get to point to their lunch and enjoy ice-cold cans of Bia La Rue while their lobster is being boiled to perfection. You can have a seafood bonanza for two for less than $15 USD.
- Monkey Mountain commands a skyline that overlooks a glistening city of bridges and sparkling architecture. It’s free to explore the mountain and there’s only a nominal cost to gain entrance to the Lady Buddha statue (Vietnam’s tallest!), which guards the East Sea like an angelic Madonna.
Luxury abounds throughout the world, but it’s possible to experience luxury travel without breaking the bank.
For me, the true mark of luxury lies in the freedom of low-cost living. Being able to truly relax and enjoy each destination is infinitely more luxurious than any yacht or swanky resort could ever be.