Cheap Trick: A review of Tim Leffel’s ‘World’s Cheapest Destinations’

| August 10, 2010 | 9 Comments

513M8fmvfzL. SL160  Cheap Trick: A review of Tim Leffel’s ‘World’s Cheapest Destinations’The World’s Cheapest Destinations: 21 Countries Where Your Money Is Worth a Fortune
Author: Tim Leffel
Publisher:, Inc.
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1591139368
Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces

Bargaining is deeply ingrained in the culture of many destinations—and is something that you are expected to do. And for backpackers on the road, driving a hard bargain can even become a kind of status symbol.

It’s not normal practice in Western culture to haggle—so travellers often have misconceptions about how it’s done. Not wanting to get ripped off can sometimes motivate some to haggle too aggressively and cause offence. We once watched a fellow backpacker argue with the proprietor of a food stall in one of Beijing’s hutongs over the cost of a dumpling. The amount in question? About two yuan—just over US$0.30. Fed up, we called him away from the stall and offered to buy the dumpling for him. “That’s not the point” he argued—but what was the point then?

In some cases, the equivalent of US$0.30 may mean the difference between a meal for a family or not—and this is not an exaggeration. In China, (circa 2004), the average monthly income for a street vendor was ~676 yuan—the equivalent of about US$3.25/day. Out of this total, a Pekinese has to find food, rent, clothes and pay bills—the thought of saving for her own holiday is probably totally out of the question. As a Westerner, it’s good to remember how wealthy—and lucky—you are compared with the local population.

Nonetheless, haggling is an important skill for backpackers—as long as you don’t lose sight of the big picture. Accept that you’re going to lose. The trick is, however, making sure you don’t lose by too much. That’s why I dug Tim Leffel’s book—his insight arms your with enough knowledge that you’ll be prepared to lose—but do it shrewdly.

In The World’s Cheapest Destinations, Leffel provides a primer on the costs and value of round-the-world travel. He describes the book as “an overview and a jumping-off point. It can’t possibly take the place of a thick, general travel advice guide—or a guidebook for a specific destination or region.”

Leffel’s book certainly isn’t a guidebook, which might prepare you for how much a certain country or region can cost. Indeed, a guidebook rarely compares the cheapest countries and which regions offer the best value. Enter Leffel and his book, which fills just such a gap.

Leffel’s World’s Cheapest Destinations provides a capsule overview of 21 great travel bargains, with cost information for lodging, restaurant meals, local transportation and attractions. The book comprises seven destinations each from Asia and Latin America, the two regions of greatest interest to Kathryn and me. He also includes four European countries and three from Africa and the Middle East. Some might complain that some regions are given short shrift, but overall we feel that Leffel has done an admirable job of including destinations where travel is relatively good value—and even more importantly—of interest to the backpacker.

Our favourite feature—and one which sets it apart from other books on offer—is the section “what you can get for a buck or less” in each country at the close of each chapter. For example, a good ol’ US greenback will get you a 100-mile train ride in India while it might only win you five or six subway rides in Cairo.

Of particular interest to us was Leffel’s habit of outlining prices for those travelling alone, as well as those travelling as a couple. Leffel notes that a person travelling alone will spend more than two persons (naturally), writing: “A couple can usually travel on roughly 1.5x what a single person can, due to room shares, taxi shares and splitting some meal items”. He addresses the cost of travel from several angles and discusses value for backpackers and mid-range travellers alike. Where he feels splurging represents good value, he doesn’t hesitate to encourage his readers to spend a little extra. For example, when discussing accommodation in India, he writes: “Above all, this is a place to keep your finances in perspective; sometimes an extra dollar or two per night can mean the difference between a dark, grubby cubicle with peeling paint and a big, bright room with a great view.”

For the round-the-world traveller who is planning an adventure, Leffel’s book will prove to be a good tool and a good jumping-off point that will quickly provide an indication of where one might find great value in some of the most exotic regions in the world. In any case, we consider this book highly recommended for adventurous round-the-world travellers who are looking to travel on a shoestring.

Click here to purchase The World’s Cheapest Destinations: 21 Countries Where Your Money Is Worth a Fortune from

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Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. Check him out on Google+.

Comments (9)

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  1. Tim L. says:

    Thanks Daniel and Katherine for featuring this book on your site! I wrote the first edition back in 2002 because I couldn’t find this kind of information anywhere else and I figured other travelers could use it too. Leapfrog forward 8 years and two more editions and I still think it’s hard to find place-to-place cost comparisons anywhere. Glad you liked it.

  2. Linda says:

    I clicked on the link you posted and it took me to a book that is out of print. I searched on Google and found out there is a newer edition.

    • Daniel says:

      Thank you very much for pointing that out, Linda — our mistake! We’ve updated the links in the post above — the updated third edition (which is the edition we reviewed) is available here.

  3. arkyoptics says:

    “Out of this total, a Pekinese has to find…..”

    Ouch. Poor choice of words, there. Peking began to be known as Beijing in 1958 when the PinYin romanization was adopted. Nowadays it is always Beijing, and the inhabitants known as Beijingese at least to themselves, so that is the correct term.

    A Pekinese is a small dog. That has not changed.

    • Daniel says:

      Ouch? Why? The expression wasn’t used to offend — nor am I embarassed using it. Of couse, I guess it doesn’t adhere to to the Hanyu Pinyin romanization but I don’t really find that a big deal. ‘Moscow’ is an equally absurd spelling for the Russian capital. Should we all start saying—and writing—’Moskva’? I went with ‘Pekinese’ after a quick Google search that suggested Beijinger/Pekinese were used interchangeably — but your comment sent me back for a definitive answer. It’s funny that there’s no consensus (even among Beijingers) as to what’s correct. According to Chinese Postal Map Romanization, Peking is the name of the city and still serves as the traditional customary name for Beijing in English (passports issued by the British Embassy are still printed as being issued by the “British Embassy, Peking”).

  4. Hi … as a seriously-perpetual traveler since 1988 – 100+ countries, mostly in the Developing World, I can say – YES, travel can be cheap. Very cheap. Compared to the West.

    BUT MORE SO, exciting, exotic, and educational – well beyond the tourist resorts and cliches of your standard university studies (yes, was there; graduated) and the narrow media view of how the world … is.

    Amongst the cheapest destinations: India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Syria, Cambodia, Laos, Guatemala, Honduras, Iran, etc. Depends … what extras you indulge in each day.

    Regards – Michael Robert Powell
    AKA the candy trail … a nomad across the planet, since 1988

  5. Kirk says:

    Great point about the fact that you are GOING to LOSE just try to lose a little as possible. This book is def worth a read.

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