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Real Budget Travel: Top 10 Do-It-On-Your-Own Countries

Beyond Green Travel is a blog written by Global Travel Editor Costas Christ

The travel media seems filled these days with articles about the economic crisis and "tips" on how to take a budget holiday, usually mentioning some tour company that is offering a great 50 percent discount. Well, here is a budget travel tip that the advertising revenue-driven media usually doesn't offer up: Just pack your bag and do it on your own. It's the ultimate budget trip, and when it comes to sustainable tourism practices, your dollars will go right into the local economy—often to those who need it most, like family-owned guest houses, street market vendors, and small local restaurants. In fact, many of the destinations on this kind of a budget trip were green before it was a movement, such as that thatched hut built with local materials and owned by the village grandma using kerosene lanterns for light, or the original way to "car pool" that reduces carbon emissions (also known as riding the country bus to get between towns and villages), or back street eateries where the food is always sourced from local farmers. 

What about safety when you travel without a tour company to take you around? Let common sense be your guide. When I travel, the local people have always been my risk management plan. They are the ones who really know what's going on—where to go, when to go, how safe it is—and they have repeatedly come to my aid when help was needed (after I bashed my head open on an underwater rock surfing in Indonesia, it was the villagers who pulled me out of the water and got the doctor who stitched me up). 

The world really is a good place, filled by a vast majority of kind people who want to help others. It is a fact that gets lost in all of the fear-driven and crisis news coverage these days. And there is no better way to experience the world with less money then to set out with an easy-to-carry bag in hand, inspired by the feeling of adventure that awaits. Your biggest expense will be your air ticket to the more far-flung locales. But once there, you can make it up by staying, eating, and traveling the local way. Here's my personal list of the top 10 countries (not in any particular order) for taking the good old fashioned—and most affordable—way to travel.

Canada – Consider doing North America's true ecotourism haven one section at a time. French culture and northern wilderness doesn't get any better than in Quebec. Start in Montreal and slow travel your way among the towns, villages, and forest outposts that connect 27 national parks, including off-the-radar Nunavik.

Ecuador – The diversity in Ecuador is astounding: beach, jungle, snow peaks, vibrant indigenous markets, cobblestone towns. Most people do not even know that you can go to the Galapagos on your own and stay in small inns and hotels on Santa Cruz island, making daily forays to some of Darwin's famous sites.

Balkans – Sure it is easy to travel in Europe on your own, but not for $5 a day anymore. The Balkans—Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Kosovo, Albania—will get you closer to old Europe's prices and its less-trodden experiences.

India – India has been the ultimate do-it-on-your-own country, ever since the Beatles headed there in the 1960s. Lodging can run as low as a few dollars a night, and some great meals are even less than that. Make the intense big cities quick transit points while spending your time in the smaller towns and villages.

Belize – This Central American country is close to the U.S., easy to get around, and has lots of tiny villages to welcome you. Plus there's plenty of nature activities spanning coral reef lagoons to dense rain forest. 

Nepal – Nepal's travel industry was literally created by backpackers. Start by spending a week in Kathmandu. On day seven you will be acclimated and have all the up-to-date information needed from others travelers coming and going, to set out on your own mountain trek.

s – In the run up for friendliest people on Earth, the Filipinos could take the crown. Don't delay in Manila when there is so much else to see. Build extra time (or take all of your time) for exploring Palawan.

– Travelers are still riding the "Marrakech Express" to a country that is a bastion of tradition, authenticity, and affordability. Stay in small riad guest houses and live on excellent street food for pocket change.

– Okay, you could also substitute Thailand, Cambodia, or Vietnam, but if I had to pick just two of the sub-Mekong region quartet, it would be Laos and Thailand—the former for its rich cultural and natural heritage, the latter for its lesser known islands in the south.

– Simply put, the Aussies are fun people to hang out with. Period. That they also have their own continent is pretty cool, along with the fact that they have been global leaders in sustainable tourism. Ask around for the cheap places to stay, eat, and travel. No worries mate. This is where Lonely Planet was born.