The Southeast is known for its outdoor adventure, from its sandstone crags to its steep creeks to the countless miles of biking and backpacking trails. Even the most motivated athlete would have difficulty visiting all the destinations in one lifetime, if for no other reason than he or she would never have enough funds for gas.
Outdoor adventurers, after all, are not known for having a lot of money.
Last year, I experienced this firsthand when I fell for whitewater canoeing. I quickly traded my savings account for gear and gas. Every weekend, I found myself driving to a different state — Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee — to run new rivers. I had never been so grateful to call this region my home.
Yet the more I discovered in my "backyard," the more I longed to travel afar. As it has for so many, the Southeast, with its abundant natural resources, stoked my passion for adventure.
But state lines and bank balances don't have to limit one's ability to experience the world's boundless beauty. Traveling to different countries can, in fact, be done on a dirtbag budget.
Here are a few international trips and travel tips to explore.
Located on the northwest coast of South America, Ecuador offers a myriad of adventures amid its diverse terrain, which ranges from desert to rainforest to snow-capped peaks.
Why go: Backpacking; rock climbing; surfing; whitewater paddling
Why it's affordable: First, the country is relatively small, about the size of New Mexico, so it's easy to get around. The most economic way to travel is by bus. Not only does the bus system include both local and long-distance routes, the buses can accommodate a traveler's bulky gear bags, according to a blog posted on Mountain Project, an online global climbing guidebook.
Second, food is inexpensive — as long as you avoid touristy restaurants.
"Eat what locals eat, not just because it's cheap, but because it's f#$%^&* delicious," writes Will Hatton, founder of the Broke Backpacker, another online travel resource.
And lastly, lodging is plentiful and affordable, Hatton continues, with rooms available for as little as $8 (American) a night.
Good to know: Ecuador uses the American dollar, so at least the currency will be familiar. However, it is a Spanish-speaking country, so you'll want to keep your Spanish phrase book handy.
Three times the size of Texas, Mexico offers a myriad of outdoor activities. For simplicity's sake, we limited our research to the central part of the country, where waterfalls, volcanoes and steep limestone pitches comprise an adventurer's paradise.
Why go: Backpacking; rappelling; rock climbing; whitewater paddling
Why it's affordable: First, round-trip plane tickets from Atlanta to Mexico City can easily be found for less than $350 given a couple months' notice. Second, once there, accommodations, food and transportation are also quite affordable.
According to a 2017 Thrillist travel blog, Mexico can be done on as little as $30 (American) a day, as long as you avoid resorts and restaurants that cater to tourists.
Hostels can be found for $10 a night, and authentic street food, such as tacos, tamales or roasted corn, are often less than $1 apiece. Moreover, bus rides are cheap, even on longer journeys.
"Nomadic Matt," travel expert and best-selling author, writes in one blog that he spent $30 on bus fare to travel 330 miles from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta.
Good to know: Uber is available in 30 Mexican cities.
This small Southeast Asian country boasts the largest altitudinal range on the planet. And steep slopes are the genesis of adventure sports, from rock climbing to whitewater and beyond.
Why go: Backpacking; mountain biking; mountaineering; rock climbing; whitewater paddling
Why it's affordable: With cheap lodging and food, Nepal often ranks among the most affordable places to which to travel. The Broke Backpacker travel blog, for example, says that outside of touristy cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara, it is possible to live on as little as $20 (American) a day, which includes lodging and three meals.
Getting to Nepal, however, can be pricey. International flights from the U.S. are often upwards of $1,000. But if you're willing to trade time for money, you can try flying into Nepal from India, China or Thailand. The added stops may add hours — or days — to your travels, but they can also save you hundreds of dollars.
Good to know: Nepal is a "closed currency" country. This means that you must exchange all Nepali currency before you leave, as taking it out of the country is illegal.
Just to the west of Vietnam in Southeast Asia, Thailand is known by tourists for its tropical beaches, royal palaces and ancient ruins. But the more adventurous types know it for its extreme outdoor opportunities.
Why go: Backpacking; mountain biking; rock climbing; snorkeling; surfing; whitewater paddling
Why it's affordable: Thailand has the potential to be pricey if you don't know its tricks. The cost to stay in a five-star hotel or indulge at a high-end nightclub is comparable to what you'd pay in the States. But by opting for budget hotels and street foods, in some Thai cities, including the capital Bangkok, you can get by for around $25 (American) a day, according to the Global Backpacker Index, which every year ranks the price of travel to tourist destinations around the world.
Good to know: English is widely spoken in larger cities like Bangkok. In other places, however, you might have to pantomime to get by. But no worries. Thai people are famously friendly, helping the country earn the nickname "the land of smiles."
International airfare is likely to be the most expensive part of your adventures. Here are three websites that might help you save.
1. Kayak.com is an ideal resource for spontaneous adventurers — or indecisive ones. Can't decide where to go? Rather than searching for flights to a particular city, this website lets you set a budget, then generates a list of the cheapest available airfare to different international destinations.
2. Scottscheapflights.com offers another game of travel roulette — one that can you save you up to 90 percent off airfare. Once you sign up, the website emails you "cheap flight alerts" every time it discovers a super-discounted international flight.
3. Airfarewatchdog.com gives you more control over your destination. You choose a preferred flight departure city, and destination if you prefer, then airfarewatchdog sends you alerts when matching flights drop in price.
Worldpackers.com is a great way to immerse yourself in experience and sleep for cheap. The platform connects you with hosts around the world, letting you exchange your skills for accommodation. For instance, you might walk dogs, help with household chores or teach English to children for a set number of hours a week. In return, your host offers you a package, which may include free lodging, days off, meals or more.
Ready to start scouting your international adventure? These online guidebooks and travel blogs will help you get started.
Costa Rica: greenfrogadventures.com/activities/white-water/whitewater-kayaking/#SarapiquiRiver