10 Cities You Wouldn't Expect to Be Expensive, But Are

Save your pennies before heading to Angola

"Everyone is a budget traveler," a good friend of mine, who's a self-proclaimed luxury travel writer, "when it comes down to it." We were having a discussion about the financial parameters within which the highest of high end travelers operate and she was explaining that even these people are always trying to get the best deal, even if that means paying $11,000 per night for a Swiss ski chalet instead of $12,000 or $13,000.

No matter where on the travel budget spectrum you fall, of course, everyone thinks they know common sense ways to save, one of which is to limit your time in traditionally expensive destinations: Big cities like New York, London, Tokyo and Paris; high-income countries like Qatar and Switzerland; isolated islands dominated by luxury resorts—Bora Bora, I'm looking at you.

What many people don't realize is that some of the world's most expensive cities are also the most surprising. While this list is neither exhaustive nor ranked, it does get one point across: Just because you've never heard of a particular city or because it's located in a "poor" part of the world doesn't mean visiting there won't bankrupt you.

  • 01 of 08

    Luanda, Angola

    Luanda, Angola
    This isn't what you'd expect one of the world's most expensive cities to look like. oneVillage via Wikimedia Commons

    There are a lot of reasons why the Angolan capital probably wouldn't be your first choice to visit in Africa, but before I go into those, I've got to give credit where credit is due. From its location on the Atlantic, to its exotic Afro-Portuguese history and culture, to the cool factor it gets simply due to Angola's previous avoidance of tourist trap "status," Luanda gets some cool points. Unfortunately, before it got these it got oil points, and while oil money has resulted in Angola's economy becoming one of the world's fastest growing, costs in Luanda in particular are rising astronomically, especially for travelers. The average nightly price of a hotel room here is well over $300, more than 10 times the daily income of the average Angolan.

  • 02 of 08

    Perth, Australia

    Perth, Australia
    Would you guess that this is the most isolated city in the world? If you wouldn't, your wallet will feel it. jkather via Wikimedia Commons

    While Perth also enjoys a beautiful oceanfront location, its expensiveness isn't in extremely harsh contrast to the economic conditions of its surrounding country, Australia, which is frequently known to be among the priciest places in the world to travel. Rather, it's that one of Perth's main selling points—its isolation, which becomes apparent the moment you travel even 30 minutes outside the city along the coast to a forlorn, idyllic surf spot—has also sent its costs skyrocketing. This is compounded by the fact that locals here, many of whom work in Australia's booming mining industry, earn very high incomes. Expect to pay no less than 200 Australian dollars per night to sleep here, a figure whose only strength is the relative weakness of that currency at the moment. Oh, and bring your own surfboard if you can, too. Rentals aren't cheap!

  • 03 of 08

    Moscow, Russia

    Moscow, Russia
    Moscow's million-dollar views come at a high price. Sergey Ashmarin via Wikimedia Commons

    Then again, weak currency only goes so far to keep costs down. To be sure, while Moscow frequently appears on lists of the most expensive cities for expats, its costs for travelers notwithstanding, it would be tempting to think that recent economic troubles in Russia had decreased these costs. If anything, however, they've become more expensive. Worst of all? If you're an American traveling anywhere in Russia, even somewhere more provincial than Russia, you can expect to pay no less than $500 for your visa and "invitation" letter to the Russian Federation, adding to your financial misery.

  • 04 of 08

    Buenos Aires, Argentina

    Buenos Aires, Argentina
    Buenos Aires is the "Paris of the South," both in ambiance and in price. Luis Argerich via Wikimedia Commons

    Another example of this phenomenon is the capital of Argentina, a country that has been in financial ruin since it defaulted on its debt in the early 2000s, a place where currency has lost so much value that it is no longer economical to mint coins. It's to the point where you can exchange dollars for Argentine pesos on the street for less than half their official rate, but this won't spare you the high costs of travel in Buenos Aires, which are particularly hard on high-end travelers. Luxury properties in Buenos Aires can easily cost as much as in New York or London—$400 per night is not uncommon—although the average Buenos Aires resident only takes about twice as much as that home, per month, after taxes and expenses.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Guangzhou, China

    Guangzhou, China
    You might not know where Guangzhou is or how to pronounce it, but your wallet will feel the sting. Azwari Nughara via Wikimedia Commons

    If you need any further evidence that China is not really communist, look no further than the growth of the economy in its cities—the economy, and the costs! Of course, it's not so much the raw cost of traveling in Guangzhou, part of China's massively populated Pearl River Delta, which is a problem. You can get a five-star hotel here for less than $100 per night here, which is rather remarkable! Rather, it's that costs have increased so quickly for travelers here, who frankly have a very limited array of sights (namely, the Canton Tower) to see as compared to other cities in China, an increase that in particular affects regional Asian travelers who make up much of Guangzhou's visitor base. It's not so much the investment, but the return on it. I mean really, had you even heard of Guangzhou before reading this list? Do you even know how to pronounce it?

  • 06 of 08

    Stavanger, Norway

    Stavanger, Norway
    The beauty of Stavanger comes at a price. Øyvind Rask via Wikimedia Commons

    Now, it's no secret that Norway is expensive. Like Angola, the country has derived much of its wealth from oil, although thanks to the way they invested this money (a method that included, among other things, direct payments to citizens), the average Norwegian doesn't feel the burn near as much as the average Angolan. Unfortunately, travel in Norway is still exorbitantly expensive, unless of course you happen to be visiting from Qatar, the only country in the world with a higher per-capita income. The high cost of travel in Norway stings less in cities like Oslo and Bergen, which rich culture and easy access to fun activities counteracts the cost, but if you happen to find yourself in the oil-producing city of Stavanger, you better hope your company foots the bill.

  • 07 of 08

    Vancouver, Canada

    Vancouver, Canada
    Want to enjoy Vancouver's legendary ocean view? It'll cost you. Ajith Rajeswari via Wikimeda Commons

    When people think of expensive cities on the West Coast of North America, they usually stop at Seattle, and often even at San Francisco. These cities are expensive, no doubt, but in some ways, their prices pale in comparison to those you find in Vancouver. While it's not news that real estate prices in British Columbia's largest city are among the highest in the world, travelers can't expect much of a break, either. In addition to the fact that dining, drinking and transportation are expensive here, hotel prices can easily top $300 per night—that's U.S., not Canadian! The ocean views and diverse population are somewhat of a saving grace, anyway.

  • 08 of 08

    Tel Aviv, Israel

    Tel Aviv, Israel
    Skyscrapers aren't the only thing that's high in pricey Tel Aviv. Amos Meron via Wikimedia Commons

    Tel Aviv has a sterling reputation among travelers, whether as the "Middle East's Capital of Cool," "Miami Along the Mediterranean" or the "New York of Israel." Unfortunately, the perks of Tel Aviv—location on the sea, thriving art and dining scene, beautiful people everywhere, to name a few—come at a cost, one that's often higher than travelers expect. Although hotel prices here aren't exorbitant, with a three-star averaging around $125, coffees in the city can easily cost $5, simple meals (such as a shawarma wrap) can run you over $10 and, perhaps worst of all in this nightlife mecca, you shouldn't be shocked if your drink at the bar runs you $15, or even more.