Traveling to exotic destinations evokes a million beautiful impressions. But it can be scary if it’s your first time. We don’t mean first time away from home. We mean first time to independently travel, away from resorts and packages.
Even the most experienced and nonchalant of travelers will remember their first time; anxiety on the plane, jitters as they checked into a hostel, nerves as they introduced themselves to strangers in the dorm. Jump straight into the deep end and an exotic destination can shatter those nerves. India, Iran, West Africa, Albania…some destinations may require a certain nous or experience.
But the easiest destinations for first time travelers are exactly what they promise to be. Within moments of arriving the nerves have gone and you gently settle into the mood as if you’ve been traveling your whole life.
If you’re a first time traveler, check out these easy destinations as a starter.
Thailand couldn’t be easier. Every destination bursts with bars and nightlife, from the cocktail buckets of Koh San Road in Bangkok to the all night revelry in Koh Phagnan. The country’s not without it scams; ladyboys with devilish good looks, pickpockets, tour companies who disappear with your money. However, Thailand has arguably more single first time travelers than any other destination in the world. It’s a place where tens of thousands of intrepid yet anxious souls meet, then head off on journeys of charm and debauchery.
2) Costa Rica
Central America is wonderfully appetizing; ancient ruins, beaches, tequila, buses filled with live chickens. Most of the region is easy to travel once you’ve had a quick confidence boost from Costa Rica. While it’s more expensive than its neighbors, it’s far more forgiving. Terrible Spanish can get you by, tour companies reduce the reliance on dodgy looking public transport, and resorts provide the extra layers of comfort. Hit Costa Rica first and the rest of Central America will be a breeze.
The land of nomads and desert is as remote as they come. There are virtually no roads or towns, the country’s denominators coming in the form of wild horses, circular felt tents, and four wheel drive trails curving around mountains. It sounds challenging. But travelers in Mongolia are only in one of two places. Either the capital Ulaanbator, where tourists congregate and plan a shared four wheel drive adventure. Or they’re on the adventure and not likely to see another white face for two weeks. Arrive in the capital and it’s impossible not to find a group to share the Mongolian desert exploration with.
4) New Zealand
Australia is the obvious choice for a first time backpacker destination. New Zealand is perhaps better. Both countries’ local language is English and beer, hostels are eminently welcoming, and there’s a huge spread of potential destinations. New Zealand edges it because of its compact and easy size. If you don’t like a place it’s less than two hours to somewhere new. In Australia, it could be a thousand kilometers to the next point of interest. Which is a scarily long distance if you’re traveling solo for the first time.
5 & 6) Poland / Czech Republic
Most European capitals are balmy in summer, filled with the masses on Eurorail odysseys. The problem is that hostels are sometimes so big they become impersonal. Poland and Czech Republic are less popular yet they retain the enchantment of iconic Europe. Hostels work hard to ensure guests stick around. That makes them amongst the most atmospheric and welcoming on the continent. Furthermore, smaller towns and destinations are less daunting than arriving in London or Paris and struggling to decipher the metro map.
7 & 8) Bali, Indonesia / Boracay, the Philippines
Indonesia and the Philippines consist of hundreds of islands, each with their own distinct feel and all fringed by glorious white sand. Some islands are for getting drunk, some for exploring on hired motorbikes, many are about indigenous culture and most offer an idyllic sandy getaway. Indonesia and the Philippines are best enjoyed by island hopping. Bali and Boracay offer the popular starting point where first time travelers can get acquainted with the local style and meet others who want to join the adventure.
9) South Africa
Africa can sound pretty scary, even to experienced travelers. Most of the continent’s notions are negative; AIDS, crime, ebola, hippos trampling over your tent. Land in Africa and these negative impressions are immediately replaced by beauty and hospitality. South Africa is the easiest of the countries to travel in. It’s like a half-way house; part Western yet irrevocably and evocatively African. Come here to get a sense of the continent and calm any fears. Then head off and explore the other 53 nations.
Just try and picture Ireland. Let’s think; St Patrick’s Day, Irish pubs, Guinness, whiskey…the Ireland that’s well-loved around the world is just like the Ireland in Ireland. Except hundreds of happy faces, too much drinking, and a friendly atmosphere of revelry that immediately grabs your attention. If you can’t make friends in Ireland then you should probably retreat to the Arctic and try speaking to bears. Here’s a country that exudes culture, embraces all visitors, and stays open after traditional closing time.
There are a few contenders for easy South American entry point. Peru and Bolivia are indelibly cheap but the aching long-distance mountain travel can be challenging; plus, they’re packed with travelers thinking they’re too cool for school. Colombia and Brazil can be a bit unruly if you’re not careful. But Ecuador finds a neat balance; inexpensive, serene, traditional yet not necessitating advanced Spanish. While it doesn’t have the must-see attractions of elsewhere, it allows you to soak up the vibe and style of the continent.
The problem with some destinations are that they’re so popular they become impersonal. Travelers remain a rarity in Uzbekistan, so seeing a fellow foreign face invariably means saying hello and being sociable. Furthermore, Uzbekistan has a standard set route between its old Silk Road towns. The constant trickle of foreigners are either heading east or west as there is pretty much nowhere else to go. So while it sounds daunting, Uzbekistan takes you naturally out of your comfort zone and into the realm of getting off the beaten track.