They say that we’ve all got to start somewhere, and no truer word was spoken when it comes to setting foot out of the door for that first-time backpacking adventure. For the novice traveler, this can be extremely daunting, as there’s so much to consider before taking the leap. Perhaps the most obvious and sometimes the most difficult decision to make is where you’re actually going to go! So, with that in mind, we’ve put together a bunch of awesome backpacking destinations for you to dip your toe into the water.
They won’t challenge you too much, but they will be an encouraging nudge towards a further step outside the box. Our criteria included safety, ease of travel, infrastructure and budget considerations; which is probably why you won’t find deepest, darkest Africa mentioned. We recommend saving there at least until you’ve tried some of these!
Poland and Eastern Europe
Well, we’re obviously pretty biased here being from Poland and all, but we really do believe it’s a fantastic backpacking region and a great starting point to traveling through eastern Europe. Forget the likes of Spain, France and the UK, they’re too expensive and too far inside your comfort zone. It’s all about the east baby!
Poland is a beautiful country, with really friendly people, rich history and vibrant cities, great to visit during Christmas. And you’re perfectly placed to continue your travels into the Czech Republic and Hungary – two more awesome, backpacker friendly hot-spots.
Thailand and Southeast Asia
Pretty much anywhere you go in Southeast Asia is backpacking heaven, which is why it regularly finds its way into articles such as this, and many students flock here after graduating or during their gap years. And indeed, it is a paradise, with incredible beaches, fantastic weather, amazing hospitality and an abundance of activities to keep you entertained. Just be a contentious, animal-friendly backpacker when it comes to the elephant “sanctuaries” and Tiger Temples.
And don’t miss Malaysia – often mistakenly overlooked in favour of its northern neighbour, where the hospitality and food are every bit as good.
Estonia and the Baltics
There’s one common denominator with all the locations on this list, and that’s friendly people. Estonian’s are a fun bunch, with most young people speaking excellent English, and they’ll welcome you with open arms.
The medieval Tallinn is a gorgeous capital city, with so much to see and do, and some incredible beer to enjoy while you’re doing it! Further afield you can reach Helsinki and Finland by a three-hour ferry, but we recommend turning south and further exploring the Baltics. Lithuania and Latvia are great fun too.
Croatia and the Balkans
It’s hard to imagine that 20 years ago there was fierce conflict in the Balkans, as the region has slowly but surely risen from the ashes to become one of the safest and friendliest backpacking destinations in the world. The hostel infrastructure here is second to none, with some incredible places to stay in every country.
We pick Croatia because of its stunning Adriatic coastline and medieval cities, but really you should just start anywhere here and go explore. Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, is one of the coolest cities in the world, and if you’re into nightlife while backpacking, Belgrade is all you’ll ever need. Serbians know how to party!
Nicaragua and Central America
People often mention Costa Rica as a great first-time backpacker location, but it’s much more expensive than its surrounding Central American brothers. Nicaragua has been growing a cult following for a number of years, largely due to its coastal beach towns and fantastic surfing conditions.
The towns of Leon and Granada are old-school colonial gems, and if you’re really adventurous you should look into volcano boarding. Basically, surfing or sledging down dormant volcanoes – but it’s not for the faint of heart! Check out nearby El Salvador for some more natural beauty, and Honduras to the north has some of the best and cheapest scuba diving in the world.
Peru and South America
South America is a backpacker’s dream, and a fantastic budget destination to kick off your travels. It was difficult to choose one particular country, but we’ve opted for Peru. It’s traveler friendly, and there are some incredible sights to see in a stunningly beautiful country with friendly people and a fascinating history.
You’ll be on the (in)famous gringo trail which runs through Central and South America, so you’ll make new friends and traveling companions with ease. And you can’t really say you’ve traveled until you’ve seen Machu Picchu anyway – so walking the Inca trail is essential.
We’ve squeezed in Australia at the end because it doesn’t quite snugly fit into our first-time backpacker criteria as it’s insanely expensive. However, it is a great country to cut your teeth traveling in, with many first-timers journeying here to pick up paid or volunteer work, as there are a host of WOOFING (Working on Organic Farms) opportunities to be had. Then you can squirrel away for six months to a year, save some serious pennies, and go off exploring the outback until your heart’s content. When you’re done with Oz, use it as a jump off into southeast Asia – that’s what nearly all Aussie backpackers do!
We’ve pretty much done a round-the-world trip there, so you’re not going to be short of places to go if it’s your first time on the road. There are many more locations backpackers choose to go in their fledgling travel career, but we think these are the top picks for having the most fun, maximising the meeting of new buddies, seeing some of the best sights the world has to offer, all while ensuring you’re comfortable and safe – to keep your family and friends back home happy. Now all you have to do is book a ticket and go!
And pack, and organise a budget, and get time off, and check vaccinations, and find your passport…