With so many options and 'must sees' on the world map, you may need some ideas of where to go and how to plan your travelling experience. For want of a better name 'the good, bad and the ugly'. This is a run down of some of the highlights and lowlights of the world (in no particular order). It's very subjective so please don't pay too much attention, but it gives a good idea of some places you might not have heard of, but should consider in an itinerary and also some places you might like to avoid. This page is not about name dropping; there are many sights that have been omitted simply because it's believed they are over-hyped and not worthy of the list - click here to go straight to the list, or read on for some thoughts on planning a route...
Planning a route: For a long trip (word on shorter trips later), don't get too much into planning at home - just pick, depending on how much time you have, a few places and regions you want to see. For those lucky enough to travel for longer, what you often don't realise is that after several months on the road you can lack the passion for another 14 plus hour bus trips or the money for internal flights to get to every 'attraction'. Equally many regions aren't as connectible on a budget as a world map might make them look. It's true that the happiest travellers are the most flexible. Hell, if you have the time, why not even try to travel without an ultimate return ticket - or at least make sure dates can be changed with ease. You will soon realise where the tourist trail is (the easiest and most convenient way to see all the sights) and follow it, making modifications where you want. Most itineraries are just that - dots on a map of places people would like to see or things they'd like to do, then joined up by the cheapest most convenient transport options. Maybe your desired route comes from places/regions you'd always wanted to see, are interested in or simply sound romantic/adventurous to you. You'll do a bit of research with guidebooks, the internet and hopefully the list below and add a few more to your list and equally realise which routes are feasible and which are not so, then finally do a bit of tweaking for current events and weather patterns.
'Why?' is a excellent question to ask yourself when planning - What is the purpose of this trip? It's not that your trip really needs a purpose: it just can give you some focus. Why do you want to travel? Are all your friends doing it? Are GAP years in vogue? Have you always wanted to see x, y or z? Do you feel it is your only chance before you start working/have children? Do you want to see as much of the world as you can? Do you want to have a good time and party? Do you want to volunteer somewhere? Are
you assuming travel will solve a life problem you have (it
probably won't)? Do something unique and maybe exciting and adventurous? Get on/off the beaten track? It can be as simple as wanting to 'be experienced' or to chill out.
And of course it is always good to get a bit of everything, even the bad and ugly mixed in with the good! Few trips are all plain sailing anyway.
If starting with little idea or a blank sheet of paper, good advice is to use travel/tour brochures/websites to get an idea of what countries look like (pictures), time scales and the easiest routes between interesting sights; useful information is also often included (weather, embassies, dangers, etc.) STA travel and other student travel agencies produce free booklets that are great for flicking through. The problem is simply that there is just so much to see.
Of all the travel clichés it has got to be that
it is the journey and not the
destination that matters that is most overused and yet rings truest.
Before you roll your eyes and dive head long into ticking off a list of
must have photos at various landmarks, it is worth giving this some
thought. What does it actually mean? Is the 10hours in a cramped plane
or bus seat better than the pizza in front of the Coliseum? Or is it
some philosophical concept that only after a year in a
Tibetan monastery you can start to grasp? Well it is true that it comes
with time, after you have initially rushed around ‘must-see’ attractions
to be found in reflection, but at its core it means that your
expectations of places you wanted to see often conflict with reality and
the most difficult and challenging journeys you make are the most
Limited to a shorter few week trip? For the record if you are reading this and have weeks not months to travel in, this shouldn't deter you. Sure you need to plan a little more - pick one or two destinations and remember a few internal or regional flights and a little bit more money, lets you cover a lot in a short time-frame. It's not uncommon to see and do more in a few weeks than some long-term 'backpackers' achieve in a month!
However if you are lucky enough to have the time, then pick a couple of regions, say SE Asia or Central America (good starters, loads of options), India/northern Pakistan (as good as it gets and quite a test) and Australia or Europe (Western countries are less exotic, but not less interesting; don't discount them - just budget well!) and plan to spend a few months in each, of course being flexible to stay longer or move on faster. Plain and simple, caprice is a great thing to have.
It's only natural that many travellers will want to see as much as possible in whatever time they have and plan a meticulous, rigorous schedule to do so. But in such a manner you will get unstuck as totally effective planning is never possible and certainly not when sitting at home. Have a rough idea about where you want to go, what you want to see and how much time you have. From there adlib a little, taking days and their circumstances (festivals, unrest, visas delays, food poisoning, bus fatigue, hearing about somewhere new, etc.) as they come - quality not quantity.
That said you can still travel fast and see a lot if you want. One breed of traveller will get pretty bored sitting in the same place for days on end and want to keep moving and see more and more. Most common is to rush around sights and then all of a sudden, when finding the right place, take a good rest and enjoy what's there.
The other breed of traveller you will come across - maybe you are one of them - tend to spend weeks in any sort of resort with good prices and facilities. These travellers' hang-outs are all over the globe and a great place to relax for a while, but not months! The main reason, and one that perhaps many of their residents might not admit to, is that travelling is hard work. No one likes sitting on buses, but that's how you get places and independent budget travelling on the whole is not about or conducive to relaxing. If you want to get the most out of your trip and make it the best value for money, to a certain extent you do have to be determined to push on. Travel as hard or fast as you like, just don't set any standards in your planning stage at home - things change.
Rough Guide's: First Time series
is an excellent planning tool with clear overview maps, routes and highlights marked. Also recommended, if you can find it, is Trailblazer's: Asia Overland and South East Asia Overland.
So where to go first? The place you always wanted to go is the obvious answer! Your personal attitude and expectations are going to be the biggest influence on your experience
with the normal formula of: 'happiness = expectations minus reality', being
true. Where you ultimately pick will probably depend on where you call home in the world,
your attitude to 'risk' and your finances. The best first time destinations for those looking for some experience are regions where it is easy to get around and everything is close together, fun and interesting. For non-Europeans that will probably be Western Europe, for Europeans, North-East Asia (Japan/Korea) or New Zealand and Eastern Australia. Those on more limited budgets will pick South East Asia or Central America. All of these regions have loads of potential to get off the beaten track and make side trips away from the crowds. Those wanting to look elsewhere will find
many parts of regions like Africa or the Middle East not as dangerous, difficult or inaccessible as people seem to think and extremely rewarding for those with a little confidence.
Clearly no matter how much time you have you will not see everything in one trip, no matter what you think and despite many of those you might meet on the road with grand ambitions to 'travel forever' (what they normally mean is get a job in Australia or sit on a beach in Goa/Thailand), it is typical that what you do and where you go will evolve with time. Each trip spurring interest for another region and the confidence building to tackle regions and places that once intimidated you. Remember the potential of places you can see, do, smell, touch is greater than you can possibly imagine... you only have to fire your imagination and have the time, money and confidence to make it happen.
Drawing together several well travelled heads, numerous opinions and experiences in many, many countries... below is some fuel for the fire and hopefully many good ideas:
[Please note, the following lists are not rank order specific - if you are not sure what/where something is - click on the link for the Wikipedia article]
View Larger Map (external link)
Rivers: (spend some time in all these areas for a great trip) Nile, Ganges, Indus, Zambezi, Yangtze Kiang, Mekong and Danube.
Easy Street: (great times, not so much to worry about) Thailand, Philippines, Turkey, Train/Hostel through Europe or Japan, New Zealand, Nepal, Guatemala, South Africa and Greece.
Culture: (and some damn nice people) Iran, India, Ghana, Bolivia, Georgia, Ethiopia, Mali and North Vietnam/Laos and Philippines.
Religion: (some 'centres' of the world) Rome, Israel, Punjab/Varanasi in India, Labella in the Ethiopian highlands and Buddhist sights in Nepal, India and Tibet.
Overlanding: (famous and great open jaw trips) Istanbul - Cairo, México City - Panama City, Istanbul - Kathmandu, Cairo/Nairobi - Cape Town, Casablanca/Dakar - Accra, Bangkok - Bali, Santiago - Bogotá/Quito, London - Hong Kong (via trans Mongolian railway) and London - Athens/Istanbul.
Compact circuits and great intro countries: (great for short trips) Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ecuador, The Gambia/Senegal, Jordan/Israel, Thailand/Cambodia, New Zealand, Uganda and Sri Lanka or Goa.
Life's a Beach: (great destinations, lots of sand) Mozambique, Jamaica/Cuba, Thailand, Philippines, Australia, South Africa, Turkey/Greece, Kerala/Goa (India), Honduras/Belize, Zanzibar/Lamu (Tanzania/Kenya) and of course Brazil.
The highlife: (altitude, tough going, heavy breathing but spectacular scenery) Kyrgyzstan/Tajikistan, Chile/Bolivia, Santo Antão (Cape Verde), Nepal/Tibet, Kashmir (India/Pakistan) and Ladakh (India).
Or pick a popular, well travelled route where you know you will find plenty of others and traveller friendly infustructure in a well-worn attraction dense circuit. See the most popular routes here.
Okay you won't have the place to yourself, but...
Honorary mentions: USA (don't knock it until you've tried it), Western Europe (Italy/Spain) and Japan.
Feel free to contribute - add a recommendation to any list. Just a quick e-mail and your reasons is all that is needed. Also point out if you think anywhere is incorrect or over-rated.
'Don't listen to what they say. Go see - Chinese Proverb.
However, they can seem well travelled...
Anywhere in the Middle East, apart from Syria that is.
Leave the SE Asian mainland crowds behind and check out the amazing Philippines and South West China
Ethiopia, Uganda, & forgotten Kenya including Lamu Island
Ghana, Benin & off-the-beaten track Brazil or forgotten India/Pakistan
Neglected Europe: Romania/Bulgaria/Macedonia/Serbia/Georgia
Mozambique (parts away from South Africa), Cameroon & Zimbabwe
Honorary mentions: Dominica, Cuba and Israel/Jordan. In South America try Venezuela. If you really want less travelled countries head to West Africa or Central Asia, but they are not particularly pleasant to backpack in. The advice is: don't worry about it - even in the most visited countries you can always find gems if you have the time.
Not really that dangerous, but a bad rap with the west or infant tourism keeps many travellers away...
Myanmar & Indonesia- areas off the tourist trail
Serbia & Bosnia along with other vast 'out of vogue' areas of Eastern Europe and especially Ukraine which is (apart from the break away region) super cheap and a great country.
The Caucasus (specifically Georgia) Iran and North Eastern Turkey
Caribbean South America: Colombia & Venezuela
Honorary mentions: Most of the Middle East, The Xinjiang mountains (China)
Taj Mahal, India
Registan, Samarkand, Uzbekistan
Most of the old city of Jerusalem
Colosseum and old city of Rome, Italy
Honorary mentions: Vatican City, The Forbidden City (China), Palace of Versailles (France), Hampi (India), Grand Palace in Bangkok, Temples of Japan (Nara and Kyoto) and Sagrada Familia (Barcelona). Plus, not really buildings, but extremely impressive - the Eiffel Tower, The Banaue Rice Terraces (Philippines) Baha'i Gardens (Israel), Venice (Italy) and Mount Rushmore (USA).
So many, here's just a few outstanding examples...
Almost any major mountain range or altiplano in the world. For accessibility the Himalayas in Nepal and, more so the Alps. For extra wow and isolation the Karakoram, the Pamir highway or Kyrgyzstan 'the Switzerland of Central Asia'. The Switzerland of Europe isn't bad either.
Stunning Islands: Jamaica/Dominica (and much or the Caribbean),
Fraser Island (Australia) and Santo Antão (Cape Verde).
America's amazing national parks inc. Yosemite, Alaska and South West national parks (the Grand Canyon & Bryce Canyon NP the most notable)
Great Barrier Reef or any big coral reef - Red sea is fantastic so are the waters off Thailand, Belize, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines
New Zealand's fiordland, or similar examples in Norway, Iceland or Chile
Honorary mentions: Iguazu Falls on Brazilian/Argentinean border, Namibia's Namib-Naukluft National Park plus Skeleton Coast & the Egyptian White Desert, Ha Long bay, The karst formations near Guilin and Uluru (Ayres Rock).
Some compact areas that have a lot to offer, many with few tourists...
Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta of Colombia's Coast - amazing mountains meeting perfect beaches, or Merida across the border in Venezuela
The Caucasus (Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, plus North-East Turkey) - deserts, mountains, churches, mosques and lots of wine/vodka
Jordan/Lebanon/Israel - don't be put off, amazing
North Laos/Vietnam - difficult and bumpy transport, unique and beautiful region
Central Sulawesi and Eastern Indonesia - a whole world to explore
Southern Africa - best with your own transport: Deserts to Vic falls to Great White shark dives
Honorary mentions: Chilean lake district and Patagonia (very south), Cape Verde (little expensive, but part hikers/bikers paradise) and Yunnan province (Xishuangbanna is over-rated, but mountains around Dali are not) in China
Some cities or hang-outs that make you feel amazed and happy to be alive...
The great cities of Europe (London, Paris, Krakow, St. Petersburg, Berlin and Venice/Rome)
Jerusalem, rather a lot in a small area, or New York, a modern wonder of the world
South America: Cusco in Peru, Valparaiso in Chile, San Agustin/Zona Cafetera in Colombia and Merida in Venezuela
Okay it doesn't come for free. You'll certainly spend more time and money than you wished, but if you are looking for some fun try...
Greek Islands and Turkish Coast
Thailand (especially the islands and Bangkok) and Boracay, Philippines
Carnival! (the week before Lent). New Orleans, Barranquilla (Colombia), Northern Germany, Port of Spain (Trinidad), Brazil or Santiago de Cuba (this one is over the summer)
Jamaica (Negril) although crowds can be too much
Agra (home of India's Taj Mahal)
Florence, Venice and Rome
New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, New Orleans, London, Paris, Amsterdam and Sydney
Nepal & Thailand's islands and beaches
Northern Tanzania Safari circuit /Zanzibar Island
Honorary mentions: Bolivia's 'death road' out of La Paz, Edinburgh, Romania's Transylvania with its rolling hills, mountains and medieval towns and castles, Bali and the Gili Islands, Kyoto and Gyeongju, Korea.
» Maddest places
» Fantastic places to unwind
Honorary mentions: Marrakech, México City and Cairo
Thanks PJ for getting this list started.
Hong Kong Island (an odd mixture of British and Chinese) and any one of the toilet restaurants to be found in North East Asia.
Any salt flat, most commonly seen in Bolivia, but also the Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana. Add water for a trippy effect (and cliqued photo).
There are all sorts of people in all sorts of places, but the following countries are well-known for the kindness and hospitality of their population.
Iran, Pakistan (Northern areas) and Bangladesh
Ghana, Zimbabwe, Dominica & Sudan
India/Nepal (in the right places/circumstances)
Georgia & Turkey
Honorary mentions: Cuba and Ethiopia. As a general rule of thumb, the more travellers the less friendly people get. So head off the beaten track and venture to destinations most would be put off visiting. There are many such suggestions above.
(a few, often long train journeys in some remarkable places)
Europe's best (and priciest): Any thing in Switzerland down Lake Geneva on in Jungfrau region or special trains like the 'Glacier Express'. Norway's Bergen to Oslo is well-known for many reasons - it's stunning.
Trans Siberian/Mongolian: Moscow to (generally) Beijing, passing through some of the worlds most remote places for days on end.
Africa's best: Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) to (almost) Lusaka (Zambia): pass through pristine African bush for two days and a night - better value than the raved about Nairobi to Mombasa line. Get off at Mbeya to travel Malawi. Or for the adventous: Dakar (Senegal) to Bamako (Mali): an out-of-this world 30-36 hours - very hard work, may leave you mentally scarred!
South America: From Calama (Chile) to Uyuni (Bolivia): a cold at times high-altitude lunar type experience.
Honorary mentions: Any train journey in India or China, Japan's Shinkansen (bullet) trains which with a rail pass are quite affordable, without - ridiculously expensive.
» Spoiled by tourism
» Keep an eye on your things
» Worst forms of transport
(not everywhere, but in general)
|(beware of thieves)||(or the biggest thrill!)|
Honorary mentions: Kathmandu, Everest Trail and base camp and Bora Bora
Honorary mentions: Bogotá, Lagos, Cusco, Lahore hotel rooms
Honorary mentions: Lao Mekong fast boat, unofficial taxis from Caracas airport, bicycle on any busy 'developing country' road and Kenyan matatus
(aside from Western Europe, Japan and North America)
The Caribbean, especially leeward and windward islands, with the worst offenders being French territories and the Bahamas
Bhutan, Turkmenistan and others where 'technically' you need to be on an expensive tour to gain entry
Israel, Botswana, Australia and Brazil
Moscow & St. Petersburg plus other large cities of fast developing nations where high inflation levels have pushed costs beyond what many budget travellers might expect (for example: Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, etc.)
East African activities (Gorilla viewing, Kilimanjaro climb or any safari)
Honorary mentions: Main East-coast Chinese cities & Hong Kong.
West African nations using the CFA, Brunei - or not taking out medical insurance!
Africa: Algeria/Libya (fly over) and Ethiopia - Eritrea
Middle East: Israel - Lebanon and Syria plus numerous other nations that won't like that passport stamp
Asia: Korea (North to South); Burma (some access overland, but no way into India/Bangladesh); India - China (go via Nepal or Pakistan)
Europe: Europe's last closed borders are Armenia with Turkey and Azerbaijan
Honorary mention: Panama - Colombia (fly or sail), not so much a closed border as an extremely difficult one overland.
(things do change rapidly as currencies strengthen/weaken and/or inflation catches up with weak economies). Check exchange rate trends for the best latest indications.
Ukraine, Indonesia, Russia, Argentina and South Africa
Iran, Cuba and Ghana
Iceland, although still expensive by almost any standards the economic melt-down has made it at least on par with the rest of Western Europe.
As always: India/Pakistan/Nepal/Sri Lanka/Bangladesh
Honorary mentions: Bolivia
Confidence, flexibility and (where necessary) some effort in the local
language will get you to do/see far, far more interesting things/places
that money alone ever could. Get involved with locals and
be afraid to make friends and keep asking questions.
Things do change rapidly, many of the places mentioned are not necessary the most sensible places to visit right now. Always check for yourself before you travel, some areas will be best avoided including (all
or parts of):
Governmental warnings do sometimes need to be taken with a pinch of salt, but they are warnings for a reason and worth to keep abreast of. We like FTAS, which is a website that summaries all the latest advice from various governments in an easy to use website that can even send you automatic alerts based on your trip. Something well worth having especially if off-the-beaten-track and in politically volatile countries or those areas of conflict.
(goings on in 2015)
Expect excellent sights and scenes, but also closed banks, packed transport and perhaps that Mary and Joseph feeling if you don't book ahead. Holidays are as follows (note if date falls on a weekend, following working day, may well also be a holiday):
Major holidays and celebrations:
Major religious holidays and festivals:
Please feel free to have your say - click here to add a recommendation to any list, just a quick e-mail and your reasons is all that is needed. Also point out where you think anything is incorrect or over-rated. Obviously we have not been to all these places (but pretty much most, bar one or three) and do not claim to have been; perhaps you might like to send your two cents worth in (many mentions come from reader's comments). Remember this is more a fun list than a serious one.
Breathe, breathe in the air, don't be afraid to care; leave but don't leave me. Look around and choose your own ground, for long you live and high you fly, and smiles you'll give and tears you'll cry. And all you touch and all you see, is all your life will ever be.
Roger Waters & David Glimour