Map 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 hopeful 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? The world an open bookDo 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.

Give it some thought - think what might blow your hair back. In addition, look at the list of places categorised under various headings that follow, even getting to a few of these will leave a lasting impression. Please don't feel led into going somewhere just because your mates said it was great or it sounds really 'exotic' or 'cool'. Such places are often the most predictable and touristy or conversely, the most hard work/money for limited reward (Timbuktu being a great example).

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 plain sailing anyway.

If starting with little idea or a blank sheet of paper, good advice is to use travel brochures 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.

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 that 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.

TicketsIt'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 traveller's 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.

Do yourself a favour and make sure you go to both somewhere fun and easy like South East Asia, Central America, Turkey, South Africa or Oz and somewhere less in vogue and more of an experience like the Middle East or East/West Africa. Anything is possible; the world is actually very open and despite what the mass-media might lead you to believe, on the whole (apart from notorious hotspots) safe for sensible independent travellers. Don't be put off venturing away from the normal run of the 'Oz to Europe' or 'Latin America' rat-runs. Even as a first timer or on your own, you will have no problem, be amazed at what you have almost to yourself and most likely have a fantastic experience when heading somewhere that isn't the latest 'hot' backpacker destination.

*Lonely Planet's: Read this First and Rough Guide's: First Time series are excellent planning tools 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.

Palm TreeSee a list of all useful planning guidebooks here (if you are going to purchase any, doing so through this site is appreciated). Guidebooks by themselves with all their practical information, are not so good in the original planning stage. The Let's Go series are among the best guidebooks in the planning stage.

Also recommend by many is a computerised atlas on such as MS Atlas or even Google Earth - useful tools for checking out distances, pictures of interesting landscapes/places, political borders, topography and running word searches on place names unknown to you.



? How many countries are there?

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 - 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. Taking this too seriously could damage your mental health


Drawing together several well travelled minds, 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]

 * Get your bearings.. show/hide map of the world



» Some Trip Ideas (or a little focus)



» Some rightly popular and recommended independent travel countries

Okay you won't have the place to yourself, but...

  • India, Nepal & Sri Lanka

  • New Zealand

  • Turkey

  • South Africa

  • Thailand, Laos, Cambodia & Philippines

  • Guatemala & México

  • Brazil, Bolivia & Argentina

Honorary mentions: USA (don't knock it until you've tried it), Western Europe (Italy/Spain) and Japan.


CompassFeel 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.

i If you need any more inspiration or more in-depth info on any place mentioned here, a planning guide or guidebook is the next best step. For a full recommended list click here.

'Don't listen to what they say. Go see - Chinese Proverb.



» Recommended lesser travelled countries

However, they can seem well travelled...

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.



» Best lesser travelled countries and areas, for the more adventurous Mosque

Not really that dangerous, but a bad rap with the west or infant tourism keeps many travellers away...

Honorary mentions: Most of the Middle East, The Xinjiang mountains (China)



» Ancient wonders of the world

Honorary mentions: Chichen Itza and many others (México), and Palmyra (Syria), Remembered: Arg e Bam (Iran)



» Wondrous buildings of the worldPyramids

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).



» Natural wonders of the world

So many, here's just a few outstanding examples...

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 great regions (for striking beauty and/or culture)

Some compact areas that have a lot to offer, many with few tourists...

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



» Great places Mayan

Some cities or hang-outs that make you feel amazed and happy to be alive...

Honorary mentions: Yangshuo, China, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Treasure Beach, Jamaica, Karimabad (Pakistan) and Luang Prabang (Laos)



» Terrific places to have a great time

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...



» Top tourist traps, but deservedly soGreat Wall of China

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




  • Varanasi (and pretty much all of Northern India)

  • Tokyo & Osaka, Japan

  • Lagos, Nigeria & Cotonou, Benin

  • Ho Chi Minh City, aka. Saigon

  • And top place: Dhaka, Bangladesh during Eid [al-Adha]

Honorary mentions: Marrakech, México City and Cairo

 
  • CocktailOn a boat - Mekong, Niger or YangtzeKiang slow boat and Nile Feluccas (probably best to avoid public vessels if you want to chill)

  • On the beach - Varkala, Goa (India), Bay Islands (Honduras) or Ko Tao et al. (Small (touristy) Thai island)

  • By a lake - Lake Malawi (Nakata or Monkey bay), Lake Atitlán or El Estor (Guatemala) or Lake Titicaca (Bolivia/Peru).

  • Others - Huge inlet, quiet town - Kotor, Montenegro; or peaceful, mystical China - Yangshuo or quiet fly-in only island - Lamu, Kenya




» Nicest people

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.

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.



» Great train journeys

(a few, often long train journeys in some remarkable places)Zebra

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.



and the ugly?


» 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!)
  • Spanish Mediterranean/Atlantic Islands

  • Cancun and Yucatan Peninsula

  • Thailand's famous beach and islands (e.g. Pattaya, Samui and Phi Phi)

  • Greek and Turkish Aegean coast/islands

  • Bali (Kuta) & Fiji's tourist hubs

 
  • Nairobi (Nai-robberi)

  • Delhi/Agra/Varanasi

  • Johannesburg/Cape Town

  • Costa Rica

  • Prague

 
  • Caspian Sea ferry

  • Indian or Pakistani Himalayan/Karakoram jeep

  • Dushanbe to Khorog (45min) flight

  • Bicycle on any busy 'developing country' road

  • Long-distance West African Bush taxis

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, Filipino ferry, Kenyan matatus




Budget travellers beware

(aside from Western Europe, Japan and North America)Zebra

Honorary mentions: Main East-coast Chinese cities & Hong Kong. Mexico, Cape Verde, West African nations using the CFA, Brunei - or not taking out medical insurance!



Closed borders - where 'overlanding' plans come unstuck

Honorary mention: Panama - Colombia (fly or sail), not so much a closed boarder as an extremely difficult one



» Current bargains

(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.

Honorary mentions: as the dollar is still good value, countries with dollar fixed currencies are getting much cheaper, i.e. Ecuador, Panama (plus most of Central America and much of the Caribbean).

i 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 never, never be afraid to make friends and keep asking questions.

--------





» Ongoing trouble hotspots

! 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 (parts of):

Afghanistan, Northern Sri Lanka, Libya, Kashmir, Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Colombia, Cote d'Ivoire, DR Congo (outside Katanga), Iraq, Syria, Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Yemen.

FTAS

! Governmental warning 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.

E-mailed comment:

Remember, it's your trip. You don't have to do all the so-called 'Must-Sees'. It is possible to have an amazing time and not see all the stuff in the glossy pages at the front of the guidebook. Do the things that interest you. Similarly, you don't have to plan your itinerary around how all the other backpackers typically do it. Getting off the gringo trail, even if it's just seeing cities in a different order or throwing a less-visited sight into the mix, is a great way to immediately step off the beaten track and away from the hassle of any 'scene' that exists. Equally don't give too much credence to backpackers' gossip about what places are 'bad', 'good', 'expensive', 'touristy', etc. These are opinions, keep an open mind, no matter how 'notorious' the place is. - with thanks to Sara Clarke.


I see my path, but I don't know where it leads. Not knowing where I'm going is what inspires me to travel it. - Rosalia de Castro



» Current holidays & events

(goings on in 2014) Globe

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:

  • New Years - Nowrūz (Persian-Zoroastrian): 21st March 2014, Chinese New Year: 19th February 2015, Songkran (SE Asia, aka. water festival, known by different names outside Thailand): 13-15th April 2014.
    Other - Carnival: (ends) 4th March 2014, Golden Week (Japan): 29th April - 5th May 2014, Duanwu (Dragon Boat Festival, China): 12 June 2014, FIFA World Cup: 12 June to 13 July 2014.

-Major religious holidays and festivals:

  • Islamic - Ramadan: 28th June until 28th July 2014, Edi: (al-Adha) 4th October 2014 / 24th September 2015
    Hindu - Holi: 17th March 2014 / 6th March 2015 , Deepavali/Diwali: 23rd October 2014 / 11th November 2015.
    Christian - Easter (Semana Santa)
    : 18-20 April 2014 / 3-6 April 2015, Christmas: 24-26th December, Orthodox Christmas: 6-8th January.

    Some of these are signification, others not. Some are localised, others wide-spread. If in doubt do a little research... Interested in a map of world religions?



-

Bucket and spade



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.





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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.

]

 

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

 

 

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