The Best Countries to Travel to for a First Time Traveller
The beauty of travel is that it’s different for everyone. After all, we are individuals, travelling for our own reasons, wanting different things, having different interests, seeking different adventures...and so on.
Depending on the person you are- your personality, desires, dreams, likes, dislikes, anxieties, financial constraints etc, your experience of travel should, and will, be unique to you. As a result, no single destination will be perfect for everyone’s first trip and no single list could cover every option that would be best for everyone.
Instead, it really is about finding something that will work for you.
Having said that, guidance here and there never hurt anyone and having some options can be handy for an aspiring traveller entirely unsure where to start. It definitely was for me. With this in mind I’ve put together a list of countries that seem especially suited to first time travel.
Ultimately, knowing who you are and what you want is the best starting point for making any travel decision, especially when it comes to deciding where you want to go. However, if you’re seeking ideas for your first travel destination, I really hope this list helps!
Let me know your thoughts, ideas, suggestions etc in the comments section below!
In no particular order, here are my picks for the best destinations for first time travellers:
Welcome to what looks and sounds like paradise on earth. In lots of ways Costa Rica sounds idyllic. From its focus on sustainability to the disbanding of its army in the twentieth century, Costa Rica seems a wonderful mix of progressive thinking and liberal ideology.
As far as first time travelling goes, it may not be the absolute simplest of places to start, but it shouldn’t be enough to put you off. Speaking a little Spanish apparently helps, but most people there speak some English too- the language barrier shouldn’t be too tough. And, though I’ve read reports of muggings and pick-pocketing, you get this literally everywhere.
Like anywhere else in the world, taking simple precautions can usually prevent such nasties happening. In return, Costa Rica offers amazing landscapes to explore, beaches to laze on, wildlife to observe and friendly people to meet.
For all that, prices seem reasonable too, which is an obvious bonus.
So, having spent a year there I’m biased, but it’s fair to say that New Zealand must be one of the most beautiful places in the world. NZ is honestly a first time traveller’s dream!
If you’re from the EU it’s easy to get a visa and its colonial past means that culturally NZ can feel very similar to the UK- I'll leave it to you to decide if this is a good or bad thing! It does mean that English is the primary language though, so no language barrier issues here. Despite European influence, the indigenous people of NZ are the Maori and their proud culture and traditions thank fully remain intact in NZ daily life.
It’s a small country (the same size as the UK) but with only 4 million people...total. Consequently, it’s possible to explore it in a relatively short period of time. And, thanks to its thriving travel scene, meeting like-minded travellers is easy and the country is ridiculously straightforward to move around.
NZ is also one of the safest places on earth; hitch hiking is common and free camping (though not allowed) is too.
There’s a huuuge variety of things to do, especially if you’re into your outdoor activities. In Spring/Summer the weather is ideal (November/December/January time) but pack your sun lotion as NZ has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world (thank you global warming!).
Prices compare to the UK, which means it isn’t especially cheap but if you’re on a working holiday visa it’s simple enough to get a job to pay your way.
As far as pitfalls go, it’s a bloody long way away from the UK, which may put some people off- especially if you’re not a fan of flying. It also makes the price of the ticket pretty significant. If time and money are short, heading somewhere closer to home might be preferable.
However, if you have the money and don’t mind the distance from home, there aren’t many better places to travel for the first time.
The land down under is another favourite destination for travellers. The weather, the Great Barrier Reef, the BBQs on golden beaches, the sense of humour and general way of life- there’s a lot going for it.
Practically speaking, it’s easy to acquire a visa for EU residents, the language is the same (again, colonialism) and it’s so well travelled in the popular parts that there’s little to no struggle for accommodation and transport.
For an extended trip Oz is perfect, as the visa can be stretched to two years (for UK residents) if you do three months farm work of your choice. Now, farm work may not be your idea of fun, but it’s paid ridiculously well (jobs in Australia are incredible well paid generally and seem easy to find).
Okay, onto the cons. First, Australia is a massive country. And, obviously, this has an impact on the logistics of travelling around. For example, it’s far less feasible to hop in a bus or car to head to the next location on your agenda. Instead, it’s aeroplanes all the way.
So, if you want to see more than just the major cities and tourist attractions, give yourself enough time to explore. And, again, like New Zealand, it’s a bloody long way away, which equals an expensive plane ticket and being far from friends and family.
Australia’s also a good place to go to challenge those phobias if, like me, you’re not a fan of snakes and creepy crawlies!
Okay, so I’m a little biased on this one too. Sri Lanka was the first country I ever travelled to and I fell head over heels in love with it. Of all the places on this list though, I’d actually consider Sri Lanka one of the more challenging for a first time traveller.
There’s the language barrier to consider, a significant culture shock to anyone who hasn’t been to Asia before, and a good degree of open-mindedness required to travel here. However, I would (and do) recommend it to anyone considering travel- even if it’s for the first time.
Sri Lanka is cheap (from a Western standpoint), relatively easy to get around, and small enough to explore in a short time-frame. It’s also stunning, has a diverse range of sights and activities, and is full of friendly, smiley people. It’s also a good time to go.
The tourist industry has boomed in Sri Lanka recently and growth is set to continue. Get in now before it becomes overcrowded and loses some of its unique charm.
Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam
These South-East Asian countries are absolute favourite destinations among travellers- experienced and first-timers alike. And for good reason too. They’re cheap, full of friendly locals and it’s easy to meet likeminded travellers.
There’s crazily cheap accommodation and low cost of living, plus an intense and rich history. It’s ridiculously easy to get around and beautiful in all manner of ways. It’s also relatively easy to move between each country, so you can travel around multiple, if not all of them on the same trip (don’t rush though! Each country has its own unique qualities).
Like I mentioned, SE Asia is definitely well-travelled, which has both positive and negative implications. The good: all of the above.
The bad: burgeoning tourist industries risk sullying proud cultural traditions, wonderful heritage and stunning natural environments; for those seeking more than a party, it can be difficult to escape the tourist trail in order to experience the ‘authentic/real’ country.
Nevertheless, SE-Asia remains a prime destination for a first time traveller.
Safe and stunning. I’d say those are two primary reasons why Iceland should be on any first time traveller’s radar. Iceland has been on my bucket list for such a long time and from all accounts, it seems to be growing in popularity.
Most people speak English there (so no pesky language barrier to navigate), the people are meant to be as friendly as any around, and like I said, it’s supposedly one of the safest places in the world too. This place seems absolutely beautiful and if you enjoy the outdoors, travelling there will be a dream.
However, the prices can also be off putting- especially if you’ve never travelled before and become accustomed to the money saving techniques you pick up over time.
From what I’ve read though, while it won’t be as cheap as places such as Asia, if you’re willing to sacrifice some creature comforts here and there, budget travel in Iceland is definitely possible.
To read more about this incredible country and all there is to do there, make sure you check out this awesome post about taking a roadtrip in Iceland from Seeking Neverland!
Ireland is a beautiful and, in my opinion, underrated country that should be on everyone’s list of potential places to travel. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re a city lover or country dweller and it’s small enough that you can easily explore a lot in little time.
It’s so close that flights to Ireland can be exceptionally cheap. Friendly locals, beautiful and lively music, a rich and proud culture and an accent that’ll charm the socks off you, all make Ireland a must for travellers.
As I researched countries to include on this list, Japan was another that kept coming up on recommendations. I’ve never been, but I imagine Japan as an intriguing and distinctive destination.
Now, it could pose certain challenges to any traveller, let alone someone travelling for the first time. There would be obstacles such as tackling the language barrier, frustratingly high prices, ‘alternative’ food menus and navigating complex social customs.
However, accounts of beautiful natural landscapes, fascinating history and diverse, multi-faceted cities, populations and social norms abound too. If you’re hoping to experience something entirely different and test yourself in a country with a long and proud history and heritage, Japan could be a good bet.
Okay, this one’s a bit cheeky: obviously an entire continent rather than a single country. I thought I’d just bang this in as a whole though as it’s such a popular place to travel. In a lot of ways, travelling around Europe is ideal for a first time traveller- especially if you’re an English-speaking one.
There’s essentially no language barrier (most places speak English), it’s straight forward to get around (most people take the train between countries), no visa complications for EU residents and solid infrastructure that irons out common concerns that can prevail in more remote parts of the world (dodgy hospitals, poor accommodation and public transport).
It’s also expensive though and for an aspiring traveller (from the West) hoping for a complete culture shock, the likes of Asia and Africa might be more appealing.
And, while it surely varies by person, from what I’m told it’s uncommon to spend more than a few days in each country, before moving on to the next. Obviously, time constraints and having to rely on the rail network can limit control over your destinations and the ability to explore a country in more depth. Heading into Eastern Europe could be an option if this would bother you.
All that aside, there are undoubtedly many appealing factors to travelling around Europe: the culture, the history, the architecture and the ease of travel between countries to name but a few.
Greece and Greek Islands
Renowned for its hospitality, long and proud history, spectacular weather, food and culture, Greece is a wonderful place to travel. The islands have long been a favoured destination among travellers and for good reason: hopping from one white sand beach to another, sounds pretty good to me! The Greek mainland shouldn’t be forgotten either though.
With its diverse landscapes, historical significance and kind-hearted, passionate people, this is a great place to travel around. The costs involved may be the only potential barrier, where food and accommodation prices can be steep (especially in peak season).
Your home country.
Okay, this one might seem a little out of left field. Stay with me though. There’s an assumption that travel has to entail exploring far away, exotic lands. However, remember there’s a lot in your own back yard that’s also worth seeing and which is usually overlooked.
As well as learning new things about your country and fellow inhabitants, travelling at home mitigates many of the challenges travel can sometimes bring: no language barrier to navigate, no cultural misunderstandings, no currency issues or bank charges for cash withdrawals- the list goes on. For a first time traveller, this can be a perfect place to start when it comes to mastering the art of travel.