- Written by: Maxine Clarke
Looking for the planet's best places to backpack? The world is suddenly your oyster, and it’s time to decide where to go on that much anticipated backpacking trip. Do you follow the well-worn gap year trail, or get more adventurous and make your own path? No matter where you're headed on your backpacking trip, make sure you have backpacker insurance - on a journey to some of the world's most exciting backpacker destinations, you never know when you might need it. Have a look at our round-up of the best places to backpack across the globe, and take the first step of your incredible journey.
You’d be missing out on a huge chunk of backpacker culture if you left Oz off your round-the-world itinerary. This massive country (and continent) offers once in a lifetime experiences wherever you turn. Quite frankly it’s a backpacker’s paradise, the fantastic climate the backdrop to awesome landscapes and unique wildlife, cool city culture in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth with laid-back beach vibes on the glorious coastline.
You won’t want to miss the Great Barrier Reef and Fraser Island, Byron Bay, the Blue Mountains, Swan Valley wine country, and the red hot heart of the nation and Aboriginal culture, Uluru. Surfing, snorkelling, scuba diving, hiking, bush walks, whale-watching, off-road driving, mountain biking plus great eating, drinking, arts scenes and a love of life - yep, Australia is one of the world’s top backpacker destinations.
For many backpackers, Nepal is a refreshing breath of calming air after the craziness of India. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its fair share of bustling cities, vibrant festivals and a well-established tourist trail. The capital Kathmandu will certainly keep you on your toes. Yet there’s a colourful, peaceful and very welcoming feel to this little land-locked nation, with the added bonus of the absolutely stunning natural environment that’ll stop you in your tracks time and time again.
Nepal is home to most of the world’s tallest mountains, and the majority of visitors head to the Annapurnas and Everest base camp with the awe-inspiring treks and climbs that only the Himalaya can offer. The cosy family guesthouses en route are just one of the attractions. You can also get busy kayaking, white water rafting, bungee jumping, canyoning, paragliding and mountain biking.
Thankfully many of the country’s sacred Buddhist and Hindu temples, shrines, monasteries and palaces survived the earthquake in 2015. Don’t miss Kathmandu, laid-back lakeside city Pokhara, Bhaktapur, Bardia National Park, and the mountains of course. It’s a classic cheap backpacker destination so your savings will go a long way here. Prepare yourself for travel by jam-packed rickety old bus on rugged mountain roads, and avoid nighttime journeys if you can!
South America is a hotspot for travellers and Brazil one of the best places to backpack in the world. Think amazing cities with in-your-face party scenes, like Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Salvador; shamelessly touristy yet idyllic beach resorts like Morro de São Paulo; jaw-dropping Iguazu Falls in the south; and the mighty Amazon rainforest in the north.
Adventure-junkies will love the opportunities for snorkelling, surfing, kayaking, horse riding, jungle-trekking and wildlife-spotting. Brazil is the most biodiverse country on the planet.
It is undeniable that the country’s diverse and vivacious people have an outstanding capacity for celebration. Carnival during February is just one of the dazzling events that pepper the party calendar. Just try to stop Brazilians making music and dancing. And when it all gets too much, there are few things as truly relaxing as sipping a chilled caipirinha (cachaça, sugar and lime) overlooking the Amazon river. Perfect.
Backpacking in Europe is not the budget travelling experience you get in India, Asia and South America but a taste of this historic and cultural region is definitely recommended. A Eurail pass will help you get around and make the most of your travel cash. Italy has its own TrenItalia pass for rail travel too.
Being the birthplace of the Renaissance, Italy’s cities are naturally a feast for the senses. You could wander happily for days around Venice, Milan, Rome and Florence soaking up the history, art and general beauty. Then there are the smaller towns and villages of the famously gorgeous Italian regions of Tuscany, Umbria and Puglia. Go a bit Audrey Hepburn on the picture-perfect Amalfi Coast and indulge in a spot of island-hopping to Capri, Sardinia or Sicily. And you can also hike or ski in the Italian Alps and the Apennines depending on the season.
Most backpackers also love the bustling evening social scenes, tastebud-tingling food and drink, and the lively, gregarious Italian people.
Scandinavia is notoriously expensive for visitors, yet the region offers some of the most stunning landscapes and outdoor experiences across the globe. If you can stretch your budget, and you’re made of tough stuff, then it’s definitely worth a visit.
Some good news on the cash-front is that camping in public areas is permitted and free across Scandinavia. Obviously you’re expected to set up camp away from private property, behave in a respectable manner and take away your rubbish! There are also hiking cabins available to hire across Norway, book these in advance with the Norwegian Trekking Association.
Hardcore backpacking maybe, but it’s the perfect way to discover this incredible wilderness, from glaciers, mountains and fjords to waterfalls, forests and a seriously dramatic coastline. May to September is the best time for a camping and hiking trip to Norway, with the upside (or down, depending on your preference) of experiencing the midnight sun. This kind of backpacking demands some proper kit, so do your research and pack the right stuff.
Pristine azure seas, a beautiful climate, spectacular beaches, delicious fresh fish and seafood, and all that ancient history. And it’s only the birthplace of Western civilisation, isn’t it?
It may not be as cheap and cheerful as it once was, but Greece is still a top backpacker destination and one of the best places to backpack in Europe, with the mainland and the islands to explore. Hectic, hot and smoggy Athens is worth tackling for the Acropolis, Parthenon and the raucous restaurant and club scene. After a few days you’ll be ready for a refreshing change, which could be the ancient city of Delphi and Mount Parnassus, Olympia in the Peloponnesus Valley or off to the Aegean or Ionian seas for some civilised island-hopping.
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing your favourite Greek islands. Many of the islands have gained a reputation as package holiday hells or even upscale destinations over the years, yet most of them also have quieter resorts, gorgeous scenery and some serious culture to discover: Mykonos, Paros, Crete, Santorini, Kefalonia, Corfu… we could keep going.
Make sure you book your accommodation in advance if you’re planning to stay during the peak summer season - sun-seekers from across Northern Europe are also heading here!
For a taste of wholesome North American backpacking, head to Canada. It’s huge and much of it is ridiculously beautiful. The cities of Quebec, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver are all great destinations, but what you’ll really want to see are the dense pine forests, glacier-fed crystal blue lakes, rapids and waterfalls, canyons, vast prairies, the Sea-to-Sky Highway, those good old Rockies, and some real wilderness - maybe even a bear or two.
Banff National Park, Canada’s first, must have more gob-smacking natural sights than most countries, including the Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Peyto Lake and Sunshine Meadows and meandering creatures from elk and bighorn sheep to black bears and grizzlies. Whistler in British Columbia is a world-renowned ski and snowboarding resort, which you can’t miss if you’re here during the winter season. Heading north west to Nunavik in Quebec, you’ll get a taste of Inuit culture and see musk-ox, arctic foxes, caribou, seals and beluga whales, possibly even a polar bear, in their natural environment.
Canada is well set up for backpackers with a number of hostel networks and endless opportunities for camping under the stars.
What could be nicer than a pootle around the old Emerald Isle? Ireland’s glorious coastline provides some fantastic trips if you fancy hiring a car or hopping on or off the country’s bus network.
It’s not a cheap option, but it’s a destination that calls to most of us at some time in our lives whether we’re searching for ‘the craic’, blarney or Game of Thrones locations. Don’t miss the Ring of Kerry (a popular scenic drive around the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry), Killarney National Park, the Dingle Peninsula, Doolin, the Wild Atlantic Way and the Cliffs of Moher, the Aran Islands and Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
The cities (notably Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Galway) are also fabulous for a budget city break, if you’re canny on where you choose to part with your precious pennies. They’re atmospheric, characterful towns with rocking pub and music scenes, and great food too.
There are plentiful youth and backpacker hostels, but remember to book in advance as this is a small island with a worldwide following.
Many backpackers on a round-the-world trip will find themselves looking for somewhere to stopover between Australia or New Zealand and North America. Aloha Hawaii! The gorgeous Hawaiian Islands extend 1,500 miles in the North Pacific Ocean, and are made up of eight major islands, a number of atolls, small islets and undersea seamounts.
This is pure island paradise with an appealing, laid-back and genuinely multicultural heritage, and it’s very own distinctive contemporary culture. Across the islands from O’ahu and Maui to the Big Island and Kaua’i travellers can immerse themselves in the Hawaiian outdoor life (surfing, wave sliding, snorkelling, scuba diving, hiking, fishing, swimming, anyone?) and soak up the easygoing, happy vibes at diverse arts and culture festivals.
The islands may be a luxury travel destination for many, but there is also an excellent range of hostels across the archipelago making it one of the best places to backpack in the Pacific. Hawaiian hostels are generally of a high quality and many offer a number of private rooms as well as dorms. As always, book in advance if you are particular about your accommodation or will be staying during a peak period.
Perhaps not a regular on the round-the-world tour, the Philippines are ready and waiting to be discovered by the backpacking throng. These 7,000 or so islands in Southeast Asia combine to make a traveler's’ paradise, with a tropical climate, perfect powder beaches and tip-top watersports on offer. The islands have a colourful heritage, combining Spanish, American and Catholic influences.
Surfers, kitesurfers, windsurfers and scuba divers will love Siargao and Boracay. The largest of the islands, Luzon, is home to the manic capital, Manila as well as remote villages, mountains and Mayon, the most active volcano in the Philippines. El Nido at the far north of Palawan is a spectacularly beautiful spot, and said to have been Alex Garland’s inspiration when writing The Beach. The Philippines are home to an array of fascinating native creatures, including Tarsier monkeys, dolphins, whales, barracudas, turtles and manta rays.
Where do we start here? It’s impossible to sum up the highlights of backpacking in America in a few paragraphs, so we’ll just focus on Los Angeles. Many travellers will begin or end a round-the-world trip here.
You’ll find hostels and campsites galore across LA, and don’t forget that there’s more to this sprawling city than concrete and cars. It’s surrounded by stunning mountains, beaches and deserts waiting to be explored. Highlights include Manhattan and Redondo beaches, Venice Beach, Santa Monica pier and amusements, the Getty Museum, Griffith Park and Observatory, hiking trails, farmers’ markets, hip restaurants, bars and cocktail lounges by the bucketload. Go tourist-tastic at the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive and the theme parks, Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood with its new Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Post-war Serbia is growing in popularity every year, and emerging as one of the hot spots for partying and affordable skiing holidays. Serbians are pretty wild and exuberant people, so prepare to have a blast.
The country's immense history is brought to life by the cathedrals and monasteries that decorate the lush countryside. It’s well worth exploring the art nouveau town of Subotica, bohemian haven Niš, and the Zlatibor and Kopaonik mountain regions. Head to Montenegro to the south east for mile upon mile of sandy beach along the beautiful Adriatic coast.
The Danube cuts the country in half, making it possible to cruise along one of Europe's most beautiful rivers in one of the continent’s oldest countries. Rounding off the land's natural beauty is Serbia's capital, Belgrade. Here you'll find all the ingredients that make backpacker lifestyle so appealing: art galleries, museums, theatres and nightclubs full of like-minded folk.
The Inca Trail has been high up on the list of backpacking Must Sees for many moons. Machu Picchu is every bit as mysterious and beautiful as you’ve heard. And there’s so much more to this wonderful South American destination than the fabled ruins. The coastline is peppered with secluded beaches to lose yourself on, lively towns that lend themselves to great parties, great festivals and spicy food that puts the sun's fire in your mouth - in a good way!
Vietnam’s intoxicating mix of nature, culture and tradition is exquisite; and it can be cheap too, making it a top backpacker destination. The people are friendly and happy to share their absolutely magnificent country with you, giving it the potential to be one of your most authentic stops on the backpacker trail.
Take in the Mekong Delta rice paddies, which have fed the nation for centuries; and Hanoi, the country's action-packed capital, where you'll find a great mix of locals and tourists. After your first brush with the screaming traffic you'll have plenty to talk about! The city hums with activity, but is also home to ancient sights and monuments that make Southeast Asia such an enduring backpacking destination. Historic Ho Chi Minh City is another buzzing city with an old heart.
Central Vietnam offers historic and cultural highlights as well as amazing beaches and fantastic national parks. The southeast coast is where to head with your beach towel and book. A trip to Halong Bay in the northeast, with its emerald waters and distinctive limestone seascapes is just dreamy.
If New Zealand is about one thing, it’s jaw-droppingly awesome natural landscapes - glaciers, lakes, mountains, fiords, volcanoes, subtropical forests and beaches everywhere you turn. Peter Jackson knew what he was doing when he located his epic Tolkien movies on this two-island nation.
Unique otherworldly highlights include Milford Sound, Franz Josef Glacier, Lake Wanaka, Bay of Islands and geothermal Rotorua, a centre for Maori culture. For lively city life, check out Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and also backpacker central Queenstown.
The locals are very friendly, accommodation and transport is tip-top, and there’s no language barrier. Just what jaded backpackers need after a few months on the road.
Patagonia - Chile and Argentina
From the Chilean and Argentinian side, the landscapes and views of Patagonia are nothing short of epic. This is a backpacker destination for serious hikers and trekkers, although there are also opportunities to simply gawk at the frozen cliffs and glaciers that surround its turquoise lakes. You will need to be, at the very least, a competent walker and willing to spend large quantities of time outside to make the most of the area. Do your research, pack or hire quality camping gear.
Torres del Paine National Park at the southern tip of the Andes is crammed with spectacular mountains, glaciers, rivers, lakes and forests. You may also spot some of the native animal residents too, from guanacos to pumas (really).
From the cliffs that face the Atlantic Ocean, to the parched hills of the Sahara Desert and the icy tips of the Atlas Mountains, the drama of Morocco's contrasting landscapes is mesmerising. In the balance between its changing culture and ancient traditions, you'll find something enduring and mystical that has been drawing artists and soul-searchers (and thrill-seeking backpackers) for decades.
Marrakech is a great place to start; there's plenty to see and it's within striking range of other great places. The daily miracle that happens at Jemaa El Fna throws you into the deep end of urban Moroccan culture - the city square burns with activity from sunrise to sundown. It's a whirlpool of street performers and vendors, and a great time to perfect your bartering skills for the souks and beyond.
It doesn't cost very much at all to live the life of a king in Indonesia. The beaches in Bali are stunning, cheap to stay (you can rent a room in a wooden house for pocket change) and you'll find yourself in the good company of thousands of surfers during their chilly winter months, when average temperatures plummet into the mid-twenties. The national means of transport (scooters) are cheap to rent and easy to navigate your way around with. Just look out for the traffic!
As a backpacking location, Indonesia opens itself up way beyond the borders of Bali. A boat trip to Lombok, Nusa or several of the unnamed islands (6,000 in total) that make up this incredible country is highly affordable, even on a shoestring budget. You are free to venture as deep and far into the rainforests as your will takes you.
India is a special country, unlike any other. An assault on the senses, the heat, smell, sounds and sheer number of people will slap you round the chops, no messing. Travelling in India is always a challenge so make sure that you do some research before you land here. And take a peek at the map before you go - the country is massive!
There are vast distances to cover between the Taj Mahal in Agra, Goa (the famous seaside oasis) and the mismatched worlds of New and Old Delhi. Travelling by train or bus through the countryside can be rough, especially if you are on a twenty-five hour journey you did not plan for. Spend as much or as little as you like on accommodation, from five-star grandeur to backpacker hostels as filthy as they come.
The rewards are worth the stress and shell-shock. You will turn into that cliched traveller and your world will be rocked by India - if only for a few short months.
Backpacking and Thailand go together like Yorkshire pudding and roast beef. It's cheap, if you want it to be, extremely beautiful, easy to get around (although the tuk-tuks can be an interesting experience) and utterly unique.
Ancient temples, bewildering city markets, idyllic tropical beaches, mouthwatering dishes and the welcoming local people have been enticing travellers for decades now. There’s a familiar backpacking trail that takes in islands including Ko Phra Thong, Koh Lanta, Koh Mak and old favourites Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao; crazy Khao San Road in Bangkok; Chiang Mai; Pai; Ayutthaya and Sukhothai.
All this, plus travelling is smooth and there are a plethora of hostels and low-budget guest houses across the country (as well as high-end resorts)…meaning Thailand is still one of the best places to backpack in the world.
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