One of the most frequent questions that I receive is “Where should I start?”
It’s a tough question, because you should really start with whatever inspires you the most. If just the mention of a place stirs all sorts of wonder and excitement within you, then start there. This is especially true if you are going for a shorter period of time (3 months or less). If you are going for a longer period of time, and have a continent, but no specific country in mind, then here are some suggestions.
Asia – Thailand
Thailand is a great place for any budding traveller to get their feet wet. It is cheap, easy-to-travel, and can be used as a gateway into the rest of S.E. Asia. There is no doubt that this is not a well kept secret, so you will find many other travellers that are just getting started. You will have no problem getting by in English.
Europe – Prague, U.K.
Yes, I’m well aware that Prague is not in the U.K., but I’m glad you picked that up. Prague is a great place to start in Europe as it is cheap and can be used as a portal to either east or west Europe. Tourists are so common in Prague that you might think that English is the mother tongue. The U.K. provides a unique opportunity in the way of airfare. If you are coming from North America and are a light packer then hopping on a plane to London will provide you with quick access to Easyjet and Ryanair which you can use to fly across Europe at ridiculously low prices. Be well aware that there are all sorts of hidden costs on both of these, so pack light and have money available for buses, etc.
Africa – Malawi, Morocco
Morocco is used as a portal into Africa simply because of its proximity to Europe. You can hop on a boat from Algeciras, Spain and land in Tangiers, Morocco crossing the strait of Gibraltar and bam, you’re in Africa. Marrakech, Casablanca, Fes are all fantastic locations, and you will manage to get by in English. Malawi on the other hand is a small, landlocked country that you will have to fly into. It will give you a great way to get your feet wet in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is much cheaper than all of its neighbours, and easier to travel around. Described as ‘Africa for beginners’ with a reputation of having the friendliest people in Africa, you can’t go wrong.
Central America – Guatemala
Guatemala is cheap and relatively easy to travel around. It is also stocked full with old colonial cities and Mayan ruins. You will manage to get around Antigua, Flores and Lago Atitlan speaking only English but venturing on in Central America will go a lot easier once you pick up some Spanish, and this is the best reason to start in Guatemala. You can find 1-on-1 Spanish schools around any corner that are high quality at a low price. You will be amazed at how much of a language you can pick up in a few weeks of study.
South America – Ecuador
Other than the French (I still don’t understand why) not many travellers will list Ecuador as their ideal destination in South America, but you should give it a second look. It is small and compact; with The Amazon, The Andes, and The Galapagos all packed in. You will find travel around Ecuador remarkably easy and you don’t even have to get used to a new currency (it runs on the American dollar). English will get you by in any of the major tourist locations, but Spanish will go a long way here. Furthermore, from here you have the choice of going south via Peru, or north into Colombia. If you are feeling adventurous you can even go east via the Napo river, connecting with the Amazon in Iquitos, Peru.
Australia – Cairns
Many people start in Sydney and head up the famous route to Cairns. Landing in Cairns will allow you to go in the opposite direction. This will be particularly useful if you are looking to buy a Westfalia and do the ‘Australian coast in a camping van’ that has become so popular. With so many tourists going the other way, you will find that you can purchase a camping van in Cairns for a fraction of the price, and have an easier time selling it in Sydney. If you find that you are not quite done once you get to Sydney, you can continue on to Melbourne and even jump over to Tasmania for a different side of Australia.
Do you have any other great starting places?