The wind in our hair, not a care for the world, a rucksack slung across the shoulder, and a burning desire to see the world – it’s sort of a rite of passage for people leaving college and heading out into the real world. There is a level of imagery at play here as well. Do you want to break your bones in the real world? Go out, and explore the real world first.
Backpacking might not be the most comfortable way to travel, but it is the cheapest and easiest way to go about it. With cost being the biggest concern here, I’ll try to list some of the cheaper places that you can hit up along the trail. Remember, backpacking is less about having the ‘touristy’ experience and more about immersing yourself in foreign cultures, getting to know people and creating your own web of adventures.
So let’s start off with that hotbed of music, dance and culture.
1. Colombia – Soaring Andean summits, unspoiled Caribbean coast
I know this one sets your heart racing, what with its violent past and its history with the narcos (cocaine traffickers). However, Pablo Escobar’s country has come a long way since his day, with crime on the wane for a long time now. Today Colombia is less about the drugs and crime, and more about its culture, white beaches and rainforest, nightlife and adventure sports. As Colombia’s tourism department says, the only danger with visiting Colombia is you might not want to leave.
This country is unique in having a Pacific as well as a Caribbean coastline, with city tours that rival the best in Europe. Add to that, beautiful and inexpensive hostels, a vibrant nightlife in Medellin, and some brilliant local cuisine, and you have your quintessentially perfect backpacking destination.
2. Peru – A Peruvian Delight
As you might have guessed, we put a premium on cost. A good backpacking trip must involve roughing it out a bit, sacrificing the creature comforts that most of us are used when going on family holidays, and actually immersing ourselves into wherever we are going. Otherwise, what is the point of Wanderlust?
Peru is a backpackers paradise, with its cheap living and brilliant tourist destinations. A trek to Machu Pichu obviously tops the list of must-visit places.
Start your trip at Lima, where you can check out the surfers at Playa Waikiki. You can enjoy the evening fountain show at Parque de la Reserva. And then, of course, there’s the Inca trail and a day-long trek to Machu Pichu.
Peru also boasts of some of the best South American cuisine that is sure to set your tongue on fire. However, it’s important to remember that being a popular tourist destination, there’s a chance locals might try to take advantage of you, or tourism agencies might spring some surprise costs. So it would be wise to be on your guard at all times.
3. Brazil – Football!
How could we backpack through South America without landing up in football heaven! Brazil has a slice of everything that you would expect of a Latin American experience. The only downside of this place is the expense. Brazil is as costly as any European city. So you might need to pace yourself here, as you weave your way through Sao Paolo! One thing I would recommend is that you go through Sao Paolo and Rio and move further south, into any of the neighboring countries.
4. Barcelona – For Lovers of Art
Moving on to Europe, we come to another one of football’s heavens. Barcelona is an extremely laid back city where you can just chill with your sangria, go clubbing or even just stroll aimlessly through the old city that is a hub of everything cultural and pretty.
For lovers of art, this city boasts of the Picasso Museum, which is probably the largest collection of the artist’s work. For those who enjoy art on a grander scale, I can’t think of any place better than Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter to get lost in. From the quirky to the modern, from fine dining to tiny tapas bars, you have everything in Barcelona!
5. Paris – A City to Fall in Love With
Come to Paris so you can fall in love again – with yourself, with this city, or with the very idea of romance itself. Paris is all about champagne and music and love, and this is something you wouldn’t find in any other corner of the world. I can go on and on about the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower or the glass pyramid, but Paris is so much more than that.
If you want to immerse yourself in Paris, take a walk through Montmartre. If you’re in the mood for some fun, visit Moulin Rouge at night, and you’ll have a story to tell for when you head back home. Paris is best travelled on foot, or for longer distances, their public transport. Buy yourself a map (or simply use your phone if you’re not a dinosaur) and lose yourself in the city.
6. Budapest – A Gateway to Europe
The Hungarian capital sits at a crossroads of East European history. Close to Prague as well as Vienna, this is the place to head for if you are a culture buff. The Churches, the Basilicas, the castles and the Danube riverside all add up to make this a cultural experience worth its name.
7. Vienna – Or As We Call It, Heaven
The city with a glorious history shaped by some of the brightest minds ever, Vienna has had a glorious past as evidenced in its reputation for being the cultural capital of East Europe. Beethoven, Mozart, Freud have all shaped the intellectual legacy of this monument of a city. This was also the seat of the Austrian royal family. The castles are something nobody in their right minds should miss.
8. Rome – Say Cheese!
Rome has for long been the seat of European power, be it the Roman Empire, or even in relatively modern times with the rise of the Vatican. This place was the birthplace of patrician nobility that greatly influenced its architecture. The Vatican, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and the cobbled streets, will give you an architectural experience that will leave you gasping for breath.
As for the cuisine, I don’t know where to start. The Italians sure know how to use their cheese. Lasagna, pasta, and the best sauces you’ve ever had, you name it, and this city has it.
9. Thailand – Land of Smiles
Beautiful beaches, opulent royal palaces and ancient Buddhist relics – that makes for a heady combination. You add all of that, and you get Asia’s sin capital, Thailand, or to be more specific Bangkok!
Bangkok has a vibrant night-life coupled with beautiful Buddhist architecture and, of course, authentic Thai cuisine. The icing on the cake is the easy availability of cheap accommodation and regular flights connecting it to the rest of the world.
10. Cambodia – Ascend to the realm of the gods
I’m sure the first thing that sprang to your mind would be the Angkor Wat temple, and rightly so since it is officially the world’s largest religious complex. Unless of course you’re just plain confused as to what Cambodia is.
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Asia with a deeply troubled past. However, disheartening it may sound, it makes for a fascinating trip to the Killing Fields. I feel we owe it to Cambodia to pay a visit to this place, because of the beauty with which the rest of the country greets one.
Other than Angkor Wat, there’s also the temple where Angeline Jolie starred Tomb Raider was shot. The country provides for ample shopping and partying opportunities for those who want a little more fun in their trip.
This is obviously not an exhaustive list. But I tried to put in the right mix of budget travel places, culture, a bit of history, a dash of music and a whole lot of fun into compiling this list. A trip through these ten places will leave you a changed person.