The 12 Best Backpacking Countries In The World
One of the many areas of travel the COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on is backpacking – a once vibrant and rich activity reserved for those with enough cash for bus tickets and hostels as well as a thrill for the unknown.
With many of our travel plans on hold, now may not be the best time to do a backpacking trip. That said, certain leeways and lifts on restrictions may make a few possible variations a reality for some! Even if not, planning the next trip doesn’t hurt!
Our top 12 countdown will focus on all corners of the globe, from Asia to Africa to North and South America, there are plenty of stops that will make the 21st-century backpacker grin with joy.
Bolivia, Bolivia, Bolivia. We can’t say enough good things about it in terms of being a top backpacking destination. In this beautiful land, cheap travel comes easy. 10-hour bus rides cost five or six bucks.
The bars are abuzz, and the liquor (and more) keeps flowing. Beyond the party lifestyle, the thing about Bolivia that everybody loves is the Uyuni Salt Flats Tour. In the past, we’ve written that it’s worth breaking the budget for a visit. We stand by that still.
Even though it might cost $150 USD to get to the Flats, backpackers have said it is worth every penny to enjoy the unspeakable elegance of the pristine landscape. Bolivia is popular with mountaineers as well. Mountain climbing isn’t hard to find, and a climb up Huayna Potosi stretches over 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) and takes four days. It only costs $120 USD for the expedition.
Lodging is affordable in the form of both hotels and hostels. In Bolivia, street food and drinking aren’t pricey either. Just don’t get too drunk on those low-price beers. Although we can’t endorse it, there are even anecdotes about backpackers making a stop by the San Pedro Prison. Prison tourist or not, backpackers seem to enjoy what they see in Bolivia.
Guatemala is a beautiful country and possibly one of the most affordable for backpackers looking to save a few cents while out on the open road, especially in Central America. The combination of easy-to-use and very affordable public busses and shuttles make getting around easy. Guatemala is quickly becoming a hotspot for backpackers as more and more fall in love with its charms.
Some Spanish is useful, but there are classes. For example, some backpackers opt to enroll in intensive Spanish courses. If you book a homestay for an additional fee (as low as $55 USD), you can stay with a local family for up to seven days (including meals).
Some say that backpacking in Guatemala on a solo trip is doable as well. With hostels starting at $5 USD a night, a couple of extra bucks might get travelers a decent upgrade and some privacy.
The place to check out is Tikal, an ancient Mayan city. You might also enjoy affordable cinema prices or grab some food from a street vendor. Others will prefer to visit the area where the Volcan de Fuego remains. The active volcano is constantly erupting!
Central America remains a fan favorite for backpackers and with good reason. Guatemala offers plenty of fun, food, and sights. It’s well-paired with Honduras or El Salvador.
3. Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka makes for a truly memorable holiday, but not everybody is willing to make the trek. It’s a stellar place to do some backpacking, but the caveat is that one needs plenty of time to make the trip worth it.
The country can be tricky to navigate, but there are rewards for those who are patient. It isn’t recommended to stop here if you have a limited amount of time. It’s budget-friendly nonetheless, so if you have little money but a good deal of time, don’t rule it out.
For instance, from Colombo to Elsa is a 10-hour train ride (even though it’s a distance of only 124 miles). The first class ticket? That runs about $25 USD. The “tourist class” option runs a lot less, but trust us – if you’re on the train that long, it’s money well spent.
Homestays are the way to go in Sri Lanka, especially at only 10 dollars a pop. There’s no better place to live like a local. Although language differences can cause a little confusion, many people in Sri Lanka speak English. There’s simply no better place to tour in a Tuk Tuk!
Turkey blends Islamic and European influences, and those who frequent the land rave about Istanbul, the coast, and everything there is to see in between. In Turkey, the monasteries, the Black Sea, and the UNESCO World Heritage sites provide plenty to see and do. Let’s not get started on the endless list of beautiful mosques, Ottoman Empire cities, and hikes to enjoy.
Even better, dining, drinking, and staying aren’t too pricey in Turkey. Even the local tours are easy on the old pocketbook. One backpacker rented a vehicle for two weeks and paid just under $400. This means a road trip might be in order. The professionals recommend giving Turkey two weeks for those who are going all-in on the excursion.
Vietnam is another Asian country that backpackers adore. They’re game for the affordable transit options as well as the happy hour specials that don’t seem limited from four to six.
Hostels in Vietnam don’t cost much, and some are rumored to hand out free beer for a few hours each night. Beer Hoi, a popular drink sold by street vendors, flows for just a quarter a pint in some locales. With such great deals, it’s not a surprise Vietnam sometimes feels like “Spring Break” for the backpacking crowd, not that many are complaining about it.
In Hanoi, the place to be is the Old Quarter. The Hanoi Party Backpacker Hostel is a suitable option for those who like to stick to the main drags. While in town, visitors should stock up on rice wine. It’s a local drink that packs a punch.
Motorbike travel is recommended, and many backpackers buy their bikes for the trip. Transportation costs no longer factor into the daily budget, and the bikers have full control of their itineraries. After the trip, the bikes are sold on Facebook.
If this sounds like “not your cup of tea,” another option is the tourist-class bus system that runs throughout the land. Once you find a way to get around, Vietnam may become your favorite place to backpack.
Traveling through the Philippines is an adventure, and it often involves ferry trips to various islands. Long-distance ferries may be worth the ride when affordability is considered. Overnight ferries even have bunk beds aboard.
Western travelers often are surprised to find the quarters so tight, but they’re happy about the low prices. What they like even better is the accessibility to haircuts and street food! Medical care isn’t too pricey either.
One hot tip is to try camping, perhaps on Kalanggaman Island. Past visitors say that although it’s a budget-friendly stop, checking it out would be worth it if the price were high. There are plenty of other islands off the beaten path to explore as well.
Travelers have laughed at how rum often costs less than a can of coke, so sometimes a double rum with coke is cheaper than a normal rum and coke. In other words, if you’re trying to cut back on dough, you’re bound to have a good time.
Although backpacking options exist in places like Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, which tend to be more popular, the Philippines offers a rich culture, unique cuisine, and friendly atmosphere that should not be skipped.
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Mexico is such a large country that one could likely spend months backpacking its coasts, central regions, Fronteras, and still have more to see. Just one trip off the main road could lead to beaches, Mayan cities, colonial towns, and some of the largest metropolises on the planet.
Even in the midst of the pandemic, Mexico welcomed visitors, and so, it remains a popularly visited destination. One could land in Cancun and make the trip to Chetumal and enter Belize by ferry. Or, do a road trip from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta.
In the land of adventure, some of the best states to check out include Distro Federal (Mexico City), Guadalajara, Nayarit, Guerrero, Morelos, and Oaxaca. Doing a little research about attractions, climates, and road conditions helps a lot.
Although renting a car is fun, the traffic, speed bumps, and tolls might detract from the experience. Many backpackers prefer to use the private bus routes which are affordable and comfortable. Those with airline points stocked up may choose to fly city to city.
Backpacking through Georgia is next level. Affordable backpacking is difficult in some European countries, especially for those who don’t like the idea of “roughing it” in Paris or Barcelona. In Georgia, though, backpacking is a luxury retreat in and of itself.
For instance, a nice train ride doesn’t cost more than $10 USD. A decent meal runs five or six bucks. A lift ticket (a must) usually costs between $15 and $20. Compared to the prices in Italy, Monaco, and parts of Greece, this is a real treat for the money-minded.
The most popular cities to explore are Batumi and Tbilisi. There is a whole community of digital nomads, backpackers, and globetrotters, so making friends is no challenge. This is where many go to see and be seen, in fact.
Georgians believe in hospitality. Those who have stayed in Airbnb rooms reported receiving free bottles of wine as welcome gifts! The visa policy is very open as well. Europeans, Americans, Koreans, and others can get a year-long visa.
Of course, Indonesia makes the list! How could it not? It’s a backpacking staple. It’s the place where many newbie backpackers begin. It’s where the veterans go to rediscover the thrill of the pastime. It’s the place where beer doesn’t cost more than a few bucks.
What about Bali!? It’s great, but that’s just one of 17,500 islands the land has to offer. Go backpacking through Bali, sure. Just don’t forget to check out the rest of Indonesia while you’re at it.
Because the routes are so well calculated by bloggers and backpackers of years past, this is a great place for rookies to learn the ropes. They should start in Java or Sumatra. They should also enjoy the fresh fruit. There’s nothing like it in the world.
Getting a scooter is a wise idea here. It’s an affordable and fast way to move around. Renting a scooter shouldn’t cost more than five dollars a day. Beep! Beep!
One of the best places to backpack in the world is Thailand, hands down. It’s a popular option, and there’s a reason for that. It’s simply amazing. The bucket list has a lot of options: jungle hikes, temple visits, and Bangkok tours all come to mind.
A popular launchpad is Koh Tao, a place where scuba diving is the draw. Getting a scuba diving certificate only costs $250 USD which includes three days worth of lodging as well. Now that’s a steal.
People often come here and don’t leave right away. It’s easy to live on the island with the temptation of sunrises, sunsets, and boozy cocktails. Renting a studio costs about $300. If somebody wants an upgrade, a two-bedroom (with pool) costs $700+.
Thailand is another land of dollar beers and $10 hostel beds, so budgets are easy to maintain for backpackers. Some have said they could spend a few months in the country on less than $500!
Ireland has a lot more going for it than its reputation as a land of green, castles, dark beer, and leprechauns. The land’s rich history, proud traditions, and distinguished literature make it a place for backpackers to enjoy.
Try planning the trip around nature’s bounty. Connemara and the Wicklow Mountains are good places to start. There’s also the 900-mile coastline to check out, especially at the Cliffs of Moher.
Those craving rich cultural icons will find Ireland appealing thanks to locales like the Galway City Museum and the Galway Cathedral. In terms of lodging and transit, major cities offer options for ballers and budget-minded backpackers. Rural areas may offer few options in both regards, but the trip promises to be unforgettable.
12. South Africa
South Africa’s Cape Town is another popular point of interest for the world’s backpackers. Those who have already made the trip revel in memories of work opportunities, inexpensive travel, mountains, and wine. Politically speaking, some still aren’t happy with the country. If visitors remain on their guard, however, there generally isn’t too much concern.
Activities range from checking out Cape Town to studying the tragic history of Apartheid at the museum in Joburg. A jaunt through Kruger National Park sounds nice if a three-day safari sounds like it would be interesting.
Others opt for a road trip through what’s known as the “Garden Route” along the Indian Ocean. It’s a quick trip of 125 miles from St. Francis to Mossel Bay, but the stops along mean a good amount of time should be allocated to enjoying the scenic route.
Backpacking can be an adventure built around a budget or around a world of luxuries. No matter how you choose to go, get started with a flexible game plan, or at least a bucket list, of the best countries to visit during your backpacking travels.
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