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12 top independent travel destinations - chosen by travel bloggers!
When looking for the trip of a lifetime the choice can be overwhelming. If travelling independently, on a budget, the choices become even harder: there is often a greater emphasis placed on these sort of trips –we want them to be life-changing, intense and unforgettable. Additionally many independent travellers choose to fly solo; meaning there are the added considerations of safety and additional worries about meeting other travellers. Luckily we have travel bloggers to travel the world for us and feed back their highs and lows. Here are some of my favourite bloggers around with their top picks for independent travel:
Buenos Aires by Andi:
On a whim I took a trip to Buenos Aires 5 years ago. It might have taken me 14 hours to fly there, but it took me less than 14 minutes to become completely enchanted with the city. Little did I know that not only would it mark the beginning of a love affair with a gorgeous man (whom I am marrying in Buenos Aires next year), but also a gorgeous city. Buenos Aires has enveloped me, held me, and let me move through her barrios as one of her own. This is the city I will remember and return to over and over again. This is the city I will see through my window when the smell of Malbec or dulce de leche brings me back to her streets.
Andi is a Chinese Medicine Doctor by day, travel addict by night. When she is not treating patients, she is traveling or dreaming of the next place to visit. Her adventure filled life is satiated only by more experience and more knowledge. To Andi, my country is the world and I want to explore all of it! Andi’s undying love affair with travel is due to the sheer intrigue of untrodden roads, different cultures, and life-changing encounters. To learn more about her travels visit My Beautiful Adventures.
Andi’s tips for Buenos Aires:
- Skip a hotel and to rent an apartment. Luxury apartments can be found in abundance in Buenos Aires and can be rented for 1 day to 3 months depending on your schedule and are super affordable due to the favorable exchange rate.
- Argentina is known for its quality and inexpensive leather products, whether it be a coat, purse, or shoes. Andi finds the boots to be the best in the world and always buys a pair from Mishka, her favorite boutique in the city (http://www.mishkashoes.com/). The best place to shop is Florida Street, which is about a mile long street with shops on both sides.
- Most people do not realize that Uruguay is just a quick boat ride away! You can see another country and be back in time for dinner. The boat you take to Uruguay is called the Buque Bus (http://www.buquebus.com/cache/HomeARG.html). It is very upscale, though completely affordable, and is an adventure in itself.
Colombia by Jasmine and Jason
Wow, it's tough to pick just one country! At this stage, I would have to say Colombia. I'm here now, and every new place I visit in the country makes me fall in love just that much more. Laid back beach towns, beautiful colonial pueblos, and world-class cities make it appealing for all types of travellers. Another benefit is that it's not overrun with other backpackers and travellers like other places. For me, though, the huge drawing point is the people. Colombians are very helpful, friendly, and easy to get to know. They're open to visitors, which has really added to my experience here. And it's the only country I've ever been to that makes me want to extend my visa! Who knows if I'll ever leave?
Jasmine is a female nomad traveling around the world indefinitely. She can be found wandering around South America practicing local Spanish slang and looking for vegetarian street food. Catch up with her at her travel blog, Jasmine Wanders.
"I stepped into the elevator making sure to avoid eye contact like I always do in every other country. But all five strangers immediately greeted me with an enthusiastic "buenos dias" and a contagious smile. This is Colombia - a country full of outgoing and genuine people who definitely enjoy life. In Colombia a stranger will buy you a cup of coffee when you forget your wallet at home. Or stop traffic to ask a foreigner walking alone if he needs directions. Both have happened to me and it's the reason I have visited five separate times in less than four years. Like many countries, Colombia also has the sites important for travelers such as fantastic beaches, snow-capped mountains, and cosmopolitan cities. But Colombia's edge is that its people are selfless and obsessed with making sure each foreigner that visits has the time of their life. They say the "only risk is wanting to stay."
Pursuing his interests in travel has resulted in Jason being self-employed with the ability to live, work and travel anywhere in the world. LocationlessLiving.com is a travelogue where he writes about his financially sustainable lifestyle of continuous travel.
Colombia: the facts
- Having, largely, put its troubled past behind it, Colombia is an increasingly popular destination for independent travellers.
- Aim to budget around $35 a day.
- If planning to make the leap from South to Central America, numerous sail boats run scenic 5 day journeys, taking in the beautiful San Blas Islands and avoiding the (out of bounds, unless you have a death wish) Darien Gap. Local hostels tend to have the most up to date details.
- Cost of a dorm room ranges from $5 in rural areas to $20 in big cities.
- Many travellers choose to trek to La Cuidad Perdida; often considered a less touristy (and more arduous) version of the Inca Trail.
Bolivia by Paul @Trav Monkey
For the budget concious traveller and those with an interest in photography I'd recommend Boliva in South America. The salt flats of Uyuni and surrounding areas are just perfect for any photographer - it's actually quite difficult to not take amazing shots here. If you are travelling to experience a different culture, Bolivia doesn't disappoint. From travelling in battered old buses along treacherous and gut wrenchingly high roads to humid Amazon jungle packed with wildlife, Bolivia offers an immense amount for those on a tight budget. Although quite well travelled these days it is easy to wander off the beaten tourist track and explore more remote areas in Bolivia.
Paul is the editor of TravMonkey.com and is currently recovering in London, UK and spending 22 months travelling through Asia, Australasia, and South America. TravMonkey.com in March 2007 and aims to publish interesting and helpful articles for those people who love to travel or are in the process of planning a trip. TravMonkey publish advice and tips based articles that readers find engaging, helpful and thought provoking. From articles on the best ways to plan to more direct questions such as “Should I take my laptop traveling?” they cover many bases.
Bolivia: The Facts
- Bolivia is the poorest all South American countries, consequently it is also one of the cheapest.
- Bolivia contains the most dangerous road in the world (the ominously named ‘road of death’) as well as the world’s highest capital city and ski resort.
- Budget $20-$30 a day (more if considering jungle trips), accommodation tends to cost less that $10-$15 a night.
- Bolivia is a country of extremes, and this includes the temperature. Do your research before you set off: in jungle regions the heat can be sweltering, whereas at high altitudes, in winter (June/July), temperatures can drop well below freezing
San Blas, Mexico by Amy
I’ve chosen San Blas, Mexico as my top destination because it represents all the things I love about travel: the discovery of a new geography of people and their unique stories in a place that is mostly unchartered.
There is something bittersweet about San Blas, which is located about two hours north of the popular tourist destination Puerto Vallarta, in the Nayarit region of Mexico. It has remained untouched by the influx of chain stores, restaurants and large hotels that are prevalent in the more touristy areas of Mexico and because of this it retains an old world charm combined with a slower hippie pace of life and connection to the land. Few of the Mexican locals speak English and very quickly visitors get a sense of what the culture of the town is like; there is no hiding in tourist districts here.
Amy is an avid traveller, writer and photographer who finds that all of these passions intersect nicely on my website A Tramp Abroad – Inspiring Wanderlust.
Instead of viewing travel as a means of escape, for Amy travel is a passion, almost an obsession that has led her to spending an entire year travelling around the globe. She supports her travel habit through freelance writing and web consultancy through her company Contentini – Content Strategists.
More San Blas facts from Amy:
- San Blas is located on the Pacific Ocean and boasts one of the longest stretches of surf in North America, the water is warm and balmy.
- The pulse of life centres on the cobbled plaza in the middle of town. Overlooked by a crumbling old Catholic church with a rusty bell tower and a newer church, it is also the site for civic celebrations, the daily markets and in the evening it’s lined with food stalls selling everything from grilled corn on the cob peppered with lime and chilli to fresh tacos. By sundown on dry nights the plaza is filled with music, the smells of food and people of all ages as multiple generations come out to spend time together under the canopy of palm trees in the balmy open air.
- In addition to the inexpensive local street food, San Blas has a world-class restaurant located in its only four star hotel. The restaurant, called El Delphin and located in the Garza Canela hotel, is run by one of the town’s most successful local daughters named Betty Vazquez who spent time in the 80s training at the famed Cordon Bleu in Paris
- San Blas doesn’t boast the wild nightclub atmosphere of neighbouring resort cities like Puerto Vallarta, but it does have its own strange class of gathering spots. Billy Bobs is a personal favourite of mine because of its oddness, which somehow fits nicely against the backdrop of the town. It’s owned by an American ex-pat, sells cold Mexican beer for the equivalent of a dollar and half per bottle and is always filled with a cast of characters who all seem to have come to San Blas for a visit and ended up staying for reasons they’ve mostly forgotten.
India by Simon, Erin and Mark
Simon and Erin
India is like nowhere else on the planet - it's an outstanding, frustrating, beautiful, crazy country of extremes and that makes it an exciting place to explore. It's never boring - there's always something going on - and features some of the most stunning scenery in the world. The people are warm and welcoming; the food is delicious and wonderful for vegetarians, and it's a very cheap country to travel around.
Simon and Erin are a British couple who sold everything to travel forever. You can follow they travels around South America and their journey to becoming digital nomads at Never Ending Voyage.
For me, the best destination in the world is India. But where in India? I think of Mandu and its atmospheric Islamic architecture; I think of Kerala and its delicious seafood; I think of Varanasi and its deep spirituality; and I think of Rajasthan and its astonishing desert forts; but most of all I think of the smiling eyes of the locals, and that's why I keep coming back. Visiting India is all about experiencing life, and in India, life is absolutely everywhere...
Mark Moxon has been a journalist ever since being sucked into the rat race in 1991, but a three-year trip exploring a surprisingly small amount of the world changed his perspective of the career ladder forever. Since then he has published over 750 travel articles, walked from one end of Britain to the other, written a book about the experience, walked the entire length of the London Underground, and decided that there is more to life than washing the car at weekends. He is currently dreaming of his next big trip, just for a change.
India: The Facts
- India is the most populous democracy in the world.
- India, and in particular Goa became famous as a destination on the hippy trail in the sixties and seventies.
- Accommodation varies from $8 to $14 for a double room with no aircon.
Mission Beach, Queensland by Cliff@ Traveljunkies
Our daughter was born in England but has lived in Mission Beach, North Queensland for 10 years and it really is the most beautiful place. It is totally unspoilt and a great favourite for backpackers travelling to and from Cairns. The rainforest really does run down to the beach which is 12 kms of golden sand and, on a busy day, we'll share it with a couple of dozen people jogging or walking their dogs.
Traveljunkies is a directory for businesses in the travel, tourism and activities industries. It has over 3000 listings covering a wide range in most countries in the world. Traveljunkies main focus is on the outdoor life and the ever increasing demand for new and exciting things to do. The Unique Selling Proposition of this site is that it is also a full-blown search engine. Just like Google, only smaller.
You can see the traveljunkies blog here or check out the website: www.traveljunkies.com.
Queensland: Fast Facts
- Prices are considerably higher in Australia than other independent travel havens such as South East Asia: you’re looking at around $20 at least for a dorm and a daily budget of at least $50 excluding tours and heavy drinking. Because of this many backpackers visit Oz on Working Holiday Visas and pick up work in bars or fruit picking to fund their travels.
- As well as the World Heritage Listed rainforest, Mission beach is also bordered by the Great Barrier Reef.
- Mission beach is a 1.75 hour drive south from Cairns.
Thom and Sean on Austin, USA
Our favourite city in the USA would definitely be Austin, Texas. The vibe in Texas is really positive and although people might think that it's politically conservative and a 'scary' place they couldn't be more wrong. Texans are really, absolutely charming and very friendly. Austin takes this to a whole new level. The motto is 'Keep Austin Weird' and it so different to anywhere else that we've been in the US. People are proudly independent of each other but what unites them is that pleasure in taking the effort to express who they are comfortbaly. The city is littered with delicious eateries, vintage shops, independent fashion stores and the best cowboy boot store in the USA - Allens Boots, where I (Sean) picked up a pair of my very own. The city is also really close to Hill Country and Austinites are lucky that they are so close to the countryside and take full advantage of this. We were there for a week and we didn't see all that Texas has to offer. You can visit as backpackers or on an annual holiday and have the absolute time of your life.
Thom and Sean are two Brits who have just embarked on an epic, two year, round the world trip. You can follow their adventures on their blog: thomandsean.com
- America is often excluded from traditional RTW itineraries, however, it is a wide and diverse country with numerous natural and cultural attractions.
- Dorms in Austin can be found from around $15
- Austin has an enviable climate with mild winters and hot, humid summers
- Famous Austinites include Owen Wilson, Matthew McConaughey and rapper Nelly
Xi’an China by Pam @ Spunky Girl Monologues
Xi'an is one of the oldest cities in China. Wandering the Islamic Quarter is entertaining and presents the solo traveler many opportunities to interact and spend time with locals. I initially intended Xian to be a stopover, However, I quickly fell in love with this city and discovered many wonderful sights and activities! One highlight was the terra cotta warriors; the one thing that struck me the most during my visit was that every warrior is different. It’s an amazing thing. Although I took a tour, my suggestion is to go alone. There is a lot to see and having your own space can be a good thing.
Pamela is author of Spunky Girl Monologues, a blog about solo travel. Solo traveler and a spunky woman Pamela is also an avid photographer. Pamela will be returning to Asia this September.
Pam's tips for Xi'an
- Big Wild Goose Pagoda- Completed in AD 652 to house the Buddhist sutras brought back from India by the monk Xuan Zang. The pagoda and surrounding buildings are beautiful. Unlike some pagodas in China, you can choose to climb to the top of this one for Y20- something I intend to do on my next trip! Admisson Y25
- Bell Tower- Originally located 2 blocks west of its current location, the Bell Tower once held a large bell that was rung at dawn each day. There are musical performances held inside from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The views are wonderful, especially on a clear day and yes, there are clear days in Xi’an when you can actually see a blue sky! Admission Y20
- Great Mosque- I’ve written posts about my love for the Great Mosque and the experiences I had there with the locals. It can be a challenge to find, so if you’re directionally challenged, take a map or guidebook with you. The Mosque is beautiful, old and surprisingly peaceful for being in the centre of the city. I met the most wonderful locals, I drank the most wonderful jasmine tea and ate some very spicy steamed buns. Take some time, explore and enjoy the serenity. Admission Y12
- Tang Dynasty Dinner Theatre- It’s not the cheapest activity, but it’s worth the money, trust me! The theatre (located outside the city walls) is beyond beautiful, ornamented with lots of red velvet and gold leaf. The hostesses were beautiful in their gold and white gowns. Dinner consists of a variety of dumplings, and very filling. The show was one of the best I’ve seen. Lots of singing and dancing and gorgeous costumes. Compared to other shows I saw in China, this one was by far my favourite. Tickets Y410
Jason and Swiss on Vietnam
An oft-asked but extremely challenging question both of us have received since returning from our year-long journey around the world is this: "What was your favorite spot?" The challenge in answering this question is in large part due to the diversity of experiences we encountered - top attraction, top "local experience", best hostel, nicest beach, etc - which creates a smorgasbord of options collected from destinations all over the world. . But alas, there are times when you just have to pick your favorite, and so without further ado, our top pick for backpackers - based on our experience - is Vietnam.
The reason Vietnam is memorable as a great spot for backpackers is because it met a lot of our requirements for a top destination: Very friendly locals, excellent food, plenty to see, interesting history, and cheap prices. The first thing one notices after visiting a country like Vietnam is its diversity in culture, and especially the lingering divide between the north and south. Being US citizens, it was fascinating to learn more about Vietnam's culture, the (often chilling) remnants of the war in previous decades, and witnessing a country that is struggling to find a balance between sprouts of capitalism (Coca Cola aplenty) and the control of a communist government (Facebook was mostly blocked by ISPs who were requested by the government to limit access to the popular social networking site.) We found people to be extremely friendly, and thus had our share of dinners (and beers) with random locals, hosts, and fellow travelers along the way. Check out these posts for more details: 1,2,3,4,5,6.
Check out jasonswissrtw.com to follow Jason and Swiss round the world, feel free to share and leave recommendations.
- Jason and Swiss calculated a daily budget of under $27
- Head to Hoi An for customer made suits, shirts, dresses and robes. Be sure to check the exchange rate between the Vietnamese Dong and USD, as a common strategy is to agree on prices in USD and the vendor then requesting an inflated exchange rate.
- Make sure to slurp down some Pho (Vietnamese soup), sample Cao Lau in Hoi An, sample some fresh spring rolls, and get your caffeine fix from strong, freshly dripped "cà phê sua" (vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk.)
- In between meals, spend time in simple plastic chairs set up on sidewalks people watching and chatting while enjoying 3000 dong - USD 0.16 - Bia Hoi (draft beer.) High rollers/flashpakers can opt for the USD 0.50 bottles. Order yours with a big chunk of ice to get the full experience. There are also a variety of cooking schools if you want to learn how to make your own tasty food.
- To get a reminder about the (sad)history of wars in this country, visit the War Remnants museum in Saigon, the Cu Chi (near Saigon) and Vinh Moc tunnels (near Hue), and the "Hanoi Hilton" prison in Hanoi
- Other historical sights include the reunification palace in Saigon (free tour included) and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi. Consider catching a water puppet show in Hanoi, experiencing the famous (and gorgeous) Halong Bay limestone cliffs in a junkboat, touring the citadel in Hue, or just chilling on a beach in Nha Trang for a couple of days
Joshua @ Backpacking Addictz on Laos
The Lao People’s Republic is one of the, if not the least modernized countries of the Southeast Asia region isolated by the communist government, so poor it makes Cambodia look industrialized. As such, the small country prides on rich culture and heritage as much as its pristine surroundings and solemn traditions. Why Laos? Why now? Why not? This is a place so mysterious, outsiders know next to nothing about it, and it is this potential that makes it so alluring. Travellers who have the privilege to explore this exotic and generally unexplored frontier enjoy this simplicity and solemnity while it lasts until the waves of industrialization taints the truth and ingenuity that is Lao, as it slowly becomes a sought-after tourist destination for the backpacker culture.
Backpacking Addictz aims to offer realistic and unbiased information on a variety of different backpacking issues and destinations throughout the world. This will be maintained through daily blogs, stories from other backpacker’s experiences, reviews of travel destinations, products and ofcourse the highly anticipated Backpacking Addictz Travel eGuides.
Laos: the facts
- Laos is a landlocked country, however it is bordered by the beautiful Mekong River. Waterbabies can also get their kicks by tubing in the river at backpacker hub Vang Vieng
- Tourists have only been allowed in Laos since 1989
- Many backpackers arrive via the 'Friendship Bridge' from Thailand
- Prices are low and you can live very comfortably on $20-$25 a day, hostel prices can be as low as $3
Robert @ Eco Adventure Travel on Thailand
A great destination that I always recommend for independent travel is Thailand - there are many opportunities to interact with nature and explore a new culture, but still travel safely and easily. Eco tours are offered throughout the country, a recent one is in the Khao Kop Cave in the Trang region of the country: A canal from the Banthat Mountain Range is divided into 3 waterways upon reaching Khao Kop, with 2 going around the mountain and the other flowing through the cave under the mountain. An amazing natural wonder, the main attraction at Khao Kop is this stream which flows through the cave. In addition, the cave itself looks like a high and steep cliff with layers of rocks and stalactites and stalagmites magnificently decorating the cave for a distance of approximately 4 kilometers. Thailand's Andaman Sea is also one of the few places in the world you can swim with Whale Sharks; there are opportunities to take part in conservation programmes that search for, identify and track these beautiful creatures.
Robert is an attorney in Orange County, California, who loves to travel and loves adventure. In that aim, he blogs about adventure travel, like zip line tours, kayaking, rock climbing, etc., and also eco-tourism and eco-friendly travel. Read more on his blog: EcoAdventure Travel.
Thailand: the facts
- Thailand is possibly the most famous of backpacker destinations, because of this independent travellers are very well catered for
- A lot of travellers head to Koh Phangan's famous full moon party to knock back Sang Sam whisky buckets and dance on the beach until daybreak. Be sure to keep a close watch on your belongings - petty theft is rife
- Thailand has a lot more to offer than beaches and there is still a wealth of off the beaten track destinations where you can experience true Thai culture
- Budget $30-$50 a day
Adventure Rob on Cambodia
Cambodia is an ideal destination for the independent traveller. It stands alone with a strong culture sitting between Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. The food is strange, the people are nice, historical architect amazing, scams are transparent and the recent history sobering. A week in Cambodia will teach you more about human psychology and Asian history then all your years studying them at school. Visit the Genocide Museum and Killing Fields in Phnom Penh for a sobering glimpse into the county's history then head to famous Ankor Wat to watch the sun rise with the crowds.
Robert Fitzsimmons operates his blog AdventureRob.com where he talks about his travels, adventures, encounters and attempts to fund this lifestyle using a laptop dragged around with him. He has been on the road since early 2009 after leaving his job as an electronic engineer.
Cambodia: the facts
- Weather tends to be most pleasant around Christmas time, travel can be difficult in rainy season (May to October)
- Budget $20-$30 a day, however Ankor and its surrounding areas can be considerably more expensive
- Hostel prices start at $3. Doom rooms are rare, most hostels have a guesthouse structure
- Be aware that, though the country is primarily safe, there are still unexploded land mines in the more rural areas
Budget information for this piece has been taken from the brilliant travelindependent.info.
For more tips on travelling, a useful blog has been brought to our attention in 2011 by Jeanine Barone. Having written for publications such as National Geographic Traveler and Conde Nast Traveller, her blog provides advice on many aspects of round the world travel, from the best packing tips to finding the best trails when tracking in Corsica. Take a look at her website to find out more at www.jthetravelauthority.com