One thing you will never forget is your first backpacking experience. That I guarantee. Packing your life and soul into a backpack and delving into the unknown for days, weeks or months is an indescribable experience. The freedom, spontaneity and independence come together to create an unforgettable adventure as you strip back to the basics and dig a little deeper into your purpose, your passions and ultimately, yourself.
When I turned 19 I spontaneously said yes to a friend asking me if I fancied 9 weeks in South East Asia. Unsure if I’d enjoy it or not, I embraced the uncertainty anyway and this trip turned out to be the making of me, my love for travel and, well, you being here. I started my blog on this trip and 6 years later, it’s my full-time job.
Whether it be discovering the undiscovered, re-exploring your favourite city or falling in love with somewhere new, backpacking offers something to everyone. Now, whenever I crave new experiences I look right towards my backpack and somehow it always has the answers. I’m so looking forward to packing my trusty bag again in January and heading to South East Asia to see what this part of the world has in store for me this time round…
In this post, I’ve put together a list of my favourite bucket list destinations for a first-time backpacker. This list should give you a bit of everything you want and need from your next adventure, so all you need to do is choose your favourite place, book your tickets and pack your backpack!
Here are 11 bucket list destinations for the first-time backpacker…
Japan has to be number one on my bucket list of destinations for first-time backpackers, because where else in the world would you find yourself dressed as your favourite Mario Cart character racing through the busy streets of its capital, Tokyo?
Unlike any other place I’ve explored in Asia, Toyko embodies a subtle and selfless charm. Along with its futuristic infrastructure and undoubtedly friendly population, it would keep any adventure seeker occupied infinitely.
I find Tokyo one of those places that you could talk about for hours without lacking excitement. You just have to see for yourself here.
Budget friendly? Yes. Plenty of adventure? Absolutely.
Thailand was the place I first touched down as a backpacker and I can confirm it’s the perfect destination to accommodate for a first-timer! Thailand (along with Cambodia and Vietnam) is one of the most popular backpacker routes so you’re in the perfect location to meet backpackers alike.
When it comes to Southeast Asia, you’re spoiled for choice and diversity when it comes to cuisine, adventure and accommodation. Whether it’s stepping outside your comfort zone and diving into the underwater world during your scuba diving adventure or kicking back on one of it’s many islands (with a cocktail in hand of course), Thailand offers the tropical haven we all dream of.
Figuring out your funds? I’ve put together a budget guide for your first trip to Thailand here.
Ever considered volunteering with the elephants? See what your adventure could look like here.
Vietnam is another incredibly fascinating country to travel through in Southeast Asia. Vietnam was a country I backpacked through after Cambodia back in 2017 and I have such fond memories. Particularly in Koh Rong Sanloem – make sure you explore some islands if you head here!
Hanoi is a popular place to begin a Vietnamese adventure, with an international airport just half-hour drive from the centre, and transport links to airports and destinations all the way down the country.
Using Hanoi as your first backpacking destination, you have plenty of opportunity to extend your Vietnamese trip outwards towards other areas such as Mai Chau, Sa Pa, Halong Bay, or Ba Va National Park. Halong Bay was another highlight of Vietnam for me – be sure to at least do a day trip out there too.
Has Hanoi caught your eye for an epic backpacking adventure? Check out my backpacking guide to Hanoi here.
I mean, how could I write this bucket list without including Australia?! From the laidback lifestyle of Byron Bay and the red sands of Uluru, to experiencing The Great Ocean Road on a once in a lifetime road trip, Australia is just the dreamiest location (hence why i’ve returned 5 times lol). Australia is also such a huge country with terrains to suit every type of traveller so there’s room to accommodate for all kinds of adventure.
Australia would be my number one recommendation for a first time solo backpacker. See my guide to solo travel in Australia here.
Whether you are planning a 3-week solo trip, a couple of months travelling or even a whole year on a Working Holiday Visa, Australia is a world class location to travel in whichever style you please.
If you desire a sense of discovery and crave unexplored backpacking destinations, then Albania could be the one for you.
For me, stepping into Albania defined the meaning of “hidden gem” and it was like nothing I’d seen before. After renting jeeps, we explored the untouched Albanian coastline which included Himarë, Puerto Palermo and Sarandë.
I’ll always be the first one to jump on Albania as a recommendation and I’m already planning my next visit when me and my van get on the road.
6. New Zealand
During the summer expect spectacular hikes, gorgeous surf spots, lakes and mountain havens while in winter, experience some of the best skiing locations in the world. I’ve backpacker New Zealand twice, once on board the Kiwi Experience (an awesome backpacker hop on hop off bus) and once renting a car and road tripping it. It’s a rugged country rich in outdoor adventure, the perfect place to backpack but also to escape and indulge in some quality time with mother nature.
My favourite spots / places?
- Magic Cottages, River Takou – see my post here
- Tongariro Crossing Hike – see my guide here
See my guide to the Kiwi Experience here. See all my New Zealand travel guides here.
Here’s 10 reasons New Zealand should be your next destination.
Think crystal clear waters in Hvar, sunsets kayaking around the medieval city walls in Dubrovnik and swimming under waterfalls in Krka National Park…
If you chose Croatia as one of your backpacking destinations then you’ve made a pretty epic choice. The summer climate during the months between April and October make it a perfect destination for some island-hopping adventures.
In 2018, Croatia was chosen for the WMGT adventure #5. 30 of you came along to explore three unmissable locations in Croatia: Split, Hvar and Dubrovnik. 2020 will most definitely see us return to the sunshine with a brand new WMGT location. Watch this space…
Have you chosen Indonesia as your first-time backpacking destination? Oh what a wonderful choice you have made. If you didn’t know, Indonesia is comprised of 18,000 islands which means you will not lack in any area of adventure.
Having travelled through Indonesia on three separate occasions and looking forward to my fourth return, I can absolutely confirm that Indonesia is a solid decision if you’re looking to kick back, relax and enjoy a tropical paradise at a fraction of the cost of the likes of the Maldives.
I can’t deny that certain parts have become quite touristy, but if you can look past the busy streets and go deeper into this stunning destination then you will not be disappointed.
I’ve been lucky enough to explore Bali, The Gili Islands and even got the coolest opportunity to dive with manta rays in Nusa Lembongan. Now that’s one for your bucket list!
Italy borders six other countries: France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, San Marino, and Vatican City. This alone makes it a perfect destination for any first-time backpacker; why not make it an international adventure?! Interrail passes make it really affordable to travel between multiple countries within a certain period of time. Get yours here.
From the Colosseum in Rome to the mountains in the North, from the green spaces in the South to Etna on Sicily, there is so much fun to be had when you’re backpacking in Italy! If you do decide to begin your adventure in Italy, make sure you pack your loose fitting clothes; the pizza and pasta is on another level!
10. The USA
The USA is so big that is offers something new, even for the most experienced backpackers! Albeit not the cheapest location, it’s a wonderful one.
My personal favourite for backpacking would be California, it’s one of the most sought after road trip destinations and for good reason. San Francisco as a starting point offers a wealth of city adventure: take a stroll across the Golden Gate bridge, spend your mornings stretching out at a yoga class or take a day trip to Alcatraz prison (a famous prison notorious for historic federal prisoners like Al Capone).
If you’re really feeling energetic then see San Fran on bike by following my cycle route. This 23-mile route takes you through all the famous historic landmarks. Make sure to eat a good brekkie, though, because it is a bit of a workout!
Other California spots I love include: Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, San Diego, Yosemite and Yellowstone National Park.
Again perhaps more of a mature / more spenny choice, a safari adventure in Kenya is one hell of a dream adventure. Seeing the big 5 is on more bucket lists than not and should it take your fancy – there are certainly way to make it affordable.
Check out my 5-day safari adventure through Kenya here.
See my guide to planning your Safari in Kenya here.
Have you been on a backpacking adventure?
Where did you first go backpacking? I’d love to know!
Love as always + happy adventuring,