We are not the types to have a ‘bucket list,’ but we do have places we want to visit. Most of these places are destinations we have heard about via friends, countries we have researched or inspiration from photos seen on Instagram.
After you’ve traveled in the ‘easy places’ (places not too different from home, culture-wise), what’s next? We like finding the lesser-known destinations where you can avoid mass tourism.
We find that the most fascinating trips we’ve taken are to places far away, where the culture brings surprises and we do the most learning.
So, what are we considering as the next destinations for experienced travelers? Here are our alternative travel ideas, for travelers who want to be challenged, but still feel safe, and also stick to a budget.
Travel Destinations in Central Asia
Central Asia seems to be coming backpacker-friendly and is now on the travel scene. Ten years ago when I was traveling in China, I had never met anyone who’d been to Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan, and now I have friends who’ve been on casual group trips there.
More information about these countries that are ‘newer’ to tourism is available unlike ever before, as hostels pop up in places like Tbilisi (in very large numbers, considering the size of the place) and Yerevan.
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Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan
✈️ When to go: April, May, June, September, some of October
Having just heard about Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan from our experienced traveler friend Daniel Herszberg, we’re sold. We’ve heard Georgia feels ‘more European’ than the other two in this Caucasus region near Russia and the Black Sea.
Interesting travel tip from pro-travelers: Take trains from Baku, Azerbaijan to Tbilisi, Georgia, and then Tbilisi to Yerevan, Armenia. BUT(!) don’t bring Caspian caviar or Azerbaijani cognac into Armenia and vice-versa.
Tbilisi, Georgia, has been ‘trending’ lately, if you could say that, becoming a place that is popular as a livable city for digital nomads. We’ve been surprised to find out that this region of the world is super affordable and that there’s little crime. Sign us up!
Hot tip from those who’ve been: The best practice of country order for visiting all three in the same trip is Azerbaijan, Georgia and then Armenia. Reports from travelers say that if the Azerbaijan government for any reason believes you have been to Artsakh, a breakaway and unrecognized state that is otherwise internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, then you will be denied entry. Reports say that for travelers who go to Artsakh, you will not get a visa in your passport.
✈️ When to go: April, May, September, October
It seems Uzbekistan is new(er) to tourism, but its popularity is growing fast. Of the ‘Stans,’ it is probably the most well-known after Kazakhstan, which is massive in size and is more frequently in the news.
In the photos we’ve seen, Uzbekistan has soaring mosques, beautiful colors and incredible culture. What’s more is that it is not expensive (yet) to travel there! There’s also some accessible Jewish culture, which would be amazing to see, along with an incredible series of city metro stations from the Soviet era.
✈️ When to go: June, July, August, September
We have some friends who just went to Kyrgyzstan on a surprise trip of sorts with Remote Year. From what we could tell, this remote country is gorgeous, vast and pretty safe!
Like Uzbekistan, tourism is rather new, so it’s an unspoiled destination to visit and provides an alternative to anywhere more touristy. Be sure to do your reading about what to expect in Kyrgyzstan, and if you’re into the culture, you’ll really enjoy looking into the crossroads of ethnic groups there.
Travel Destinations in South America
South America is massive, and most people have heard of (or been to) Argentina, Chile, Colombia or Peru.
What about the countries that often get regarded as being a bit more tough? Are they accessible? Worth the visit? Check out our list of where we consider alternative destinations in South America for this year.
✈️ When to go: December, January, February, March
Brazil used to require a tourist visa for visitors, but now it’s no longer the case! You can go visa-free (for most passport holders).
For years, Brazil seemed much less safe than other countries where we’ve traveled, so that was the main hesitation; however, we have many friends who’ve visited and some friends who live there, so it’s now on our list.
What’s daunting about Brazil is that it is huge, like, really huge. As the biggest country in South America, by far, it stretches from the Atlantic coast to the Amazon rainforest and borders so many other countries, like Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, Argentina and Colombia, to name only a few!
One of the most overwhelming things about travel in Brazil is deciding where to go. It seems appropriate to choose a minimalist approach and stick with one region to get to know, and go back to see another region during another trip.
Travelers report cities in Brazil as having higher crime rates than cities in Colombia or Peru, for example. Keep an eye on your bag, and avoid walking alone at night. Do your research to figure out where to stay, for your safety, and travel with a guide if it makes you feel more secure.
Travel Destinations in Uruguay
✈️ When to go: October, November, January, February, March
We almost went to Uruguay when we were in Buenos Aires, but decided against it because of time. We’re definitely due back to the Rio de Plata region for visiting this compact country that only gets half the attention that Argentina does.
Originally the cost of travel in Uruguay was slightly intimidating, but after checking into hostel prices, we found it wasn’t all that expensive, especially if you share a private room between two people. Aside from that, you can enjoy a lot of sights for free, like exploring Montevideo and the scenery along the coast.
✈️ When to go: June, July, August So, where is Paraguay? Why does no one go there?
Paraguay has been on my travel with list ever since I went to Bolivia for two weeks, and that was one of my most memorable trips to date.
Paraguay is landlocked, not as wealthy as other countries in South America, and you don’t really hear about Paraguay in the news, ever. Is it worth the visit?
I think the draw of Paraguay is that, simply, it is less visited than every other country it touches. You can see the famous Iguazú Falls in Paraguay, stay on estancias and visit national parks, all without the tourists. The best times to go are during the country’s (Southern Hemisphere) winter, which is June to August.
Travel Destinations in Central America
Central America is composed of lots of small countries, with Costa Rica getting all the attention (it’s for a good reason). What about the countries that are less-visited?
The great thing about Central America is that it’s never far from locations in the US, and because of the time zones, it’s a great place to consider working remotely for a little bit.
✈️ When to go: December, January, February, March, some of April
Belize has been on our list for a long time, as a friendly neighbor of Mexico and with attractions and things to do much like visiting the beaches of Tulum and Mayan ruins like Chichen Itza, but lesser-known.
Belize is the only non-Spanish-speaking country in Central America. Therefore, it has a unique culture that is more like the formerly-colonized Caribbean nations. While the cost of travel in Belize certainly is higher than nearby countries like Guatemala, you can pack in some tours in order to bundle your entrance fees, time and transport.
✈️ When to go: November, December, January, February, March
I’ve been close to El Salvador, having been to Guatemala, and bidding a friend farewell after parting ways on a Nicaragua trip as he took a bus toward El Salvador. Now having heard from several friends that El Salvador is the forgotten Central American country, we’re intrigued.
El Salvador gets far fewer tourists than neighboring Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua (after its recent political turmoil). This is because it’s small, known for having dangerous cities and clocking in with a relatively high murder and crime rate when compared to the rest of the world.
But the truth is, most tourists leave El Salvador unharmed and enchanted. Prices are low, such as $8 for a hostel bed, and several dollars for bus rides. La Ruta de las Flores (the Route of the Flowers) is known as a hiking destination of its own, with Santa Ana as the colonial heritage gem. Further, El Tunco beach town is backpacker central with Pacific sunsets on the west coast. Count us in!
✈️ When to go: December, January, February, March, some of April
Most tourists who go to Honduras are going for some diving and beach time in Roatan and the Bay Islands, home to the famed Coxen Hole. Other travelers head to the mainland, perhaps on a day trip or tour from next-door countries, to see the ruins of Copan (Copan Ruinas), which was formerly the capital of an ancient civilization.
Either way, there are places to avoid in Honduras, like two of the most dangerous cities in the world, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. Maybe we wouldn’t like to go to these two, but the touristic value of the rest of the country seems like the missing piece to the rest of a Central American experience.
Plus, we don’t know anyone who has directly experienced crime in Honduras, and it’s very affordable, with prices for a night starting at around $10.
Travel Destinations in Europe
You thought you’d seen it all in Europe, right? If you’ve landed on this article, it’s because you want to seek out the off-the-beaten path destinations in Europe.
Maybe you’re looking to avoid the crowds, do something wild or see something new, at bargain prices and in new cultures. Check out where we recommend for alternative destinations in Europe that stay off the beaten path.
✈️ When to go: May, June, July, September
One of the most affordable destinations in Eastern Europe, we’re drawn in by the somewhat off-the-beaten-path vibe of Romania… and maybe the potential of vampires? Just kidding.
Romania is considered a ‘good deal’ for backpacking, where $40 a day will get you pretty far on some comfortable essentials, and where $100 and upward would get you excess and luxury. Not bad, right?
Romania is BIG, so it would require some research in finding out the best parts to visit, but we’re drawn in by the glorious amounts of nature, culture we’ve never experienced and architecture. Given its safety index factor, this is an ideal solo travel destination for anyone adventurous.
✈️ When to go: May, June, July, September
As it turns out, Bulgaria is a very safe and affordable Southeast European nation with a Black Sea coastline, ski resorts in its mountains and a mix of cultures in Sofia, its capital city. Sofia makes the list of ‘cheapest capital cities for travel in Europe,’ with hostel accommodation ranging from $7 to $16 per night for a single bed.
✈️ When to go: April, June, September, October
Here’s another one - did you know Albania has crystal clear blue waters and a magnificent under-the-radar coastline in its south, near Greece? We didn’t, until we were looking at flight prices one night and checked out what there is to do in Albania.
Given its smaller population and general lack of recognition of its tourism brand, we had never considered Albania a place to go until we saw how awesome it might be. Albania is one of the smaller and poorer Balkan countries, located between Montenegro and Greece, with North Macedonia to its east.
With its small size, you can travel sustainably within the country by taking mass transit. Alternatively, you can rent a car, but either way, you can probably avoid additional flights while traveling in Albania.
If you want to get inspired to visit Albania, look up Borsh (OMG, is this place real?). It’s high on our list.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
✈️ When to go: May, June, September
Perfectly off the beaten path is Bosnia and Herzegovina, hidden behind Croatia and receiving only a fraction of the visitors.
This would be an epic place to visit because it is totally off the tourist path, thereby creating a bit more of a challenge for you.
Tourism in Bosnia will be rewarding, as you’ll be able to visit medieval villages that take you back in history, along with gorgeous rivers and lakes that you won’t find in standard travel books.
Bosnia is high on our list of alternative destination ideas in Europe, and we hope you will consider it!
Travel Destinations in Asia
Asia: always far, and always the best.
With big crowds going to Thailand, Japan and Bali (Indonesia), wouldn’t it be cooler to go where fewer visitors dare to venture?
See our list of our ideal destinations in Asia for a more challenging, off-the-beaten path experience that’ll give you memories for decades to come.
✈️ When to go: June, July, August
Mongolia: the last frontier, right? This is a country that didn’t pose the easiest travel experience back when I lived in China for two years, and mostly because at the time its tourism was not as developed as it is now.
Mongolia is a place about which people only have incredible things to say. It seems it’s because the culture is like nothing else - nomadic, a crossroads between Russia and China that hosted Silk Road trade for centuries, vast and remote. It’s therefore very enticing.
Mongolia is not the type of vacation you take because you want to party, but rather, because you are truly interested in seeing a window into this lesser-known culture and landlocked nation. As for safety, we’ve never heard of any terrifying reports of travelers being harmed, and as for cost, most budget backpacker reports are between $35 to $45 per person per day. That’s doable!
✈️ When to go: September, October
Nepal is the country located to the north of India best known for Mount Everest. While we have no interest in climbing Everest, and even climbing to the Base Camp sounds exhausting, Nepal is a culture we’d like to experience.
Much like India, Nepal is a super affordable place to travel based on daily prices in cities and towns alone; that is, until you sign up for group trips for hikes and treks. In all honesty, taking a guided tour or trek within Nepal seems like a very smart idea, considering that the entire country is at high altitudes and it’s important for safety to be with an experienced guide in these types of conditions.
As for going there, there are really only two best months when you can go in order to avoid extreme cold or extreme rainfall, and those are September-October.
Africa is always going to be hard to get to, unless you already live in South Africa or elsewhere on the continent.
With more progress in tourism in so many parts of Africa, there are soon going to be a LOT of places to choose from if you really want an alternative vacation with amazing travel experiences.
✈️ When to go: July, August, September
If you haven’t seen a photo of Deadvlei in the famous Sossusvlei, Google it right away. After seeing this mysterious place in Instagram years ago, I put Namibia at the top of my Africa travel wish list for alternative destinations beyond the “South Africa safari” bit.
While I don’t have any concerns for safety in Namibia, because travelers recommend to exercise a regular level of precaution to avoid petty crime or scams, what does concern me a bit is the cost of travel there.
For road-tripping, I’ve read that fuel prices are expensive, and if you choose not to go around on your own, there is the price of tours to factor into your stay. If you want to save money, @thebookofwandering tells us that you can go camping and “self-cater,” and further, the campsites and entrance prices into the national parks are going to be the biggest expenses.
Despite the potential price concern and ambiguity, Namibia remains #1 on our alternative destinations for Africa travel because it looks so one-of-a-kind.
✈️ When to go: June, July, August, September
For many years, Tanzania has been known as a safari destination! In terms of variety, there’s Zanzibar, which looks incredible from photos I have seen and from the reports of friends who have gone. Traveling within Tanzania looks challenging because it is HUGE, so that would be a challenge to tackle. You can fly, take buses, take some trains or rent a car (least recommended), and there is now Uber in the capital city, Dar Es Salaam .
For safari, you definitely want to go with a guide and a proper jeep, rather than driving on your own. This really completes the experience.
For budget, judging by Zanzibar alone, the top-rated hostels start with prices between $9 and $25 per night. This is a fair destination for your budget in Africa, as a lot of Africa can get expensive quickly for traveling.
✈️ When to go: May, June, July, August, September
Regarded as the safest country in Africa, along with Rwanda, traveling in Botswana poses few safety threats, and reports say that safaris are well-managed and that locals tend to speak English. Botswana was a British protectorate for 80 years and became an independent nation in 1966.
You’ll want to go to Botswana during African winter, which is the summer of the northern hemisphere.
@thebookofwandering suggests that if you go, keep in mind that Botswana will be more expensive if you want to self-drive because you will need a 4x4 vehicle. Great tip!
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Last updated on August 23rd, 2022