Once you decide that now is indeed the time to travel, the next matter you have to sort out is where you should travel. The world, as I often like to remind you, is huge. If you haven’t been dreaming about a particular destination your whole life (or, as the case may be, have been dreaming about too many destinations your whole life), you may feel puzzled or conflicted.
I won’t go so far as saying that where you lose your passport virginity isn’t important. (Although I will play devil’s advocate: How often do you think about the person to whom you lost your actual virginity?). I will, however, pass on one piece of advice: Spend as little time as possible mulling over where want you go. Just go!
Travel in Europe
Europe was the first place I traveled, as I would imagine is the case for many people who live in North America. Travel in Europe is easy because of the high standard of living, cultural similarities and the fact that most everyone speaks English.
One downfall of travel in Europe that Western Europe perfectly illustrates is the fact that Europe tends to be expensive, with the exception of cheap-ish places like Greece, Portugal and Spain. Western Europe is nonetheless a great place to take your first international trip, if only because you probably know a bit about its history if you paid any attention in school. Travel in Western Europe is further made easy by the fact that U.S. citizens are automatically granted entry into European Union countries, as well as Switzerland and the U.K. Plus, you can (for now) smoke weed legally in Amsterdam.
Eastern Europe is near the top of my list for travel, although I have admittedly never been there. Although travel in Eastern Europe is generally cheaper than travel in Western Europe, the region also tends to be slightly less developed in terms of infrastructure. Gaining entry into Eastern European countries often requires a complicated, lengthy visa application processes.
Travel in Asia
Asia is great as a first destination because Asia is cheap, Asian people are extremely friendly and Asian food is delicious. The major downfalls of travel in Asia are the long flight required to get there, (sometimes) complicated visa processes and the language barrier.
Before I moved there to teach English in 2009, I’ll be honest: I had little interest in China travel. This was an ignorant point of view to hold, something I realized immediately upon landing in Shanghai. Whether you decide to travel out west to see pandas in China, climb Mt. Fuji in Japan or explore ultra-modern Seoul, northeast Asia is an interesting place to take your first trip, to say the least. While Japan and South Korea grant tourist visas to U.S. citizens upon entry, you’ll need to apply for a China visa in advance.
As is the case with China, you need to get an India visa in advance, but this is among the only complications of travel in India — well, besides the abject chaos you’ll encounter when you land. Once you get your bearings, you’ll have an incredible (and cheap!) time on your Indian adventure. Whether you hit the beach in Goa, do the tourist thing at the Taj Mahal, explore the Indian capital of Delhi, navigate the desert sands of Jaipur or cram all of North India into three weeks, India is a fitting destination for a first trip abroad.
Southeast Asia is probably my favorite single place on Earth to travel, so I absolutely recommend that you take your first trip there if you haven’t got any other ideas. If you can get past the 24 (or more!) hours in transit you’re likely to spend getting there, travel in Southeast Asia is among the most exhilarating, exciting experiences in the world, whether you travel the coast of Vietnam by bus, go on a culinary adventure in Singapore, take a walk on the wild side in Myanmar or party it up in landlocked Laos.
Travel in South America
Several aspects of South America make South America travel an interesting prospect for first-time travelers. If you come from the U.S. it’s likely you studied at least a little bit of Spanish. And trust me: Speaking Spanish is absolutely critical to harmonious travel in South America.
South America is also positively overflowing with things to do. Love nature? Hit up Peru’s Sacred Valley of the Incas or the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia. Dig drinking wine but detest snobby Napa? Bike through the relaxed Argentine wine country near Mendoza. Of course, you could also stick to touristy places like Machu Picchu, too.
As far as budget is concerned, travel in South America is generally cheap, although not as cheap as anywhere in Asia, except for Bolivia and maybe Peru. Expect Chile and Argentina to be slightly less expensive than the U.S. or Europe. And make no mistake: Brazil is expensive.
Visas are where travel in South America gets complicated. Officially, only two countries in South America require U.S. citizens to get visas: Bolivia, a visa for which you can get at the land border with Peru; and Brazil, whose visa you can obtain in Buenos Aires. Although travel in Chile and Argentina doesn’t require visas, the Argentine and Chilean governments do levy “reciprocity fees” to foreigners who enter by air.
Travel in the Middle East and Africa
Both the the Middle East and Africa get a bad reputation, between Islam, terrorism and poverty, three characteristics of the region which are often unfairly grouped into one. I don’t particularly recommend taking your first trip overseas to this region but if you do travel in the Middle East or Africa, keep what I have to say in mind.
The term “Middle East” is broad, but since the majority of countries in the Middle East are Arab-Muslim societies, it isn’t entirely inaccurate to generalize in this way. The Arab Middle East is an interesting place to travel, whether you try to nickel-and-dime your way through the Lebanese capital of Beirut or explore the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Israel, on the other hand, is highly Westernized and seems much less foreign than the rest of the Middle East, particularly the incredible city of Tel Aviv. If you plan to visit both Arab countries and Israel, do watch out for the dreaded Israeli passport stamp.
My North Africa travel experience thus far comprises only Egypt and Morocco which, thanks to the recent bombardment of Libya, is exactly two-thirds of where Americans can travel in North Africa. Although you can visit Tunisia, Algeria doesn’t generally issue visas to U.S. citizens. As is the case with the Arab Middle East, North Africa can be something of a culture shock, particularly if you are gay. Spend time exploring the less-visited pyramids of Egypt or sailing up the Nile River, or embark on a Sahara desert tour in Morocco.
I haven’t yet visited sub-Saharan Africa — and I’m very sad about that fact — but this region of the world always seems to be a B- or even C-list place to visit. Not because it isn’t amazing, but because you should feel very comfortable traveling in out of the way places before you consider travel in sub-Saharan Africa.
Travel in Australia
I’m in Australia right now, so I haven’t really crystallized my feelings on travel in Australia fully. What I will say is this: Australia is not too similar to the United States to be boring, but not different enough to be shocking; It is f*cking expensive; And the flight is not that bad. As a result, I might recommend making Australia your first foreign destination, although it’s interesting and rich enough that even seasoned travelers like myself (this is my 10th overseas trip) can have a great time here.