The world is a huge place, and if you're planning a gap year or round the world (RTW) trip, the task of choosing where to go can be daunting. My last gap year article talked about how to start prioritizing and planning your RTW route. I suggested choosing a handful of must-see's, or pillars, to plan your trip around.
These specific cities and activities can be the backbone of your trip and help you plan out the rest of your route. But some people like specific ideas to get them going, so we're going to point out five countries that are great place to visit on a RTW trip. Obviously everyone has different preferences, budgets, and interests, so this isn't meant to be a best list or anything like that, simply one man's suggestions.
The main things I looked at when choosing these countries is a good mix of low cost, a well trodden tourist trail, ease of overland travel, and places that just are just made for long-term travel.
Push stigmas aside and explore Colombia during your travels.
Ten years ago Colombia was still struggling to get out from a decades long war within its own country, brought on by the exportation of drugs. While those struggles are still there and still real, they have been pushed far into the jungles and rarely have any type of impact on travel within the country. While there is still certainly a stigma to traveling to Colombia, there honestly shouldn't be. As long as you keep your ears open and make wise decisions - like you would when traveling anywhere - the only risk you'll be taking traveling to Colombia is combating the plethora of smiling Colombian faces you'll encounter.
The country itself is gorgeous and varied. It has big, bustling cities. It has a unique culture. It has beautiful beaches. It has crystal clear waters. Jungles. Mountains. Great food. Tasty cocktails. But most importantly, it has the people. After enduring so much hardship over the years, the Colombian people have opened their doors to anyone willing to come, and their enthusiasm, smiles, and general happiness and laid-back nature is contagious. It puts this country over the top. Low costs and ease of getting around is just icing on the cake.
If you plan on spending any time in Latin America, whether it be Central or South America, then Guatemala is a fantastic starting point. If you don't know any Spanish at all, this is where you want to begin. The abundance of Spanish schools dotting the country makes it cheap and easy to get into a class. The large number of schools has also had a major impact on the locals as they are well aware that many travelers come here to learn their language, so they are all too willing to lend a helping hand. They enjoy speaking with travelers and encourage them to try out their new language skills, which isn't the case in many other Spanish-speaking countries, and makes it a great environment to learn and get better.
Add in the stunning scenery - beaches, volcanoes, lakes, and Maya ruins, and you have all the makings of a great place to spend some time on your gap year. There's a place for any budget, too. If you are tight on funds, you can take chicken buses to get around - they aren't exactly comfortable, but they are dirt cheap and are sure to provide plenty of stories. Minibuses and private drivers are available for those with a higher budget.
Stop by Thailand while you travel around the world.
Thailand has long been a staple on the backpacking trail. Though some may complain that it now lacks authenticity and is too well traveler, there' s a good reason why people keep coming back year after year after year. The beauty, the diversity of activities, the smiling people, and rock bottom prices. Sure, neighboring countries like Cambodia and Laos can be cheaper, but Thailand is a great starting point for your adventures into Southeast Asia.
I'm not going to lie, when we were on our way to Thailand for the first time, I was nervous. We had never been to an area so different from where we were from, and I was definitely intimidated. But even with the chaos of Bangkok, I fell in love almost immediately. It can be intense, but after we were there for a bit, it was honestly easier to travel in Thailand and the rest of SE Asia than it was in South America. The trail is so well trodden that they really have it down to a science, making it extremely easy for travelers.
Vietnam is quite the polarizing country. Some love it. Some hate it. Put us in the "love it" camp as we just couldn't get enough. A little more rough around the edges than other countries in the region - the people aren't as smiley as in Thailand or as laid back as in Laos, and the touts are certainly more aggressive, but there is an energy in Vietnam that is unmatched. There's just something about traveling there that gets your blood pumping.
It's super easy to travel, with both trains and buses going north to south in this narrow country. It's laid out nicely that you can travel from one end to the other and see loads of different cities, towns, and regions. Add in an amazing site like Halong Bay, a city that just celebrated its 1000th birthday in Hanoi, the beaches, the highlands, and the long and interesting history, and you have the makings for a great country to visit. Costs are minimal, and the food is still my favorite of any country I've ever been. I'd honestly go back just to eat.
Spend some time getting to know India.
India is certainly not for the faint of heart. It's intense, and it doesn't matter how much you've traveled and where you've been, India will challenge you. But underneath the challenges and frustrations is a country that is like no other, which makes it a fascinating place to visit. If you want to really get out of your comfort zone, India is the place to do it.
One of the great things about India is the diversity. It's a massive country and varies from north to south, east to west. Visit the beaches of Goa, eat the unique food of the south, head to the Indian Himalayas in the north for some peace - you really can see it all in India. The crazy low prices make it perfect for a gap year destination, but if I can make a suggestion, don't leave it for last like we did. Our thoughts were that we'd be seasoned by then, which we were, but we were also exhausted and getting tired of being on the road, which is not a good combo when traveling in India.
The world is a huge place, so choosing five countries to visit can be challenging. Which five countries would you suggest for a gap year trip? Comment below and share your opinions.
All photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.