Backpacking can be one of the most rewarding ways to travel – with little more than your clothes on your back and an onward ticket in your hand. But where are the world’s best backpacking destinations? We asked our readers, and here are the results.
Thailand’s rich culture, affordability and abundance of sights and activities have made it a quintessential backpacking destination. From stunning beaches to dense jungles, traditional culture to hip enclaves in Bangkok, this country’s well-worn backpacking trail makes it an easy and accessible destination for first-timers and travel veterans alike.
Vietnam is abuzz with an energy that’s both frenetic and full of hope. Eclectic cities provide travellers with endless opportunities to explore the country’s complex past and search out mouth-watering foods hidden down colonial backstreets.
For an epic road trip, rent a motorcycle and hit the expansive Ho Chi Minh highway, or hop on a boat cruise through Ha Long Bay. Add mountain tribes, offbeat beaches and beautiful countryside into this mix and you’ll see why this is a backpacker’s paradise.
Ha Long Bay © PhotoRoman/Shutterstock
Few destinations can truly be said to have it all, but Peru is among them. A trek to Machu Picchu should be on every backpacker's bucket list, but drifting down the Amazon in a dugout canoe and exploring the colourful culture in the Andes are also must-dos.
When it’s time to recharge, head to the backpacker hangouts on the pacific coast for surf, sun and chilled-out beach parties.
7. Sri Lanka
While Sri Lanka is often overshadowed by nearby India, those who’ve ventured here know the island to be a natural beauty and a backpacking gem. A slow but scenic rail system makes getting from jungle-laden mountains to white-sand beaches relatively straightforward, and the vibrant array of local dishes on offer will send almost every traveller to foodie heaven.
While it can be more of a challenge to get around, landlocked Bolivia is always worth the work – in fact, it’s all part of the fun. Surreal landscapes such as the sprawling salt flats of Salar de Uyuni and the indigenous cultures like the floating villages of the Uru people seem embody all the allure South America backpackers dream of.
More affordable, more exotic and arguably wilder than anywhere else in western Europe, it’s no surprise to see Spain as the only European country ranked here by our readers.
Vast, and almost mind-bogglingly diverse, this country is a world unto itself. From Moorish cities in the south to Barcelona’s Modernista landmarks, hip districts of Madrid to tiny mountain villages frozen in time, Spain is so much more than simply a beach vacation.
The greatest treasure of Laos is undeniably its people, and the fact that our readers have ranked Laos so high on this list speaks volumes.
A trip here takes you into a world where adventure and cultural immersion can be had at every turn.
Whether you’re bobbing down the sleepy Mekong river as it winds its way through verdant countryside or sipping freshly brewed coffee in a quaint local market, Laos is sure to steal your heart.
© Muellek Josef/Shutterstock
Mixing equal parts backpacker party trail and slowly vanishing Southeast Asian traditions, Cambodia caters to travellers of every style and whim.
Languid cities and towns provide the perfect place to learn about this country’s complicated past, while Cambodian beaches and palm-fringed islands are pristine and often deserted.
Its ancient temples are unrivalled in their crumbling grandeur, its culture is rich and its more remote regions beg to be explored by the adventurous.
India is an opinion-dividing destination: some will come away completely besotted with the country, while others leave overwhelmed. The love for India among our readers, however, shows that regardless of its innumerable paradoxes and complexities, this sub-continental nation remains utterly beguiling.
1. New Zealand
Our readers voted New Zealand as the best backpacking destination in the world. A relatively small island boasting an astounding variety of jaw-dropping landscapes, this country is a utopia for fans of the great outdoors.
Bus lines geared specifically towards backpackers makes getting around and meeting other travellers a cinch, while hitchhiking or renting a campervan are excellent alternatives.
Whether you’re trekking in Fiordland, surfing at Raglan or skydiving in Queenstown, your experiences in New Zealand will have you feeling ready to take on the world. If you’re thinking of going backpacking, our readers think this is the place to start.
Top image © Flotsam/Shutterstock