I have met several people over the last few years in the 25-30ish age range that have not traveled outside of the United States. There are various reasons for this: time and money being the ones most often cited. It shouldn’t come as a surprise since only 30% of Americans even have a passport…. I just didn’t think I would know that many of the other 70%. Having a parent who was born in Italy and an extended family who often traveled to and from the mother noodle, I grew up assuming most people spent time roaming around the world.
When I do come across folks who have not traveled abroad but show some interest, I love giving advice on where I think they should go first. Many countries can seem intimidating but I think there are several places that make a good introduction to world travel.
Iceland– My bias here does slant towards travelers based on the east coast, but one of my favorite things about Iceland is how easy it is to get there. If you’re flying out of New York or Boston it is just over 5 hours – a shorter distance than flying to San Francisco. In addition to it being a relatively short international flight, Icelandair often runs great deals to their capital city, Reykjavik. I have flown to Iceland twice now for under $600 round trip. It can also be a great jumping off point for other destinations in Europe. The airline has run offers in the past touting Iceland as a great stopover destination on your way to other countries.
Once you get to Iceland, it doesn’t get much easier. Everywhere you go people speak English and signs are in both Icelandic and English. This makes it very easy to get around, ask for directions, order off the menu, etc. Just because it’s easy to get to and the signs are in English, don’t think it will feel like you’re just in another US city. Reykjavik and the other more traveled spots in Iceland have a unique feel. Between the landscape and funky locals (they seriously believe in elves and I say, good for them!), you’ll know you’re not in your home city. As if that wasn’t enough- the air is the freshest I’ve ever breathed, the water is the cleanest I’ve ever tasted, and they have the best looking men I’ve ever seen. What? We all have our reasons for liking a destination!
Mexico – I am going to specifically talk about the Yucatan region of Mexico for purposes of this guide. Again, it is a short, easy flight from the east coast to Cancun. Once you arrive, you’ll want to get out of Cancun as fast as you got there. It’s pretty easy to get to Playa del Carmen by bus or cab.
Playa has a lot of touristy spots but it also has some great local-ish places as well. You’ll have no problem getting by even if you don’t speak Spanish and most importantly its very inexpensive. There are plenty of budget hotels just one or two blocks from the beach and you can eat at some of my favorite restaurants for under $5. If you’re wondering if it’s safe, just ask Joanna!If you’re a newbie who’s not interested in being at a touristy destination, there are plenty of other options in the Yucatan as well. Another 45 minutes south of Playa del Carmen is Tulum, which boasts some beautiful Mayan ruins on the beach and a great monkey sanctuary. We also loved being in the capital city of Merida, where there were significantly less tourists but plenty of ex-pats. There were great restaurants, beautiful areas to walk around and the beach is just 30 minutes away. It was the best of both worlds.
Ireland – Joanna and I cannot get enough of Ireland. The country is really magical. Once again, you don’t have to worry about not understanding the locals, they speak English- unless you’re at the Hi-B Bar in Cork- I really couldn’t understand those guys! Aer Lingus also runs great deals to Dublin from New York and Boston, so you can dip your foot into Europe without paying some of those heftier flight prices like going to Italy or France- and those countries are just a cheap flight away on Ireland’s RyanAir. While it’s hard for Ireland to be considered a low-cost destination (thanks, Euro…) everything is fairly reasonable there.
In addition, the people are so incredibly friendly that if all you could afford to do was walk around and chat with locals, it would still be an amazing trip! Dublin boasts a great free walking tour and the Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland’s most seen tourist spot is only 6 euro for adults.
Montreal – It may not seem like a far away destination, but our neighbors to the north have some great cities as well. You do actually need a passport to get into Canada, so it counts as an international destination in my book. If you don’t feel like flying, Montreal is still accessible by car – though there are often cheap flights from most east coast cities. The Canadian Dollar usually swings in our favor, though not always, so check the exchange rate before you go. Montreal actually has 90 festivals a year including the famed Montreal Jazz Festival every summer. While it’s just a few hours north of the United States, Montreal is known for it’s European charm. There will be times you will feel like you’re in Paris walking down their cobblestone streets. And if you really want to feel like you’re in France head over to Quebec City where 95% of people speak French.
These are just a few options to whet your pallete. If you’re like me, the travel bug will hit hard after a couple of trips abroad and soon you’ll be looking to go much further off the beaten path.
Did I miss one? What are some of your favorite “easy” international travel destinations?