Ready to travel overseas!
June 3, 2010 9:04 PM   Subscribe

Just scored a passport! Ready to utilize it, but where?

I have just received my passport in the mail two day ago (yay!) and really want to travel somewhere overseas in the next couple of months. I have always wanted to go to Australia, but I'm going to save that for sometime next year. In the meantime, I just want to have a chance to leave the country for a change. It doesn't really matter where, but I am looking for places that are relatively cheap to visit, but also safe. I will be traveling alone, so it would be nice to be in a place where I can get by with English and some of the local phrases, etc. I'm looking for a more culture rich environment, but a thriving nightlife would be interesting as well. Any suggestions on where I should go? Bonus points for any "bookmark-able" websites, blogs, or forums for the traveling abroad newbie. Thanks!
posted by Junior687 to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It might help if you tell us where you currently are. For example tavelling in Europe might fit your culture rich environment part, but maybe not if you already live there.
posted by shelleycat at 9:07 PM on June 3, 2010

How about Grand Caymen?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:07 PM on June 3, 2010

I lived there for nine months, so I'm biased, but what about Malta? Still in Europe, but off the beaten path. It's just this weird feeling of being a vertex of European, Arabic and African culture. The main island is pretty touristy, but get on over to Gozo and it's like stepping back in time to about 1950.

It's not really a long-term destination, because the islands are tiny, but it's a great add-on to a European or North African vacation. It's cheap by European standards, and meets all of your other criteria (nearly everybody speaks English, though they use Maltese among themselves) excepting nightlife.
posted by dbarefoot at 9:17 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm currently in Texas right now. (not by choice I should say.) No offense to anyone. This place isn't that bad.
posted by Junior687 at 9:19 PM on June 3, 2010

If you just want to leave the country for bit, but save for the Aussie trip next year, what about visiting Montreal? Fantastic culture and nightlife, safe, you can save on airfare and drive there if you live somewhere in the North-East, and you will definitely be able to get by in English and a few phrases. It's not "overseas" per se, but it has culture in spades.
posted by kaudio at 9:24 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am going to assume you are in the US and want to actually go over a sea to find your culture (but I'll remind you not to forget about our neighbor to the North which has plenty of culture, English speakers, safety and nightlife).

I'll focus on language skills. Basically, any Western European capital or major city (and many minor ones) will be able to accommodate your lack of foreign language fluency. No, not every person you interact with will speak English or be able to have more than a very basic conversation with you in English but you will never truly be left without someone to talk to. The tourism infrastructure in a lot of major cities ensures that there are plenty of English speakers. With that said, major navigational signage will either use English, internationally recognized pictograms or be such an obvious local word that you won't have problems. Likewise, most major cultural landmarks and museums will have alternate signage and pamphlets in English.

As for safety, most of these places are just as safe as visiting a major American city. If you use the same precautions you would if you traveling solo to LA or NYC then there is a very good chance that you will be safe.

Your biggest challenge is doing this on the cheap since traveling in Europe can easily be expensive. There however is a rich vein of sites and books that cater to hostel staying, Eurail traveling backpackers so that is where I would start if I were you. Plus the hostels would give you a chance to make some temporary friends which can help break of the trip.

As for where to go, unless you want something exotic or off the beaten path or really agrarian, I don't think you can go wrong with hitting major European capitals (London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, etc.). They have tons of things to see and do, lots of infrastructure to help you out while you are there and they will be easy for you to plan things out for your first trip.
posted by mmascolino at 9:31 PM on June 3, 2010

Some seasoned travelers are vocal about prefering "new" or "challenging" places, but for your first international trip I'm sure you'll enjoy being in a more central and tourist-friendly area. If you want culture, I'd suggest a major European city like Rome or Paris or Barcelona. Enough people can speak English so you'll be able to get by, but it will still be a delightfully foreign experience. You didn't really specify any interests, or what "cheap" means to you, so I suggest you start browsing travel websites for inspiration. The New York Times is a good place to start, just pick a country and browse the archives to see what catches your fancy.

If Rick Steves has done a show about your destination you should try to watch it. He'll give you lots of tips and background info to prepare you, and is really oriented toward less experienced world travelers.

If you want to speak English then Ireland and England are not bad choices either. Europe isn't cheap but it can be done cheaply.

Oh, and right this second you should take a large photo of your passport's info page and email it to yourself, in case you lose it. Carrying a photocopy is also crucial.
posted by acidic at 9:39 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I find Quebec to be sufficiently foreign to feel like I'm travelling, and it will be cheaper than going to Europe. And Montreal has some great night life.

(for reference and cultural introduction, see: Perky 'Canada' Has Own Government, Laws)
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:12 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Euro is weak against the dollar right now, so travelling to Europe will be cheaper than it normally is. And it is definitely fun.
posted by twblalock at 10:40 PM on June 3, 2010

I'm sorry to say, but summer is generally the most expensive time to travel anywhere. Tickets abroad for July or August are often $300-$500 more than those in September or October, which tend to have nicer weather anyway!

Montreal sounds like an excellent Starter Foreign Vacation Spot to me. Oh sure, you have a passport and want to go somewhere far and exciting, and Canada is on the same continent and everything, but Montreal is pretty awesome. Also it's not nearly as far and you don't have to worry about jet lag! Probably costs half as much (or less) to get to.

Japan is pretty awesome for the Advanced International Traveler (also probably the Adventurous Beginner), but you haven't experienced true boredom until you've spent 12 hours on a single plane.

For websites, I make good use of ITA Software for playing around with flight prices and dates, and I actually find ask.metafilter a great resource when I'm looking for neat places to visit in any country. Rick Steves and his show are pretty great if you're looking to go to Europe. Honestly, though, I tend to get the most value out of the dead tree travel books. It's nice to have all of the information wrapped up in a single volume, often with maps and other useful visual aids, and they provide itineraries and famous spots and those places will generally be great choices. A restaurant from a travel book on Japan ended up being one of my favorite restaurants I've eaten at in Tokyo.
posted by that girl at 10:41 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been lucky enough to travel a fair bit, but I have never loved anywhere more than Iceland. The landscape is unbelievable, the food is great, there's tons of outdoors stuff to do (snowmobiling, horseriding, hiking, ATVing, diving, dogsledding, hurrah!), the exchange rate is favourable, it has a great coffee culture, crazy nightlife, hot springs, beautiful people, great music and design, and Icelandair has a package where you can stop in Reykjavik for free on the way to any European destination.
posted by superquail at 11:44 PM on June 3, 2010

I'm currently in Texas right now

You're closer than most to Mexico - it would be very inexpensive to drive across the border and take a nice vacation. If you have a bit more money to spend, I would suggest Sweden or Norway - go north and see the midnight sun - you won't regret it.
posted by Despondent_Monkey at 11:47 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

iceland is where i'd go (haven't been, but a friend loved it, plus, volcanos!)
posted by kimyo at 11:55 PM on June 3, 2010

Plussing fjords in Norway. A once-in-a-lifetime sight experience.
posted by knz at 4:22 AM on June 4, 2010

Why not start with Mexico? It's close to you, cheap to go to, and Rick Bayless makes it look interesting. Watch his Mexico, One Plate at a Time on PBS and try it.

Also, my friends have all enjoyed Plata Vayarta, Cancun, and various other resorts there, but it sounds like you are looking more for what Rick Bayless does.
posted by I am the Walrus at 5:52 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Where at in Texas?

My aunt lives in Houston, home of Continental airlines, and every Tuesday they release their weekly specials good for the coming weekend. Most are domestic flights, but currently I see HOU to Venezuela for $399, or HOU to Edmonton for $218, with specials for hotel and car also. So for under $500, you could score a pretty sweet international weekend getaway. My aunt went to Peru (Machu Pichu) and Honduras (for scuba diving) this way, and loved both.

Dallas may have similar specials from American, and maybe (but not likely) Southwest.
posted by I am the Walrus at 5:57 AM on June 4, 2010

iceland is where i'd go

Oooh... I've always wanted to go to Iceland!! But according to my Rough Guide to Iceland (which I've read cover-to-cover, twice) it can get pretty expensive to travel there, because of the small population and remote location.

But that brings up a good resource... go check out your local big-box book store's travel section. I highly recommend the Rough Guide series, but Lonely Planet books are pretty good too. They both have practical travel information about the destinations, regarding safety, local customs, transportation, etc. Where ever you decide to travel, you would do yourself well to have a decent guide book and read it before you go.

Since you're in Texas, it's probably not as convenient to drive to Montreal as it would be if you lived in New York... but there are great last minute deals and sales that you can take advantage of, which are often even cheaper if you fly out of an airline hub, like DFW or Houston. I like TravelZoo as a resource for finding out about flight and vacation sales. It's well worth signing up for their weekly newsletter.
posted by kaudio at 6:24 AM on June 4, 2010

Likes/dislikes??? Even Australia is a big country. Hiking around Ayers rock may not interest everyone.
posted by JJ86 at 7:27 AM on June 4, 2010

Oooh... I've always wanted to go to Iceland!! But according to my Rough Guide to Iceland (which I've read cover-to-cover, twice) it can get pretty expensive to travel there, because of the small population and remote location.

It's cheaper to visit Iceland these days, due to the financial crisis: 13 April 2010:
"Still struggling to overcome the deep crisis that set in when its major banks collapsed in late 2008, Iceland is hoping the recent surge in tourist numbers will help put it on the route to recovery. (...) The Icelandic currency has shed over 50% of its value in 18 months. Currently €1 equates to around 172 krónur. (...) Visitor numbers jumped 12% last year to around 1.23m people, or about four times Iceland's population, with German, French and British visitors topping the list, and the trend is set to continue this year."

"Lonely Planet, the world's leading publisher in travel guides, has picked Iceland as the best value destination in the world to visit in the coming year in a new book published last week. (...) The economic collapse in Iceland meant the island was no longer punitively expensive, said the guide, putting the country at the top of its best-value list. "Have you always wanted to discover this magical, mysterious country? To explore ice caps and volcanoes, and wallow in hot springs? Been put off because of the prohibitive prices? Well, 2010 is your year.", it claims."

Icelandair offers stopovers in Reykjavik, if you also want to visit some other destination.

Iceland should be one of the safest places in the world to visit (as long as you don't fall into a volcano...), and everybody speaks English.
posted by iviken at 9:16 AM on June 4, 2010

I'd actually avoid driving across the border to Mexico right now - the border drug wars are going and it's not as safe as it used to be. My friends and I used to do a yearly trip to Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, but stopped doing that in recent years because of the violence. If I were going to Mexico now, I'd fly down to Mexico City or one of the cities on the water and avoid the US/Mexico border.

Peru is only a four-hour flight or so - I've had family and friends go there recently.

You can also take a short cruise that docks in Mexico and various Caribbean islands. Don't knock cruises - I thought I'd hate them, but friends of mine took one and talked us into taking another with them, and there are plenty of places on board where you can hang out and avoid people if you want. And they leave out of Galveston. Hurricane season is a good time to travel if you're open to your plans being changed at the last minute - it's cheaper. (just make sure the line you're on changes the schedule around instead of just cancelling the cruise.)
posted by telophase at 10:38 AM on June 4, 2010

nthing Iceland. It's an awesome, awesome place, and arguably far safer then wherever you're living in the states right now, too.
posted by dyslexictraveler at 2:53 PM on June 4, 2010

Response by poster: I considered Mexico as an option to begin with, but since I'm in the military, Mexico (along with a handful of countries) are on travel bans because of violence. I think Cancun and a few other places might still be alright to go. I have never considered Iceland, but after checking out the information it seems pretty nice. What about some parts of Asia?
posted by Junior687 at 6:06 PM on June 4, 2010

Japan is really totally fine if you're up for it. Most major tourist spots have enough resources in English that you should have no problem, and the public transportation systems are awesome. Do the whole Tokyo/Kyoto/Osaka thing and you'll have a great time!
posted by that girl at 7:33 AM on June 5, 2010

Japan works fine if you don't speak Japanese, although I would recommend bringing a guidebook from American rather than trying to find one in English over there. All of the subway signs and so on are in both Japanese and English.

The downside is that airfare to Japan is always pretty expensive.
posted by twblalock at 9:30 PM on June 5, 2010

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