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The first time traveling to a foreign country is both exciting, and a bit intimidating. You’ll likely be pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, in a place far from home, and while it tends to get easier each time you do it, you have to start somewhere. Why not ease yourself into the experience by visiting one of these great destinations that are less challenging yet just as fabulous to visit.
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Iceland is one of the hottest travel destinations right now, and while its jaw-dropping landscape of black sand beaches, glacial lagoons, hot springs, steaming volcanoes and endless number of impressive waterfalls make it seem as if it’s a totally different planet, it’s an ideal place to visit for first time international travelers. Iceland is easy to get to, just a four-hour flight from Boston, and Wow Air offers low airfares too, as little as $99 each way. Plus, just about every Icelander speaks English, there’s a strong tourism infrastructure, and crime is practically non-existent. Visit between late September and mid-March, and you may even get to see the northern lights. While the roads are easy to navigate if you decide to drive, there are lots of day tours, as well as multi-day tours that can be booked, many of which are rather low-key, small group adventures, allowing you to relax and let someone else do the driving and much of the planning. No matter what you choose to do, don’t miss a soak in the legendary Blue Lagoon, it’s something you’ll never forget.
The United Kingdom is an obvious choice for many first-time overseas travelers, as everyone speaks English and there isn’t much in the way of culture shock, but it still feels like a totally different country. It’s also very diverse, so you can spend time in big cities like London or Edinburgh, and enjoy the seashore along the beautiful Cornwall coast or the spectacular Scottish Highlands. Base your stay in London and you can visit iconic attractions in the city like the Tower of London, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, as well as enjoy day trips to places like Windsor, Bath and St. Albans, all within an hour’s reach.
Ireland is not only one of the safest and most beautiful countries in the world, the Irish are renowned as some of the friendliest on Earth. The only problem traveling here is that you might get spoiled. Expect to enjoy lots of Irish charm, humor and legendary hospitality, along with the lush emerald hills, a breathtaking coastline, ancient castles and gorgeous lochs. No matter where you go in Ireland, people are more than willing to lend a hand or offer advice, making it especially easy to get around and get learn about the best places to visit. While big cities like Dublin, Cork and Galway are lots of fun, to find the most spectacular scenery, you might want to visit favorites like Dingle, Wicklow National Park, Connemara and the Aran Islands. The smallest of the Aran Islands, Inisheer, is especially peaceful, home to a population of just 250, and you’ll have an even better opportunity to get to know the locals while exploring ancient historic sites, strolling the Mediterranean-like stretches of sand and popping into the pubs.
Canada as a whole is a fantastic place for a first time international trip. Depending on where you live, it may be just a hop, skip and a jump over the border, and, it’s a safe, friendly and incredibly scenic place, ideal for outdoor adventurers. The easternmost province of Newfoundland is often overlooked, but it may be the very best of all. Newfoundlanders tend to go out of their way to make visitors feel welcome, the crime rate is extremely low and violent crimes are practically non-existent. In fact, many locals still leave their doors unlocked. For a taste of the city life, St. John’s is ideal without being overwhelming. The historic capital, founded in 1610, is filled with things to do, including a two-block long stretch that houses nothing but bars, pubs, restaurants and clubs as the main center of nightlife. Just minutes outside of the city, you can enjoy whale watching, puffin and iceberg cruises, kayaking, hiking and much more.
Montreal offers a unique blend of European and North American culture that makes it easier to visit for those traveling outside of the U.S. for the first time. You’ll discover the best of both worlds: the modernity of North America and its fast-paced life, along with romantic Old World European charms, and nearly 400 years of history. Check out iconic spots like Old Town’s Bonsecours Market, Place Jacques Cartier, Notre-Dame Basilica and Saint-Paul Street, and be sure to take a walk up to Mont-Royal Belvedere, which sits above the skyscrapers and overlooks the whole region, including the mountains of the Eastern Townships. It’s also a great place for foodies, with practically an endless number of outstanding restaurants that serve delicious French cuisine.
If you’ve dreamed of visiting Asia but have concerns about the cultural differences, get started by visiting Japan. It’s a lot more accessible than many of its neighbors, and while English isn’t widely spoken, in large tourist areas like Kyoto and Tokyo, it is more common, and most of the important signs, such as road signs, signs in train and subway stations, are in both English and Japanese. The Japanese are so welcoming and friendly it more than makes up for any communication difficulties anyway. Plus, you’ll be able to experience those peaceful gardens, temples, shrines and traditional customs that all co-exist with soaring skyscrapers, speeding bullet trains, quirky pop culture and futuristic architecture.
New Zealand is another English-speaking country that’s very safe, friendly, laid-back and easy to get around, making it great for international travel newbies. It also happens to be home to some of the most diverse and stunning landscapes on Earth. Look forward to the magnificently lush setting of the “Lord of the Rings” films, walks through the rainforest, adventures on glaciers, soaking in hot springs and even extreme sports, if you’re up for a heart-pounding adventure, like bungee jumping, sky diving, jet boating, zorbing, and whitewater rafting. If you’d like to get to know the locals for a more authentic experience, it’s easy here as Kiwis are renowned for their generous, often exuberant nature and positive attitude toward life.
Vietnam is another great option for those who’ve been thinking about a trip to Asia. Street life is colorful and safe, even in the biggest cities, like Hanoi, where there’s something interesting to discover around nearly every corner, especially in the old quarter of the city. Soak up the views from a rooftop bar with a chilled beer or a traditional Vietnamese coffee, and be sure to explore the vast Dong Xuan Market. Active travelers won’t want to miss hiking the mountains of the Central Highlands on a trek with a local outfitter or practicing tai chi with hundreds of others at the edge of Hoan Kiem Lake. If relaxation is your main priority, head to the picture-perfect beaches of Phu Quoc Island.
Thailand has been ranked among the happiest nations in the world. It’s renowned for its friendly hospitality, making it a more comfortable place to visit for the first-timer. It’s also rather cheap, so you won’t have to worry about busting your budget either. The country has lots to offer all types of travelers, from the party-central of Bangkok to idyllic beaches and tropical jungle. Whatever you do, don’t try to do too much – allow at least a few days to recover from jet lag and soak up the vibrant atmosphere of Bangkok. While it’s renowned for its nightlife, you’ll find a wealth of Buddhist temples and monasteries too. Afterward, head north to Chiang Mai, or south to the islands.
The Dutch are among the most accepting people in Europe, and more than 90 percent speak English too. Just getting lost in the narrow streets of Amsterdam, passing picturesque canals, colorful houses, and perhaps popping into a coffee shop, can make for a great experience. Of course, it also hosts numerous world-class museums like the Rijksmuseum, which dazzles with its impressive collection that spans 800 years of Dutch history. Amsterdam is safe and one can easily walk or bike anywhere in the city, plus it’s simple and inexpensive to get to other great cities throughout the country, like The Hague, Utrecht and the art capital of Maastricht.