Must Visit Countries of 2017 (Updated)
Welcome to NomadsNation Country Power Rankings.
These rankings are NomadsNation’s best countries to visit in 2017, and became so by 1) isolating what is important to Nomads, and 2) determining which countries are currently catering to those needs.
We want to clarify; in no way are we saying any one country is better than the other. This list is not a competition. What it is is a fun way for us to make traveling recommendations to our community. Not sure where to go? Looking for a little travel inspiration? Check the country Power Rankings.
These are the factors that helped me determine the order of the rankings…
Trends in Travel Blogs
I used NomadicSamuels Top 100 travel blogs, and go through the most influential sites, observing where the top bloggers have been traveling to, living in, and writing about. These blogs are a staple of budget travel, and are treated accordingly.
UNWTO, WTTC, ITB and others all share statistics and trends about tourism over the world. These trends will play an influence on the Power Rankings as well.
Obviously we are budget travelers, so the more bang for the buck the better. I look to highlight which countries currencies have weakened recently, so Nomads can enjoy beneficial exchange rates
Inter-preneur Rating (Internet + Entrepreneur = Inter-preneur)
This is where I combine “Location Independence” with “Digital Nomadism”. This emerging community, and it’s impact within budget travel cannot be ignored. Particular countries and cities have become hubs for these digital entrepreneurs, and I intend to highlight the most influential ones. Much of the information for this portion will come from NomadList.com.
Syria may have been a traveling option a few years ago, but now, not so much. I’ll take into consideration political occurrences and general safety of the countries.
Seeing what other members of the team and community think.
A Heavy Dose of Personal Opinion
To top it all off. I’ve been to about half the places on this list, but after all of the research I’ve put in, I may as well have been to every single one of them.
Ok. That’s it. I’m done. Let’s do it.
If you’ve lived in the USA or have previously visited, you know that while it’s possible, it is extremely difficult to travel around ‘Murrica on a budget. It’s damn expensive. Damn expensive and the budget traveler don’t go hand in hand.
But! There is one reason I couldn’t leave this country off the list.
Oil. Which reminds me of this Chappelle skit.
To be more specific. The reason I am recommending travel to the US is because of the astonishingly low gas prices, enabling you to have that cross-country-US-road-trip you’ve always dreamed of, at a semi-affordable price.
As of writing this, AAA cites the average gas price in the USA at $2.03. This is f-ing astonishing. I lived in Southern California in 2011, and personally witnessed gas prices hover around the $5 a gallon mark. To see gas prices decrease by 60% is A) utter insanity in the most amazing way possible, and B) inspiring for the yearning US traveler.
One can certainly fly around America. It suffices. But it cannot compare to driving. One of the greatest traveling experiences one can have is getting in a car, and hitting the open road in the Great American West.
Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington.
Or more specifically.
The Grand Canyon, Seattle, Zion National Park, The Rocky Freaking Mountains, Los Angeles, Death Valley, Denver, Yosemite, Lake Havasu, Austin, Pacific Coast, Redwood National Park, Portland, Arches National Park, San Diego, Big Sur, Bryce Canyon, San Fransisco, Carlsbad Caverns, Vegas (if you dare), and so, so much more.
And that’s just the West.
To do some math. If you rent a car with decent gas mileage (35 mpg highway), fill up the tank (we’ll say an average 15 gallon tank), at $2.00 a gallon, you can drive (hypothetically) from The Grand Canyon to Los Angeles (480 miles) on one tank of gas, or $30.00. I think my math is right.
Between the mountains, national parks, deserts, amazing cities, and Vegas (if you dare), there is enough to keep you busy for good 3-4 lifetimes. And with gas prices as low as they currently are, it will be much more affordable than times past.
Unfortunately, excluding gas prices, the US still remains to be lacking in the budget-friendly area. Food, lodging and drinks will come at a price.
If you decide to take advantage of these gas prices, you won’t be alone. The US is currently the second most visited country in the world with 74.8 million visitors, second only to Frances’ 83.7 million. But where France only saw a .1% increase in tourism from 2013-2014, the US saw a 6% increase in the same period of time.
The dollar has been performing better in recent years, basically aligning itself with the Euro. This is bad news for Europeans looking for a decent conversation rate, excluding those Brits and their sterling pound.
Entering the country isn’t too challenging. For most people reading this blog, you will have to pay $14 and apply for an ESTA.
If you are interested in getting some free lodging, the US’ work exchange scene is rapidly on the rise. As of writing, there are 2,024 farms on WWOOF, 1,172 opportunities on WorkAway, and 1,197 opportunities on HelpX.
On the whole, safe, just be careful of seedy areas in larger cities. Chicago, LA, New Orleans, Miami and the state of New Jersey have reputations for a reason. Stick with the tourists, stay where it’s safe, just as you would anywhere in the world.
The U S of A is a world in itself. Some of the worlds greatest cities and sites exist here, but unfortunately they do come at a cost. But, with gas prices as low as they are, if you were debating taking a road trip in the States, now certainly is the time.
10) Hong Kong
HK is my favorite city on the planet. No question. The food, the clash of culture, the energy, the locals, the skyscrapers, and did I mention the food?
But for all of it’s pros, HK still hasn’t fully embraced the Nomad yet, as it’s hostel scene, and overall budget-travel infrastructure, is extremely underdeveloped.
But, fear not. While HK is a bit behind, it is also on the rise, and is quickly getting on budget travelers’ radars. Travel Bloggers are taking notice.
The entire city can be done extremely cheap, the only part that can get a bit pricey is the lodging. With the aforementioned lack of (decent) hostels, one might think they have to spend an arm and a leg to find lodging in this fine city. But, along with most of the world, AirBnb has provided affordable alternatives, as there are hundreds of apartment listings in HK.
There’s so much to see in Hong Kong, none of which has to be expensive. Entrance fees, public transit and food are all super affordable. And my personal favorite thing to do in Hong Kong (walking around and making random turns until I am completely and utterly lost) is 100% free.
Hong Kong has an emerging group of entrepreneurs, and it’s politics are slowly attempting to make the city more “start up” friendly. I know this because I’ve been considering opening a business in HK. I’ve done my research. Furthermore, NomadList currently puts Hong Kong as the fifth best place in the world to be a digital entrepreneur. This is due to great weather, night life, and fantastic wifi connection.
Forbes ranks Hong Kong as the ninth most visited city on the planet. In 2013, 23 millions visited HK, with the majority (66%) of them were Chinese mainlanders. This influx of tourism is due to the Chinese Individual Visit Scheme, which for the first time, allowed mainlanders to visit HK as tourists. In 2004, the Individual Visit Scheme allowed 2 million mainland Chinese tourists. 2014? 17 million.
The Hong Kong Dollar is pegged to the US Dollar. 1 USD = 7.5 HKD.
Free on arrival for most. Aussies, New Zealanders, Canadians and Americans get 90 days. Brits get 180 days.
Hong Kong has one of the best ESL markets in Asia. English teachers are in high demand, and well compensated.
One of the safest cities in the world. Crime is basically non-existent. The only thing to fear is eating too much.
For indie-travelers, Hong Kong is a monster. And as long as you can nail down some semi-affordable lodging (preferrably through AirBnb) you will find yourself in the midst of one of the worlds greatest cities: an epicenter of culture and food like no other.
The Acropolis. Santorini. Rhodes. Crete. Hummus. The reasons to visit Greece are too many to list. Having just spent a few weeks there over summer, I can verify; it’s a beautiful place. Just don’t expect to have it to yourself.
Although one might expect the recent economic and political turmoil in Greece to have lowered prices, it unfortunately is not true. While Greece is still certainly a bargain by European standards, it’s tourist infrastructure has remained very strong, and prices are just about where they have always been.
One great way to see Greece with lowered prices is to go in shoulder season. My sister and I went in May, and the prices were much lower than my research had indicated. I mean I knew it was going to be a bit cheaper, but I was pleasantly surprised to have my expectations exceeded.
If you do go in shoulder season (May/June and September/October) expect a big drop in prices, but also expect much less action. The islands in particular get a bit sleepier outside of the peak of summer, and there isn’t always as much to do.
Having said that, Greece is on everyone’s radar. The political turmoil has not curbed tourism numbers at all. In fact, Greece is breaking records.
According to an article by telegraph.com, fear of terrorism has lead European tourists to cancel trips in Turkey, Egypt and Tunis, and many of them are looking to Greece instead. So the slight tourism Greece is losing in fear of political and economic instability, is being compensated by fears of terrorism in Arabic countries. 22 million people visited Greece in 2014, and in 2015 year they are projected to have 25 million visitors. I’m sure the Greeks aren’t complaining.
So why did Greece make the list?
It’s still a bargain by every stretch, and the country has so much to do. The mainland of Greece is a historical monster, as it basically is an artifact in itself. Athens in all of it’s gritty charm, has everything to offer.
And the 1,200 islands are versatile and unique, each catering to a different type of tourist. Gay, rich, young, party, chill, backpacker, family… Oh yea, and the food is outrageous. Whatever you like, the Greek Islands got you.
Notable Travel Bloggers
Easy peasy lemon squeezy (Having just re-watched Austin Powers, prepare for a lot of subtle quotes.)
The Euro is down and the dollar and pound are reaping the benefits.
Ok, here’s the deal. Greece (particularly the islands) is one of those many places in Europe, where it’s easier to find gigs that pay under the table. This is common for super-seasonal-touristy places that reallllyyyy like to party. Bars and hostels in Lagos, Barcelona, Budapest, and such will hire backpackers to watch the front desk and serve drinks. The Greek Islands, particularly Ios and Mykonos, are no exception. Why are these jobs available? Because the labor is cheap.
While Greece is no “under the radar” destination, it’s f**king Greece and it’s beautiful. While prices are not drastically low, compared to it’s European counterparts… Greece is a steal.
Enormous snow capped mountains, endless stretches of African desert, exotic cities, beaches, and historical sites. Morocco’s really got it all. But this is no secret.
Bringing in over 10 million visitors every year sine 2013, Morocco (barely) edges out South Africa as the most touristed country on it’s continent. This is for three distinct reasons. 1) It is far and away the safest country in North Africa. 2) North Africa has an enviable proximity to Europe. 3) There’s a seemingly endless amount of things to do, for travelers of every type.
Morocco is aware of their exoticism and glamour as a traveling destination. It is a country that takes it’s tourism very seriously, and has invested an incredible amount of time and money to ensure that their tourism sector is flourishing. And the investment is paying off.
Notable Travel Bloggers
NomadicMatt has written not one, not two, not three, but FOUR articles on Morocco this year, his article here is a great guide and source of inspiration for those interested in traveling there. Also, WanderingEarl has stated that, due to high demand, he intends to create a Morocco tour for his Wandering Earl Tours.
The Dirham has performed well this decade, but has had a rough 2015… Yet another reason to travel to Morocco ASAP.
There isn’t much to say about Morocco, because it’s Morocco. It speaks for itself. There aren’t any new travel trends, no current financial gains. It is here, simply because it deserves to be here.
Brazil, similar to the States, is a traveling destination that has so much upside, but a few things that also make it annoying as f**k.
The first thing that makes it annoying – The dreaded pre-arrival Visa.
The second thing that makes it annoying – The cost.
But! The cost of traveling to Brazil has decreased dramatically over the past few years, and the trend looks poised to continue through 2017. This is the reason it is so highly ranked this year.
Why? Because their currency, the Brazilian Real, is, as ForexLive so eloquently put it, “torched”. Political turmoil and economic pressures have basically sunk the currency, and the exchange rates are going mental. In October, the Real had lost 29% of it’s value against the dollar on the year, and the immediate future looks just as bleak. In 2011, you could get 1.5 Real’s per one USD. Now? You can nearly get nearly 4 Reals per one USD, and many economists predict the rate might jump as high as 5 Reals per USD by 2017. This is huge.
While you’ll find a healthy Digital Nomad scene in Brazil, it’s a small one. Even with the Real down, it’s still an expensive country to live in. Plus Brazil is known as a country of fun, but too much fun. Such fun can be a distraction. TheWanderingTrader even mentioned this in a post where he highlighted why he chose to live in Medellin over Rio Di Janeiro, ultimately choosing Columbia.
For the record, I get angry when countries require pre-arranged visas. It makes my blood boil. I know my own country is guilty of it. I know as an American I have an exceptional amount more traveling freedoms than people from other countries do. But it still makes me angry. I support a visa-less traveling world, and Brazil is pushing my buttons.
Brazil, in an apparent effort to curb high profit international tourism, have placed traveling restrictions on Australians, Canadians and Americans, requiring them to pay and wait for pre-arranged visas. Europeans and New Zealanders are cool to enter visa free.
By South American standards, Brazil probably has one of the best ESL markets. But it’s no Asia and it’s no Middle East. No no. Yes, ESL jobs are available, but they don’t pay great, and many teachers have expressed inability to live comfortably with Brazil’s high cost of living.
Work Exchange opportunities do exist, and the country has a reputation for easily finding work in hostels. You might not get paid, but you’ll get a bed and food and hopefully a few caipirinhas.
Some parts of Brazil are extremely dangerous. Other parts of Brazil are extremely safe. Do your research. Use your smarts.
While the depreciation of the Real is unfortunate for the people of Brazil, it is absolutely delicious for travelers of all kind. If you were considering a Brazil trip sometime soon, avoid the Summer Olympics in August (where prices will unavoidably inflate), and get your bunda down there immediately.
In honor of the Cuba section, I’m going to take the opportunity to surreptitiously slip in a small Tony Montana quote. Let me know if you spot it.
Cuba has made headlines this year with it’s newfound political relations with the United States. Sanctions have been lifted, which has opened up a new chapter of relations between the two countries, and now, traveling to Cuba as an average American tourist is possible!
A pain in the ass. But possible.
But, even with the visa hassles, even with the lack of budget travel infrastructure, even with people telling me “the food sucked”, I still have to say… Get to Cuba ASAP.
Cuba is used to international tourism, but on a much smaller level. About a million Canadians and hundreds of thousands of Europeans and South Americans visit every year. But Cuba (similar to the next country on the list) is about to get a facelift. The hand holding the scalpel will be the Cuban government, and the force driving the operation will be an influx of tourists Cuba has never seen before. It will start slowly. But I guarantee that as the Cuban government starts seeing the money American tourism can generate, so will it loosen it’s travel restrictions.
So, although the visa is annoying, and there isn’t much installed by means of transit, in some ways, it kind of adds to the glamor of the trip. We all know deep down inside, we are a bunch of snobby, pretentious travelers, that are dying to tell other people “I went to ______ before it was popular”. Cuba is your chance, particularly if you are American.
- Many people presume Cuba to be a small Caribbean island, when in fact it’s actually quite large. Cuba, at 109,000 sq kilometers, is larger than South Korea (100,000 sq km), Portugal (92,000 sq km) and Austria (83,000 sq km).
- Contrary to public perception Cuba can actually get quite cold in the winter, with Havana hitting 35 degrees in January 2010. So dress warm.
There are two currencies in Cuba, the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) and the Cuban peso (CUP). 98% of tourists will deal exclusively with the CUC, as it is what is exchanged at the airport. But! The Cuban government also takes a 10% “penalty” for the exchange process, and a 3% foreign translation fee. This means you are actually losing 13% of your dollar with every exchange. It’s a truly terrible system, but there seems to be little we can do about it.
Most non-communist countries need visas. US citizens? Strap in. Not only do we have to obtain the dreaded pre-arrival visa, but we also have to oblige within the law that only allows us to visit with “special permission from the government for trips such as those involving family visits, professional, religious or cultural programs and humanitarian projects.” I’ve read/heard varying opinions about how easy or difficult this is to do.
One great way to get a guaranteed trip to Cuba as an American is to do so on with a tour operations company. I won’t name any in particular, but if you google ‘cuba tour’, dozens of different options will appear, as this enables people to legally travel to Cuba under the means of a “cultural program” or some similar educational experience. It won’t be as cheap as traveling independently, but group tours certainly have their benefits.
Another option as an American, is flying into Cuba from a different country, like Mexico or Canada. Apparently this is a fail-proof tactic, as the international city you last flew from somehow thwarts the customs guard, and magically negates the nationality of your passport. I haven’t done this personally, but apparently it works. Clint from Travelhackr has a great article about it here .
Cuba is really only a new traveling experience if you are an American. But, with the gates now open between the countries, expect the influx of American tourists to negatively effect the authenticity of the country.
Otherwise known as Burma, but let’s be honest, regardless of the name, many people don’t even know this country exists. But it Myanmar is gaining in popularity. In 2011, less than a million tourists visited Burmanmar. In 2015 they expect to finish with around 4 million tourists!
Why the drastic improvement?
It’s extremely new on the the travel radar, as the country was ruled by a military dictatorship that ended in 2011. Since then, the country has established a new-ish government, and has seen an exponential new wave of tourism. This is an enormous increase in numbers, and the trend is only going to continue it’s progression north.
Hence the traveling recommendation.
Myanmar made the NomadsNation Power Rankings because it is new. It is fresh. It is a country that has basically just opened it’s borders, and if you want to have a truly authentic travel experience, now is the time. The country will eventually sell out to mass, hyper-tourism, and will lose that special glimmer in it’s eye. It’s just a fact. You hear that Mr. Anderson?
It is inevitable.
But what exactly is Myanmar? How to explain Burmese culture?
Think Thai, add a bit of Indian, add a little bit less Chinese, and boom, you’ve gotten closer to starting to understand this country. It is a nation of devout Buddhists and thousands of temples, complimented by a diverse landscape. It will delight travelers of every type.
Myanmar is a big country. At 678,00 sq km, it’s larger than Thailand (513,000 sq km) and larger than France (643,000 sq km). But unfortunately, tourists are not free to roam anywhere in the country. Just because Myanmar has opened it’s borders, doesn’t mean you can backpack freely throughout their entire territory. We are still in a tourist-transitional process with this country, and there a some rules…
Issued in 2013, this is where you can and cannot travel in Myanmar. The areas in green are go’s. Knock yourself out. The areas in not-green, are no-go’s. The non-green portions of the map require “prior permission”, which although might sound promising, is basically a nice way for the Myanmar government to say “not gunna happen.” It’s different, and definitely unfortunate for the traveler who really likes to get down and freely explore a country. But even with these restrictions, the pros greatly outweigh the cons, and the recommendation remains.
The United Nations considers Myanmar to be an LDC (Least Developed Country) which is basically the new and politically correct term that has replaced the outdated term “Third World Country”. Myanmar is one of 34 African countries, 1 American country (Haiti), 4 islands in Oceania, and 9 Asian countries labeled as LDC’s. Some of the other Asian countries on the list? Laos, Cambodia, and Nepal.
While Myanmar isn’t quite the bargain that Vietnam or even Thailand is, it’s still Asia, and it’s still stupid cheap. The dollar and pound have been performing particularly well against the Kyat. Two years ago, 1 USD would get 960 Burmese Kyats. Now? 1 USD gets you nearly 1300 Burmese Kyats. How big of a change is that? I really have no idea. But the fact is the country is cheap.
It’s a pre-arrival, $50, but it’s an e-visa and is quick and fairly painless.
Traveling to Myanmar now is a chance to really get some travel-cred to your name. And don’t act like you don’t want it. Stick it to those hardcore-backpacker types. You know the type…
“Oh you’ve been to Machu? Me too, I spent a month hiking the Inca trail with just my pet iguana. No big deal”
“You hitchhiked for a week in Iceland? Awesome. I hitchhiked through eleven countries in Eastern Europe this past February.”
“You’ve traveled to seventeen countries? That’s great. I’m on my one hundred and twenty seventh. But great for you!.”
“You like Thailand? Oh. I don’t care for any part Thailand. Northern Cambodia is the only place in South East Asia worth going to anymore.”
You know. Shit like that.
So while these guys are out there, writing in their moleskins probably somewhere in Laos, you’ll be breaking new ground, dominating your travels, and be able to say “I traveled to Myanmar in 2017 motherf****!”.
But seriously, all jokes aside. Myanmar is the new Laos.
The new country that will be on everyone’s radar. Imagine yourself, 10, 15 years down the line. By this time, Myanmar will be on pace for 10 millions visitors, and the country will inevitably be swarmed with indie travelers and their overstuffed backpacks.
If there’s a lesson to be learned about traveling, it’s to get in before the crowds. Get in before the hyper-tourism, before Myanmar loses it’s charm. And then, in all of your backpacking glory, and be able to say… I was there before anyone else.
When researching about travel in Taiwan, I often come across different variations of a similar phrase, all of which usually involve the words “best kept secret in Asia”. Similar to The Philippines, due to Taiwan’s geographical proximity, the country is typically off the backpackers trail. And again, similar to The Philippines, it is at the loss of those who miss it, and at the gain of those who visit. (Rhyme points)
Taiwan’s relationship with China is in a word… complicated. They’re kindof like a couple that broke up, so Taiwan moved out, but they never made the breakup official, and Taiwan just wants it’s shit back, but China realllllyyy wants to get officially back together and make things like they used to be, and Taiwan isn’t down but also isn’t necessarily opposed, it just wants some more freedom… You know, that old chestnut.
Like I said, it’s complicated. If you are looking for a more historically and factually accurate description of Chinese/Taiwan relations, you can do so here.
When visiting Taiwan, it is impossible to avoid Taipei, a city that seems to be universally adored by those who personally encounter it’s charm. In terms of cost, Taipei is right in the middle of grandiose Asian metropolis’, and while it is nowhere near as cheap as cities on the lower end (like Ho Chi Minh), it is also nowhere near expensive as cities on the higher end (such as Singapore).
ThePriceofTravel.com puts the daily cost of Taipei at a a moderate $32 a day, sandwiched in-between Beijing ($29 a day) and Phuket ($33 a day).
While Taipei is a beast in itself, the entire island of Taiwan is a gem, and the further you get from the beating heart of the metropolis, the more authentic the experience becomes, as most tourists are typically consolidated in and around Taipei. As you head south you’ll see a change in landscape and language, and observe a quieter version of the same country. The west varies from flat to somewhat rolling hills and plains, and as you head east, you hit the mountain ranges, where dramatic peaks can reach as high as 10,000 feet.
Taiwan isn’t that large of an island, and most of the sites are very convenient as the country is quite compact. One can drive the entire island, top to bottom, in about five hours, or can do the same in public transit in eight hours. Traveling around is easy as it is affordable; high speed trains connect the entire island and all of the major cities.
As previously stated, Taiwan is a relatively small island, and at 14,000 square miles, is roughly the size of Switzerland. But even given it’s compact size, it still brings in nearly 9 millions tourists every year. These tourists region mostly from China (4 million), Japan (1.6 million) and Hong Kong (1.3 million).
So how does a small island saturated with so many tourists still somehow feel off the beaten path? It’s because of the type of tourism Taiwan receives. According to Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau, the average tourist in Taiwan, spent an AVERAGE of $224.00 per day. This is an AVERAGE, PER PERSON. Remember, ThePriceofTravel put average daily spending in Taiwan’s most expensive city at $32 a day. Backpackers can spend around 30$ a day. The average tourist actually spends $224 a day. (I’ve been doing this for years, and the dichotomy between typical travel, and budget travel never ceases to amaze me.)
But this is because the majority of Taiwan’s Asian tourists are doing what Asian tourists do best. Spending money. They are in the expensive hotels, luxurious resorts, and spending their money in Taipei’s lavish and ultra modern shopping malls. What does this mean for the budget traveler? The rest of the island is quieter, inexpensive, and ripe for the picking.
Are there other backpackers? Of course. We’re f**cking everywhere. But the island will feel more or less yours, particularly the further you deviate from Taipei.
Taiwan’s currency, while not strong, has been consistent. It’s in the perfect mix between I-can-get-a-great-bang-for-my-buck and the-economy-is-stable-as-f**k-if-I-want-to-live-here! Speaking of which…
Taiwan is really starting to gain traction as a premiere digital nomad destination And why not? Affordable living, great food, modern cities, and lightning fast wifi. NomadList puts Taiwan as the third best country, and Taipei as the seventh best city, in the world for digital entrepreneurs.
You heard it here first. Look out for Taiwan to become an increasingly important hub for digital nomads. It won’t be a “best kept secret” for too much longer.
Unlike it’s ex to the west, Taiwan is a tourist-friendly country, as no pre-arranged visa is needed for entry into the country. 45 jurisdictions (USA, NZ, EU, Australia, and Canada included) are granted a free 90 day visa upon arrival.
Taiwan has a phenomenal ESL market that pays very well. Mix the compensation with the low cost of living, and ESL teachers can work a contract and save a decent amount of money. Not quite South Korea ESL money, but still great money.
Taiwan’s low cost, compactness, authenticity, high digital nomad rating and fabulous ESL market make it one of the highest traveling recommendations for 2017. This country is making moves. I’ll be traveling to Taiwan for my first time in April. You’ll be hearing more from me about this country very soon.
3) South Africa
Another country highlighted by currency problems, South Africa is high on the list because it is difficult to ignore such beauty at such a historical bargain. South Africa is a cool place, and quite unique. It has a rich and dark past, which is further emphasized by it’s rich and dark present. It’s a contrast of incredible extremes. The beauty of Cape town, the safaris, the beaches, all mixed with atrocious poverty… it’s almost overwhelming.
Also, another reason to go… South Africans have the coolest accents, and in my opinion, the most difficult to impersonate. It’s extremely difficult. Leo nailed it though.
Not to sound like South Africa is an undiscovered gem. It is a very well traveled country with one of the best backpacking infrastructures in the world. It is wired for backpackers, with a world-class line of hostels and transportation to get you anywhere you need, and cheaply.
But on to money. The South African Rand has hit the panic button. Alarm bells are ringing. It is quickly losing ground, and there have never been such beneficial exchange rates against the dollar and the pound. In 2011, one USD would get you seven South African Rands. Now? One USD will get you fourteen Rands.
Notable Travel Bloggers
I’m not the only one taking notice. The top travel blogger in the world, NomadicMatt, has employed the writing skills of Kristin Addis from BeMyTravelMuse. She has spent serious time in South Africa, and contributed three guest posts to Matt’s site about South Africa . ExpertVagabond, another top ten travel blogger in the world, also traveled to South Africa and was emphatic about his experiences.
Over 70% of South Africa’s tourism is derived from bordering African countries, in particular, Zimbabwe (2.1 million), Lesotho (1.5 million) and Mozambique (1.2 million). Yanks, Brits and Germans combine to make up 50% of overseas tourism.
Similar to other popular backpacking countries, South Africa has a reputation for backpackers being able to pick up work at hostels, bars, clubs, etc. Start with your hostel, they’ll be the most likely to point you in the right direction.
South Africa can be rough around the edges, but trouble can be easily avoided. While there have been a few isolated incidents of murder and rape involving foreigners, most of the trouble directed at tourists is petty theft, or worst case, assault. The high numbers of murder and rape that do plague South Africa, are nearly exclusive within impoverished neighborhoods that tourists will never see, and many of the cases involving theft likely could’ve been avoided with the application of some street smarts.
Traveling in South Africa will certainly require a heightened sense of diligence, but nothing you wouldn’t apply to Brazil, Honduras, Los Angeles, and other similar places.
Go to South Africa now.
*Update August 2016*
This article was published in late 2015. Since then Turkey has seen some dramatic events unfold. Multiple terrorist attacks aimed at tourists, a failed coup, and measures taken by their leader that have a historical resemblance to transition into full-blown dictatorship.
I visited Turkey for a week in June 2016 and had one of the best travel experiences of my life. But I can’t let this article exist without a caveat. I believe traveling to Turkey is still safe – thousands of tourists are still vacationing in this amazing country. But if you choose, it is warned to do so with a heightened sense of diligence.
Turkey. Where Europe meets Asia. A one of a kind travel experience that leaves most in wonder and marvel. Turkey is no stranger to international tourism, as it is the sixth most visited country in the world, behind France, USA, Spain, China and Italy. An impressive list to be a part of.
Turkey has everything to offer; one of the worlds greatest cities, gorgeous beaches, enchanting deserts, and everything in between (and a pretty cheap/awesome food scene).
The typical backpacker trail starts in Istan-tinople, heads south along the coast, and then East to Cappadocia. It is a well traveled country, and is no surprise to place highly on this list.
But, giving it an extra push, is their struggling currency, the Turkish Lira. rt.com claims that the Lira “is already this year’s worst performing currency outside Latin America.” Ouch. This is due to a few things. First off, the Lira has been struggling in recent years, performing poorly next to the dollar, losing half of it’s power in the past four years. The second reason is because of Russia.
On November 24th 2015, Turkish missiles shot down a Russian military jet. The Turkish are claiming it was defense. The Russians are calling foul play. Regardless of sides, Russia responded by approving lethal economic sanctions against Turkey, including the cancellation of free-visa travel between countries, and a national recommendation for Russians to not travel to Turkey. For perspective, Russians annually account for nearly 10% of Turkish tourists, and this move could lose Turkey upwards of 4.5 billion dollars. The lira has since suffered greatly, and might take some time to recover.
So! The exchange rate for the Lira is currently the best it’s been… ever. Been thinking about a Turkey trip? Nows the time.
You don’t read much about digital nomads setting up base in Turkey, but I’ve started to see trends that might soon indicate otherwise. Be on the lookout for Istanbul, Kas and Ankara to start to receive more attention as hubs for location independents.
Turkey currently seems to be in a visa-transitioning process. A visa is needed to enter the country, and an e-visa can be obtained pre-arrival fairly easily at the cost of $20. It seems that if you arrive without a visa in Istanbul, you can purchase one at the airport for $30, but there might be complications and delays. Unless that is, if you are from New Zealand. If you are, you won’t have to worry about any of this because you are (again) exempt from this visa bullshit.
Not the greatest ESL market. Jobs exist, it’s just a question of how much they’ll pay. Istanbul should be good to find some hostel work.
Most of Turkey is fine. The only places in the country not recommended are where the country borders Syria and Iraq. This should be obvious. ISIL/ISIS has been known to operate in these areas, and it is better avoided. As stated earlier, this is the 6th most visited country on the planet. The country on the whole is very safe, you just gotta avoid the bad parts.
The Lira is struggling, and and the struggles look as they will continue. With the possible loss of ten million Russian tourists, the country will embrace any foreigners who fill the gaps with open arms.
Ladies and gentlemen. The winner of the must visit countries of 2017, is the one and only; Portugal.
There’s a few reasons why Portugal is number one.
First off. One of the best parts of Portugal is how under-the-radar it can feel. Granted, sometimes it can get very crowded and feel synthetic (cough, Lagos), but by European standards, this gem of a country is very overlooked. In 2013, Portugal received only 8 million visiting tourists. That is slightly less than the Czech Republic (9 million), Hungary (10 million), and significantly less than it’s next door neighbor Spain, who in the same year brought in 60 million tourists.
Granted, Portugal is a smaller country, the 19th largest in Europe at 91,000 square kilometers. But in contrast, The Netherlands is half the size of Portugal (41,000 sq km) and brings in 50% more tourists (12 million).
Yes, you will meet plenty of tourists, and plenty of backpackers - they just don’t suffocate the country way they do in Spain and France. The authenticity of Portugal rarely feels compromised the way it does in Italy or Greece. Portugal still has a magic to it, a flame that still feels kept.
What I’m getting at here is that Portugal is quieter and more authentic.
Second. Again, by European standards, Portugal is a steal. I’m talking look at Greece, subtract some more euros, and boom! You have an incredibly inexpensive Portugal. Good hostel beds can be found for 10 euros, taxis are more affordable, the metro is cheap, food is solid, the attractions are affordable… Really, the only way you can splurge in Portugal is by eating at expensive restaurants and drinking expensive alcohol. But with good cheap wine and two euro Super Bock’s, even this seems challenging to accomplish.
Third. Portugal is the European city gaining the most traction in the Digital Nomad scene. The plethora of activities, awesome weather, and great wifi connections mixed with an affordable cost of living make it a fairly obvious choice. NomadList has five different Portuguese cities in their top 20 list Braga (7), Lisbon (8), Averio (11), Funchal (15) and Porto (19).
Portugal holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first country I ever backpacked throughout (2013). But, while Portugal might seem like it gets overshadowed by some of it’s European counterparts, I am far from the only person who holds this country dear to my heart.
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Portugal reallllyyy has a reputation for being able to find backpacking work. I’ve witnessed first hand. Many of the hostels I stayed in Lisbon and in the Algarve hired Americans or Aussies working under the table. Same thing with most of the bars in the Algarve. I’d say 75% of the bartenders were backpackers working cheap and seasonally.
There is a small ESL market, but I doubt you’ll find much compensation.
When I started writing this, I had no idea which order the countries would be. Deep down I had a sneaking suspicion Thailand would get first place, but after a good 50 hours of writing and researching, Thailand didn’t even make the list!
Portugal just made sense. The research was there, the numbers added up, the stars aligned, and I will sleep soundly with it as the number one traveling recommendation for 2017. Obrigado.