The final year of the 2010’s is upon us and if you’re looking for a bit of new year travel inspiration, this article might be for you. We have put together a list of 10 backpacking destinations for 2019, focusing on countries you might not have otherwise considered.
All of these countries are very affordable by global standards. They are either destinations that are well off the beaten track or ones that are of some popularity with backpackers but haven’t yet become overwhelmed by tourism. If you’ve done the main destinations in Europe and had your fill of backpacking Thailand, you might find some inspiration here!
Many people still associate Ethiopia with famine and poverty which is completely unfair given the transformation that has taken place over the 21st Century. East Africa’s most populous country has a flourishing economy by regional standards but also a rich history and a large number of interesting places to visit.
Ethiopia is Africa’s oldest independent nation and many historians and scientists believe it may even be the site of the very start of humankind. Human fossils have been discovered in Ethiopia that date back over 3 million years and the country is home to some breathtaking sights. From Lalibela’s mysterious rock-hewn Churches to the ancient tombs of Aksum and a whole host of fabulous national parks, a trip to Ethiopia is sure to be one you will never forget.
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Argentina remains the most popular travel destination in South America by visitor numbers but rarely has there been as good a time to visit as now. The Argentine economy has crashed over the past year, leading to a huge devaluation of its currency. At the start of 2018, 1 US Dollar got you around 18.5 Argentine Pesos but that figure has doubled over the course of the past twelve months meaning you now get nearly 38 Pesos for a Dollar. In short, that has made what is ordinarily one of the more expensive South American countries, a lot more affordable for visitors and 2019 could be a great year to visit.
From backpacking around Patagonia to the 24-7 madhouse that is Buenos Aires, Argentina has plenty to offer, particularly for culinary lovers with great steaks, tasty empanadas and some of the world’s best wines.
For anyone looking to experience Southeast Asia but something a little bit different to the usual banana pancake trail around the mainland, the Philippines is a great compromise. It is affordable with travel costs only marginally more than what you might find in Thailand, Cambodia or Laos and that is only really because the island nature of the country makes it more challenging and expensive to get around.
With English widely spoken, it’s easier to interact with locals here than in many other parts of Southeast Asia. The Philippines’ main draw is its wonderful selection of beaches that genuinely rival those in Thailand without the growing crowds. It’s also a popular place for water sports while there are some excellent spots for white water rafting and adrenaline junkies in SE Asia might be wise to head this way.
In terms of upcoming travel destinations, Georgia is right up there. It has got far easier and cheaper to fly into the small nation sandwiched between Turkey and Russia. A visit can easily be combined with some travel around Azerbaijan and Armenia and the size of them means you can easily see the best of each of the three South Caucasus countries in a relatively short amount of time.
Highlights include the ancient city of Kutaisi, home of two UNESCO world heritage sites, Telavi and its nearby wineries, monasteries and castles while you can also find both ski and beach resorts in a country that packs a lot into a small space.
Another hot backpacking destination for 2019 is Sri Lanka, which is becoming increasingly popular with travellers. The pace of life is a bit slower and more relaxed than neighbouring India and visitors will find both its coastal and inland regions are perfect for exploring.
The island is of a manageable size and it’s very easy and cheap to get around with extensive bus and rail networks. Those looking for a real adventure might want to rent a motorbike or scooter. The roads are generally in a decent condition and outside of the main cities are less manic than those in India.
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Along with Ethiopia, Mozambique is one of the more accessible and enjoyable African countries to visit. Its main draw is a huge coastline that hugs the Indian Ocean stretching for over 1000 km from North to South. It’s the perfect destination for scuba diving or just unwinding on the beach.
The main backpacker hub in Mozambique is Tofo Beach, a great destination for diving and snorkelling but also one that boasts some fine budget-friendly restaurants and a small but lively nightlife scene. Further inland, you can find a bit of culture too while Ilha de Mozambique allows you to step back in time and get a taste for life in what was the capital during the Portuguese colonial era.
Cuba is another country that is becoming increasingly easy to visit. The country has undoubtedly changed over the past few years but it still retains much of its old charm and strange quirks that have come to define life in one of the few surviving Communist nations. In ten years time it may be unrecognisable so now is a great time to visit to get a taste for a country that has a remarkable story to tell.
While backpacker-style accommodation is still relatively limited, Cuba is still pretty affordable, particularly if you speak Spanish and are able to get your hands on some of the local currency rather than the Cuban convertible peso, which is geared for visitors. There is a huge amount to see and do in Havana alone but Cuba is a large island and you could easily spend several weeks or more exploring it.
When it comes to travelling in Europe, Albania is rarely the first country that people think of but it has many ingredients that make it perfect for a backpacking trip in 2019. For starters it is very affordable, ranking as one of the cheapest countries in Europe to travel in.
Towns like Gjirokastër and Berat are full of history and intrigue while even the capital Tirana has its charms with some unusual relics and some surprisingly good museums that tell Albania’s fascinating but often dark tale. With a diverse population of Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox Christians, it’s a pretty good example to the world of how people can come together and get along despite their differences.
If you do visit, it’s also easy to hop over the border and spend some time backpacking Greece, which is reasonably affordable by European standards, although still considerably more expensive than Albania.
Not far away lies Romania, another European country that is cheap to travel in and boasts enough to see and do to warrant a visit of a couple of weeks or more. While Bucharest isn’t particularly easy on the eye, it has its hip spots and is gradually reinventing itself as a modern 21st century capital.
Much of Romania’s cultural heritage though lies in Transylvania, a region that has gained worldwide notoriety as the home of the vampire. While you don’t need to worry too much about being attacked by blood-sucking creatures of the night, there is an eerie quality to Transylvania and it’s easy for your mind and imagination to run wild in a land of dark forests and medieval castles.
Finally we go to Central America and the nation of Guatemala, which has long been a favourite with backpackers in the region. However the number of travellers passing through is still way down on Mexico even though it is in many ways safer, friendlier and more manageable than its large Northern neighbour.
Avoid Guatemala City and you will find a welcoming population and some great backpacking destinations. Lake Atitlán is a stunning place to hang around for a few days or more with giant peaks and volcanoes surrounding it while there are numerous lakeside villages to explore. Nearby Antigua, the colonial era capital of Central America is another charming town and a good place to spend a few weeks learning Spanish in a very affordable way.
If none of these ten appeal, then our itinerary for backpacking Jamaica might also provide some ‘off the beaten track’ inspiration for your next trip!
This article was published in December 2018.
Suggest your alternative backpacking destinations for 2019 in the comments section!