10 International Destinations for Novice Travelers

A small town covered in snow

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Would-be international travelers hear plenty of advice about getting out of their comfort zone. Well-meaning people might offer anecdotes about the life-changing potential of travel, but there's usually no mention of the practical challenges of dealing with an unfamiliar place or overcoming the apprehension of journeying abroad.

For novice globetrotters, destination choice matters. A certain level of apprehension is natural, but at the same time, you can find a destination that will provide a gentler introduction to world travel.

Here's a smattering of places to explore.

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Namibia is often described with the tagline "Africa for beginners." This refers to a number of different traits. The country, on the southwest coast of the continent to the north of South Africa, has a low crime rate compared to its neighbors, and it is mostly malaria-free. It has well-kept roads, ample options for tour services and an array of attractions including coastline, dunes, desert, mountains, wildlife and national parks. The cities are small and aren't intimidating, and the traditional culture is accessible for visitors.

Though other languages are common, most Namibians have at least a conversational level of English. Despite these attractive qualities, Namibia does not see a huge number of tourists. It has a low population density, so you will get to enjoy the feeling of being in remote locations no matter where you go in the country. The combination of user-friendliness and lack of crowds has made Namibia a popular spot for celebrities, including Brad Pitt and Prince Harry.

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Australian cities like Melbourne might seem like a natural choice for anglophone travelers from North America. Thanks to user-friendly public transit and a relatively low crime rate, Melbourne often gets ranked alongside the world’s most livable cities. Australia’s second-largest city (after Sydney) is rich in culture, and it has plenty of easily accessible attractions.

While staying in Melbourne, you could spend a day in the Yarra Valley trying some of Australia’s famous wines, or you could visit the now-equally famous cafes in the city center, which is also home to side streets featuring amazing examples of (sanctioned) street art. Melbourne is a center for sport, so if you ever wanted to take in a cricket match, rugby league game or Australian rules football, this is the best destination for you. The drawback for North American travelers heading Down Under is, of course, the lengthy transpacific flight.

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Singapore is a city-state best known for its strict laws concerning drug trafficking and littering. It's actually a melting pot where many different Asian cultures are represented in one place. You can explore these cultures easily because crime is almost nonexistent and public transport can take you everywhere. The main ethnic groups in Singapore are Chinese, Malays and Tamil-speaking Indians, but since this is a center of commerce, virtually every culture from South and East Asia is represented here.

You’ll hear many different tongues in Singapore's streets, but English is the lingua franca. Most people speak a kind of slang called Singlish, which is almost incomprehensible to outsiders. However, almost everyone can switch to proper English if needed. If Singapore has a drawback, it is its weather. Tropical heat dominates year-round. If you are not familiar with these conditions, the shortest walk can cause you to perspire. Luckily, air conditioning use is widespread.

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Iceland is perhaps best known for its hot springs and stark landscapes. This sparsely populated country, which flirts with the Arctic Circle, is certainly a good destination for outdoor sports, nightlife, music and aurora borealis sightings. You may also get to experience a midnight sun or endless night, depending on when you visit.

Iceland is the closest European country to North America, so those who don't care for lengthy flights might consider it the best European travel option. Airfares are generally quite cheap. Icelandic people are multilingual, and almost everyone has a firm grasp of English (and many may speak it better than you do in terms of grammatical correctness). The entire island is connected by a ring road, so many attractions are easy to visit and arranging guides, services and rides is straightforward.

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Taipei is a well-organized city. The Taiwanese metropolis has an expansive subway system that is easy to understand thanks to its logical layout and the fact that most information desk employees speak English. In fact, many younger Taipei residents are quite proficient. Rental bikes sit outside subway stations for quick, car-free trips in between stops. This is a city of motor scooters, and the roads can seem chaotic. But upon closer inspection, you will see universal helmet use and obedience to traffic rules (if not speed limits).

Taiwan is enthusiastic about food... and also about sharing that food with visitors. Night markets offer cheap eats, and more-formal sit-down venues ring each market. Many of these venues have either picture menus or English-language menus. Taipei is a reasonably accommodating destination for disabled travelers and people traveling with children.

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Quebec City

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Does Quebec City belong on this list? Well, for U.S.-based readers, it is, technically, an international destination. The strong European influence and deep Quebecois culture make this city unique among its North American peers. At the same time, this is still North America, so you will also have a welcoming sense of familiarity. This francophone city is obviously easy to reach (you could even drive from home depending on where you live). Flight times from most U.S. cities are no more than three hours. And yes, you can get by speaking English in Quebec, though French is the main language.

Attractions like Old Quebec, Chateau Frontenac and Hôtel de Glace (the Ice Hotel) will certainly bring plenty of “you-don’t-see-this-at-home" moments to your trip. Wintertime festivities will also add to the allure of this Canadian city. These qualities and attractions combine to make Quebec City a good option for those who are apprehensive about international travel or anyone who finds overseas airfares prohibitively expensive.

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Dublin is a relatively small city for a world capital. It has a keen sense of history and a lot of attributes and attractions that will seem familiar to visitors from "across the pond." At the same time, this has become a cosmopolitan and international city that draws tourists and business people from around the globe.

Dublin has decent public transportation and pedestrian-friendly features. Walking tours, museums and heritage sites abound. So does English usage, albeit with occasionally thick accents. The Irish capital is well-known for its dining and nightlife scenes as well.

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Saint Martin

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Saint Martin, or Sint Maartin, is one Caribbean island, but it is controlled by two different countries. Sixty percent of the island, which is about 200 miles east of Puerto Rico, belongs to France, while the remaining 40 percent is controlled by the Netherlands. This unusual division dates all the way back to the 17th century.

English is widely spoken, and the island is small enough that you can enjoy attractions on both sides. (There is no real border crossing between the French and Dutch portions.) The geography has created a cultural melting pot with French and Dutch sensibilities melding with Caribbean cultures. People from the Dominican Republic, South America and the neighboring French and Dutch islands are also on Saint Martin. The familiarity of a resort/cruise destination makes this interesting melting pot more accessible for tourists.

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Why would a reclusive kingdom in a far-flung corner of the Himalayan mountains be on a list of the best places for novice travelers? The way in which Bhutan’s tourism industry is set up makes it ideal for first-time globe-trekkers. The government requires tourist visa holders to travel with a licensed tour company and have a largely set itinerary. This means that your travel plans will be pre-arranged, and you will have someone by your side to help when you need it.

With most of the logistical headaches out of the equation, you're free to see the nature and traditional culture of this remote land. Getting to Bhutan requires lengthy flights and at least one (but likely two or more) plane changes. The other worry is adjusting to the high altitude in some parts of this country.

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Cusco (Cuzco in Spanish) is one of South America’s most tourist-friendly cities. South America can be a challenge for first-time travelers, even if they are Spanish (or Portuguese) speakers. Tourist infrastructure and familiarity with the needs of tourists makes Cusco, Peru, a good place to start. This city was the capital of the Inca empire in pre-colonial times, and it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features colonial and modern architecture and different cultural and ethnic influences.

Since it sees more than a million tourists a year and the tourism industry is worth well over a billion dollars, this city is well equipped to deal with the needs of travelers regardless of their Spanish language abilities or familiarity with booking tours or arranging transport. As with Bhutan, the main issue in Cusco is adjusting to the high altitude.