Soft landings: great destinations for first-time travellers

Soft landings: great destinations for first-time travellers

Lonely Planet

November 24, 2017


Nothing beats the rush you get waiting on the tarmac for your flight overseas to roll down the runway. There’s the excitement of the unknown, the jitters that come with taking on something new and the anticipation of what’s to come.

Whether you’ve already begun to stretch your travel wings or have yet to take your passport for a spin, taking your first big trip is a rite of passage both life-changing and nerve-inducing. You can’t predict what is going to happen once you touch down, but you can ensure a softer landing by choosing the right place to begin your adventure. Here are some of our favourite countries for first-time travellers.


If you want a mix of culture, beach life, wilderness and cuisine, Thailand is calling. You’ll most likely land in Bangkok and the zing of Thailand’s capital is just a taste of what the country has in store for you. Stroll the frenzied streets of Khao San Road, eat your body weight in pad Thai and explore Bangkok’s myriad magnificent temples; then head north for jungle adventures or south for brilliant beaches on paradise isles.

Thailand has a well-established tourism infrastructure making it easy to navigate, yet offers a strong dose of exoticism; perfect for first-timers looking for culture shock with a safety net.

Where to go next: Cambodia is great next stop after tackling Thailand. It offers plenty of those Southeast Asian draws – breathtaking temples, stunning landscapes, lip-smacking cuisine – but with a more off-the-beaten-track feel.

Spot elk amongst Canada's epic wilds © Natalia Siiatovskaia / Shutterstock


Canadians are renowned for being a friendly bunch – don’t be shy, strike up a conversation and you might scoop up some insider tips for the locals along the way. Being such an enormous country, Canada offers a vast range of travel experiences: spot wildlife such as bears, bison, elk and moose in Alberta; catch the Northern Lights in the Northwest Territories; soak up a blend of North American and European city culture in Québec. Best of all, if you want to experience everything Canada has to offer all you need is time, as domestic flight, train and bus connections are plentiful and frequent.

Where to go next: With mountain ranges, desertscapes, bustling cities, cool coastal towns, lost-in-time regions and plenty of ground to cover, the USA is the perfect one-stop shop for a new traveller.


Portugal is a great entry point for Europe: it’s safe, inexpensive, easy to get around and relatively less-travelled in comparison to its neighbours, meaning fewer tourists and shorter lines for top-drawer attractions.

Capital city Lisbon and rising star Porto are attracting an increasing number of visitors so you’ll find plenty of like-minded travellers here. Start your Portuguese journey in one of these hubs for a taste of quintessential European city life, then head into the countryside for a slower pace and some off-the-beaten-track adventures.

Where to go next: Malta is another European gem perfect for new travellers. It’s laid-back, cheap and compact, making exploration a breeze. Plus if you come outside of the summer season, you’ll still find beautiful balmy weather without the crowds.

My first trip: Germany

Lonely Planet Destination Editor Daniel Fahey takes a road trip down memory lane to a childhood visit to Germany, a land of castles, beer and black forest cake.


If road trips are your thing, head for Germany. The highways (known as autobahns) are superb and road users tend to stay in their lanes and drive in an orderly fashion. Note that the speed limit is higher on autobahns compared to motorways in many other countries and everyone drives on the right side of the road, but once you’re used to it you’ll be whizzing along with the best of them.

If you want to swap the driver’s seat in favour of a stein or two along the way, you can easily explore Germany’s charming medieval towns, beer scene and buzzing cities via the public transport system – it’s simple to use and almost always on time.

Where to go next: Driving is a great way to see Norway’s many stunning landscapes. The road infrastructure connects plenty of sights, while car ferries and tunnels that weave in and out of fjords add to that epic road trip experience.


Fiji is a great option if you’re looking for that paradisiacal Pacific island getaway. Resorts here offer a plethora of options for every type of holidaymaker with couples, families and even solo travellers on a budget well catered for. Resorts are a great way to ease into island life and many offer the opportunity to experience the cultural aspects of Fijian life through song and dance performances. For your fix of wildlife and nature, you need to get in the water – the coral and sea life is astounding.

Where to go next: Cool and breezy Costa Rica has the beautiful beaches and resorts as well as plenty of options for backpackers – and no one leaves without rave reviews of the local wildlife.


Japan is a very safe country to travel around with an efficient and easy-to-use public transport network linking all the main sights. And there are plenty! The ski fields are considered some of the best in the world, the countryside is beautiful, the cities are buzzing (Tokyo is like nowhere else in the world) and the food is… well, pack stretchy pants. Japanese people are exceedingly accommodating, so you’ll settle into the swing of this incredible country in no time.

Where to go next: Oman is another otherworldly destination. And while it offers a completely different vibe to Japan, the people are just as friendly and eager to show visitors around their beautiful country.

New Zealand

New Zealand is a pocket rocket of all things travel, offering an unbeatable array of activities for foodies, culture-lovers and thrill-seekers alike. And thanks to its relatively compact size and brilliant transport links, you can be hiking in spectacular wilderness one minute, hop in a car and be quaffing wines at a local cellar a few hours later, and be in Middle-earth the morning after with a visit to some of the Lord of the Rings film set locations. New Zealand is a popular stop on the Southern Hemisphere traveller’s trail so you’ll find plenty of other travellers should you find yourself in need of a skydiving, stargazing or oyster-tasting buddy.

Where to go next: New Zealand will have left an impression, so the next stop will need to pack one hell of a punch. With jaw-dropping landscapes, sizzling steaks, wine-tasting, tango classes and dance-till-dawn nightlife, Argentina delivers! It may take considerably longer to get from A to B, but once you get the hang of the transport system, you’ll be spoilt for epic experiences.


Morukuru Ocean House

Morukuru Ocean House

A journey through coast and hinterland

A journey through coast and hinterland