The Best Country For First Time Budget Backpackers

by The Runaway Guide on March 19, 2013

backpacking el salvadorYou’re dead set on running away and backpacking the world. You’ve found the courage, you’ve saved up enough money, and maybe your bag is already packed.

The only thing left to do now…decide where you’re going to go first.

The beauty about this predicament is that you can literally go anywhere you want. On the other hand, you have over 200 countries to choose from.

In the following guide, you will learn how to pick a good first country and find a list of the best countries for beginner backpackers.

Where To Begin Your Backpacking Adventure

The best country for beginner backpackers is one that is different but not too different. If you hop right into a country as intense as India, chances are you will get debilitating travelers diarrhea and never want to go backpacking again.

It’s also a good idea to choose a country that you know very little about. If you have no pre-conceived notions of a place, you can neither be too surprised nor too disappointed. You can look upon your first destination without illusion and with unbiased eyes.

Relatively cheap countries are never a bad idea to begin in as well. It’s hard not to appreciate a 1$ box of Pad Thai. It will also help you maintain your budget and keep you backpacking longer.

Finally, you want to pick a country that is in a good region of the world. This way if you get sick of it or just want to move on, you can easily do so.

With these criteria in mind, below are 3 awesome countries for beginner backpackers.

The Best Countries To Begin Backpacking In

El Salvador

El Salvador, like much of Central America, was strongly influenced by Spanish culture. From Christianity to Latin food and music, the culture is very western and familiar yet exciting and foreign at the same time. It gives one the perfect dose of culture shock.

What little people have heard about El Salvador is usually that of a country plagued by civil war and crime. Ironically El Salvador has a lower crime rate than developed Costa Rica. The people are proud, friendly, and will always help you get where you want to go.

El Salvador is also one of the cheapest countries in Central America. Busses around the country generally won’t cost more than a few quarters. Delicious street food such as Papusas and sandwiches can be bought for around 1$. And since they use the US dollar, it’s easy to calculate the exchange or keep track of your budget.

Finally, when you’re ready to move on, you could either head north to Antigua, Guatemala or South to Leon, Nicaragua. Both neighboring countries are cheap and a lot of fun for backpackers. For more on El Salvador check out 5 Things To Do In El Salvador On A Budget.

backpacking el salvador

Backpacking gang watching the sunset


While Thailand gets all the glory, few people know of the tropical and multicultural paradise that is Malaysia. With a mix of Indian, Chinese, Malay and Western people, the culture is very similar to that of a western metropolis. And no matter what ethnicity you are, you will feel at home in the Malaysian mélange.

Although Malaysia is not as cheap as it’s neighbors, it is still a lot cheaper than home. Busses across the country range between 20 to 30$. Wonton soup at the Penang night market is just around 2$. And a night in a hostel goes for about 15$.

When you are ready to move on, you can easily catch a boat down to Indonesia or a mini bus / train up to the islands of Thailand. Both countries are excellent to continue your backpacking journey in. For more info on Malaysia be sure to read Why Everyone Should Visit Malaysia.

penang night market

The night market in Penang


Bulgaria isn’t really known for much other than being another oddly named Eastern European country.  However, Bulgaria is one of the most intriguing and cheapest countries in Eastern Europe. If prostitutes are your thing you can pick one up at any mile maker on the highway. And for just 50 cents you can buy a delicious Burek breakfast pastry.

When you get tired of the girls at the nude beaches of Varna, you can easily travel to Romania or Greece for more cheap good times. For more info on just how cheap it is, check out The Cheapest Countries In The World.

varna beach

Varna beach Bulgaria


Although you could go anywhere on your first trip, the former countries are some of the cheapest, easiest to travel in, and most fun. They are some of my favorite countries to visit and I highly recommend them. If you want more info or advice for your first backpacking trip, you can connect with me through Facebook, The Runaway Guide.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Jonny Blair March 23, 2014 at 10:22 am

Great post here Leif! Certainly surprised at the selection but pleasantly as I haven’t been to two of these!! Will try and get El Salvador on my upcoming trip to Central and South America and as for Bulgaria – it will have to wait a while! Safe travels and keep up the good work. Jonny


The Runaway Guide March 23, 2014 at 11:14 am

Hey thanks Jonny, El Salvador is a gem and black sea bulgaria is great too. Let me know when you go and I’ll let you know the cool spots.


Marc January 28, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Leif, how easy would it be to find an apartment in a place like Varna or another beach town in Bulgaria for 3 months or so. I’m thinking of heading over there maybe towards the end of summer and try to find a cheap place to rent for 3 months. Any suggestions?


The Runaway Guide January 29, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Hey Marc, fairly easy actually. One of the main hostels in Varna actually rents out apartments. I can’t remember the name of the Hostel, but there aren’t too many so it shouldn’t be hard to find. Good luck!


Michael January 19, 2014 at 8:25 pm

I did it! I bought my one way ticket from FLL to El Salvador leaving first week of February and arriving at 2AM. I’ll probably just hang out in the airport till the sun comes out. When you went to El Salvador did they give you any trouble with having a One Way Ticket? Im wondering if I should buy a refundable ticket from American Airlines just to be on the safe side.


The Runaway Guide January 20, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Hey hey, that’s awesome! You can catch a 20 to 25$ cab right to El Tunco from the airport at any time of night. I wouldn’t worry about it, I never have a problem. You can always fake a ticket with an editor. I should do a post on that. In any case, don’t buy a return ticket, it’d be a hassle and a waste of money. San salvador immigration is easy. Just tell them the truth, that you’re planning on backpacking and they won’t give you a problem! Safe trip!


Michael February 8, 2014 at 12:06 am

Made it! It was super easy. No problem at all with a one way ticket. It only took me 5 minutes to get out of the airport from the moment I landed. Super fast :)


The Runaway Guide February 11, 2014 at 11:39 am

Nice! Glad to hear it. Yea, you often don’t need to show proof of return. Only in a few countries and I’m specifying each one on my World Visa Map


Sarah May 14, 2013 at 8:39 pm

What dyou think of El salvador for a 19yr old lone female traveller? Been backpacking round europe with friends before so have basic knowledge. Not sure of where’s safe to go on my own though – hugely interested in North & South America – recommendations?


The Runaway Guide May 15, 2013 at 11:25 am

Hey Sarah, I definitely recommend it! As long as you stay out of dodgy neighborhoods and travel during the day, you’ll be safe.


Sarah May 30, 2013 at 9:12 am

Brilliant. I’ve just booked 6 weeks round el salvador this summer. Thank you for the inspiration!!


The Runaway Guide June 2, 2013 at 12:31 pm

My pleasure :) I’m so happy to hear it! have fun!!!


Bilal April 10, 2013 at 10:21 am

What are your thoughts on Peru? I plan on travelling they’re for my first backpacking trip this summer, I’m really excited!


The Runaway Guide April 16, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Hey, I’m excited to go! Maybe in a few months I think.


Pat March 20, 2013 at 3:57 am

What is your source for crime rates, specifically El Salvador and Costa Rica?


The Runaway Guide March 20, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Hi Pat, I actually read it in a friends Lonely Planet on El Salvador. I didn’t check their source though. It was surprising to me as well but when I was in El Salvador there was a huge amount of private security guards and police and so I figured that might be the reason why.


Ron | Active Planet Travels March 19, 2013 at 10:42 pm

Nice recommendations. All these places have great food, authentic culture & amazing people. Totally agree as far as being a great destination for first time runaways! :-)


The Runaway Guide March 20, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Thanks Ron, glad you agree!