Many of the worlds popular travel hotspots are popular for a reason, but that doesn’t mean they are a travellers only option. For every major destination there is a nearby alternative that is often underrated and a lot less busy. Here are some of the worlds best underrated or unexpected travel hotspots that will blow your mind.
I’ve travelled all over the world in the last 20 plus years and have visited so many of the worlds most popular destinations, city hotspots and travel ‘must see’ destinations, but I have also visited a lot of ‘off the beaten path’ destinations (even though I hate that phrase), and places that very few travellers think of going to. Partly because of that I firmly believe that every destination has something to offer.
I often think it is a shame that many countries have hotspots that everyone clamours into until every hotel, guesthouse and hostel is full, no one can see the sites they came to see for the crowds and the sheer number of travellers can have a significant negative impact on those places they love. This is especially sad when there are a wealth of amazing places, sites and attractions that travellers barely see. Don’t get me wrong, all travel is good, but just spread it out a bit.
So with overtourism on everyones mind now that the world is starting to open back up again after almost two years of being locked down and closed, I think it is time to travel smarter and give some of the lesser known destinations a second look. Here are just 10 of the best unexpected travel hotspots.
Instead Of Bangkok, Visit Kuala Lumpur.
Now I love Bangkok, I really do, and frankly I will never fully discourage travel there but let’s face it, it really is so firmly on the backpacker trail that Khao San Road is considered a backpacker rite of passage! Kuala Lumpur on the other hand is just as much fun, has just as much to offer and is much more laid back, easy going and far less crowded – by travellers and tourists at least – than its northern neighbour. It may not have the legendary backpacker status of Bangkok or the pristine sheen of Singapore, but Kuala Lumpur does have so much to offer those who take the time to scratch underneath the surface and see what is there.
Instead Of Barcelona, Visit Granada.
Granada is one of the single most under the radar and underestimated European cities I have ever had the pleasure of visiting, and it has even managed to charm its way onto my notoriously hard to please and venerated favourites list! From it’s grand, picturesque architecture and famously social culture to its rich historical heritage and surprisingly cosmopolitan feel there is so much to see and do, and there is nothing better than wandering the picturesque streets and stopping at a flamenco bar or a streetside cafe on a balmy evening when the entire city comes out to mingle!
Instead Of Portugal, Visit Madeira.
Everyone loves Portugal, and for good reason, it is an awesome country! But just a small flight away is the island of Madeira. Situated half way between Europe and Africa in the middle of a Portuguese archipelago, it boasts year round good weather, stunning volcanic landscapes, UNESCO heritage forest parks filled with waterfalls and lagoons and a cuisine famed for its local delicacies. It’s small size means that travellers can easily explore it in a relatively short time period, but make no mistake this little island packs a punch and makes sure there is more than enough to keep anyone entertained for a long time, no matter what your interests. And if you want to really get off the beaten path, take the ferry from Madeira to the even lesser known destination of Porto Santo.
Instead Of Delhi, Visit Gujurat.
India is a backpacker mecca and has been for many, many decades now, so it is surprising to find a state that hardly any traveller manages to get to, but Gujurat is that state, and travellers are really missing out! With a rich history and culture of its own, Gujurat has India’s newest claim to fame with the tallest statue in the world that hardly anyone knows about, and if you can, try and visit during the festival of Navratri! Already one of India’s most diverse and culturally rich states, the festival of Navratri turns Gujurat into one long, extravagant, over the top and dizzying celebration, and will ensure your visit will be one of the most lively and sensory overloading experiences you will ever have, even if you don’t get to play the Garba yourself!
Instead Of Nepal, Visit Ladakh.
Every backpacker worth their salt has ticked of Everest base camp on their bucket list, but the Himalayan Kingdom of Ladakh is virtually untouched by tourism and is a truly special place as a result. Ladakh is situated in the middle of not one but four great mountain ranges, the Himalayas, the Ladakh, the Zanskar and the Karakoram, and exploring these great mountain ranges while staying in small guesthouses in local villages or glamping sites in remote valleys with very few other travellers along the way is something that you will remember for the rest of your life. Ladakh is a true escapists dream destination.
Instead Of Sharm El-Sheikh, Visit Alexandria.
In fact instead of Sharm El-Sheikh, visit anywhere in Egypt, but especially visit Alexandria. Anyone who has followed my adventures over the years already know if my love for the worlds greatest historical city with the least to show for it, but it still remains firmly off the tourist trail as the few travellers Egypt does still get stick to the day trips to Cairo and Luxor. Alexandria is a firmly Egyptian city, but one with much more of a Mediterranean feel, especially when you walk along the seafront corniche, but there is nowhere else in the world where you can dive down to see the ruins of the only other ancient wonder of the world after the Pyramids, read a book in the modern equivalent of the Library of Alexandria on the site of the original building or wonder at the archeaology and imagine if the tombs of Cleopatra and Alexandria the great are somewhere under your feet.
Instead Of Dubai, Visit Abu Dhabi.
Of all the Emirates in the UAE, Abu Dhabi is perhaps one of the most laid back and forward thinking at the same time. As unashamedly brash and globally sophisticated as Dubai could ever be, Abu Dhabi also retains a lot of the cultural heart and soul that developed from its more humble roots as a simple fishing village. As someone who wasn’t a huge fan of Dubai, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Abu Dhabi on my first visit, and subsequent trips have really let me fall in love with the place.
Instead Of Koh Samui, Visit Pulao Tioman.
Koh Samui, along with Tao and Phangan, are among the most popular backpacker hotspots in the world and for very good reason, but over the last decade with the tidal wave of package tourists, booming tourism industry, uncontrolled construction and rampant popularity, overtourism has hit the Thai islands hard. It got so bad before the pademic hit in late 2019 the Thai government were introducing a whole raft of measures to resrict tourism on the island among many other places and try to repair and save some of the destroyed ecosystems. So instead of the ever popular Thai islands, just catch a quick flight and a ferry to Pulao Tioman in Malaysia instead. Tioman is still popular of course, especially among locals and especially on its west coast where the majority of resorts are, but if you take the trouble to head over to Juara Beach on the east side you will find it a lot less crowded and a lot more relaxed. And for those who still need their Bob Marley with their Chang beer, there is still a low key treehouse bar down the bottom end of the otherwise pristine beach! And the surfing is great here too!
Instead Of London, Visit Liverpool.
Yes, yes, I know. Everyone Loves London. But surprisingly the UK is much, much bigger than the capital, and Liverpool just happens to be the best English city outside of said capital, so why would you not visit?
Blessed with more UNESCO World Heritage sites than almost anywhere in the UK, the largest collection of Grade 1 listed buildings on one site, a whole host of genuinely world class attractions, a rebellious, independent spirit and a unique cultural heritage, Liverpool is one of the best cities in the world bar none, and any visitor can’t help but fall in love with it!
Liverpool is a city that welcomes you with open arms and invites you to make yourself at home. It is an affable, gregarious and yet rebellious city that is famous for its friendliness, cheekiness and occassional flexibility with what is considered legal, and one small visit is all it takes for you to be welcomed in as one of our own.
Instead of Bali, Visit The Thousand Islands.
Now to be fair, Indonesia has tens of thousands of islands to choose from, and almost all of them are a better choice than overtouristy, jam packed and package tour paradise Bali. The thousand islands though are the perfect choice for travellers who want the feel of Bali as it used to be and only a short hop, skip and jump away from the Balinese ‘paradise’. Only eleven of the islands are currently open for tourism so that means the few travellers who do make it out here are far more spread out, and you still get the pristine white sand beaches that used to be the norm in Bali.
Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.
7 Better Island Alternatives To Bali In Indonesia.
15 Reasons You Need To Visit Alexandria, Egypt.
Fall In Love With Liverpool On A 48 Hour City Break.
Juara Beach, A Jewel In Malaysia’s Crown.
The Great Himalayan Road Trip.
Three Days In Abu Dhabi: The Perfect Itinerary For First Time Visitors.
Travelling in Gujurat During Navratri.
‘Nice one Michael.
Ladakh is on my list, and I did think about it for the first time I went to India, but the logistics as a solo female traveller at the time, were unstable. Back in 2005!
I visited Thailand at least 5 times and never once went to the beach!! However, I would love to go to Kuala Lumpur and was already planning it for 2020, but you know!
As for Liverpool, I’m originally from Manchester so …! 😀
Thank you! And to be fair there is SO much to see in Thailand you really can be forgiven for not seeing the beach in all that time. And I won’t hold being a Manc against you! Much. 😉
Kuala Lumpur is such an amazing city and so underrated!
It really is! I love it there! What’s your favourite part?
I love all of it, the area around KLCC with the Petronas towers is probably my favourite place to hang out though! Especially at night when it is all lit up.
Some amazing options here that many will never think of. It’s good to explore away from the popular spots.
It definitely is!
Been to Dubai a few times now, never really thought about Abu Dhabi before. I’ll have to look into a trip there.
You should give it a try, I loved it!