Top 25 Destinations for Independent Travelers in 2015

Like 2014, this year's list of top destinations is 100% data driven

By BootsnAll on January 5th, 2016
BootsnAll

Editor’s Note:  In gearing up for the announcement of the Top Destinations for Indie Travelers in 2016 on Wednesday, we thought it would be fun to republish all the top destination articles since we started doing this in 2008.  Here is the 2015 version, our second completely data-driven version of this series. 

Last year, we looked at search data from Indie, BootsnAll’s flight booking engine. We wondered what cities people were adding to their flight itineraries when searching and pricing multi-stop flights.

This year, we wanted to take it a step further and look at data from all the trips where tickets were provided by Indie or AirTreks.

Following are the destinations that people built their itineraries around when purchasing flights for their trips. Since we acquired and merged with AirTreks in December 2013, we had more data to look at. With both Indie and AirTreks, we had 1,773 routes to dissect . The data used is from sales on Indie from January 1, 2014 – December 11, 2014 and sales from AirTreks from January 1, 2014 – September 30, 2014. When analyzing the data, we removed the departure city from each trip so we could look at the destinations travelers visited, not departed from or presumably lived in.

Bangkok was included in 19.5% of the 1,773 routes on AirTreks and Indie in 2014. London on 16.2% of trips, and so on and so forth.

Here are the results:

The data explained
If you don’t care about the data or the why’s, and you’re only interested in tips and advice for building your trip around any of these destinations, we won’t be offended.

Just click below to navigate the article.

Expert flight and route building tips are broken down below by each region. Click on whichever region you’re interested in visiting:

Similarities to 2013 data

Though we looked at search data when compiling last year’s list as opposed to data from booked trips, you may notice that this year’s list has many similarities:

  • Bangkok topped the list for the second year in a row.
  • The top 10 destinations were largely the same, with only 2 new cities cracking that top 10 (San Francisco and Bali, #6 and #8 on this year’s list, up from #13 and #14 respectively)
  • There were six new additions to the top 25:
    • Amsterdam (#16), Seoul (#22), Toronto (#23), Seattle (#24), and Vancouver (#25)
  • Outside of the six new additions to the list, San Francisco made the biggest leap, from #13 in 2013 to #6 in 2014.
  • Honolulu had the biggest fall, from #11 in 2013 to #21 in 2014.

What does this mean for travelers?

You may have a few questions regarding our list the past two years, like:

  • Why we have moved to a data driven list?
  • What does this mean for you, someone interested in or planning a long-term trip?

We want to simplify this often complicated process of planning a big trip. Our main purpose as a company is to help people travel long-term.


‘By looking at the cities that travelers are adding to their long-term trips instead of some arbitrary list that an editor came up with, we can help you build your route in a smart way that provides the most value.’

One of the (perceived) biggest hurdles to traveling long-term is cost, and the most expensive part of that cost is the airfare. Once people commit and start planning their trips, the next biggest hurdle is crafting their route and figuring out where to go when, along with the smartest way to build your flight itinerary, no matter what method of airfare you decide to use.

By looking at the cities that travelers are adding to their long-term trips instead of some arbitrary list that an editor came up with, we can help you build your route in a smart way that provides the most value.

There are reasons why this list is similar to last year’s, and there are reasons why you see so many big, hub cities on the list as opposed to smaller, more obscure cities. When flying around the world, it makes the most sense to fly in and out of larger cities with big, international airports. There are more flight options, thus driving cost down. And when traveling long-term, folks have more time than the normal 1 or 2-week vacation to utilize overland transport to then explore each particular region. Even if you don’t care to actually visit the city you fly in our out of, it’s still smartest to start pricing your route using those larger cities.

Building your itinerary

When talking with readers and customers from both Indie and AirTreks, we’ve learned that an aspect of trip planning that travelers need help with most is building a route or itinerary. The data from this article can help with that, no matter which airfare option you choose (buy one-ways as you go, buy from a site like Indie or AirTreks, or buy a round the world ticket from an airline alliance) or where you purchase your airfare from.

‘When planning a trip that is longer than the typical one or two week vacation that includes multiple countries across multiple continents, travelers seem to need the most help with figuring out what cities to fly in and out of, in what order, and at what time of year.’

When planning a trip that is longer than the typical one or two week vacation that includes multiple countries across multiple continents, travelers seem to need the most help with figuring out what cities to fly in and out of, in what order, and at what time of year.

By looking at how other travelers have created their big trip itineraries, you can learn why the majority has added these specific destinations and tweak according to your specific needs. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel when planning a big trip. Follow the tips below in each region to maximize value when building your route and shopping for airfare.


Bagan - Medium

Asia

Eight of the top twenty-five top destinations are in Asia (Bangkok, Bali, Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Delhi, Beijing, and Seoul). But let’s start with the three Southeast Asian destinations (Bangkok, Bali, Singapore), as Southeast Asia has long been a popular region to add to a big trip. It’s cheap, it’s easy to get around and explore multiple countries and cultures, and there is a variety of highlights – nature, big cities, history, ancient ruins, tropical beaches, jungles, and mountains.

If you plan on going to Southeast Asia during your big trip, these tips will help when creating your itinerary and shopping for and purchasing flights.

  • Southeast Asia is a good region to add on a RTW route between Europe and Africa and Oceania or North America. It’s also smart to look at SE Asia on any route with flights across both the North and South Pacific. You’ll get the most value out of your flights this way.
  • Flying in and/or out of Bangkok is most common because it has the most flight options, which usually makes it cheaper, but don’t only search flights in and out of Bangkok. .
  • It is smart to search flights to and from all the main cities in the region – Bangkok, Bali, and Singapore. Also check Kuala Lumpur, as it narrowly missed the top 25.
  • You can travel by train or bus to see Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore once in the region.
  • If you have more time, you can get to Indonesia by boat.
  • Another option is to use low cost carriers like Air Asia to fly to the larger cities in the region (Mandalay in Myanmar, Phnom Penh or Siem Reap in Cambodia, Hanoi or Saigon in Vietnam, , Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Singapore, or Bali or Jakarta in Indonesia).

Expert flight tips – Southeast Asia

  • You never know when you’re going to come across that really great deal, and when traveling long-term, you have the flexibility to fly in or out of a nearby city or country to save a few bucks and explore a new place, which is why we recommend searching all big, hub cities in the region you want to travel to.
  • Although the main hubs are the most popular, we also encourage people to at least check fares to the smaller destinations they are looking to hit as well. For instance, sometimes low cost carriers offer direct international flights to the Thai islands (Phuket or Koh Samui) for about the same price as into/out of Bangkok. If you plan to spend more than a week in the regions, check options into one city and out of another. It’s so easy to get around in this part of the world, you could fly into Bangkok and out of Kuala Lumpur or Singapore (for example) and not have to backtrack to fly out.


‘It’s all about value when building your itinerary, and when you’re flying halfway across the world on a trip like this, it’s smart to at least see what it costs to add neighboring countries into your itinerary to maximize your route.’


If you plan on going to any of the other Asian countries (Japan, South Korea, and China) from this list, these tips will help when creating your itinerary and shopping for and purchasing flights.

  • Tokyo is the obvious city to fly in and out of if adding Japan to your itinerary.
  • Hong Kong and Beijing are the cities to check for flights if you want to explore China.
    • Note: Shanghai just missed the top 25 and is another city to check when pricing flights for a multi-stop trip.
  • Seoul is a new addition to this list as South Korea is becoming a more and more popular destination to add to a big trip.
  • Travelers heading to this region of Asia may want to consider adding all three of these big Asian cities from the top 25 – Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing – as all are logical additions coming from or going to the US from a number of regions, including India, Central Asia, and Europe.
  • Delhi is the most common city to fly in or out of when heading to India during your trip. It’s centrally located and a short jaunt from the most popular site in all of India (the Taj Mahal in Agra).
  • Check out both Mumbai and Calcutta when checking flights, as both are top 100 cities in our data and both good options for exploring the west and east coasts of India, respectively.

Expert flight tips – Asia

  • It’s all about value when building your itinerary, and when you’re flying halfway across the world on a trip like this, it’s smart to at least see what it costs to add neighboring countries into your itinerary to maximize your route. By adding all three of these destinations, you would get to experience three completely different and unique countries and cultures.
  • Japan, however, is not typically a cheap stop, so if you’re pricing all three countries and it’s higher than you’d like, try dropping Tokyo first to knock to see what happens. Hong Kong and Shanghai can both be added in this region as well, with Hong Kong being a good break point to save some money.
  • While challenging at times, India is a great country to travel overland in. The train system is as vast as any in the world, and there are options for all budgets. And don’t sell the bus system short, as there are plenty of routes where it makes sense to go by bus instead of train.
  • If you’re adding India to your trip itinerary, consider adding Colombo as it can often be added in for free (or cheap) as flights often route through there.


North America-smaller

North America

Seven of the top twenty-five destinations are in North America (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, Toronto, Seattle, and Vancouver). Many travelers from all over the globe add the United States and Canada to larger trips. Both countries are massive and can be explored on their own on big trips, so what cities you visit depends on both time and budget.

  • New York is the most common city to fly in or out of on the east coast and is the most logical arrival city if coming from Europe.
  • Toronto is a world class city and another option that travelers use when coming to Canada and the eastern part of the United States.
  • LA and San Francisco are most common when visiting the California and the west coast, as both are gateways to a variety of west coast highlights.
  • Seattle and Vancouver also cracked the top 25 and should be searched when pricing out flights.
  • Honolulu is the Hawaiian city to add to your itinerary if you want to see the fiftieth state.
  • Chicago and Denver, though not in the top 25, are the cities to search if wanting to explore the Midwest or Rocky Mountain regions of the United States.
  • Miami is the the city to search when visiting Florida or the south of the US.

Expert flight tips – North America

  • Boston and Washington DC were both in the top 50, are both US highlights, and are both short train, bus, or car rides away from New York City, so check both cities out when pricing flights.
  • LA can be the base for the rest of Southern California, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, a variety of national parks, and even into Mexico. 
  • San Francisco is a good base if you are a wine aficionado and want to see the Napa Valley. It is also close to Tahoe for skiing and various national parks in northern California.
  • A common flight path is flying into Vancouver or Seattle, then heading south overland through Oregon and California. Travelers can then move on by flying out of San Francisco, or with more time, can go south all the way to LA before moving on to the next region (you could also do this trip the other way – fly into Los Angeles and head north to San Francisco, Seattle, or Vancouver).
  • Australia, New Zealand, and/or Asia are good places to add to your itinerary before or after the United States’ west coast.
  • Hawaii can make a great stopover destination if coming from or going to the west coast in the US from Australia, New Zealand, other Pacific Islands, and various points in Asia (SE Asia, South Korea, Japan, and even parts of China).


Europe

Europe

Five of the top twenty-five destinations are located in Europe (London, Istanbul, Paris, Rome, and Amsterdam). Europe is a great region for long-term travelers. The number of countries in such a small geographical area gives travelers the opportunity to explore a variety of cultures during a long-term trip.

  • London is the most common city to fly in or out of in Europe, with Istanbul coming in second in the region.
  • Paris, Rome, and Amsterdam are also smart options to search when it comes to airfare, as all three were in the top 20.
  • Because there are so many big cities with large, international airports in Europe, there are lots of options when it comes to airfare, so be vigilant when pricing out your flights.

Expert flight tips – Europe

  • If in Europe for months instead of weeks and a fan of overland travel, a cool route is to fly into London (if coming from the west), travel overland throughout Europe to Turkey, then fly out of Istanbul (this can be done vice versa if coming from the east).
  • Which cities you search depend on your personal itinerary and how much time you have in the region. Because overland travel is so prevalent and the countries are so close together, it’s logical to search all 4 cities (London, Paris, Rome, and Amsterdam) when pricing flights to and from Europe. 
  • Athens, Dublin, Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, Oslo, and Copenhagen were all in the top 50, so depending on which countries you wish to visit, you may want to expand your search to all these cities when pricing flights. Keep in mind that while the Eurail is the most popular option for getting around Europe, there are also a host of low cost airlines in the region to check out if you’re short on time or just sick of trains and buses.

New Zealand

Australia/New Zealand

Three of the top twenty-five destinations were in Australia or New Zealand (Sydney, Auckland, and Melbourne). Travelers from all over the world like to add Australia and/or New Zealand to longer trips because of the time it takes to get to both. When you have more time, it makes sense to add one or both of these difficult (and expensive) to-get-to countries as part of a longer trip.

  • Auckland, located on the country’s north island, is the most popular city to fly into when visiting New Zealand. Christchurch (just barely slipped in the top 100) is the most popular city on the south island.
  • Sydney is the most common city when flying in and out of Australia, but Australia is a big country, so where you fly in and out of is completely dependent on your Australian itinerary.
  • Melbourne was #17 on our list, and while it doesn’t look too far from Sydney when looking at a map, it’s about a 9-10 hour drive, which can easily double if you take the coastal route (which is a great trip for those who have the time).

Expert flight tips – Australia and New Zealand

  • New Zealand is a small country but drive times can be long, with lots of two-lane highways and very windy roads. A common route through New Zealand for long-term travelers is fly into Auckland and out of Christchurch (or vice versa). It’s common to rent a car or campervan or take a bus to explore both islands. /li>
  • If traveling to or from Oceania, search for flights with a stop in Fiji, Honolulu, or Tahiti. Those can often be free or cheap to or from North America.
  • It might also pay to check out various stops in Asia to or from Oceania, as many offer free or cheap stopovers – Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, and Beijing are all possibilities. Search any city where there is a hub for a major airline who serves Australia.
  • If you’re looking to explore the southeast coast of Australia, Sydney sits in the middle of both Melbourne (top 25) and Brisbane (top 50), so it’s smart to look at costs and schedules of flying in or out of all three. Perth is where you want to search if you hope to travel in Western Australia, and Cairns (top 50 on our list) for northern Australia.

South America

South America

Though only one city out of our top twenty-five is in South America (Buenos Aires), we recommend checking several other cities when building your route and checking flights – Santiago (#26) and Rio de Janeiro (#33) narrowly missed, while Sao Paulo and Lima were both in the top 50. South America is a huge continent, and while getting around overland isn’t difficult, it is very time consuming.

  • Though Buenos Aires was the only city that made our top 25, how you plan your South American itinerary and where you fly in and out of all depends on the pillars of your trip.
  • Buenos Aires makes sense to fly in or out of when going to or coming from parts of Africa (mainly South Africa), Europe, and the United States (mainly south and eastern part of the US).
  • When looking at a map, it appears that flying in or out of Santiago or Lima is most logical when coming from or going to Australia or New Zealand. But that might not always be the case.

Expert flight tips – South America

  • If coming from Africa, Europe, or various southern, eastern, or midwestern US cities and wanting to visit Argentina, Brazil, and/or Uruguay, check out flights to Rio and Sao Paulo in addition to Buenos Aires. You may be surprised at the price difference.
  • LAN Airlines has a bit of a monopoly on these routes, so getting to and from Australasia from South America can often be pricey. If you’re planning your route this way, check prices to both cities, but you may also want to check flights through Los Angeles, as you can often find a much more favorable fare, even with the extra flight or layover.
  • If you plan on buying all your flights before leaving and South America is a big part of your trip plans, consider checking out AirTreks, as they have good contracts with South American airlines and can offer great value on flights in the region.

Dubai

Middle East

Only one city out of our top twenty-five is in the Middle East (Dubai). Dubai is the most visited city in the region, largely because of Dubai-based airline, Emirates. Dubai, while not typically thought of as the most indie of travel destinations, is often be added as a stopover on a longer trip, which is why it shows up so often on trips we sell.

  • Dubai is not the best city to fly into if you hope to explore more of the Middle East, as traveling overland around the region can prove problematic.
  • If you are interested in the United Arab Emirates, check flights in or out of Abu Dhabi (in our top 100) as well.
  • The only other Middle Eastern city in the top 100 is Tel Aviv, Israel.

Africa

No African cities made the top twenty-five list this year, but several just missed out (Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Cairo).

  • When going to southern Africa, Johannesburg and Cape Town are the obvious and most common cities to check when pricing flights and building your route.
  • Overland travel and border crossings can be very slow going throughout most of Africa, so be smart when building your route and checking flight prices.
  • For northern Africa, Cairo is the most common city to add to your itinerary. But the tip above applies here, too. If you want to visit Morocco, don’t plan on an overland journey from Cairo, just fly in and out of Morocco (or alternatively, add it to your itinerary from Spain).

Expert flight tips – Africa

  • We often suggest flying in or out of bigger, hub cities and then traveling overland, particularly in a region like Europe and Southeast Asia. However, it’s a little different in Africa. For example, if hiking Kilimanjaro is one of your pillars, but you don’t have the time or interest to visit South Africa, then don’t plan on flying in or out of Joburg or Cape Town and traveling overland up to Kili. Check flights in and out of Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, and Nairobi instead.

Flight help and itinerary examples

Tomorrow we’ll put these tips into action by sharing bookable multi-stop trips around these top 25 destinations that provide the most value when taking a long-term trip.

A RTW Trip on Your 2016 Bucket List?