Author: Adam Seper

Top 10 Destinations for Independent Travelers in 2014

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 2014 version, the first completely data-driven version of this series. 

BootsnAll’s Top Indie Travel Destinations for 2014 is 100% data driven.

As we continue to focus on inspiring and helping folks take long-term trips, we compiled this year’s list around what destinations long-term travelers are searching in the context of a longer trip.

Here are the results:

In years past, we used a variety of tactics to come up with this list – like asking our readers, debating internally, looking at other travel lists and trends, considering upcoming world events, or using a combination of all of the above.

“As we continue to focus on inspiring and helping folks take long-term trips, we compiled this year’s list around taking a big trip.”

Indie, BootsnAll’s multi-stop flight booking tool, is the source of the data. We looked at search data from Indie from 2013 to see what cities people were adding to their long-term trips.

If you’re planning a big trip for 2014, planning your airfare route around the cities below will offer the most competitive prices and best opportunity to explore the surrounding regions. When it comes to airfare, it’s most cost effective to fly in and out of big, hub cities, which our search data supports.

Travelers often utilize overland transport and/or low cost regional carriers to get around each region. Under each highlighted city below, we’ll delve deeper into this – offering suggestions for why travelers choose these cities to add to their longer flight itinerary and offering tips and advice for route planning in each city/country/region.

For trip planning purposes, we combined cities that are in the same region and showed up high on our search list.

1. Bangkok/Singapore/Denpasar

2014 Singapore
Southeast Asia has been one of the top destinations for independent travelers for close to 50 years now, and Bangkok is the biggest hub of the region. It’s no surprise to see Bangkok topping this list, being seen on 20% of multi-stop searches on Indie.

Singapore (10% of searches) and Bali (Denpasar), 7% of searches, are both in the same region and also major air travel hubs, so it makes sense that travelers are also adding these to their longer, multi-stop trips when planning on exploring SE Asia.

Why are Bangkok/Bali/Singapore such popular stops on long-term trips?

  • Compared to cities of similar size in other regions of the world (Europe, North America, Australia), all three are affordable (possible to travel on $25-$40/day in each, with Singapore being the most expensive).
  • The region is well trodden as it’s been popular for close to 50 years. So while foreign in culture, it’s still easy to get around, even for the novice traveler.
  • There are a myriad of options for long-term travelers in the region – from culture to food to history to famous sites to outdoor activities.
  • When planning a long-term trip, travelers have to be smart about where they fly in and out of – all three of these cities make great places for travelers to base themselves when exploring the rest of the region (see below for more detail).

Itinerary & Flight Planning Tips

  • All three cities are are most cost effective when adding to a larger flight itinerary. Flying into smaller cities like Phnom Penh or Luang Prabang will make the overall price go up.
  • Most travelers fly in or out of Bangkok if they plan on exploring Laos, Vietnam, Burma, and/or Cambodia. It’s then cheap and easy to utilize buses, trains, boats, and/or low cost air carriers like AirAsia to get around.
  • If the regional focus is on Indonesia or Malaysia, then Denpasar (Bali) or Singapore is where travelers fly in and out of.
  • Traveling in SE Asia allows travelers to fly into one city and out of the other with relative ease and affordability.
  • Example: Fly into Singapore and travel overland up to Bangkok through Malaysia and southern Thailand, before moving on to another region.

Trip Planning Resources

If you’re adding any of these three cities to your longer trip, you’re probably going to explore the surrounding region. Here are a variety of resources to help you plan a trip to Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and the rest of Southeast Asia:

2. Sydney – 18% of all searches

2014 sydney
Independent travelers choose SE Asia for its affordability, and while Sydney and Australia as a whole is more expensive from a per day costs perspective, it’s very high up on the long-term travelers destination list, seen on 18% of all trip searches.

Why is Sydney such a popular stop on long-term trips?

  • Australia offers work and study exchanges with many countries around the world, making it a popular destination for young students and those looking for a unique working experience.
  • For inexperienced long-term travelers, Australia is a popular jumping off point as it won’t offer the culture shock that other countries and regions can.
  • Flying round trip to Australia from Europe or North America for a shorter vacation can be extremely pricey, which is why many long-term travelers take advantage of the time they have and add the country as part of a longer trip.

Itinerary & Flight Planning Tips

  • Sydney is the main hub of Australia and typically the cheapest city to fly in and out of.
  • However, Melbourne (#23), Perth (#32), and Brisbane (#36) all ranked high in searches as well, so check all four when crafting your itinerary, prioritizing how much of the country you plan to explore.
  • Australia is large, and overland travel can be expensive, so it pays to keep all that in mind when planning your flights.
  • Example: If you want to explore the Gold Coast, then it’s probably better to fly into Brisbane over Sydney.

Trip Planning Resources

3. London/Paris

2014 paris
London was seen on 14% of all searches on Indie in 2013, which makes sense as it’s a major European hub. Paris, often touted as the most visited city in the world, came in at #15 and in 7% of all airfare searches.

Why are London/Paris such a popular stops on long-term trips?

  • The western culture makes it easier from a culture shock perspective, but it’s also different enough to provide a truly international experience. Great for first time travelers or as a first destination on a bigger trip.
  • Europe is really easy to get around – the Eurail is widespread and there are dozens of low-cost carriers in the region.
  • There is no other continent on Earth that provides the variety of cultures in such a small land mass, making it enticing to anyone taking a big trip.
  • Travelers who put a priority on history, site-seeing, and museums prioritize Europe as it offers perhaps the best combination of all 3 than anywhere else in the world.

Itinerary & Flight Planning Tips

  • London and Paris top the most searched list in Europe, but they aren’t your only options.
  • Rome (#20) and Athens (#21) also ranked high, and both are good air travel hubs if you plan on moving on to Turkey, or the Middle East.
  • Many travelers added Barcelona (#28) to the list, which makes sense if your next stop is in northern Africa (Morocco, Mali, or Algeria).

Trip Planning Resources

  • Europe Indie Travel Guide – If you want to add Europe to your big trip, check out this page, which offers 11 pillars to plan your European leg around.
  • Eurail Page – There’s just something romantic about zipping around Europe in one of the many high speed trains. This page will assist you in booking the train portion of your trip.
  • 8 Simple Steps for Making the Most of Europe’s Low Cost Carriers – The Eurail isn’t the only way to get around. You’ve probably heard of all the low cost airlines in Europe, and while these rock bottom prices do exist, it’s not always as straight forward as it may seem.
  • 8 Places in Europe that Still Feel Untouched – Tired of feeling like your are in a neverending parade of other tourists through Europe? Check out these eight recommendations for cities that still feel authentic and uncrowded.
  • Off the Beaten Rail Path – Six Alternative Destinations in Central Europe – If you’re ready for a bigger challenge, head out of western Europe and take the rails through Central Europe – the perfect addition to a long-term journey.
  • Best Festivals and Events in Europe – One of the best parts of long-term travel is being able to attend those big world events that you’ve always wanted to go to. If you’re a festival person, check out this list and plan your trip around some (or all!)
  • 12 of the Best Free European Attractions – Many long-term travelers choose to skip Europe because of the high costs. While there’s no doubt that it’s more expensive than SE Asia and Latin America, there are plenty of ways to cut costs.

  • 4. Auckland – 14% of all searches

    2014 Auckland
    New Zealand is one of the top destinations for independent travelers, offering tons of highlights and possibilities. Auckland was #4 on our list, seen on 14% of all searches.

    Why is Auckland such a popular stop on long-term trips?

    • Getting to New Zealand is expensive. Period. So taking a one-off vacation simply isn’t affordable for many travelers, which is why it’s seen on so many multi-stop trips.
    • Like Australia and London, New Zealand offers familiarity for English speaking travelers and those without much experience.
    • New Zealand can be a good place to start or end a long trip.
    • Inexperienced travelers may start here if they want to ease into a trip, as New Zealand is made for travel.
    • Also a good place to end – the people are friendly and laid back, and your trip can end on a high note – easy travel and some of the best landscapes in the world.
  • Any traveler who is into the outdoors has New Zealand on their wish-list as it’s a haven for the outdoorsman.
  • New Zealand was made for the long-term traveler. Hop-on-hop-off buses and campervans make exploring the entirety of both islands simple and easy.

  • Itinerary & Flight Planning Tips

    • Auckland and Christchurch are the two biggest airports in New Zealand and most common to fly in and out of.
    • Many travelers fly into one of the above cities, travel overland, then out of the other city. Prices can fluctuate, so check all options.

    Trip Planning Resources

    5. New York/Los Angeles/San Francisco

    2014 NYC
    The United States had 3 cities in the top 15 most searched destinations – New York (#5,  13%), Los Angeles (#6, 12%), and San Francisco (#13, 8%).

    Why are New York/Los Angeles/San Francisco such popular stops on long-term trips?

    • Many travelers not from the US want to add it to a longer trip for the variety it offers – you could spend a lifetime exploring this massive country.
    • Even people from the US take advantage of the extra time they have during a big trip and add hubs like these three to their itineraries.
    • Those travelers with a bit higher of a budget or family travelers like to take advantage of the US road trip – a rite of passage for anyone traveling in the States.

    Itinerary & Flight Planning Tips

    • The US is massive, and there are three more big, hub cities that were in the top 50 most searched destinations – Chicago (#44), Boston (#48), and Las Vegas (#49)
    • Because of its size, lack of low cost airlines, and poor public transport options, travelers adding a US leg to their long-term trip have to be smart about where they fly in and out of, especially if the budget is tight. Check the above cities when searching multi-stop flight routes.
    • Though Miami or New Orleans were not in the top 50, it may be wise to look into these as well, particularly if you are going to or coming from anywhere in Latin America or Mexico. Not only are they good possibilities for your airfare route, both are popular and worthwhile destinations to add to any US trip.

    Trip Planning Resources

    • USA Indie Travel Guide – If you’re adding the US to your big trip, check out the 9 pillars to plan your trip around.
    • The Great American Southwest – One of the most beautiful regions of the country (and perhaps the world), the American Southwest is perfect for road trips, hiking, camping, and anything outdoors related.
    • Four Foodie Road Trips in the US – One of the biggest appeals of travel in the US is the variety, and that spills over into the food. It’s much more than just hamburgers and hot dogs.
    • Cheap Eats in New York City – It would be a shame to add New York to your trip and not take advantage of all the food on offer. And surprise! It doesn’t have to break the bank.
    • The First-Timer’s Guide to Planning a US Vacation – If you’d like to experience the more natural side of the United States, look no further than its nearly 400 national parks. Here’s what you need to know before you go.
    • Indie Travel in America – Road Trip Style – The American road trip is a great experience for anyone – foreigner or US citizen – and it’d be a shame to visit the United States without taking one.

    6. Tokyo – 10% of all searches

    2014 Tokyo
    Tokyo was added to 10% of all flight itineraries searched on Indie in 2013, and while Japan can be an expensive country to visit, if you want a taste of the country without blowing up your budget, you may be able to add a short stopover during the course of your longer trip (see below).

    Why is Tokyo such a popular stop on long-term trips?

    • Like many destinations on this list, Japan is an expensive trip by itself, but adding to a longer trip makes it more cost effective.
    • It’s convenient to add to an itinerary that also has China, Russia, or Southeast Asia – so if you are planning a longer trip and visiting one of those countries/regions, see how much more expensive it is to add a stop in Tokyo.
    • It can make a cheap stopover destination.
    • Western travelers may notice a lot of familiarity, but also tons of differences – a nice mix for any traveler.

    Flight Planning Tip

    • Japan has other airports to fly in and out of (Osaka being the next biggest), but if you plan on adding Japan to that longer trip, Tokyo is the place to fly in and out of.

    Trip Planning Resources

    7. Delhi – 9% of all searches

    2014 Delhi
    Delhi, #9 on the list of top searched cities, was included in 9% of all searches on Indie last year. But India is a massive country, so take a look at the itinerary planning tips below if you plan on adding it to your longer trip.

    Why is Delhi such a popular stop on long-term trips?

    • India is a very cheap country to travel in.
    • Backpackers can get around on as little as $15-20USD per day, while those with a higher budget can travel quite well on $50-60/day.
    • The country is huge and offers a wide variety of experiences – from wildlife to bustling cities to a rich history to amazing food to the Himalayas. There really is no place in the world like India.
    • It challenges you. Most travelers who come to BootsnAll are looking to grow and learn from travel, and India provides that, and more.

    Itinerary Planning Tips

    India is a big country, and while overland travel is prevalent and cheap, it can be slow going. Unless staying for 6 months to a year, most travelers pick a region or two to explore, and many have a rough itinerary planned out. Plan your flight path accordingly, and use the following tips when crafting your route.

    • Delhi and Bombay (Mumbai – #26) were the only Indian cities among the top 50 searched, but travelers adding India to their longer trip may want to look into the following airports depending on where they plan on traveling within the country.
    • West coast of India – use Bombay (Mumbai).
    • Northern India (including Agra and the Taj Mahal) – use Delhi.
    • East coast of India (the northern part of the coast)- use Calcutta (Kolkata).
    • East coast (central or southern) – use Chennai.
    • Central India – Hyderabad is most likely the place, but Bangalore is also a possibility.
    • Southern India (towards the west coast) – use Kerala
    • The train and bus system in India is vast, making overland travel in the country  inexpensive (but not always comfortable). Many long-term travelers fly into one city (like Delhi), then travel overland to another (like Bombay) before moving on to their next destination.
    • India may not be the best place to start or end your trip, as it is an intense country to visit, even for the most experienced traveler.
      • If starting there, it can overwhelm.
      • If finishing there, you may be exhausted and not want to deal with what India will throw at you.

    Trip Planning Resources

    • India Travel Guide – The one-page guide to traveling in India, with reasons why you should add it to your big trip and travel tips to help you plan the itinerary.
    • Tips for Traveling India by Train – Many long-term travelers utilize the train system in India, which is vast, and if you can afford more than 3rd class, pretty comfortable. This article outlines how to best go about exploring the country by rail.
    • Food articles –  One of the highlights of traveling in India is sampling all the amazing food, and we have several articles about sampling the cuisine.
      • India’s Top Roadside Eateries – Street food in India is not only cheap but also some of the most flavorful. This is a guide written by a local and broken down into regions.
      • The Mumbai Food Trail – Written by a local, if you’re visiting Mumbai and into food, then print this out and plan your time there around it.
      • Top 10 Foods in Old Delhi – 10 great dishes in Delhi and where to find them.
      • A Girl’s Guide to India – India received a lot of bad press over the course of the past year regarding its treatment of women. This guide will help all you female travelers out there, offering lots of great tips and advice for enjoying your time here.
      • 8 Lesser Known Sites in Rajasthan – Rajasthan is one of the most popular states in India for travelers, and here are some suggestions for what to see and do once there.

    8. Hong Kong – 9% of all searches

    2014 Hong Kong

    Hong Kong came in at #10 on the list of most searched cities with 9% inclusion. It is a big hub for travel in China and East Asia. Like India and the US, China is quite large, so check out the itinerary planning tips below if you plan to explore other areas of the country, as Beijing (#24) and Shanghai (#41) were also both in the top 50 searched airports.

    Why is Hong Kong such a popular stop on long-term trips?

    • If there is a country in the world that challenges travelers more than India, China is it. Travelers looking for something that is the opposite of what they’re used to add China to their trips.
    • Many BootsnAll readers like to get off the tourist trail. China  provides that, and more. Depending on where you’re traveling in the country, you can go days and weeks without seeing another westerner or hearing English.
    • The culture in China is different than western culture, and that’s why many BootsnAll readers travel – to learn more about cultures different from theirs.
    • When singling out Hong Kong, it is so high on the list of most searched cities because it’s a good city to add to a longer trip. Many add Hong Kong as a stop between SE Asia (the most popular destination for searches on Indie) and Japan or the US (see itinerary tips below for more in depth information).
    • Hong Kong is different than the rest of China because of its unique history of being under British rule before being officially handed over to China in 1997.

    Itinerary & Flight Planning Tips

    • Many travelers just want a taste of China, and Hong Kong can make for a good stopover on a longer trip. It can be added to some itineraries for very little additional money, especially as a stop between Bangkok and Tokyo.
    • Shanghai and Beijing are also on the east coast of China, so it is possible to travel overland from Hong Kong to Shanghai then Beijing if planning to spend more than a few weeks in the country.
    • When planning your airfare route, check out all three cities as prices can vary quite a bit.
    • If central China is an area you want to explore, then Chengdu is the airport to fly in and out of.
    • Many travelers going to this region plan to take the Trans Siberian Railway (or some variation of it). A popular route is to fly into Moscow and take the train to Beijing (or vice versa).

    Trip Planning Resources

    9. Honolulu – 8% of all searches

    2014 honolulu

    Honolulu was #11 on the list of most searched cities, included in 8% of all itineraries. As the obvious gateway to the rest of the Hawaiin islands, Honolulu is a popular place to add to multi-stop itineraries.

    Why is Honolulu such a popular stop on long-term trips?

    • It’s expensive to get to on its own, so adding to a longer trip helps out with the high cost of flying there.
    • It’s the Hawaiian Islands, and travelers have been coming here for generations to unwind and see a completely different and unique part of America.
    • Hawaii is a great first or last destination on a long-term trip.
    • Add it to the beginning and start your trip off right – unwinding from the stress of planning and those hectic final days before departure.
    • What better place to regroup and relax before jumping back into daily life after a long trip?

    Itinerary & Flight Planning Tips

    • Hawaii can be cheap and easy to add to a long-term trip as a stopover between the US and Asia.
    • Once in Hawaii, it’s smarter to use smaller, local airlines to get from one island to the next rather than trying to add it to your larger flight itinerary.

    Trip Planning Resources

    10. Istanbul – 8% of all searches

    2014 Istanbul
    Istanbul is the final stop on our 2014 list, the #12 most searched city on Indie over the past year after being included on 8% of all itineraries.

    Why is Istanbul such a popular stop on long-term trips?

    • Istanbul is a world class city that is an interesting mix of east and west, with a rich history to learn about.
    • Travelers who are history or architecture buffs could spend months exploring Turkey.
    • Turkey as a whole is becoming more and more popular, as one of the most famous sites, Cappadocia, is world renowned for its unique landscapes and beauty.
    • Turkey is more than just Istanbul and Cappadocia – the Aegean Sea is known for sun, clear waters, and scenic harbors.

    Itinerary Planning Tips

    • Many travelers include it on their itineraries in between Europe and Asia – a good way to ease from one continent to the next.
    • Istanbul is another one of those stopover cities it’s possible to add it on to your multi-stop flight itinerary for little, if any, additional money as you make your way from Europe to Asia or the Middle East (the same can apply when flying the opposite way)

    Trip Planning Resources

    Creating a long-term trip around these destinations

    Since we chose these destinations because of multi-stop search data, it makes sense to see what the top 15 searched cities look like when we put them all together into big, long trip. Check it out below, and if you want customize it to make it your own, become a BootsnAll member (it’s free!) to be able to build, search, and price your trip on Indie.

    What did you think of this year’s list and how we came up with it? Is this helpful for planning a long-term trip? Comment below to share your thoughts.