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Singapore Gardens

Going overseas for the first time can be an exciting and also slightly terrifying experience. Along with language and cultural issues, visas, currency and transport to negotiate, there are myriad ‘what if something goes wrong’ scenarios that can keep first time travellers up at night when they’re planning their first overseas trip. So which are the best countries for your first overseas trip? Whether you are doing your first trip to Italy or your first roadtrip with a boyfriend, there are some countries which are better than others.

One with limited language difficulties will make things easier, although this doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to less culturally interesting destinations. Safety is also another thing to consider. It can take a while for inexperienced travellers to acquire overseas street smarts which can make first-timers a target for those who are up to no good. Choosing a destination where you feel safe moving around day and night will help to ensure a better first-time overseas travel experience.

Easy access to reliable transport, hotels and medical facilities also helps everything run smoothly and provides peace of mind. And, lastly, you need to consider whether the country is worth the time and money to visit? It can be the safest place in the world but there isn’t much point going if the destination holds little appeal for you. Here are our top five countries for first-time overseas travellers, with suggestions to suit every taste and budget. We’ve also got some overseas travel tips to make your first trip easier.

1. First trip to New Zealand

The ‘land of the long white cloud’ has all the things you’re after as a first-time traveller. While it feels comfortably familiar there are many differences that are worth exploring. New Zealand has a stunning natural environment and rich Maori culture plus Mother Nature has added snow, boiling mud and a volcano or two to keep things interesting. The cities and towns tick the boxes for infrastrature and safety with the benefit of stunning scenery right on your doorstep. New Zealand is a country that welcomes tourists from around the world and prides itself on showing them a good time. Australian travellers only need a valid passport to visit New Zealand.

Don’t Miss Destination: Queenstown is a picturesque spot surrounded by snow capped mountains with great skiing in winter, a stunning lake, farms, vineyards plus some truly fantastic places to stay like The Rees Hotel and Peppers Beacon. You can get your heart pumping with adrenaline activities, take a leisurely cruise on Lake Wakatipu, go skiing or enjoy Queenstown in summer plus there are plenty of great restaurants.

The sky is the limit in New Zealand

2. First trip to Hong Kong

Hong Kong is an autonomous territory of China and also a former British colony, making it a great destination for first time travellers who would like a taste of Asia without being overwhelmed. Think of this city as ‘China-light’ with a diverse culture interwoven with British heritage, great food and towering skyscrapers. Hong Kong is a large Asian financial hub and as a result it has excellent infrastructure. Cultural activities abound and you will feel like you are in a country that is different to your own. However, communication is generally easy and there are plenty of western comforts if you need them. No visa is required for Australians visiting Hong Kong, just a passport.

Must Visit Destination: Staying in downtown Hong Kong and exploring locally is perfect for first-time visitors. Take a ride on a traditional double decker tram in Central, visit The Peak for city views and take a ride on a Star Ferry for one of the world’s best (and cheapest) scenic cruises.

Hong Kong market
Hong Kong is high energy and fun to explore

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3. First trip to Hawaii

First time overseas travellers, say ‘Aloha’ to Hawaii. This tropical American state is only an eight hour flight from Australia and offers travellers a taste of the United States and native Hawaiian culture in the same trip. Hawaii is spread out over four main islands and you can have a slightly different holiday experience on each one, from the glitz of Oahu to the lava flows of Big Island, and the natural beauty of Maui and Kauai.

Hawaii also ticks the boxes for ease of travel with English as a first language and excellent infrastructure and tourist facilities. There is plenty to see and do from snorkelling to hiking mountain peaks or simply lying on a beach with palm trees swaying overhead. Hawaii also has fascinating historical attractions, from the poignant Pearl Harbour Memorial dedicated to the infamous Japanese attack in 1941 to a monument to Captain Cook which commemorates his death on Big Island in 1779. 

Don’t Miss Destination: The island of Oahu, where flights from Australia land, offers some of Hawaii’s most famous sights from Waikiki Beach to Pearl Harbour and the North Shore which is famous for surfing, huge waves and its delightful laid back vibe.

Hula dancers
Experience Hawaii’s culture and traditions

4. First trip to Singapore

Singapore is a city and an island state with a diverse blend of cultures from Asia, Britain, India and the Middle East. Once the home of the British East India Company, Singapore is still a vibrant trading and shopping hub. There are also plenty of great hotels such as the Sofitel Singapore City Centre and the Mandarin Oriental Singapore. Singapore has a reputation for being a little serious due to its squeaky clean streets and rules and regulations. However, this makes it an excellent choice for nervous first time travellers as they can be almost certain nothing major will go wrong. The city is easy to get around with affordable taxis and an excellent MRT transit system and English is widely spoken. Tourist sights such as Gardens by the Bay are deservedly popular. However, Singapore’s best attraction is its dining which reflects the country’s rich cultural heritage. No visa is required to visit Singapore, only a passport.

Must Visit Destination: Downtown Singapore has plenty to keep first-time overseas travellers entertained. Enjoy a fascinating mix of old and new at Little India and up-and-coming area such as Tiong Bahru. The latter is one of Singapore’s oldest housing estates, for art deco styling, cool coffee shops, bars, galleries and the Tiong Bahru Market for excellent and authentic hawker market food.

Singapore temple
Singapore has a rich and mixed cultural heritage

5. First trip to the UK

Britain has long been a favourite destination for first-time overseas travellers from Australia. With plenty of iconic sights such as Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, a great theatre scene, and beautiful castles and countryside to explore outside London (easy to do as the Brits drive on the same side of the road as Australians), this destination has much to recommend it. The only downside is the unfavourable exchange rate with the British pound. However, wherever you go in Britain, it is possible to find free (or almost free) things to see and do which will help your Australian dollar go further. You don’t need a visa to visit Britain, only a passport.

Must Visit Destination: London offers a history and culture plus the chance to tick off that list of bucket list items you’ve probably been working on since you were a kid. Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Tower of London, and the Thames – they’re all here. Even if you don’t normally go to the theatre, it is worth seeing a show in London’s West End. Visit the half-price TKTS booth in Leicester Square where you can purchase half-price and discounted theatre tickets on the same day as the show, and up to a week in advance.

London Bridge
Tick off your bucket list in the UK

Disclosure: The writer travelled to the United Kingdom for her first overseas trip a few months after she turned 19. She can still remember the thrill of heading overseas for the first time. It was also the first time she had ever been on a plane.

If you are thinking of heading overseas for the first time, you might also find our airport stopover tips, overseas safety advice, travel planning tips, and advice for avoiding scams helpful.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.