You may have missed the backpacking experience in your post-school or university years, but that doesn’t mean the traveller dream is over. We’ve created three backpacking itineraries for you that are achievable in just a few weeks of annual leave. So get that holiday approved and start packing (dodgy hostels and giant backpacks optional).
A two-week trip to Southeast Asia – fly to Bangkok from £173
There’s a reason SE Asia is a hit with backpackers: year-round warm weather, unbelievable beaches and cheap prices (hello beer at £1.40 a go). There’s a lot to explore but with two weeks and a few low-cost flights, we reckon you can pack three countries into one culture-filled, temple-hopping trip.
Set off in your best pair of elephant-print harem pants and take an overnight flight to Bangkok (from £173 one-way). You’ll want to pack a few cool but conservative clothing options, as you’ll spend your days exploring temples and your evenings drinking cheap beer.
Your first port of call? The one and only Grand Palace, it may be busy but it’s a tourist hotspot with good reason. Then add Wat Arun, Wat Pho and Chatuchak Market to your must-see list. Spend an evening (or all three) at Khao San Road – a backpacker haven where vendors fill the street and travellers fill the bars. Still have some time to explore? Browse our in-depth Bangkok guide.
Stay: Khaosan Palace Hotel – rooms from £26.
It’s just over four hours for a direct flight from Bangkok to Bali (from £45), where paradise awaits. Relax after those hectic sightseeing days in Bangkok exploring the beaches, swimming in the azure sea and hanging out with local monkeys.
If you’re based in the north, fit in a trip to Menjangan Island – AKA Deer Island. It’s part of West Bali National Park and a popular snorkelling destination. Staying in the south? Jump on the high-speed ferry at Sanur to Nusa Penida for picture-perfect beaches – including the Insta-famous Kelingking Beach – and the chance to stay in a treehouse.
Stay: Sun Island Hotel and Spa – rooms from £25.
The final leg of your Asian trip is a three-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur (from £40 direct). This city is home to the cheapest five-star hotels in the world, so you may as well stay somewhere fancy. With views of the Petronas Twin Towers from the swimming pool, the Sunway Purta Hotel is a steal at £43 a night (a junior suite is still only £64).
Explore one of Kuala Lumpur’s more unusual temples by taking a day trip 13km north of the city. Built into the limestone hill, is the Batu Caves, a Hindu Temple dedicated to Lord Murugan (he’s the man replicated as the 43m golden statue, FYI). Spend your final days visiting KL’s main landmarks: Petronas Twin Towers, Merdeka Square and Petaling Street before heading back to the UK (and reality). Flights start at £240.
A three-week trip to Australia and New Zealand – fly to Sydney from £342
If you can swing three whole weeks of annual leave, the best way to spend it is on the other side of the world. You’ll need to fly to get around the vast expanse of Oz, and while you’re over that side of the world, you may as well stop by New Zealand too, right? At least you already know the language: G’day mate.
There’s nothing like the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge to welcome you to Australia. Once you’ve adjusted to the time difference, head down to Circular Quay. From there, it’s a short walk past the Harbour Bridge towards the Opera House. On the weekends, pop by The Rocks market under the bridge for local souvenirs, food trucks and the occasional afternoon of live music.
If you’re hoping to see as much of the surrounding Sydney area as possible, popular day trips include the Blue Mountains, a beach day and coastal walk at Manly or even a surfing lesson on Bondi Beach. Before you move on, spend at least one night in King’s Cross – Sydney’s party district.
Stay: Wake Up! Sydney Central – bunks from £22.
This is where your East Coast adventure (AKA backpacker heaven) really begins. Hop on a short flight to Brisbane (from £40) and pick up a hire car (or campervan) for a mini road trip. You’ll be driving north to Bundaberg – gateway to the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef – and back again. Each day has no more than four hours of driving and can be broken up like this:
1. Brisbane to Hervey Bay – 290km, roughly three hours. TIP: From Hervey Bay you can access Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world, or take a full or half-day whale watching tour (from late July to early August).
2. Hervey Bay to Bundaberg – 100km, just over an hour. TIP: Drive over in the evening after a day in Hervey Bay. You’ll want to be up bright and early to catch a day trip to either Lady Musgrave or Elliot Island – both islands are located at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef and offer excellent snorkelling.
3. Bundaberg to Maroochydore – 197km, two and a half hours. TIP: This coastal town on the Sunshine Coast is all about the beaches, funky cafes and thriving live music scene. Spend the day on the beach and the evening bar-hopping across town.
4. Maroochydore to Brisbane – 100km, just over an hour. TIP: If you’ve spent more time exploring the islands in the north, you can add this final hour’s drive to your Bundaberg travel day – just make sure you swing by Maroochydore for an ice cream on the beach to break up the journey.
From Brisbane it’s another easy flight up to the tropical city of Cairns (2.5 hours from £50). Can’t decide between another Great Barrier Reef trip or exploring Australia’s tropical rainforests? Combine the two with a day trip to Cape Tribulation, where the reef meets the Daintree Rainforest. This is bush walk territory and you’ll be rewarded with lush rainforests that meet white sand and crystal-clear warm seas.
In the city, cool off in the lagoon swimming pool, walk along the esplanade then explore the daily night markets – all for free.
Stay: Gilligan’s Backpacker Hostel – dorms from £7 a night, private rooms from £57.
The City of Sails is a four-and-a-half direct flight from Cairns (operated by Air New Zealand, seasonally). While hobbit-country will be calling, first, get your bearings from the Sky Tower, or hike up Mount Eden Domain (New Zealand’s tallest volcano). Then, spend your days visiting the black sand Piha Beach, taking the ferry over to Devonport, and exploring the wineries in the west (where else can you have a tipple at 10am?).
Take a three-hour drive north to Paihia before jumping on the next available Hole in the Rock boat cruise around the Bay of Islands. Here you’ll find 133 beautiful islands dotted throughout turquoise waters, plus the chance to spot dolphins, whales and gannets.
Stay: Princeton Apartments, Auckland – double rooms from £31.
A two-week trip around Eastern Europe – fly to Budapest from £12
You don’t need to shell out on long-haul flights for a gap-year experience, not when travelling around your own continent can be such fun. Plus, flights are super cheap, living costs are low and you’ll be able to fit in multiple countries in a short amount of time. Oh, and did we mention the beer flows freely?
Europe can be cheaper than a night out in your hometown, and the two-and-a-half-hour flight to Hungary’s capital starts at the budget price of £12. The savings don’t stop there, either. Budapest was named the cheapest place to buy alcohol in 2016 – averaging 91p for a glass of wine and 88p for a bottle of larger. Cheers to that!
With a natural hot spring source, Szechenyi Spa Baths is a must-do, but why go during the day when you can join the party every Saturday night? The ‘Sparty’ combines the outdoor thermal pools with DJs, lasers and plenty of the aforementioned cheap booze. Nurse any sore heads the following day with a hearty dose of culture at Buda Castle, a World Heritage Site to boot, that also houses the Hungarian National Gallery, the castle museum and the National Library.
Stay: Boat Hotel Fortuna – rooms from £44.
For the real backpacker inter-railing vibe, catch the two-and-a-half-hour train to Vienna for as little as £18. The beauty of train travel is that you arrive right in the centre, no airport transfers required. Drop your bags and make a beeline to Prater and the 117-year-old Riesenrad Giant Ferris Wheel for a bird’s eye view with ultimate Insta points.
In the summer months, escape to the island of Donauinsel in the middle of the river for a swim and sunbathe. In June, there’s a free music festival for suitably cheap and cheerful gap-year vibes. Other than the party scene, local sights include the Schönbrunn Palace, the grand Hofburg and Belvedere Museum.
Stay: Safestay Vienna – rooms from £56.
A short and sweet 50-minute flight will whisk you from Vienna to Prague (from £30). This is another city with exceptionally cheap drinks and a night-life to match. Aim for the five-storey Karlovy Lazne Nightclub complete with its own ice bar. Or try out The Pub – each table has its own tap so you can pour your own beer (and compete with the other tables to see who drinks the most).
In the daylight hours, take a walk across the famous Charles Bridge, then stroll five minutes down the street to the graffiti-filled John Lennon Wall. Finally, join the gathered crowds to snap a picture of the iconic Astronomical Clock as it chimes the hour.
Stay: Cosmopole Hostel – bunks from £11, private rooms from £33.
After the one-and-a-half-hour flight (from £32) from Prague to Warsaw, explore the colourful buildings of the Old Town. A staggering amount of Warsaw was destroyed during the 20th century, but thankfully the Old Town was faithfully reconstructed, enough to be made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As you probably spent a fair amount of your budget on beer in Prague, it’s lucky that there are plenty of free activities in Warsaw. Our favourites include the Warsaw Rising Museum (free on Sundays, 25PLN/£5 on other days), the Fountain Light Show in Multimedia Fountain Park (Friday and Saturday at 9pm from mid-spring to September) and the Royal Castle (free every Sunday and the whole of November).
Stay: Chillout Hostel – bunks from £8, private rooms from £28.
Finally, fly for just over an hour to Berlin (from £35) to tick off your fifth country in two weeks – phew! There are few cities that have changed as much in the last 80 years – from heavy bombing in WW2 to its 30-year divide into East and West Berlin until 1989. Explore its recent past by adding The Berlin Wall and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe to your list.
With history-filled days, add a least one night of clubbing to your itinerary. Salon zur Wilden Renate mixes a circus theme with all kinds of music and isn’t as hard to get into as some Berlin clubs.
Stay: The Cat’s Pajamas Hostel – bunks from £20, private rooms from £59.
Flights back to the UK start from a super-affordable £12 – a bittersweet ending to your Eastern Europe adventure.
Ready to for a mini gap year? Use the multi-city flight search below:
All flight and prices mentioned in this article are estimates of the cheapest prices based on Skyscanner’s flight search tools. These are subject to change and were correct at time of writing on 27 August 2019.