“Travel the world and the seven seas. Everybody’s looking for something” – Eurythmics.
As the debate over countries can get ridiculous and I even argue with my family and best friends over what is a real country and what is not, I thought I’d do a few separate articles on my round the world journey. Now that my journey around the world has ended, it’s a good time to compile lists like these, so look out for more of them!! Well if they are popular, I will keep doing them. Tune into and like my Don’t Stop Living Facebook Page to stay up to date.
I hope these articles can help new backpackers decide which countries to visit on their journeys. These are based on my journey through some of the real countries – I have so far visited 218 of them, and there are around 300 now I think. For this article I used FIFA countries. These are in no particular order and I picked a top 11 because that is how many players are in a football team.
And yes, I properly visited these places, spending at least a month in 9 of the places on this list, and I have either lived or studied in 7 of them.
Northern Ireland will always be my favourite country in the world. I admit there is a slight bias here, as I was born here and I grew up in Northern Ireland. But every new backpacker should have Northern Ireland on their list. There are only six counties here too, so you can tour it pretty easily in the space of a week.
Top Tourist Sight – Giant’s Causeway or the Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge
Off the Tourist Trail – Portbraddon or Newtownards
Sleep at – Cairn Bay Lodge, Bangor
Eat – Ulster Fry
Drink – Pint of Guinness in the Crown Bar, Belfast
Crazy or Cool Thing to do – Tayto Crisp Factory Tour
Recommended DSL post – Touring the Titanic Centre in Belfast
I have visited Northern Ireland every year of my life except 2010, 2013, 2020, 2021. All my posts on Northern Ireland are here.
When I arrived across the border into Kyrgyzstan in late 2015, I had no idea, I was going to base myself in Bishkek until late April 2016. But I did. I fell in love with the city and was actually meant to be heading back there this summer until I realised how much I liked Gdańsk, but it still couldn’t stop me from making sure Kyrgyzstan made my list. The people here are really nice and I only scratched the surface of this country.
Top Tourist Sight – Ruh Ordo and Ala Archa National Park
Off the Tourist Trail – Burana Tower
Sleep at – Apple Hostel, Bishkek (where you can meet the “Famous Aigul”)
Eat – Beshbarmak (Horse Meat Noodles) in Jalalabad Restaurant
Drink – Try Bozo, a milky drink that ferments and do a pub crawl in Bishkek
Crazy or Cool Thing to do – Get Your Afghanistan Visa easily here
Recommended DSL post – Top 20 sights in Bishkek
I visited Kyrgyzstan from December 2015 to April 2016. All my posts on Kyrgyzstan are here.
Again there is bias as I currently live in Poland, but what is not to love. This is a pure country of peace, happy people and intelligence. They could teach the Germans and the English a few things about life, that’s for sure. Respect to my Polish friends far and wide who helped me fall in love with this gorgeous country. On my fourth visit, in 2016, I decided to base myself in Gdańsk and I love it.
Top Tourist Sights – Gdańsk, Krakow and Auschwitz
Off the Tourist Trail – Pelplin , Kokoszkowy, Biskupiec or Tczew
Sleep at – Cycle On Hostel, Gdańsk
Eat – Pierogi ruskie
Drink – Polish micro brewed beers. There are so many quirky bars to check out in the major cities. Poznan was great but I loved the pub crawl in Gdańsk.
Crazy or cool thing to do – Learn Polish – it’s a tough language!
Recommended DSL post – Top Backpacking Sights in Starogard Gdański
I visited Poland in 2005, 2007, 2015 and 2016. All my posts on Poland are here.
It would seem ridiculous for me to not include England in a list like this. After my home country of Northern Ireland, I have spent the most time in England. I lived properly in Bournemouth, London and Dartford and I spent a brave amount of time travelling around it whether for football, work or random adventures. I also visited some unusual countries that are landlocked within England, though these are not FIFA nations.
Top Tourist Sight – Stonehenge or Tower of London
Off the Tourist Trail – Westbourne in Bournemouth or Sunderland
Sleep at – The Mad Hatter Hotel, London
Eat – Wetherspoons Breakfast
Drink – I love a good old pint of London Pride or a pub crawl in Manchester
Crazy or Cool Thing to Do – Night Vision Tour at Forest of Dean or gambling with www.casinoreviews.co.uk/
Recommended DSL post – The Beatles Story in Liverpool
I have been to England over 50 times and spent cumulatively about 7 years in the country. All my posts on England are here.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the best country in Central America for a backpacker. From the thriving night life of San Salvador, to the beaches at Barra de Santiago and the Crocodile river cruise, this was an amazing experience. The Fireball Fight on the 31st August every year remains one of the craziest travel experiences I have ever attended!
Top Tourist Sight – Joya de Ceren
Off the Tourist Trail – Chalchuapa or Santa Ana
Sleep at – Ximena’s Guesthouse
Eat – Any meat dish at Sopon Tipico
Drink – Micheladas in the bars of San Salvador
Crazy or cool thing to do – Visit an Indigo Workshop or Cruise Crocodile Creek
Recommended DSL post – The Crazy Fireball Fight in Nejapa
I visited El Salvador in 2014. All my posts on El Salvador are here.
The love of football undoubtedly took me to Uruguay. This is the home of the World Cup. The main tourist sight is obviously the Estadio Centenario which hosted the first ever World Cup match, and final back in 1930. Further afield though, Colonia Del Sacramento is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Punta del Este is a gorgeous tourist resort.
Top Tourist Sight – Estadio Centenario or Mercado del Puerto
Off the Tourist Trail – Sunset at Casapueblo
Sleep at – Try a homestay in Montevideo
Eat – Empanadas
Drink – Mate – the national obsession!
Crazy or cool thing to do – Learn Spanish in Montevideo
Recommended DSL post – Top 5 Sights in Punta del Este
I visited Uruguay in 2010, living with a local family in Montevideo and studying Spanish there. All my posts on Uruguay are here.
I lived in Australia on two separate working holiday visas from 2009 to 2011 (with some travel in between). In that time I had five months in Tasmania, over a year in Parramatta and the rest of the time travelling around. I made some great friends here and earned good money in PJ Gallagher’s Irish Pub and also harvesting broccoli.
Top Tourist Sight – Sydney Opera House
Off the Tourist Trail – Poatina, Maclean, Longford
Sleep at – YHA Canberra
Eat – Kangaroo Steaks or Wallaby Bolognaise
Drink – Bundaberg Rum
Crazy or Cool Thing to Do – Hold a Koala Bear at Lone Pine or the Wilderness Railway in Tasmania
Recommended DSL post – 100 Places You Might Not Have Heard of in Australia
I moved to Australia in 2009, living there until 2011. All my posts on Australia are here.
China is the WOW. The one country after Northern Ireland that will probably always be in my top 11. From crazy markets in Dongguan to the Rice fields at sunset in Yuanyang to the Fujian Tulou and the crazy food like eel fried rice and snails, China is EPIC. Go, go, go!! I cannot recommend China enough – but avoid Shanghai and Beijing if you can – they are a little bit more commercial than the other parts.
Top Tourist Sight – The World’s Biggest Toilet in Chongqing
Off the Tourist Trail – Danxiashan, Xiamen, Luoping, Little Likeng
Sleep at – A Fujian Tulou building in Ta Pa Tsune
Eat – Turtle Soup, Eel Fried Rice, Peking Duck, Snails
Drink – Rice wine is a killer, a night out in Kaiping was fun
Crazy or cool thing to do – It’s all madness here! Tour a Chinese Factory to see the conditions
Recommended DSL post – Ganden Sumtseling Gompa
I have visited China over 20 times, thrice holding multiple entry visas for it and visiting 13 out of the 29 Provinces. I first visited China in 2007, returning in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. All my posts on China are here.
Iran is a huge country to visit and a tough visa to get, so make sure you plan it well and maximise your visa. We were given 30 day visas, so we were able to tour the north from the Turkey border right over to Mashhad, into the deserts and finishing in Shiraz. We backpacked it pretty hardcore for the month.
Top Tourist Sight – Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad
Off the Tourist Trail – Sunset in Kaluts Desert, Yaseh Chah ,Kandovan or Shahr e Kord
Sleep at – Hotel Firouzeh, Tehran
Eat – Dizi or Camel Meat Stew
Drink – It will have to be tea. Alcohol wise, you can get illegal booze as Iranians are pretty strict – apart from the Armenian Club in Tehran, I’m not even sure there are many other bars around! We had a huge “Longest Night of the Year” party though!
Crazy or Cool Thing to Do – Camel Riding
Recommended DSL post – Top 10 Sights in Kerman
I spent a month in Iran in 2013. All my posts on Iran are here.
While the debate on whether or not Hong Kong is part of China continues, for me it is separate. It has its own visa rules, its own language, culture and currency. Plus I lived here on and off for about 3 years so it has a place in my heart. I love it and this surprises some people who are aware of my dislike of commercial cities. Somehow, Hong Kong maintains its real Chinese charm and it so many corners to discover – you don’t even know it after 3 years.
Top Tourist Sight – The Peak or Star Ferry
Off the Tourist Trail – Tai O Fishing Village, Yau Tong, Yau Ma Tei
Sleep at – City View Hotel, Yau Ma Tei
Eat – Dim Sum or a Winter Barbecue
Drink – Plenty of excellent bars including Delaney’s.
Crazy or Cool Thing to Do – Teach English in Hong Kong
Recommended DSL post – How to get a Hong Kong Working Holiday Visa
I lived in Hong Kong on and off from 2011 to 2015. All my posts on Hong Kong are here.
Well it completes a hat-trick of Chinese speaking countries on this list and Taiwan was the place that reignited my waning backpacking spirit back in 2009. It was this magical island where I fell in love with travelling again. Thanks to Millwall Neil, Eva Jun and Natalia for being my travel partners as we circled the whole island, touring some really remote spots and inspiring my writing at the time.
Top Tourist Sight – Taipei 101 or Tiansiang
Off the Tourist Trail – Xinying, Chiayi City, Kwan Tzu Ling
Sleep at – Youth Hostel in Tailuga
Eat – Stinky Tofu or Taiwanese Hot Pot
Drink – Taiwanese Milky Tea!
Crazy or Cool Thing to Do – Backpack down to Eluanbi – the Beacon of South East Asia and the south eastern tip of the country
Recommended DSL post – Motorcycling Tainan City
I visited Taiwan in 2009. All my posts on Taiwan are here.
This was a hard list to choose, and maybe even the list varies slightly with me from day to day as different memories come and go in my mind. The following countries were unlucky to lose out – Mexico, Bolivia, New Zealand, Georgia, Afghanistan and Moldova.
No videos here as this is a huge post, but thanks for reading and as always, safe travels!!