The world may be your oyster, but if you’ve never traveled outside the United States before, that pearl can look pretty intimidating. And with so many interesting places to visit, how can a girl even know where to start? It might be tempting to visit London or Sydney or another English-speaking city for your first international trip — and there’s nothing wrong with those cities! — but if you want to stretch your comfort zone a little and visit somewhere that can offer you something new without being too challenging, read on.
After evaluating our favorite international cities for their relatively low culture shock and ease of travel, we’ve rounded up five tourist-friendly cities across the world to consider for your first trip abroad. These cities are great destinations for women from any nation (and for veteran travelers as well!).
Go ahead and open Skyscanner in another tab so you’ll be ready to book a flight as soon as you find the city that speaks to you. Bon voyage!
1. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Located in central Mexico, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its colonial charm, including cobblestone streets, colorful houses, and plenty of creeping foliage. In recent years, the city has become a popular retirement spot for foreigners, including Americans and Canadians, so English is widely spoken. The large expat community also means prices are higher than elsewhere in the region, but it is possible to travel in San Miguel de Allende on a budget.
Must do: Visit the Mercado de Artesanías to support local artists, and take a historical walking tour to learn more about the important role SMA has played in Mexico’s revolutionary history. For sunset, grab drinks at one of the town’s many beautiful rooftop bars.
Explore more: Mexico City offers something for every type of traveler and is located only a four-hour bus ride from San Miguel de Allende. If you have limited time, the nearby city of Guanajuato is an easy day trip from SMA.
2. Belgrade, Serbia
Forget everything you’ve heard about Serbia — unless you’ve heard that it’s a beautiful European country crowned by a funky capital city. In that case, you heard right! Head to Belgrade, located at the juncture of the Danube and Sava Rivers, to experience some of the best cafe culture in Europe. (Yes, you heard right! I think Belgrade rivals many of its more famous Western European cousins for the title of best cafe culture — and because of its relatively low tourism, you won’t be paying five euros for a cup of coffee.) English is widely spoken, especially among the younger generations.
Must do: Belgrade is famous for its nightlife, especially its floating barge clubs along the Sava River, but if all-night partying isn’t your style, there are plenty of cafes and bars in the city with charming interiors and delicious drinks.
Explore more: Turn your vacation into a Balkan road trip and also visit Sarajevo and Zagreb — two other capital cities with rich histories, affordable prices, and plenty of charm.
3. Siem Reap, Cambodia
Southeast Asia might seem like a stretch for a first-time international traveler, but don’t discount this unbelievably gorgeous and extremely affordable region. Cambodia actually uses U.S. currency, so Americans don’t have to worry about conversion rates, and because Siem Reap is so dependent on tourism, English speakers are easy to find. Plus, the budget-friendly prices in Siem Reap mean you can hire private guides and/or stay in an amenity-rich hotel if you don’t yet feel comfortable leading self-guided adventures or navigating hostels in a foreign country.
Must do: Sunrise at Angkor Wat is a popular experience in Siem Reap (and so beautiful!), but be sure to visit some of the smaller temples in the Angkor complex as well, like the delicately carved Banteay Srei, the “Citadel of the Women.”
Explore more: You’ve already made the long flight from the U.S., so why not add another country to your itinerary while you’re here? Chiang Mai, Thailand, is another excellent affordable destination for beginning travelers.
4. Panama City, Panama
For an option a little closer to home, Panama City also uses USD and is full of English speakers, given the long-term presence of the U.S. managing the Panama Canal. In fact, you might even forget you have left the U.S., so consider taking at least one day trip outside the city to see the natural wonders Panama has to offer.
Must do: Balance a visit to the impressive Panama Canal (one of the modern wonders of the world) with a casual morning spent wandering the charming Casco Viejo, or “old town” of the city.
Explore more: Get outside the city and enjoy an island vacation! Panama City is located on the Pacific Coast, but it’s quite easy to hop to the Caribbean by plane or bus. Two popular archipelagos for tourists include Bocas del Toro and the San Blas Islands.
5. Porto, Portugal
Porto seems to be quickly overtaking Lisbon as Portugal’s favorite city, and it’s easy to see why. From wine tasting (including the region’s famous port) to gorgeous blue tiles to hearty Portuguese cuisine, Porto is a wonderful destination. English is widely spoken, thanks to the city’s growing tourism. The city has its own international airport and is easily accessible by bus or train from Lisbon.
Must do: Start every morning with a pastel de nata (custard tart), break in the afternoons for a bolinho de bacalhau (codfish pastry), and spend the evenings tasting port along the Douro River.
Explore more: Day trips from Porto are easy to find — the hardest part will be deciding which places to visit! Consider a trip to the Douro Valley to see where Porto’s famous wine is made, or visit Peneda-Gerês National Park near the Spanish border.