Many people have told me that they have always wanted to travel internationally, but are nervous to do it. I get it. Between ever-changing travel rules and regulations, fear of what to expect, and language barriers, it can be overwhelming.
Further, trying to build an itinerary and find accommodations takes time and can add stress.
The good news is that once you take that first trip, I think that you will find that people are generally friendly and welcoming. You can always help your case by being a respectful traveler and learning a few key phrases in the local language.
If you are ready to take that first step, I would recommend going to a place where most locals speak English or any other language that you are fluent in. As long as you are polite, you will find that most locals are willing to help you.
Canada is a great choice if you love the mountains, great food, outdoor adventures, and friendly people. You will find that it is, as they say in Thailand, "same same but different" from the United States. On a related note, saying that to a Canadian is also the fastest way to twerk them off. Vancouver and Montreal are two of my favorite places to visit and I hope to get to beautiful Ottawa one day. Sidebar: Montreal is tied with Portland, Oregon as my two favorite cities to eat in.
Mexico has delicious food, beautiful coastlines, and great handicrafts. In tourist locales, you will find that most people speak English. It is also usually inexpensive to get to one of the coastlines depending on what side of the States that you live in. Gastronomy, beaches, and swimming with whale sharks? Yes, please!
Costa Rica is one of my favorite wildlife destinations. I can say with some certainty that a monkey will antagonize you at some point. My favorite animal, the sloth, are ridonkulously adorable and they are easy to find here. As in, you may have to wait for them as they traverse the road at the rate of a....sloth. Staying in a cloud forest is as magical as it sounds and the beaches are great. Be careful in those eco-tourist hotels. I convinced Bill to take a beginner's yoga class with me and used the pregnancy card halfway through because it was so hard. That was six years ago and Bill has never attempted yoga since.
The United Kingdom
Big Ben, pubs (but holy hell, a pint will cost you an arm and a leg), castles...London, Edinburg, and Glasgow are great but so is the countryside. Get out to Salisbury and Bath and see Stonehenge and ancient Roman baths. If you fancy Shakespeare, go see a play in Stratford upon Avon. In Scotland, make sure you see the Highlands. The UK is expensive but there is so much to see and it's also a great jumping-off point if you want to extend your trip to France or other parts of Western Europe.
There are lots of reasons to go to Ireland but for me, it's the people. They are the nicest, friendliest folks and I don't think it's possible to have a bad time there. We went in November when the weather was rather crappy and had a blast hanging out in pubs, listening to trad, and sharing stories with the locals. My sister and I even had a friendly back and forth singing with two older gentlemen who sang "Me and Bobby McGee" to us. We countered with "Rapper's Delight" and then all clanked our Guinness pints together. If you want to drive the barkeeps nuts, ask them to spell your name in the foam. When I told one that my name was "Christina" he said, "Fooking tourists." Then he smiled and said, "'Twill be difficult, but not impossible." He did it:)
Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland)
I am convinced that the Scandinavian countries all got together and decided to create their languages with as many consonants as they could to make it impossible to quickly grasp. Here, the mystical world of gnomes, hidden people, and trolls mesh with the Viking past. Delicious seafood awaits as does the Northern Lights. Fancy meeting Santa's reindeer? You can do that here as well.
If you would like to get a taste of Asia, Singapore is a foodie and shopper's heaven. The food stalls (referred to as hawker centers) are well-known for being the preferred place to eat for most travelers because they are inexpensive, tasty, and the selection is unbeatable. There is also a wide range of cultures. You will hear Singlish, a mix of English, Tamil, Malay, and Mandarin.
Most first-timers opt to go to Sydney or Melbourne - and both are great choices. Perth (Western Australia) is beautiful and has highlights like Rottnest Island (with an animal called the quokka that is found nowhere else in the world) and the Margaret River wine country nearby. Divers, of course, put the Great Barrier Reef at the top of their list.
New Zealand is well-known for its beautiful landscapes, which makes hiking a must-do. You can see glaciers, sort out your life or try an extreme sport. Kiwis like to party and are loads of fun. The Waitomo glow worm caves are a touristy but must-do activity.
South Africa has been on my list for a while. There are lots of wine regions to explore including Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek. You can also do a safari at Kruger National Park and try to see the Big 5. If you are really feeling adventurous, you can even go cage diving with great whites. Nope, I'm good.
I said it before and I'll say it again, the hardest part is to decide to go. After you make that decision, you get the fun of planning it. If that makes you nervous, book with a travel agent. If you're really nervous, you can even book a guided tour although I feel like you don't get a chance to be as close to the locals when you do that and you miss out on an even richer experience.
I promise that the more you travel, the more comfortable that you get. Travel makes the world smaller and bigger all at the same time. Smaller in the sense that you will realize how similar we all are and bigger in that once you visit one place, you add ten more to your list!