You’ve finally made it! You’ve turned in your final papers and exams, walked that stage, and celebrated with friends and family. And now, with all that graduation money in hand, you are looking for the best graduation trips and ways to spend your summer before entering the real world. What better way to celebrate this milestone in your life than by exercising your newfound freedom in a new, exotic location far from home? But where should you go on your graduation trip? If you are like most graduates, you don’t have a job lined up just yet and you may even be saddled with impending student loan payments, so you’d like to keep a reasonable budget. So keeping money in mind, here are the top 10 summer destinations to visit after graduation.
Best Graduation Trips | For the first-time traveler
If your graduation trip is your first time leaving the country or first time traveling by yourself, it’s understandable if you want to find a destination that’s set on the “Beginner” level. These locations are top choices for locations that are tourist-friendly.
Winner: Sydney, Australia
Sure, they’ve got accents, some funny words, one-of-a-kind creatures, and more sunshine than you could ever imagine, but for the most part, Sydney is a great starting place for travelers who are unsure or hesitant to jump right into some of the more challenging countries. It has your picture-worthy tourist sights like the Sydney Opera House and Darling Harbour, but you’re also never far from the sand and fun on the beaches, like Bondi Beach. There are plenty of water sports and adventures for adrenaline junkies, vineyards, foodie havens, and plenty of shopping. Sydney has a central transportation system and is a hub for traveling to almost any other part of the country.
Runner up: Barcelona, Spain
This Spanish-speaking city is an international tourist destination, so even if you don’t speak the language, they are able to cater to non-Spanish speakers. Just like Sydney, Barcelona has pretty much got it all — the Sagrada Familia for your “I’ve totally been there!” photo, both lively and relaxing beaches, tapas and paella for food-lovers, a formidable party scene, and some of the most colorful street art (and the Picasso Museum). Plus, the city boasts a public transportation system and is strategically located if you desire to venture into France or Portugal.
Check In to Tiger Sydney Hostel, Step Out to Darling Harbour
Best Graduation Trips | For the Art Lover
Whether you’re a fan of fine arts, performing arts, or street art, these destinations offer some of the best museums and art culture that you can find in the world.
Winner: Paris, France
For fans of art, whether that be paintings, illustrations, sculpture, dance, or fashion, there is no other place in the world that will fill your artistic soul than Paris. There’s The Louvre, of course, but also dozens of other museums with masterpieces from the greats like Rodin, Monet, Dali, and Picasso. For lovers of the performing arts, there is always the scantily-clad choruses at Moulin Rouge or Lido, but frankly, you can get a variety of high-caliber (and free!) entertainment just from the ubiquitous buskers and street performers you’ll see as you walk the streets near the Seine and ride the Paris Metro. Summer is peak season for tourists, so expect to make hotel reservations far in advance and be ready for long lines. Paris is also one of the more expensive cities to travel to, although there is a fair amount that caters to the backpacker or budget traveler. Be sure to bring your student ID for lots of discounts or free entry to many places on Paris.
Runner-up: Berlin, Germany
Berlin has the arts scene on lockdown, and it starts with the plethora of street art all over the city. Berliners are every bit as rebellious as they are eccentric, so expect to see some of the most cutting-edge, tongue-in-cheek, and provocative art everywhere you look. Not to mention the more than 400 art galleries with works from over 100,000 artists, Berlin’s art scene is alive and thriving. Underground art centers, such as Kunsthaus Tacheles, Raw Tempel, or Kunstlerhaus Bethanien bring together music, art, handiwork, workshops, performances, concerts, and theater into their industrial spaces. Berlin also has the makings for one of the best graduation trips because it’s one of the easier countries for English speakers to travel in as Germans are welcoming and often speak English as well.
Check In to Caulain Court Square Boutique Hostel, Step Out to Montmartre
Best Graduation Trips | For the Adrenaline Junkie
You’ve just graduated and are about to take the plunge into the real world. For your graduation trip, you could also take a more literal plunge by visiting these locales that offer gravity-defying, heart-pumping extreme sports and activities.
Winner: Queenstown, New Zealand
The dense green forests, glaciers, lake, mountain ranges, and volcanoes make New Zealand any thrill seeker’s ultimate dream destination. This island nation is perfect year-round with gorgeous weather, and Queenstown is a popular tourist jumping point for activities like bungee jumping (it was invented here!), canyoning, skydiving, zorbing, mountain climbing, and trekking, kayaking, white water rafting, and much more. Soak in some culture and get your blood pumping by taking a gondola up to the Skyline Queenstown complex to see Kiwi Haka, where local Maori performers dance the Haka, an aggressive ceremonial war dance with rhythmic stomping and shouting, among other traditional dances and songs.
Runner Up: Interlaken, Switzerland
Don’t let this sleepy Swiss mountain town fool you; Interlaken is home to just about every extreme sport you can imagine, including mountaineering, bungee jumping, zorbing, skiing, snowboarding, paragliding, helicopter skydiving, white water rafting, canyoning, ice climbing, rock climbing, trekking, and so much more. The town itself is warm and welcoming with plenty of shopping and even offers a free human-sized chess game to play on the street. Interlaken’s two lakes, Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, are a beautiful turquoise, and it offers some of the most stunning mountain landscapes of Jungfrau you’ve ever seen,
Check In to Sir Cedrics Tahuna Pod Hostel, Step Out to Kawarau Bridge Bungy
Best Graduation Trips | For the Beach Bums
After all that school work, you’ve finally graduated! You’ve earned some rest and relaxation on your summer vacation, don’t you think? Slip on that swimsuit and bum around on the beaches of these picturesque beach destinations.
Winner: Phuket, Thailand
Thailand is one of the most welcoming countries to foreigners and is fairly easy to get around without speaking a word of Thai. Phuket, while known for its wild nightlife and as a great beach destination all on its own, is also perfectly located for tons of island-hopping. Grab a longtail boat or speedboat and visit nearby Coral Islands, Racha Islands, or Koh Phi Phi Islands, and you will have more sun, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and stunning beauty than you know what to do with. Since it’s a lively tourist scene, Phuket can be quite crowded during peak seasons, but the beauty of the waters and the beaches are unsurpassed, things are cheap, and the people are hospitable.
Runner Up: The Algarve, Portugal
Along the southern coast of Portugal, you will find The Algarve and a string of towns that offers something for everyone who wants to be near the beach. There is plenty going on during the day with activities like cliff-jumping, surfing, snorkeling, kayaking, bodyboarding, booze cruises, and plenty of relaxing on the sandy beaches of Lagos, Albufeira, or Sagres. The area is popular with tourists and backpackers alike, and you’ll find no shortage of hostels to stay in or cheap food and drinks to consume. The towns spring to life each evening as guests and locals mingle on the mosaic-tiled streets and shop, drink in one of the countless bars or rooftops, and dance at the stay-open-late nightclubs.
Check In to Kool Backpacker Hostel, Step Out to Patong Beach
Best Graduation Trips | For the history buffs
If you actually paid attention in history classes or would just like to see some of the most history-rich places on earth, these two cities offer a staggering amount of links to the past.
Winner: Istanbul, Turkey
While your eyes may have glazed over in World History class,
Istanbul is the place where so much of what you’ve heard of and read about all come together. The city formerly known as Constantinople has been at the epicenter of some of history’s biggest turning points. At one point or another, Istanbul has been owned by the Greeks, the Persians, the Greeks again, the Romans, the Crusaders, and the Ottomans and has had its places of worship changed from Christian to Catholic to Muslim. Go back even further by taking a day trip to Cappadocia, where you can see cavemen homes carved into the valley walls during the Bronze Age. Plus, there’s amazing food, great nightlife in Taksim, Turkish baths, and many things that are much cheaper here than in central and western Europe.
Runner-Up: Rome, Italy
You cannot even speak about historical places without at least mentioning Rome. This tourist mecca may be overcrowded and expensive, particularly in the summer (peak season), but for the serious history buffs, it is worth it. From the Pantheon to the Colosseum, from the Roman Forum to nearby Vatican City, you would be hard pressed to name another city with such monumental and noteworthy historical landmarks. Rome offers plenty of budget accommodations for travelers, and it’s the ultimate destination to check off your bucket list.
Check In to Second Home Hostel, Step Out to The Blue Mosque
Best Graduation Trips | For the Party-Goers
Keep the college partying going by hitting up these two cities. These locales are a bit more exotic than your standard spring break or summer destinations, and they are cheaper than a club-hopping trip to Ibiza.
Winner: Bangkok, Thailand
There isn’t much that Bangkok doesn’t have (except a good beach for sunbathing). A bustling modern metropolis, the city offers incredible shopping, tons of cultural and historical sites, and of course, one heck of a nightlife. From Silom Road to Soi Thonglor, there are entire streets dedicated to partying, drinking, and clubbing. On Khao San Road, you can enjoy a bucket cocktail while perusing the numerous bars, venues with live music, and nightclubs. The street is also lined with delicious and cheap street food (including bugs!), souvenir shops and tattoo and massage parlors. In Bangkok, pretty much anything goes, so it is the perfect destination for those who want to keep the graduation party going.
Runner-Up: Seoul, South Korea
Famous not only for its shopping districts like Myeongdong and Gangnam, Seoul has numerous party districts, such as lively Hongdae, foreigner-friendly Itaewon, and pricier Apgujeong which stay up all night under the neon-lit skies. Sip on drinks-in-a-bag as you walk down the streets lined with bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, and then dine on some late night Korean BBQ before heading to one of Korea’s countless karaoke joints to belt out tunes with your friends and continue to drink until sunrise. Oh, and it’s all cheap.
Check In to Mad Monkey Hostel Bangkok Rambuttri Village, Step Out to Khao San Road
Best Graduation Trips | For the Shopaholics
While there are the usual suspects when it comes to shopping capitals of the world, those cities require quite a bankroll to do any real damage….which generally isn’t feasible for anyone just graduating. Here are a couple other shopping meccas that won’t require you to sacrifice your firstborn child.
Winner: Marrakech, Morocco
You could spend days, or even weeks, shopping in the Medina (old city) of Marrakech, haggling over one-of-a-kind treasures ranging from lanterns to rugs to pottery to jewelry, from hookahs crafted by local Berber desert nomads to paintings by local artists. Shoes, perfumes and spices, leather, woodwork and pottery all have their respective souks. Be ready to get your haggling game on as just about everything is negotiable. If you happen to go during Ramadan, you will get to witness the town square, Djemaa El-Fna, erupt into a frenzy of celebration, food, and music as the locals break from their fasting each sundown. Throw in a camel safari into the Sahara Desert for a night of camping, and you’ve got a trip of fantastic shopping, food, and culture.
Runner-Up: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Of the world ten largest shopping malls, Kuala Lumpur has three of them. While you can find just about anything you desire within these malls with no haggling, there won’t be anything quite as unique or as cheap as Marrakech. Bukit Bintang and KLCC have high-end luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Jimmy Choo, plus all your favorites like H&M and Forever 21, while Petaling Street and Central Market feature more local shopping and handicrafts. And with affordable lodging and food, you’ll have plenty of cash leftover to buy to your heart’s content.
Check In to Riad Villa Mouassine, Step Out to Djemaa el Fna
Best Graduation Trips | For those who want a taste of America
It’s difficult to narrow down the choices if you’re wanting just a taste of America (or if you are American and want to stick close to home). However, these two cities take the cake by offering one-of-a-kind atmospheres, attractions, and experiences.
Winner: Austin, TX, USA
Home to the University of Texas – Austin, this liberal college town prides itself on its counterculture, innovation, and being downright “cool.” It’s a foodie’s paradise with everything from taco trucks to BBQ, world-class chefs, and plenty of craft beer. The live music scene is unrivaled in Austin, and if you’re lucky, you can find some pretty big names playing in small, intimate venues. The official motto of the city is, “Keep Austin Weird” and that they do with places like Museum of the Weird, Bat Bridge, and Rainey Street. Of course, you can still slip into a two-step in a local honky-tonk and cowboy hats are very much a thing. This capital city is home to hippies and hipsters, entrepreneurs and eccentrics, making it a unique and memorable American city worth the visit.
Runner-Up: Chicago, IL, USA
Name the “Best Big City” for tourists by Conde Nast Traveler in 2019, Chicago is a city where you can never run out of things to do. Much cheaper than the big coastal cities, this huge metropolis boasts some of America’s finest culture, art, nightlife, sports, and sights. With attractions such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum of Natural History, and Lincoln Park Zoo (just to name a small handful), there’s plenty to keep you busy during the day. After you’re done taking your requisite photo with Cloud Gate at Millennium Park, be sure to hit up endless shopping and dining on The Magnificent Mile or take a stroll on the Chicago Riverwalk. Getting around is quite easy with the “L” train, subway, or city bus, and you get that midwestern hospitality you just can’t find on the coasts.
Check In to Hostel 512, Step Out to Austin City Center
Best Graduation Trips | For the super-budget traveler
If you’re like most college students, you still want to get away and celebrate, but you also don’t want to break the bank, right? Although it may be more expensive initially for a flight to one of these locations, you will find your daily costs to be remarkably cheaper than any other location listed here.
Winner: Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), Vietnam
Vietnam has grown in its popularity in the recent decade but is still relatively untouched by tourism when compared to many of Asia and Europe’s big cities. Because of this, everything is still dirt cheap in Vietnam, including in its capital city, Ho Chi Minh (also referred to as Saigon). Ho Chi Minh is popular for budget travelers because of the relative ease of travel, incredibly friendly locals, and low prices. It boasts its share of history with the sobering War Remnants Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels, leftovers from the Vietnam War. You can float along through the river markets, go shopping in Saigon Square or numerous malls, and head to the lively party streets of Bui Vien or Pham Ngu Lao for ridiculously cheap beer, live music, and partying. And above all else, you must grab a tiny stool by a food stall to enjoy some some bánh mì, phở, and cà phê đá.
Runner Up: Delhi, India
A flurry of colors, smells, people, tuktuks, and sights, Delhi can be overwhelming on the senses and may not be recommended for an inexperienced traveler. The city offers a bustling Indian experience with incredible food, shopping, and tons of sights to visit, and all for dirt, dirt cheap. If you do not look Indian, be prepared to stand out and pay a “foreigner tax” on just about every purchase you make unless you are highly skilled at negotiation and know the local price going in. With the country’s remarkably cheap rail system, Delhi is also a great launching pad for visiting other sites in India, including the Taj Mahal in Agra and the city of Jaipur.
Check In to 96 Bui Vien Guesthouse, Step Out to Bui Vien Street
Best Graduation Trips | For those who want it all
Maybe you don’t fall solidly into any of these categories. You are graduating as a well-rounded person with various interests, right? Here are two graduation trip destinations that pretty much have it all.
Winner: Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town checks all the boxes — it’s got mountains, beaches, shopping, nightlife, culture, history, and ways to get your adrenaline fix. Table Mountain and the Cape Fold Mountain Range overlook this city on Africa’s southern tip and Clifton’s four beaches, Hout Bay, and Camps Bay provide pristine sand and water for you to enjoy. Along with having the highest abseil in the world, Cape Town also offers adrenaline junkies extreme activities like zip lining, swimming with sharks, sandboarding, hot air ballooning, paragliding, caving and skydiving. You can find a wide variety of shops, from boutiques to bargain markets to shopping malls, and Victoria and Alfred Waterfront are chalk full of restaurants, hotels, theaters, and museums. For a bit of history, check out Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was locked up for 18 years, or visit some of the eleven museums that comprise Iziko Museums of South Africa. Cape Town is horribly underestimated as a top travel destination.
Runner-Up: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro really does have it all! The prices may be a bit higher than you expect and it can get quite crowded during peak season, but with an impressive cultural scene, live music, mountains, forests, coffee, beans and rice, and all-night partying, Rio is the sexiest place south of the equator. Greet the day and the city from incredible views from Christ the Redeemer or Sugar Loaf mountain. Explore the rainforest with a trip to nearby Tijuca Forest, or get your adrenaline going with activities like hang gliding, skydiving, paragliding, and waterfall rappelling. With beachfront party districts like Copacabana and Ipanema, you can soak up the sun by day and sip caipirinhas by night as you dance to live music until morning.