Had it not been for this country (pictured above), the American hippy movement in the 1960s might not have happened. That’s an oversimplification, of course. But you’d be wise to respect the similarities: Gandhian peace, Kama Sutra love, yoga, karma, polytheistic beliefs and trippy music, man.
Obviously, India is so much more than the spiritual precursor of a short-lived subculture. It and its gentle people have been a mountain of influence to the world. It feeds the planet with more than a billion people, two of its greatest religions, its most mosaic and colorful culture and arguably its best spicy cuisine. If it was good enough for the Beatles, it’s good enough for you.
Here’s a country that’s more Western in thought than other places on this list, but still different enough to throw you for a loop—in a good way. Although Western relations with this former superpower have strained recently, there’s little evidence that Russia’s top destinations such as Moscow and St. Petersburg are any less safe than they were a few years ago, reports the New York Times.
There are no major travel warnings against visiting the largest country in the world, but North Americans must apply for visas. Those who do will be treated to up to 50% travel discounts (thanks to a weak ruble), fascinating architecture, social norms and art, and nascent democracy still exorcising its communist demons.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
If you want to get as far away from Western thought, language, food and culture as humanly possible, this is the furthest East you can go. Although Japan has shared the West’s affinity for democracy, over-achievers and first world civilization for more than half a century, this place is the opposite of the visual and social spectrum.
You’ll quickly realize this while standing in the nexus of Tokyo, the largest metropolitan city in the world, and asking yourself: Have I ever seen such a large number of sophisticated people act, behave, communicate and live so differently than home? That point will be driven home upon viewing oriental castles that rival the more familiar ones of England and France. After seeing the most beautiful, Zen and well-dressed gardens on the planet. While snapping a shot of cherry blossoms, climbing Mount Fuji or eating the best Asian noodles and raw fish prepared by humans.
Yes, the entire continent. To the north, the Sahara—the largest desert in the world and deafening reminder to those who visit to never take abundant Western water for granted. To the south, the birthplace of human life, civilization and the epicenter of migrant wildlife.
Outside of swimming in shark-infested waters or confronting a Grizzly Bear while camping, nowhere else will you feel lower on the food chain than on an African Safari, where you’ll encounter an intimidating and primal mix of lions, elephants, rhinos, gorillas, hippos, crocodiles and the most artistic horse-size donkey in the world—the iconic zebra. Despite their starved poverty, you’ll also encounter some of the happiest, most friendly humans you’ll ever meet.
The Middle East
Photo: Flickr/Dennis Jarvi
People fear what they don’t understand. And if there’s one thing Westerners don’t understand, it’s Middle Eastern culture. That all changes with your first visit to Petra, the Pyramids, the beautiful beaches of Lebanon, the Ottoman relics of Turkey or the ancient city of Jerusalem—a holy city to three of the world’s most influential religions.
Of course, special planning is required for any Westerner interested in visiting the area. Xenophobia, after all, goes both ways. And recent wounds take time to heal. So until we all get along, you’d be wise to stay away or tread lightly through the most hostile parts of the area (Egypt sadly included at present).
Honorable Mention: China. To most Westerners, this America-sized and similarly diverse country was, is and will forever remain beautifully-bewildering.
Off the Grid columnist Blake Snow writes epic stories for fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies. Visit his website or follow @blakesnow.