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Destinations for First Timers

Q: You’ve lamented Americans’ unwillingness to travel beyond the comfort zones, as you put it, of Western Europe or the Caribbean. Is there one place you’d recommend to a first-timer willing to venture further?

Turkey. I can’t say enough about Turkey — the scenery, the Roman ruins, the otherworldly landscapes of Cappadocia. And with an established and reliable infrastructure for tourists, the culture-shock is fully manageable even for the squeamish. And it’s cheap.

Otherwise, Latin America is special in that it’s not only exotic — that word again — but close. In less time or money than it takes to reach Paris, you could be standing atop Machu Picchu (which, trust me, is fifty times more spectacular than anything you’ll see in France), or discovering the Mayan ruins of Central America. There are 2,000 year-old pyramids just two hours from Miami — in Guatemala, Honduras and Belize.

People accuse me of being too cerebral about travel. Folks want to go somewhere to have fun, swim, and relax. I have to laugh, because in most of these places you can do all of those things, and more, without being holed up in some gated resort. And usually for less money.

This article is part of a collection that originally appeared on Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.