Fourteen of the best festivals for backpackers in 2015

There is a way to make travel better.

While there's never a bad time to leave our shores in search of adventure, it's ideal if you can plan your journey to coincide with a festival or event in a foreign land. Not only is it guaranteed entertainment, but it's also the time when locals are at their best, when hair is let down and everyone parties the same way travellers party.

Most travellers are aware of the obvious events, the likes of Oktoberfest, the San Fermin Festival and La Tomatina. But if you're planning to head overseas this year, you could do far worse than call into one these lesser-known but equally amazing celebrations.

Ati-Atihan, Philippines

Granted, you'd better get your flights booked soon. But if you can make it to the Philippines by January 10 you'll be able to witness one of the world's great festivals, a feast and celebration in the town of Kalibo. It's all about colour, from the painted faces and costumes of the celebrants to the food laid out on the tables.

When: January 10

Battle of the Oranges, Italy

Everyone knows about La Tomatina, the Spanish tomato fight, but few know about this festival in the northern Italian town of Ivrea. Again, it's all about chucking fruit, although this is a recreation of medieval battle using oranges instead of swords. Doesn't make a lot of sense, but it does make for a good time.

When: February 14

Hadaka Matsuri, Japan

Obviously most people have dreamt of one day joining a gigantic scrum of naked Japanese men fighting through frozen water in the hunt for sacred sticks to secure luck for the year, and this festival is your chance to make that dream come true. It's in Nara, it's in February, and it's insane.

When: February 18

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Holi, India

The Colour Run has got nothing on Holi, the Indian festival that celebrates the last lunar cycle of winter. This occasion is marked with a pitched street battle where the weapons are coloured dyes, and you'd better be wearing old clothes: everyone is expected to get involved. It's a riot of colour, and occasionally just a riot.

When: March 6

SXSW, USA

South By Southwest is a demonstration of all that's great about Austin, Texas: it's a week-long festival of live music, film and art hosted by a city that's always promised to keep itself "weird". It's also the perfect time to visit, although get in early – accommodation is likely to sell out.

When: March 13-22

Songkran, Thailand

How else would you celebrate the new year than by chucking water over complete strangers? Thailand comes alive during Songkran, the water festival, when everyone takes to the streets to wash away any bad luck. The best way to enjoy it is to buy yourself a giant water pistol and get involved.

When: April 13

Kings Day, The Netherlands

One of Europe's best events is this huge street party in the Netherlands, when the Dutch celebrate their king (and the coming summer) by heading outside en masse to drink and dance, and just generally enjoy themselves. Think Amsterdam is a fun city? Wait until you see it on Kings Day.

When: April 27

Combat des Reines, Switzerland

This is a cow-fighting festival, or as a friend of mine likes to call it: the festival of stroppy cows. The normally restrained Swiss let their hair down at this traditional battle of livestock, where carefully trained lady bovines fight it out for supremacy by locking horns and pushing each other around. The cow fighting is accompanied by the eating of sausages and the drinking of beer. As it should be.

When: May 11

Inti Raymi, Peru

Cusco, the mountain city and former seat of the Incan empire, has its former glory restored once a year with this reenactment of an ancient winter solstice festival. The modern incarnation involves concerts and street parades, as well as the more traditional worshipping of the sun god. There's no better time to be in town.  

When: June 24

Exit Festival, Serbia

There are plenty of European music festivals to attend, everything from Glastonbury to Roskilde to Bestival to Tomorrowland, but the best has got to be Exit Festival, a four-day party held in a Serbian castle at Novi Sad. With attendances of around 30,000 this is almost a boutique event, held at a stunning venue, with some of the best bands around.  

When: July 9

National Mask Festival, PNG

Now more accessible than ever, PNG is establishing itself as a popular adventure travel destination, and in a country loaded with cultural celebrations and festivals, this is the highlight. The town of Rabaul is packed during the four days of the Mask Festival, when craftsmen flock from around the country to show off their handiwork.

When: July 14-17

Burning Man, USA

Nevada's annual freak-fest has been gaining in popularity lately – it sounds counterproductive, but try to get there before it becomes too mainstream. Burning Man is unique, a temporary city in the middle of the Nevadan desert where nothing can be bought or sold, and everyone is encouraged to let their freakiness hang out. Which they happily do.

When: August 25

Dia de los Muertos, Mexico

The "Day of the Dead" is a fascinating time to be in Mexico, particularly in the city of Oaxaca, in which street parades are held, costumes are worn, and everyone makes a midnight pilgrimage out to the cemetery to commemorate the lives of the dearly departed. It's at once solemn and celebratory, a ghoulish festival held in the brooding darkness.

When: October 31

Hogmanay, Scotland

Finish the year off in boozy style by joining Scots throughout the country for their week-long celebration of the New Year. Wear your drinking pants: there's a pretty serious amount of beer and whisky imbibed during these famously raucous nights and days.

When: December 30

Which festivals and events are you planning to visit in 2015?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

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