How much time and money do you have? My theory is that if you haven’t done much overseas travel, it’s best to start out easy and then work your way up to more exotic locales. New Zealand, Australia, England, Ireland and Scotland are all English speaking countries that are damn interesting to visit, and have super great tourist infrastructure. All of these places have tremendous natural beauty. And in England (Cockney accent) or in the boonies of Ireland or Scotland, you won’t be able to understand a damn word some people are saying anyhow (Think Brad Pitt in Snatch).
I’m completely in favor of low budget travel. Staying in inexpensive hostels is a fantastic way to meet people, you just have to be able to tolerate a lot of noise and drunken people.
In Western Europe, you will almost always be able to find someone who speaks English. In Amsterdam, almost everybody speaks English. I find the French to be less willing to try to understand an English speaking person than any other country I’ve ever been to. In my experience, a lot of Parisians deserve their snobby reputations.
I wouldn’t go to southeast Asia until I had a bit more traveling experience under my belt. It is wonderful and inexpensive, but a much more challenging environment than western Europe.
Going on safari in Africa was one of the most thrilling things I’ve done in my life. Keep in mind, South Africa is about a billion miles away (usually 3 flights and around 18 hours) from California.
The other bit of advice is if you are going outside of the Western Hemisphere, try to take at least two weeks, otherwise you’ll be fighting jet lag most of the time. If you can afford it, take off 2 or 3 months and travel to one continent. You will have the rest of your life to work.