12 budget travel transport options
What are our budget backpacker transport options?
Picking the right budget travel transport options can be a difficult task!
For us budget backpackers, choices are normally simple; the cheaper the better. However, when it comes to budget transport options, it’s not always that easy.
We need to find something else, more so than with anything else, especially with long distance journeys. Unlike other times when we budget backpackers just say “Eh, I can deal with the rough”, with transport we need to find a balance – between cost, comfort and efficiency.
And, there lies our problem; most of the time if we want comfort we need to pay more; something we can’t really afford. So what do we do? We make sacrifices, cut others costs, so we can have just that little bit of comfort.
you may have started your trip already and finding this out, or you’re planning one and read or heard about people having nightmare journeys because of being on a tight budget.
Budget travel transport options
Nightmare journeys from hell can happen
Unfortunately, we aren’t fortunate as budget backpackers to take luxury transport to get us from A to B to Z. Sometimes our budget travel options are what nightmares are made of. Sometimes you will fear for your life, there will be times when you wonder if you’ll even reach you destination and sometimes the journeys will be backbreaking.
You might not want to hear that. I know sometimes just the glamorous side of traveling gets talked about. The nuts and bolts of everyday life, and things we have to deal with like budget travel transport options don’t get a mention. But, I’m just being real with you.
However It’s not all doom and gloom, with the right research, talking to the right people and getting some local insights, you can find some good options for a balance in price and comfort.
In the post, we will dive into what your backpacker transport options are and break down the options from local, intercity, cross country and even international.
Budget travel transport options for Intercity/ local area
Travel like a local on Tuk-tuks, caminos, chicken buses, bikes, local bus
The cheapest way to get around the local area, is to get around like a local does. Every country in the world will have some sort of local transportation. These options can vary depending where in the world you are but they will work out the cheapest option. Because you’ll be just traveling locally you don’t really need to concern yourself with too much comfort.
Local transport like Tuk-tuks, caminos, chicken buses, renting bikes, or the local bus cost next to nothing. Sometimes they can be quite scenic, you can get to see areas you wouldn’t usually, and sometimes they can be quite the adventure. (I mean get on one of those chicken buses in South America with locals and their livestock and you’ll know what I mean.)
However you do have to be careful with these too. In some countries, especially ones used to having tourists around; they will try and rip you off at times. They’ll try and charge you extra, or take you on random detours. If you need to haggle a price, always make sure you’ve agreed a price before getting in the transport.
With local transport, try and not to stand out too much as a tourist, be courteous, even learn a few words to get by, and remember you might not be used to their customs or ways of doing things but you’re a guest in their country. And, also It’s always worth just having the right change for the ride. Often when you give larger amounts they will not have change to give; they’ll either refuse letting you on, or just pocket your money.
Most developed countries have networked public transport systems whether that’s buses, trains or interlinking metro systems. If you are planning to stay in the region for a prolonged amount of time it’s a good idea to invest in passes or discount cards.
For us budget travelers, they can really help with our budgets. You can get different types of passes to suit your needs and budget, ranging from daily/weekly or monthly. Some will be unlimited travel, zone passes and some with come with activities included or discounts on activities so these are great budget travel transport options.
In smaller villages and towns, you can typically rent bicycles or just walk around. If it’s within your means you can rent cars or mopeds too.
Taxi/Uber/Grab/other private transportation
A taxi ride of any sort will inevitably be the most expensive backpacker transport options but sometimes there are no other options and you have to bite the bullet. Depending on what type of country you’re traveling within, be wary of taxi scams, do a little research into official taxis. Do make sure before getting into certain taxi’s that they have a meter, if they don’t, you should haggle and agree on a price BEFORE you sit in the taxi. Remember if you think it seems too expensive then it probably is.
Uber operates pretty much globally and other similar private transportation companies like Grab in South East Asia, operate all over the world and can be a lot cheaper, safer and more regulated than regular taxi’s.
Budget travel transport option for long distance/cross country traveling
Welcome to the bain of your life as a backpacker of any sort, especially if you’re on a budget. We might as well get this one out of the way first.
Overnight buses can be enjoyable, if you get the right type, with a decent level of comfort. However they are like playing Russian roulette; they’re few and far between, even if they seem comfortable to begin with.
While in theory, an overnight bus should be a godsend for us budget backpackers as they save you on nights rent and get you and place in one move. You know like killing two birds with one stone.
However in practicality that stone is doing nothing but hitting you. Yeah, you are saving that’s night rent, yeah you’re not wasting a day or two traveling to your next destination but It’s not that simple.
You’re more than likely to encounter a bumpy journey in which you lose any chance of getting any sleep. It can be very uncomfortable, backbreaking in some instances, too hot, too cold, chance of breakdowns, and random stop and searches.
There is also something that I’ve encountered on so many night buses, there’s no logical explanation except the drivers love to fuck with the passengers. You find almost all the time, while they might not have air-con on during the day when you need it, they will blast it out at 4am so you freeze on the bus. Or if you are getting some sleep it’s almost guaranteed it will get interupted by the driver blasting out some local dance music in the dead of the night.
But, even with all their pitfalls, if you are traveling long distance, you’re more than likely to still take a overnight bus.
When it comes to choosing your poison for the night, you’ll normally be greeted with a choice from no-frills (You might not make it) to luxury (much more comfy, affordable but still includes the aforementioned pitfalls) budget options.
In certain countries, the luxury budget options will not put you out of pocket so I highly recommend going for them, for your sanity to remain intact. Luxury options generally come with meals included, regular stops and comfortable with fully reclining seats or makeshift beds.
If taking long-distant journeys are off-putting, then depending on your time-frame, you may consider breaking up your journey by taking smaller trips on local buses. This way you can go from town to town and see more of the country before you get to your desired destination. However, this option is quite time-consuming and can get tiring and also might just turn out more expensive.
Backpacker tour/ hop on-off buses
A popular choice amongst first-time solo and budget backpackers is to take either a tour bus or a hop on-off bus.
Backpacker tour bus
If you choose not to travel independently, you might not trust over night or local buses there is always the option of tour buses too. They have everything planned for you, a route, certain stops to well known attractions, sometimes meals and accomodation too. These buses are much better suited if you want your whole trip or at least part of it pre-planned for you.
There are a number of companies all over the world and cater towards different types of backpackers and travelers. You might be a young gap year backpacker wanting to party; there are companies that cater to that. Or if you’re a little older, or traveling with a partner there will be a company that offers a tour better suited to your way of traveling. You just have to do a little research into the right one before hand.
Most companies will offer various routes through a country with pre-determined stops, activities, excursions, and accommodation for you. With this option, you’ll spend a set amount of time at each stop; which can range from a few hours to a few days. The packages will be pre-paid when you book. If you are looking to travel solo for the first time but afraid that you’ll be lonely, this is a good option to combat that as you’ll be able to meet a lot of like minded backpackers on the same bus.
Hop on-off buses
If you want more flexibility and don’t want your itinerary laid out for you but you are looking for a set route, this might be a better option for you. There are a number of different options that come with Hop on-off buses, you have the freedom to choose your starting and finishing destinations as well where you want to stop along the way but you have to decide that before you book the ticket. Most typically with this option, your trip will be for a set amount of time, however, you have the freedom to stop in a particular destination as long as you like within the set time period.
There are both advantages and disadvantages with Hop on-off buses. The advantages would be that your route is laid out for you, you have the flexibility to stop where you want and how long you want and you’re not stuck a whole journey with the same people. The disadvantages are that sometimes the bus will only run through a particular destination on certain days or at certain times, so that takes away some of the flexibility, sometimes drivers can be funny with you, sometimes your bus doesn’t turn up.
(Note: In most cases, you have to call or get in touch with the bus company 24 hours before you intend to move destination to confirm your seat on the bus.)
For both of these options, the most popular traveling destinations and backpacker tour companies have a number of choices available for you. For example STA travel: – package tours.
Another alternative is to take a train, many countries around the world have long distance and sleeper trains; some train journeys can be quite scenic. Just like with the buses, trains come will offer different levels of comfort, I know some people who have vowed never to take a sleeper train ever again but others who loved the experience. There are some countries where taking a train ride is an adventure in itself.
Although trains will be a quicker option, they tend to be more expensive than bus journeys, so you will have to decide on what would suit you best.
Let’s be honest, who doesn’t like a good ol’ road trip? Renting a car or a campervan lets you take the road trip to the next level. If it’s within your budget and you can drive then renting is a highly recommended option.
Renting a vehicle provides you the ultimate freedom. You are the master of your journey; take the route you want, travel when and how you want, as fast or slow you want. And also another benefit of renting is you can save on accommodation costs; rent a campervan and that’s your transport and accommodation rolled into one.
The majority of countries around the world allow you to rent vehicles and there are so many services on offer for budget travelers.
However, there are a few things to consider before jumping into a campervan. You should look into fuel costs, reliability, will the terrain be too difficult for you to navigate? Will you be driving on the same side of the road as you’re used to? Are the rules of the road the same as what you’re used to? I.E driving in South East Asia and South America is totally different to driving in a Western Country.
Flying can sometimes provide good budget travel transport options
Sometimes budget travelers automatically assume flying is too expensive but that’s not always the case. It’s always worth checking out the price of domestic or regional flights, especially within Europe and SouthEast Asia. The obvious benefit to flying is that it gets you to your destination quicker, sometimes you just can’t handle another long distance bus journey. And that flight which takes 40 minutes instead of 9 hours on a bus will just be too enticing to miss.
There are budget airlines all over the world, that can offer flights, sometimes for the same price as a bus or train journey and can be a good backpacker transport option if you book at the right time. Like I mentioned, It’s always worth to keep an eye on them; they might just save your sanity.
Budget travel transport options for the brave: Hitchhiking
I’ll be honest, I haven’t done too much hitchhiking over the years but I’ve never heard any horror stories. In fact most have been very positive stories, It’s less dangerous than you may think.
Hitchhiking is actually very popular with backpackers, and a good budget travel transport option if you’re looking to getting around for free. It does give you that sense of adventure, you never know who you could meet.
Of course, if you are to hitchhike, then you do have to use your common sense and be careful of who you decide to ride with.
I’ve met travelers who have traveled through entire countries and regions by just hitchhiking.
Another mode of transport you’re most likely to encounter at some point is traveling by boat. Boat’s will not only come into factor when traveling to Islands but also offer border crossings. If you’re a fan of the open water this could a viable choice for you.
Boat trips will come in all shapes and sizes and comfort for traveling to Islands, channel hops, border crossings, cruises, and excursions. As with all transport options make sure to do your research. The more touristy areas and Islands will have a plethora of boat ferrying companies willing to take you back and forth and some will try over-pricing you. There are some cheap options out there for you, you just have to look.
Useful websites for budget travel transport options
In most cases your best budget travel transport options are to seek out transport options locally when you arrive at your destination, however below are some websites that can be quite helpful when looking into or booking transport.
Check my bus – A good site that lets you check and book local bus journeys all around the world.
Routes international – Covers every mode of transport from all around the world.
The man in seat 61 – One of the most comprehensive and reputable train travel guide/search and booking portal on the internet. Includes local, trans-country and trans-regional train journeys from all around the world.
Rome to Rio – A global trip planner by any mode of transport in any country around the world.
For the best underground/subway/metro maps, you need to look up for each individual country.
STA travel worldwide bus passes – Offer passes for bus companies around the world.
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