Backpacking in North America

Countries  »  North America

Why go?

Discover North America

You might not always realise it, but North America exists outside of the cinema screen. Dominated by the United States of America and Canada, two of the world's most popular backpacking destinations, North America is the third largest continent by area and home to some of the travel world's wildest experiences.

There are countless ways to take your gap year in the USA, whether you only enjoy a city or two (New York, Los Angeles, Seattle... don't worry, there's not many to choose from), take an epic road trip on Route 66, use the legendary Greyhound buses, or a combination of everything to make your trip truly unique. Whether you prefer sprawling metropolises, barren deserts, or lush national parks the land of the free has plenty to suit you.

You'll find a similar variety in Canada, its cities stylish and liberal and its scenery so lush and green (or frozen, depending how far north you go) you might forget that civilisation exists. And there's poutine. Delicious/sickening poutine.

There's also Mexico and, depending on your definitions, Greenland, Cuba, Jamaica, and a host of paradisical Caribbean islands. A gap year in North America is serious business.

Why Visit North America?

You mean everything mentioned above wasn't enough?! Alright *cracks fingers* let's do this.

It seems unbelievable that it took so long for North America to be properly discovered (the Vikings got there fairly early but couldn't make their colonisation stick). These days the continent is so full of things to do it's like it's trying to make up for lost time.

From sea to shining sea

The USA really is as vast and varied as it appears in the movies. Head north for verdant scenery, cold winters, and world famous cities like New York, Seattle, Boston, Chicago, and Washington DC. Head to the (wild) west for incredible desert landscapes and to pretend you're Clint Eastwood, or into the deep south for scorching weather and insects the size of your face. 

A popular way to see the USA is to drive from one side to the other, often east to west, and doing so can be like travelling through a collection of countries rather than states. It's the perfect way to see this great nation. 

Oh, Canada

Canada is MASSIVE! The second largest country in the world, in fact. But they don't like to boast about it, oh no. That's not the Canadian way. 

Were they to be less modest, Canadians might tell you about its large lakes, glaciers, volcanoes, forests, frozen tundra, and bears that hopefully won't tear your face off. It also has plenty of cities if you prefer the comforts of concrete, from the French-Canadian Quebec City and Montreal, to Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver. Each has its own personality and vibe to discover.

Canada is pretty awesome, eh.

Down Mexico way

Head south of the USA and you'll find yourself in Mexico, home to yet more incredible scenery and more parties than you can shake a pinata at. It's a popular destination for travellers who want to let their hair down, thanks to the unhinged nightlife of Tijuana and Mexico City, and also a place to see the history of old civilisations like the Aztec, Maya, and Olmec.

It's one of the cheaper places to visit in North America, and characterised by a laidback pace that has put the brakes on many a gap year. Not that anyone was complaining.

Islands and elsewhere

Some people are prone to including Central America, that is Costa Rica, GuatemalaNicaragua et al, with North America, and it's certainly easy enough to head down from Mexico into one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. 

There's also the Caribbean to consider, encompassing a ludicrous number of tropical islands like Cuba, The Bahamas, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Haiti, and far too many more to list. Many backpackers hop between these islands, enjoying the incredible weather, relaxed attitudes, and stunning beaches.

And now for something completely different: Greenland! It's 'owned' by Denmark but falls firmly under the remit of North America. You're unlikely to visit Greenland as part of a North American-focused gap year, but its Arctic tundra, norse history, and frequent aurora sightings make it well worth a visit.


Top Countries

USA

USA

Canada

Canada

Mexico

Mexico

Cuba

Cuba

Jamaica

Jamaica

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Best Experiences

Top Experiences in North America

I hope you have some serious bank, because seeing everything North America has to offer might set you back a pretty penny. Still, we guarantee it'll be worth it. We've put together a list of the very best experiences North America has to offer. So put on your cowboy hat, hum The Star-Spangled Banner, and giddy up down the page.

Drive the Pacific Coast Highway

The USA and roadtrips go hand-in-hand, and this dramatic 1000 mile drive along the Californian coast is arguably the daddy of them all.


Go dog sledding in the Arctic

Head to the northwest of Canada and you can feel like a true explorer as a team of dogs sends you thundering across frozen tundra.


Discover an Aztec past at El Tepozteco

This mountaintop temple is hundreds of years old and, despite its condition, offers a fascinating glimpse into the Aztec past of Mexico.


Eat a burger the size of your head

Available almost anywhere in the USA, portions will probably be a bit bigger than you're used to. Enjoy those extra belt notches.


Marvel at the Grand Canyon

A must on any bucket list, the Grand Canyon is truly one of the natural wonders of the world, and a sight you're unlikely to forget in a hurry.


Visit an Asian night market in Vancouver

This Canadian city has a huge Asian population, and the result is a massive night market in Chinatown, with delicious food, games, electronics, and more.


Beach hop around the Caribbean

'Caribbean' is basically a synonym for 'paradise', and if you love beaches, almost anywhere you pitch up in the Caribbean is likely to please.


Swim with beluga whales in Manitoba

A strange kind of whale, and Manitoba's proximity to the Arctic makes it the perfect place to see them. You might spot a polar bear as well.


Explore the Big Apple

You could spend an entire gap year in New York alone. Go up the Empire State, see the Statue of Liberty, shop 'til you drop - enjoy being a tourist!


Blow your budget in Las Vegas

Sin City is basically a neverending party. If you're looking to let your hair down there's no finer place on the planet. Just don't lose the shirt on your back.


Ski Canada style

You've probably heard that Canada can get pretty cold in winter. Although there's more to it than just skiing, you shouldn't miss the opportunity while you're there.


Drink tequila in Guadalajara

This Mexican city gave birth to tequila, so it would be rude not to celebrate that fact until you hit the floor and can't move for a few days.


Hang out in Hollywood

Experience the glitz and glamour of the movie capital of the world, take a picture of the famous sign, hit Venice Beach. You never know, maybe you'll be talent-spotted.


Get wet at Niagara Falls

Here's one you can do from either the USA or Canada. It's a spectacular sight wherever viewed from. Just remember your waterproofs. 

Itineraries

Let Us Do the Work

Here's a selection of choice itineraries to help you explore the vast continent of North America without having to worry too much about planning. Remember, we're experts in creating tailor made gap year experiences, so if you have a particular route in mind we want to help you make it happen. Just call the number on the big blue button below.

Route 66 Road Trip

Yukon Adventure

Yukon Adventure

USA Getaway

USA Getaway

Viva La Cubana!

Viva La Cubana!

Complete Canada

Complete Canadian Summer

Western & Mexican Explorer

Western & Mexican Explorer

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Advice

Our Best Articles on North America

Looking for advice on backpacking in North America? Well, you've arrived safely in the right place. We have articles covering North America in all its glory, from sea to shining sea. If these don't inspire you, absolutely nothing will.

The Ridiculous Route 66

The Ridiculous Route 66

More to Canada Than Skiing

More to Canada Than Skiing

Trinidad and Tobago

Guide to Trinidad and Tobago

New York on a Budget

New York on a Budget

Shredding the Slopes in Canada

Shredding the Slopes in Canada

Pacific Coast

The Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

Cliff Jumping Hawaii

Cliff Jumping and Hiking in Hawaii

Cuba

How to Backpack Around Cuba