Once you’ve bought your main flights, you’ll need to have a rough idea of how you’re going to move around the countries you’re visiting. Local transport will differ according to what part of the world you are in. An overnight bus journey from the south to north of Thailand, for example, is a whole different experience to taking the bullet train in Japan!
The other thing to consider is how independent you want to be, and again this will depend to some extent on the country. For example, in New Zealand, many people choose to explore by campervan, whereas in somewhere like Laos this wouldn’t really be possible. However you travel, try to use the local transport at least once in whatever country you’re in: it gives an insight into how that place runs day to day, and can be quite an adventure in itself!
Travelling by bus
Buses are the stalwarts of backpacker transport and you just cannot avoid them, even if you want to! They are the one type of vehicle that are used pretty much the world over, from Vietnam to Venezuela, and are often the best and safest option for cheap, long distance transport.
They’re rarely comfortable and rarely pretty, but they will get you from A to B, and sometimes that’s all you need. In developing countries, buses fall into two categories: local buses and tourist buses. The latter are a bit more expensive but usually much more comfortable and fast, not to mention easier to book. You think the language barrier is stressful when ordering food in a restaurant? Try dealing with it when you’re trying to catch a local bus from Kathmandu to Tibet.
Local buses are, as the name suggests, primarily used by local people, and often their livestock, depending on the country.
In wealthier countries, like the USA and Australia companies like Greyhound and Firefly operate long distance bus journeys, which are a common way for backpackers to get around.
Travelling by train
Trains are just awesome. They are the most exciting form of transport and always will be. As with any land transport, you get to actually see the region you’re travelling through. There is plenty of space to walk around and stretch your legs. The toilets are usually tolerable, or at least useable, unlike on buses. Trains are also the best way to travel overnight, as most that run through the night have sleeper compartments, particularly in India and China. Lastly, they are a really eco-friendly way to travel.
If you are on a tight schedule and need to cover lots of distance fast, domestic flights can be a great option. They can usually be picked up very cheaply – often cheaper than the land alternative – as competition between short haul airlines is fierce. Unlike round the world flight tickets, which are complicated and best organised by an expert travel agent, single flight tickets within a country are easy to purchase online yourself. Sometimes, you’ll just feel a bit fed up and jaded with overland travel, and planes offer a welcome break from this.
Taxis and tuk tuks
When you’re exploring a specific place, like a city, you’ll need to use localised transport. What this transport looks like will depend on where you are. In cities in South East Asia and India, for example, you’ll most likely find yourself buzzing through the streets in a tuk-tuk at some point. While they initially appear to be a deathtrap, they are actually really good fun, and cheap!
For a slightly more comfortable and safer ride, you’ll find taxis on pretty much any settlement on the planet. Often, drivers will refuse to use the meter, so it’s important to pre agree on a price you are both happy with before you set off. This helps you to avoid those unpleasant encounters at the end of the ride, where the driver demands an obscene amount of money, but you can’t pay it because you need to eat for the next week.
Campervans and cars
Campervans and cars are perfect for Westernised places, like Australia and the USA, which are HUGE and full of amazing locations that can’t be reached by trains or buses. Having your own transport on your gap year gives you a wonderful feeling of independence. You become your own tour guide, deciding exactly where you’re going and when, and how long you’re going to stay.
One thing to remember is to budget for fuel. Some countries will be cheaper than others, but the cost can really jump up in remote areas, like the Australian Outback. Oh, and insurance is absolutely essential.
Looking at all the above… that’s quite a lot to take in, right? Well, you could just forget about all of that, and book yourself onto a tour. Backpacker tours on a gap year are awesome for so many reasons. There are literally thousands of options all over the world with some truly incredible companies, covering pretty much any experience imaginable. One of the best things about being on a tour is simply not having to think about anything logistical, like transport and accommodation. You can literally sit back and enjoy the experience without a care in the world, with a bunch of likeminded people.
If you want to visit those splodges of paradise commonly known as the Thai islands, or the Whitsundays in Australia, or anywhere else inaccessible by land, you’ll need to take a boat. The cost of boat transport will depend on the country, but it’s usually pretty safe where ever you are, which is the important thing. It’s unusual to travel long distance on a boat (unless you’re on a cruise, obviously), and you can usually organise this type of transport without too much planning.