page last updated: July 2013
Getting from A to B on the Cheap
Intro | Sleeping | Eating/Drinking | Transport
Backpacking can seem like a never-ending journey at times and in many ways it is. However your voyage of self-discovery (or whatever you want to call it) is in reality only possible by making many different journeys over the course of your trip. How you get around is all part of the fun and will inevitably lead to some memorable moments.
Hitchhike- FREE minus the Cost of Making a Shabby Cardboard Sign
Hitchhiking is the most obvious way to get a free lift. Sometimes you may be expected to contribute to petrol fees, but often drivers will just be grateful for the company on long and boring journeys. It’s normally safe but there a few nutters around in every corner of the globe so do take care, especially if you’re a girl travelling alone. On the positive side, solo female travellers will get loads more people (men) stop so you won’t have to spend all day waiting for someone.
Hitchhiking is in fact probably best done alone, as not many people will want to collect a big group or even just two dudes. Common sense is a big factor here and just because you’re abroad it doesn’t mean you should leave your hopefully rational brain at home. If someone stops and they seem a bit dodgy don’t get in!
Good countries for hitchhiking include most areas in North and Central America. In South America, Chile and Ecuador are good bets, but in regions of Colombia for example it’s not really sensible to hitchhike given that kidnappers and armed gangs are still found.
Romania and Turkey are perhaps the best places in Europe to hitchhike, but generally speaking it’s not as common in Europe as in North America. In Australia and New Zealand you may have to wait a while for a lift but it’s definitely a great way to cover the huge distances.
The vastly different culture in parts of Asia, means different customs can apply when hitching a lift so check before you travel but certainly don’t let it put you off. Many Asians are fascinated by Western culture and will happily pick you up and go out of their way to ensure you reach your destination.
Any other ways to Travel for Free?
Aside from hitchhiking it’s really hard to find free means of transport. One option is to get a job that involves travelling (e.g. cruiseship work) but that’s probably harder than it sounds and why work when you could be having fun.
Cycling is one possibility and is certainly growing in popularity amongst travellers. It’s a great way to travel for free, keep fit and see new places. Given the speed of public transport in some countries you stand a good chance of beating the bus anyway, just make sure the roads are remotely decent all the way before setting off. If you don’t want to take your own bike halfway across the world, renting or buying is normally cheap and easy.
You could also try some rich person to let you ride around on their yacht or maybe even become a pirate? (okay we’ve ran out of ideas for free transport)
Travel like a local NOT a tourist!
Fortunately public transport is very cheap in a lot of backpacking hotspots, if not always entirely comfortable but it’s all part of the experience. 1 hours travel often works out at less than $1 by bus or train, so unless you’re completely skint you can still travel great distances and see many different countries without being blessed with great riches.
With the exception of Europe which has plenty of very cheap airlines, travelling by bus, rail or even ferry is almost always cheaper than flying. You also get to see much more of the country this way as you watch locals go about their daily lives as you pass through random towns and villages. At times journeys can be long and boring in hot and cramped conditions (or ridiculously cold air conditioning) but there is a weird sense of satisfaction when looking at a map and seeing how far you’ve travelled overland.
Travelling by bus and rail is really cheap in South East Asia. Highly recommended is the reunification express train in Vietnam which runs from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south. There are many places to stop on the way and the whole trip will only come to around $30 even making several separate journeys.
You can travel across the whole of Cambodia for the cost of extra value meal at McDonalds. Thailand is equally cheap and the conditions on buses and trains are of a higher standard. Egypt is another country with fantastic cheap trains, travel the 200km from Cairo to Alexandria for under $2.
Buses are the way to go in Latin America. Ecuador is one of the cheapest with buses costing around $1 for every hour travelled. Quito to Guayaquil is $7 for an 8 hour bus ride. As mentioned earlier budget airlines such as Ryanair have ridiculously cheap flights from around £5 (plus ‘optional’ extras) across Europe if you book a couple of weeks in advance.
Europe rail passes are fun and useful for covering large distances but aren’t dirt cheap even for youths and students. Eurolines has affordable coach routes across much of the continent.
One piece of advice which applies world over is that it often cheapest to travel to an international border, cross by foot and then travel on from their rather than taking an international service all the way. Just be wary of getting scammed in bordertowns which are often quite unpleasant.
Long Distance Flights: Expensive but almost inevitable
By far your biggest transport cost is likely to be those long distance flights which you will almost inevitably have to take to reach your backpacking paradise wherever it may be. There are some tempting round the world deals, however these are often inflexible and restrictive.
Your plans will almost certainly change at some point on your venture and it’s impossible to know how long you will want to stay somewhere until you get there. You might have dreamt of visiting Thailand all your life only to find you hate the place within a week and want to be on the next plane, bus, train or whatever out of there. Only you’re stuck to the itinerary you meticulously planned at home a few months ago. On the contrary you may fall in love with the first place you visit and want to stay there and let forever be.
The airlines and travel companies who offer these deals are well aware that these things happen and will happily charge you to cancel flights, change dates and so on. That’s not to say it’s totally a bad idea to get one of these round the world deals but be totally aware of all the terms and conditions before opting for this.
Otherwise keep checking flight comparison sites like skyscanner for cheap deals on long-haul flights which airlines offer every now and then. STA Travel are a good starting place for reduced fares for students and under 26’s. An ISIC card will save you plenty of cash on your travels (even if it’s a fake one from Bangkok), not to mention enable you to take advantage of better flight deals.