Especially now that a special someone called COVID-19 has taken over our lives and is keeping us locked up in our childhood bedrooms with the same old grisly views, a quick scroll through Instagram can have us drowning in self-pity.
With stunning pictures of white beaches in Greece or the turquoise water off the Côte d’Azur in France filling our feeds, it’s hard not to imagine yourself strolling through Nice or catching a boat to Santorini.
If you’re trying to escape the daily grind in times of corona by starting to plan the trip you’ve always wanted to take but you don’t really know where to start, this guide is for you.
Keep in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive guide; it is just a general introduction to the most popular modes of transport. Nonetheless, it will provide you with some continent/country specific information, so it will be relevant whether it’s Argentina or Zimbabwe that’s calling your name.
Unless you’re Mx. Spontaneity, there are a few things to consider before starting to plan your trip.
- The purpose and length of your trip
- Do you want to check off five cities in ten days, or are you planning a soul-searching trip? Think about what you want and what you’re after.
- Your budget
- Travelling doesn’t have to be expensive, but it’s essential for you to be aware of the amount of money you’re able to spend.
- Your luggage
- Are you a backpacker, someone with lots of luggage, or one of those rare people who call themselves ‘backpackers’ but are actually travelling with a suitcase? When it comes to choosing your mode of transport, it’s important to be aware of your mobility and whether you need to consider any weight limits.
Travelling by car
If you can call yourself a car owner, travelling by car can be great. It allows you to be as flexible as you want to be, you don’t have any limits when it comes to luggage, and you can plan your own route.
If you’re thinking of renting a car, keep in mind that some companies have a minimum age for car rentals, or have additional fees. If you do decide to rent, make sure to take a detailed video of the car and point out any scratches, dents, etc. to the company before driving it.
However, if you’re leaving your home country, it’s important to do your research: do you need an international driver’s license or is yours valid? Does your destination have different traffic laws and tolls, or do they potentially drive on the other side of the road?
One downside to travelling by car can be that many centrally located hostels do not offer parking spaces, so you might be rather far out and will need to pay for additional transport to get to the city center.
On the other hand however, while a hostel in the middle of nowhere might not be the first choice, it can be an amazing experience: When I drove to Italy two years ago, my friend and I spent a week in a hostel 10km outside of Florence, but as it was perched high on the hillside, it had the most beautiful view of the city. Needless to say, we spent almost all of our evenings watching the Tuscan sun set over Florence.
Campervan / Motorhome
Renting or buying a campervan is one of the most popular transport options among many backpackers, especially in New Zealand and Australia. While a campervan essentially provides you with the same freedoms and limitations that a car does, the difference is that you won’t need separate accommodation.
This can be a positive aspect, as you won’t need to spend additional money, but travelling only by campervan can also be a bit isolating, as you’re not meeting a lot of other people and you’re spending most of your time with the same person (unless you travel solo). Campsites are great for meeting people, but most have their own plans and route, so it’s hard to make new friends that stick.
On the other hand, I doubt there is anything more beautiful than waking up in your campervan, right next to the ocean or at the foot of a mountain, starting your day with nature.
Travelling by bus
Having spent two months backpacking Europe by bus, I am a big fan.
Busses are one of the cheapest options, they’re quite popular among backpackers as well (especially in New Zealand, Australia, and South-East Asia), so there’s a good chance you’ll make a new friend on your bus trip from Sydney to Byron Bay, or from Vienna to Prague.
Busses usually also don’t have any luggage limits, and if they do, your bags are rarely checked and weighed.
While bus journeys can be quite scenic, they tend not to be as scenic as train rides, and busses usually also offer a lot less comfort.
Nonetheless, busses can be a great, cheap and easy option to get from one place to another.
Busses in Europe:
- Flixbus: tickets can be really cheap and the bus network is quite extensive
- Megabus in the UK
Busses in New Zealand and Australia:
- Greyhound (Australia): offers bus passes for certain routes, and kilometre based passes. One of the most popular options amongst backpackers
- OzExperience (Australia)
- Intercity (New Zealand)
- KiwiExperience (New Zealand): offers specific routes (hop on hop off); very popular amongst backpackers
- Stray (New Zealand): similar to KiwiExperience, but with slightly different routes
Busses in Asia:
- 12go: website to book busses, trains, boats, and planes across all of Asia
Busses in North America:
Busses in South America:
Busses in Africa:
- BazBus for all of Africa
- Greyhound for Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe
Going by train
There is something romantic about trains, something I can’t quite put a finger on. Maybe it’s simply the hypnotic clickety-clack of the train tracks.
Trains have consistently been at the centre of movies since the birth of film, and some of the most beautiful scenic routes are train journeys, including Switzerland’s Glacier Express, Scotland’s West Highland Line (aka the viaduct from Harry Potter), or Russia’s Trans-Sibirian Railway.
Where to book your train journey:
- Trainline and RailEurope for Europe
- Interrail offers train tickets for certain routes, and flexible tickets allowing a certain number of journeys within a certain number of weeks. Downsides to Interrail include hidden reservation fees, and many passes limit the number of journeys you’re allowed to take. It can be quite restrictive and doesn’t leave much room for flexibility.
- 12go for Asia
- Rail New Zealand
- Amtrak for the US
- Viarail for Canada
- Seat61 for Asia, Europe, South America and Africa, including information on long train journeys like the Trans-Sibirian Railway
While flying is arguably not the greenest option, sometimes going by plane is inevitable if you don’t want to spend several months getting to your destination.
Even though it’s best for longer distances, there are also very cheap flights connecting cities in Europe with each other, one of the cheapest airlines being Ryanair.
Flying can be quick and convenient, but you might also miss out on a lot of beautiful spots that you would have seen if you had gone by car, bus, or train.
All of the options mentioned above can be cheap or they can be expensive – it depends entirely on which country or continent you’re planning on visiting, and which season you’re travelling in. It might be that your flight from Berlin to Munich will be cheaper than taking a bus, but a bus from Vienna to Milan might be less expensive than a plane.
The price is dependent on many different factors, but the great thing about travelling is that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way – it is entirely up to you.
So you can compare prices, try out different modes of transport, or just mix and match – whatever you feel like doing. At the end of the day, that’s what travelling is about.
Words by Samira Rauner