Backpacker buses provide hop-on hop-off transport services to backpackers. To some, they are a brilliant travel service - to others, a total travel nightmare. Find out if they would suit your gap year travel plans with our essential guide...
In a nutshell: Backpacker buses provide hop-on hop-off services to backpackers, like a dedicated mode of public transport. They generally travel on a set schedule, covering attractions and must-see sights on the way to local hostels. Backpackers pay for a package in advance and then their travel is covered for a specified route over a specified time period. It's a pretty easy way to sort all of your travel arrangements in one fell swoop.
Community One of the best thingd about backpacker buses is the way you get to meet people. Sure, you always make friends when you travel – whether it’s at the hostel bar or queuing at an airport. But there’s no atmosphere quite like the one created from a bunch of young people, all looking for a similar kind of experience, and all travelling together for days or weeks. You’re guaranteed never to be alone.
Budget Travelling on a backpack bus may not necessarily make things cheaper than independent travel, but it will make things easier to budget for. Because you tend to pay all your travel money up-front in a pre-paid package, you know exactly what you’re going to spend on travel, and won’t run out half way through. It's budgeting at its most simple.
Speed If you’re limited to a short time in a country, backpacker bus can be the most efficient way to see as much as possible, as fast as possible. Because of the hop-on hop-off service, you can be very flexible with your time – so don’t imagine that you have to rush. But if you want to go quick, the efficiency of the buses going from attraction to attraction (rather than big towns, like public transport), and everyone travelling to the same place, means that you will definitely be able to get to your destination with time to spare.
Saftey Some travellers feel as though the backpacker bus is a safer option and, although saftey isn't not guaranteed, you certainly won't be coming across strangers like you would be on public transport. The only people who can travel are the ones that sign up to it - so the company will have your details, and the details of everyone else who is on that bus.
Personal Space Sometimes the good thing about public transport is just looking out of the window and totally zoning out. Of course, you can do that on a backpacker bus too – no problem. But, the flip side of travelling with such a tight community is that your own personal space is never quite on your own personal terms. If the guy next to you wants to chat, you’re probably going to have to chat back – and share a room with him at the hostel too. If you don’t like someone on the bus? Tough, either stay a few days longer in town than you planned to, or put up with it. Things are much less transient than on public transport, where you’ll rarely see the same person twice.
Off the beaten track Although backpacker buses stop off at almost all the sites you could possibly think of – there’s no room for spontaneous travel, or off the beaten track discoveries. So if you want a picnic on that nice little beach you just passed, or want to linger a while in a small town – forget it. If you’re on the road, then you’re on the road. The same is fairly true for public transport too – but if you have the chance to get your own car, the independence is pretty unbeatable.
Local perspective Travelling via backpacker bus can create a sort of backpacker bubble around a traveller – you may meet may people, but most of them will be fellow travellers and fellow foreigners. If you want to meet some locals and get involved in the authentic culture of a place, it’s much more difficult to achieve on a backpacker bus.
Atmosphere The atmosphere of a backpacker bus is often what makes it or breaks it for a traveller – and it all depends on what you are after when you’re backpacking. Backpacker buses have been referred to as ‘party’ buses, because everyone on them is out to have a good time - and it shows. Which could mean the most awesome three months of your life – or a total travel nightmare.