You’re off to the other side of the world and no one is coming with you – but the thing is, you don’t want to travel alone. Thankfully a few companies in Australia in New Zealand have discovered a way to connect solo travellers on the road, and allow them to travel together as one big raucous group. Welcome aboard the backpacker bus...
What’s a backpacker bus? A bus, full of backpackers. You arrange to get on it when you’re at the hostel, and it should take you direct from one town to the next.
Great! So I can just hop on hop off anytime? Well, actually it’s a little bit more complicated than that. You buy a bus pass for a particular ‘journey’ – let’s say travelling from Sydney to Cairns. You can’t stray off the bus map, or even go back on yourself, unless you decide to pay for public transport on top of your pass and do it independently.
Is it expensive? Well, that depends. The advantage of paying for your travel in advance is that it’s easy to budget for. On the other hand, despite regular offers and catering to a backpacker budget, this is not ‘cheap as chips’ – travel from Sydney to Cairns on the OZ Experience bus costs around $650 (£400). You’re not just paying for the journey, you’re paying for the whole travel experience.
Experience? The bus doesn’t just travel from A to B. It stops off along the way at every major backpacker attraction. So you could find yourself at a big group BBQ, or learning to surf in Australia, or bungee jumping in New Zealand. Sometimes the activities cost extra, but it will all be clearly stated when you buy your pass.
So it’s a bit like a school trip then? Exactly. There’s much more of a ‘structure’ to the journey than normal independent travel, but they do try and keep that hint of spontaneity by making the travel flexible – you can take as long as the ‘time constraints’ of the pass (usually 6 months to a year) allow. It’s also like a school trip in the sense that it’s a group of excitied young people travelling together...
The atmosphere is pretty electric? You could say that. Backpacker buses are renowned for being much more exciting than public buses. The reputation varies from company to company (Stray and Magic are considered to be much more laid back than the ‘Experience’ company), but most of them have been known to become ‘party buses’.
Party bus makes it sound like some sort of weird booze cruise... Well, all reputations tend to get a little over-exaggerated. A lot depends on who gets on the same bus as you. The best thing about the hop on hop off service is probably that, if you hate the people on the bus, you can ditch them in the next town.
But hopefully you won’t? Hopefully you’ll meet like-minded travellers, stay on the bus with them continuously, and make some really good friends.