// you’re reading...


The M-Network Vacation Guide - backpacking through Europe, Australasia or North America

WSA adsense code -->

Today, we of the M-Network are doing a series on holidaying (vacationing, apparently to Yanks). Frugal tips, ideas, experiences, personal accounts…everything. Check out the other M-Network blogs for more.

Backpacking in this context isn’t particularly about camping, but travelling (or touring) round multiple destinations in the same continent making heavy use of public transport, especially trains and long distance buses. Most people carry all their needs round with them in a backpack rather than a suitcase, hence the name. It’s commonly undertaken by younger people in their late teens to twenties, but age is no barrier, and I’ve met all sorts of people on this type of trips, from children to retirees.

It’s really my sort of travel, it’s not the only sort that I do, but it’s the stuff that I’m most confident in. It makes a great budget holiday or vacation - the countries of Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand are some of the more expensive destinations for a vacation, and yet they all have pretty extensive networks of accomodation for budget travellers and good enough public transport links that you can get from place to place pretty easily.

before you go

Well, you need to decide on a destination, and do some forward planning. Find out what there is to do in each place, whether there are any adventure sports, cultural highlights, nightlife hotspots or unspoilt beaches that you want to enjoy. Knowing roughly where you want to go and what you want to do will help you suss out the best combinations of transport and give you a better idea of where to splash out and where to cut back.

Think about how much money you’ve got available, and the length of trip you’d like. All developed countries are expensive, but some are more expensive than others. I normally allow the equivalent of US $50 - $70 per day, plus travel for the basics but that’s not a generous budget, and in particular alcohol will set you back more. London, Paris, Scandinavia and New York are all more expensive. NZ, parts of Australia, Eastern Europe, and middle America are cheaper options. It’s better to have a shorter trip, than run out of money.

Backpacking is all about frugality and taking the more *adventurous* option. This means that you’ll be wanting to use public transport a lot, so pack light. If you’re going to one North America, Europe, Australia or New Zealand you will be able to buy anything you might conceivably need there, so don’t take too much and see if you can manage without. You will be able to wash your clothes so you can wear things more than once - I didn’t realise this the first time I went travelling.

You shouldn’t need to take special precautions with your health, but make sure that you have good enough travel insurance including health insurance. Whether or not your destination enjoys socialised medicine, it probably doesn’t apply to visiting travellers (major exception is EU citizens travelling in the EU get an EHIC card). This means that you’ll want to be covered for hospital stays, and possible repatriation. If you plan to do any adventurous sports (bungee jumping for example) make sure your insurance covers them.

It’s also a good idea to have your tickets and luggage insured so you aren’t out of pocket if something goes wrong - especially as many of the good backpackers tickets are non-refundable.

Almost certainly, the most important thing to take with you is your passport and any necessary visas. In general, it’s seems to be cheaper to get a passport well in advance of your trip as there’s generally an extra charge for an expedited service. If you’re travelling outside your own continent, it’s advisable to have a passport whose validity extends more than 6 months after you get back.

With the rise of the web and online travel information, you might not want to get a guidebook. I usually do because it gives me something to read, they’re more helpful in non-English speaking areas, and are great if you are a less confident traveller. The best include:

  • Rough Guide - my personal favourite
  • Lonely Planet - everyone and their dog has one of these
  • Let’s Go - haven’t used them myself, but reputed to be very good

You can often pick travel books up second hand as you travel and some hostels have copies in their mini-libraries.


Travelling to another continent means getting a flight if you’re on a budget. Cheap tickets are first come, first served. From either the Australasia, or North America to Europe, it’s normally cheaper to get an intercontinental flight to London, Paris, Frankfurt or Amsterdam than any other destination. However, if you live in an area with a large European ex-pat community you can sometimes get a good deal to other destinations.

Travelling from Europe to Australasia, Perth is usually the cheapest destination, but it’s a long way from everywhere else. Otherwise it’s Sydney or Melbourne. Travelling from Europe to North America, the cheapest flights are generally to New York, followed by Toronto, Boston, Washington DC or Orlando. On the west coast Los Angeles normally has the lowest prices. From North America to Australasia, Sydney or Melbourne will usually be the lowest cost, and in the other direction it’s probably going to be Los Angeles.

Once you’re in your chosen continent you’ll need to get around. Aside from hiring a car, for which you need a group to be economical, you’ll be looking at trains, buses, boats or planes. You can save money on accommodation by travelling overnight. This is *an experience*. It’s most comfortable on a train or boat, and least comfortable on a bus.


This is my favoured choice. If you want a pass that will let you go to many different destinations, in Europe you’ll want an Interail (European residents, €160-€600) or Eurail (non-European residents, US $580-$1280) pass. If you’re not going to do that much rail travel, it might well be cheaper to just buy ticket as you go. Either way, allow a good morning to get a reservation every time you want to make an international train journey. The train network in Europe is extensive, and this is an exceptionally good way to get around.

In North America, there’s Amtrak and ViaRail. Their passes range from US $150 for a week in California to $1000 for up to a months in both Canada and the USA. Without a pass you definitely need to book in advance to get cheap tickets. The train network in both Canada and the US is stronger in the east than the west, but some of the coast to coast trips are amazingly scenic. Can be a good way to get around, especially between major cities.

In Australia and New Zealand the rail network is more limited. What there is is amazingly scenic, but it doesn’t go nearly everywhere. Rail New Zealand has passes from NZ $280-$380 and Rail Australia has passes from AUS $130-$1330.

The single best resource for international rail travel is the man in seat 61. Overnight travel can either be in a sleeper bunk - comfortable, or a seat - less so.


It is with considerable experience that I can say that long distance buses are not as comfortable as trains. On the plus siude they get you to more places, especially in North America and Australia. For reasonably short distances (say up to 12 hours) in all continents they can be good value if you turn up and buy on the day or a couple of days in advance. It is cheaper to buy tickets in much further in advance, but can be more difficult outside the country. You can also get passes in all continents, which tend to be excellent value if you want to do a lot of travelling, prices are similar to train passes.

In Europe, the main bus company is Eurolines, in North America it’s Greyhound or Greyhound Canada. I think there’s a theme going on here because in Australia it’s Greyhound Australia. In NZ it’s Intercity.

Alternative bus companies exist which cater specifically for backpackers. All things considered, costs are broadly similar to those of the more mainstream companies - they may be a little more expensive, but you get more for your money than getting from A to B. Companies include:

  • Magic bus - NZ
  • Kiwi Experience - NZ
  • Stray Travel - NZ
  • Oz Experience - Australia
  • Busabout - Europe
  • Moose Travel Network - Canada
  • Green Tortoise - USA

My top tips if you’re travelling overnight by bus, consider packing a pillow, learn to sleep sitting up, and in the US, if you are near the Mexican border keep your passport/ID in your hand luggage, not with all the bags underneath.


So a Mediterranean cruise probably isn’t in your budget but there are great backpacker trips by boat in each continent. Classic examples are Greek island hopping, sailing the Whitsundays and the Alaskan Marine Highway. Research will give you more ideas.


Just not as much fun, and in developed countries, it hardly counts as intrepid travel. Nevertheless flights can be useful in your backpacker’s trip especially to cover long distance. You can get an airpass from various airlines, or (booked well in advance) use budget airlines. Budget airline fares start from under US $10, airpasses are typically a few hundred US dollars.

For all destinations try either the one world or sky alliance airpasses. Otherwise for North America there’s:

  • Air Canada - air passes
  • AirTran - budget airline
  • CanJet - budget airline
  • Jet Blue - budget airline
  • SouthWest - budget airline
  • Spirit - budget airline

In Australia and New Zealand there’s:

  • Qantas - air passes
  • Air New Zealand - air passes
  • JetStar - budget airline
  • Virgin Blue - budget airline

In Europe try:

  • bmi - air passes and budget airline
  • this selection of budget airlines


Within the some of the most expensive countries on the planet, by far the most effective place to stay is a hostel. Here you can get a bed for the night (often, but not always a bunk bed), a hot shower, meet other travellers and get the latest lowdown, find a place to do your laundry, cook, catch up on email and generally have a good time. Typical prices are from US $15-$45 per night, depending on location and facilities.

You could join your Hostelling International affiliate to save money on *official* hostels, or you could go for an independent hostel instead. I’ve stayed in both, and there often isn’t a lot to choose between them. Independent hostels are more likely to be laid back, particularly in cities, but that isn’t always the case. Official youth hostels are more likely to be quiet, but again the depends on the individual hostel. Good sitse for picking and booking hostels are Hostel World and HostelBookers.

In any cases, key things to remember about hostels are that sleeping bags should not be allowed or used (or there will be problems with bedbugs), you might have to pay extra for sheets if you haven’t got a sleepsheet, you need to bring a towel, but also it’s better to have flip flips (jandals/thongs), take a lock for your bag.

Some places have co-ed dorms, some have single sex, and some have a mixture - if it matters ask before you book. You usually have to pay to use internet terminals, but wifi is more likely to be free. Which reminds me, in busy periods book in advance, at least a couple of days, or be prepared to be very flexible with your next destination.

Some of the most interesting hostels include:

  • The Pink Palace - Cofu, Greece (infamous Greek island party place)
  • Hostel Celica - Ljubljana, Slovenia (former prison, now art gallery and hostel)
  • Gershwin Hotel - New York, USA (coolest hostel in one of the coolest cities)
  • Aquapackers - Anchorage, NZ (converted boats off the beach in Abel Tasman Park)

food and drink

This is where you’ve got the most scope for cutting costs. Good tips include:

  • eat more earlier on in the day (especially in Australia, New Zealand, Britain and North America where breakfasts are often big)
  • use the self-catering facilities at your hostel if you can
  • eat local food, especially ethnic food e.g. Turkish food in Germany, Indian food in England, Mexican in the US, and Lebanese in Australia
  • pick the vegetarian option - I’ve always found it cheaper
  • picnic lunches with good produce are cheap and delicious - particularly useful tip in Europe
  • fast food might not be nutritious, but it is cheap - use sparingly
  • drink less alcohol
  • drink local beer, wine or spirits rather than what you’re used to at home - when in Rome,…

If you’ve been backpacking, leave your own tips below.

Similar Posts:

If you like what you're reading, why not leave a comment below, subscribe to my feed, or check out some of my best posts.


40 comments for “The M-Network Vacation Guide - backpacking through Europe, Australasia or North America”

  1. I would of course recommend trips to Australia, we’d love to have you! The exchange rate isn’t too great for Americans at the moment though, we’re almost at parity.

    I can highly recommend Thai food in Australia & Chinese/Malaysian noodle bars, awesome food & very resonable. Night food markets are also worth seeking out.

    Oh & buy food at the supermarkets, not 7-11’s, they’re incredibly overpriced.

    I’m heading to the UK next year as my 40th birthday present to myself, can’t wait!

    Posted by debtdieter | June 3, 2008, 1:05 pm
  2. Most of my travel has been to LICs, but I think a lot of what you say here holds true still. The difference is that you can get nicer digs for the same price. :)

    Also, I imagine it’s a fair bit cheaper in Eastern Europe than Western?

    Posted by deepali | June 3, 2008, 3:00 pm
  3. @deepali:It’s definitely nicer things for the same price in LIC - you’re far more likely to stay in an inexpensive beach hut for next to nothing than be crammed into a dorm - and a whole lot of fun. But, if you want to do the developed countries basic accommodation and travel is still of a reasonable quality, and you can do the whole thing on a budget.

    Eastern Europe is cheaper, but it’s not the bargain that it used to be, especially in the accession states (new members of the EU, like Slovenia, Czech Republic and Poland). Apparently for the really good deals you need to go to Moldova or the Ukraine - or Albania, get the ferry from Corfu - they would be significantly more work as destinations, especially for a novice traveller.

    @debtdieter:Mmm. Thai food and noodle bars sound delicious. As do night food markets. I’m all about the food I think. Have fun in the UK - if you want any suggestions or tips let me know, I’m always happy to help.

    Posted by plonkee | June 3, 2008, 3:26 pm
  4. I forgot to say that Eastern Europe is cheaper than Western (especially compared to say, London or Paris), but it’s not the bargain that it used to be. Moscow and St Petersburg are actually some of the most expensive places to visit in the world, and most of the accession states (new EU members like Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary) are more mid-range than really cheap these days. Apparently the best bargains are even further east, like Moldova, or the Ukraine - those would be challenging (but fun) destination, especially for a novice.

    Posted by plonkee | June 3, 2008, 3:31 pm
  5. Awesome stuff, plonkee. I’ve never been much of an adventurous type, but if Micah and I don’t end up having kids this might be a fun way to do some travel. Thinking the rail pass in particular…travel all over the States.

    One thing I considered getting in Denmark was a local bus pass. Not something if you’re traveling between a lot of countries, but if you’re exploring a particular region it’s not a bad idea. As it was, I borrowed a bike instead.

    Posted by Mrs. Micah | June 3, 2008, 5:02 pm
  6. Cheap travel is my passion! I just came back from going to Oslo for a weekend with cash to spare somehow. My fave tip is to bring an empty waterbottle and continually fill it up whenever you get the chance (you get used to looking for clean, free water). I don’t recommend Lonley Planet guides, but that’s just me. I try to find my own bargains because that’s part of the fun. I think the biggest challenge is making travel a part of your life and then you don’t feel entitled to splurge on things ‘just because’ you’re on vacation/holiday. Since I don’t go out to restaurants or take taxis in London, I don’t do those things when traveling either. I prefer the experience of living as I would in that city–frugal and without guilt!

    Posted by Penny Pence | June 3, 2008, 5:20 pm
  7. I’d love to backpack across Europe one day…stay at some hostels…take the rail. Great resource, plonkee.

    Posted by PT | June 3, 2008, 8:37 pm
  8. Great post!
    I think it’s also vital to learn to pack light, and avoid the temptation to buy touristy crap. The more you accumulate the more likely you are to decide you need a taxi instead of a bus, or to have to mail stuff home, pay excess baggage fees, or, if you are my mother, purchase an extra case or holdall on almost every trip so that you end up with a ridiculous collection at home.
    Also know when not to skimp, if an area looks dodgy move on, upgrade your accommodation if you don’t feel safe- I stayed in a hostel in Paris which had a connecting bathroom between two rooms, we were told as long as we locked our door, the person on the other side couldn’t get in. This turned out not to be the case and we moved after the drunk man in the other room came in uninvited at 3am.

    Posted by Looby | June 4, 2008, 5:07 am
  9. @Mrs. Micah:
    Bus passes are great everywhere - I have made extensive use of public transport in American cities like San Antonio, as well as European ones.

    @Penny Pence:
    Free water is a good idea, although if I’m getting a flight, I tend to buy one (over-priced one) at the airport and then refill as I find I get pretty thirsty on a plane. Making travel a part of your life is good, both for saving money on travel, and for just improving your quality of life, assuming that you enjoy travel.

    Go for it. It’s probably as good as you think.

    Less is definitely more when it comes to packing. And, I agree that you shouldn’t stay somewhere dodgy just because it’s cheap, particularly as there are plenty of nice budget choices.

    Posted by plonkee | June 4, 2008, 6:21 am
  10. Backpacking in Europe is awesome. I just got back from two weeks there. I flew from the US to the UK and explored four countries in two weeks. I took one flight from the UK to Germany (very cheap, only 60 euro) but did the rest of my traveling by train, and I loved it! We rarely get to ride trains in the US and I really enjoyed it. It’s similar to a train but you don’t have to check baggage, have a nerve-wracking take-off and landing — and in terms of perks, there are toilets on-board and you get to view the beautiful countryside! I got the Rick Steves’ brand Euro-trip backpack and it was perfect. I can’t wait to do it again — it’s the best way to travel, especially if you are young.

    Posted by Emily | August 5, 2008, 3:13 pm
  11. I am going back packing next summer so thanks for all the tips, We are staying in a Hotel in Guildford for the first night then we are roughing it when we hit Europe, wish us luck.

    Posted by gavelect | October 29, 2008, 4:42 pm
  12. YHA Australia is a great hostel for travellers on a budget, offering share accommodation between around $26-35 a night, or around $40 each if there are two of you and want a room to yourselves.

    The funky Base Backpackers Sydney hostel is also in a great location, with prices ranging from $26-34 or so for shared rooms, and $60 for twin. This one’s about 5 minutes from the Sydney Aquarium and about 15-20 mins from the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House, depending on how fast you walk. I haven’t stayed here yet though, but $30 a night each for our own room sounds like a bargain.

    Posted by onlysydneyguide | February 17, 2009, 2:19 am
  13. Heres another tip: Use http://www.lifttowoopwoop.com to find like minded travellers and share the cost of the trip! Plus it’s fun!

    Posted by Andrew | August 24, 2009, 5:17 pm
  14. Your information and writing style combine to reach millions of people, I feel like this is an article that many people will be interested in reading. Wonderful article. A good find. Tell me more about this. Thanks.

    Posted by Hospice Los Angeles | January 12, 2010, 3:19 pm
  15. How To Make money with affiliate programs Today. Affiliate marketing is the easier and probably the most effective method to make money from the internet. It is basically, a kind of selling technique where potential buyers from your website are directed to the websites of sellers. For every click, the website owner gets a small commission.

    Posted by kiramatali shah | January 29, 2010, 11:24 am
  16. You have create great and supportable article for the any faculty of students. Article was really helpful for good future in education at abroad. I wish you this blog create some more extra and useful article that are related to every sectors in education.

    Posted by hospice california | February 8, 2010, 8:43 am
  17. Good advice. We often advise our students to take a step back and understand what they are getting into. This article reinforces that concept with some practical advice.

    Posted by Hospice Los Angeles | February 9, 2010, 6:15 am
  18. Wow, what a great blog it is to visit daily the posts on this blog, This blog shares a very good and deep knowledge of each and every topic. Thanks for such a great blog.

    Posted by Hospice Los Angeles | February 9, 2010, 6:49 am
  19. This is really a nice blog i like to read this blog daily it has got all the informative stuff that i want to know about. i want to subscribe it so can tell me when your blog gets updated.

    Posted by Hospice Los Angeles | February 9, 2010, 8:54 am
  20. I found your blog on Google and it is really a great blog with very good posts i would like to subscribe this blog so can you please send me the details of your blog…

    Posted by Hospice Los Angeles | February 10, 2010, 6:31 am
  21. Very good articles and also details about your university staff and courses, it’s very good and appreciates post.

    Posted by Hospice Los Angeles | February 11, 2010, 6:48 am
  22. Some time before, I did need to buy a building for my corporation but I did not earn enough money and couldn’t order anything. Thank heaven my mother proposed to get the business loans at trustworthy bank. Hence, I acted so and was satisfied with my car loan.

    Posted by HumphreyPHOEBE20 | March 3, 2010, 11:35 am
  23. I think this blog is really useful and informative. Please keep up the good work it is great to read content on a blog that is not just self obsessed nonsense. I hope I can develop a blog of this standard eventually, although I must admit I find blogging very time consuming and difficult. I wish someone would write a blog on how to produce a really interesting blog like this one.

    Posted by Los Angeles Hospice | April 8, 2010, 5:56 am
  24. RE: Train Travel

    England, Scotland and Wales continue to entice international travelers with their vibrant cities and scenic country sides, plus ACP Rail International is now topping off the perfect BritRail vacation with a free travel day. This offer represents great value, extending visitors’ reach to that extra destination or two now made possible for free!

    Posted by Tammy Corbett | April 12, 2010, 2:05 pm
  25. I think this blog is really useful to our general knowledge and informative. The information about the topic are good. Thanks.

    Posted by Hospice Simi Valley | April 13, 2010, 5:01 am
  26. Great article! Thanks for this article it is so informative. Keep up the good work. More power and Godbless:)

    Posted by Bernardita | August 5, 2010, 3:49 am

Post a comment

Proud member of the