For many travellers, the words overland travel tend to mean long, uncomfortable and often overnight bus rides, taken because they’re cheaper than the more comfortable, much quicker option of flying. But overland travel isn’t always just the cheap option; it can be a great way to experience more of a country, view the changing landscape as you move from a to be, and get to know fellow travellers. It doesn’t have to be by bus, either, overland travel can mean anything from cruises and boats to trains, motorbikes or even segway. There are many overland travel alternatives that make for really exciting adventures and offer a great way to explore a new place.
It’s Not All About the Bus: Three Overland Travel Alternatives
Overland travel is a great way to slow down and enjoy the act of travel for its own sake. Here are three of my favourite overland travel alternatives to taking the bus. What’s your favourite?
Harking back to classic travel writing by the likes of Paul Theroux and Jack Kerouac, rail has to be one of the most romantic ways to travel overland. A train is usually more comfortable than a bus, and certainly less cramped, plus you can usually get up and stroll along the carriages to stretch your legs and try to meet new people. From interrailing through Europe, to the Trans-Siberian Express, to a steam train through the Rocky Mountains, rail travel whilst backpacking can be a wonderful way to cruise slowly through a country and watch the landscape slip by. I took several trains through Vietnam, where the railway is somewhat iconic, and it was often cheaper than the buses and far more romantic – the views on the journey from Hanoi to Sapa are spectacular!
From jungle cruises in motorboats and canoes, to river and canal cruises in slow, comfy long boats, to island hopping cruises like the one that brings many travellers from Panama to Colombia, boats are a fantastic way to avoid expensive airfare and keep the adventure rolling at a gentle, overland pace. Its also another very romantic way to travel, especially in South America, where lengthy and arduous cruises down rivers like the Magdalena in Colombia helped the conquistadors penetrate the continent. Ever since I read Kira Salak’s The Cruellest Journey I’ve been transfixed by the idea of boat travel. Over my travels I’ve been lucky enough to take some incredible boat journeys, including a river cruise on the Mekong in South East Asia, several trips along sections of the Amazon and it’s tributaries, and a luxury cruise around Halong Bay.
Alright, so depending on the size and weight of your backpack this might not be a viable option, but trekking is a really wonderful, slow and insightful way to explore a country. It will certainly bring you closer to the landscape, the towns, and the people than any other mode of transport. If you can manage your bags or leave them for a few days somewhere, trekking between towns (stopping at lots of nice bars and restaurants en route, of course) is a wonderful way to really explore and get to know a place – plus you’ll feel so proud of yourself once you complete a challenging walk. A great read is Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed, an account of her solo journey on foot along the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) that stretches through much of America.
What’s the best, strangest or most exciting method of overland travel you’ve tried so far? For me, cruising the Amazon, horse riding in the Andes, cycling in Catalunya, and camel riding through the Sahara are all highlights!