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overland travel south east asia

Comfort v Cash – My Backpacker Struggle With Overland Travel

I’ve been moaning a lot recently over on twitter and to my unfortunate travel buddies about the amount of arduous overland journeys I’ve been taking in the last few months – specifically when it comes to my time backpacking in South East Asia.

backpacker overlanding asia costs thailand
One Bus Too Far?!

The more I travel the less I enjoy the whole overland travel experience and for good reason – I’ve done A LOT of it! You only have to take a quick look at the stats from my Singapore – Bangkok overland guide to see how much we’re talking about

68.75 hours of solid travel time – in less than 3 weeks!

That’s an insane amount of time to be stuck in mini buses, sleeper ferries and god knows what else I’ve used to get around!

Granted it was a pretty paced affair since we needed to meet my little brothers flight to Australia but for anyone looking to backpack in this part of the world it’s a reality – whether you decide to do it over a shorter or longer time scale is down to personal preference.

But surely there must be another way?

I could in fact cut heaps of travel time out by simply flying…but is that what backpacking is really about?!


“All Part of The Adventure”

The most overused phrase I’ve heard regarding my complaints about yet another long haul bus ride is “it’s all part of the adventure”.

overland travel south east asia
Preparing For Another Long Haul Mini Bus!

I must admit that it is a huge part of the adventure and being cramped into small overloaded mini buses and night trains is a big appeal of backpacking – it’s alternative way of exploring the world.

However this phrase has always been thrown at me by fresh backpacker faces, people who are relatively new to the road and enjoy the rough and tumble of getting from place to place.

I – like them – used to relish the accomplishment of getting from A to B only little more than a few quid and the sense of self reliance that came with negotiating language barriers, multiple transport options and using strangers as pillows.

I don’t want to go outright and say I’m a full travel veteran but I have been on the road for a substantial amount of time and I’ve covered a fair amount of countries and mileage along the way, and along the way my travel habits have changed.

These days I’m more likely to opt for an air con mini van than a local bus. A taxi is much more appealing than a tuk tuk. It’s something I’ve already touched on in my post “The Worst Thing About Traveling is Travel!

I’ve grown to like and to some degree need a certain level of comfort…after all this is how I live at the moment.


Comfort v Cash

overland vs air backpacker travel
Less Of This…

But with an added level of comfort comes something every backpacker needs to be aware of and constantly has on their minds – extra cost.

You’ve left the UK with a set amount of cash in your bank, you may be off to enjoy a long holiday venturing around the world without working or you may have pencilled in a working holiday visa in Australia or New Zealand along the way – but in this instance cash is pretty vital to the success of your trip and you need to budget.

Every penny really does count. One look at my monthly travel budget and summaries can show you much you’ll be parting ways with.

In this case opting to take the cheaper but longer route is in your best interests as 9 times out of 10 you’ll probably find yourself time rich and cash poor.

Overland is the best bet.

the wreck byron bay australia
…and More Of This!

However if you’re on a shorter backpacking trip or like me you’re lucky enough to have a relatively steady income on the road you’ll find yourself in the position of being able to opt for a shorter, more comfortable transition from A to B.

One which will be heaps more time and user friendly but will put a bit more of a dent in your wallet.

In this instance you may wisely decide to exchange the 2 day, sleeper bus/mini van combo journey for the hour long flight.

Sure it may cost you more than twice the amount, but when that total amount is only around £30 it’s a case of what price you put on your time and how easy you want to make that stage of your travels.


Finding a Mid Ground

Lets face it you’ll always find the die hard backpackers, those who refuse point blank to book it through a tour agency or who scoff when you mention flying between destinations.

It’s not for everyone and it’s become very apparent that it’s definitely not for me! 

budget backpacker flights asia
Some Personal Indulgence…

The again over land travel is part of the experience and you’d be leaning more to the side of flashpacking if you panicked at the thought of taking a sleeper bus and jumped online to find the nearest airports instead.

For me long term backpacker travel is all about finding the mid ground – a compromise which allows me to stay true to my budget conscious, adventure craving backpacker roots but also means I keep some shred of sanity and blood flow to my legs! I’ve chatted about how it’s possible to travel too much and this is definitely one of the biggest elements of that statement.

And that’s why I’m not afraid to admit but for the first time in my travels I’ve decide to start dipping into my budget a bit more and opting for a few more flights.

I’ve done my time on dusty roads, I’ve earnt my backpacker stripes and I want to keep my stoke for travel strong, and right now long haul overlanding isn’t helping me do that.

Some of you might be a tad disappointed with me saying that – but I expect that… but this is my adventure and I’ll do it however I please!

Given the stress of my recent encounter on the Thailand – Cambodia border crossing I’ve shelled out £50 to fly back to Bangkok instead of taking a mini bus. Not only does it reduce my travel time to just over an hour (instead of the best part of a day) it also has the added advantage of giving me a longer visa for Thailand, saving me the cost of a visa run in the process.

So next time you’re planning a huge trip, covering multiple destinations don’t write off a low cost flight to connect places, it’s not going against backpacking – it’s simply utilising a wider spectrum of options and allowing you to enjoy your time on the ground more.

There’s nothing worse than arriving in a destination sleep deprived and irritable only to waste a day napping or not wanting to be social!

But each to their own…


Have your travel experience evolved to include more flights? Have you had any horrible overland experience that have made you wish you’d paid a little bit more?

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