Your means of mobility depends heavily on your location. If you live and work abroad in a major city with public transportation, you really won’t need a car.
Instead, look into bus or rail passes specifically designed for youth, travelers or commuters. Don’t rule out a bike, either. Riding can be a great way to save money, stay in shape, and get to know your neighborhood, and second hand bikes abound at garage sales, thrift stores and in the classifieds.
Forethought and common sense will cut your costs on regional travel as well. Programs such as the Eurail pass and Kiwi/Oz Experience bus passes allow a certain number of rides over a given time at reduced cost. If used efficiently, these can save you considerable cash and make your travels easier. Partially used passes, bought second hand, can provide even more savings if their previous owner is keen to move on. Don’t overlook flying, either. Local airlines occasionally offer cheaper deals than trains or buses in significantly shorter time.
Buying a Car While Abroad
If you’re planning to travel extensively in a region without public transport, you may want to buy a car. A car increases your independence, opens up your options and can serve as a literal mobile home. Like most good things, however, it comes at considerable cost. In addition to the initial expense, gas money and regular maintenance add up quickly. Because most travelers buy older vehicles, things also tend to break- one of the reasons that regular maintenance is a worthy expenditure. Keep costs down by maximizing passengers (notice boards often include ride share offers and requests), minimizing weight (your souvenir ancient stone carvings make the engine work harder) and exploring every nook and cranny along the way (sometimes the coolest things are close to home.) Camping from your car saves on accommodation, too, and a well-stocked cooler can squash the cost of eating out.
A few words on buying a used car: be very, very careful. If a bargain seems too good to be true, it probably is. Look into your country’s licensing and registration requirements, and make sure the vehicle is up to date. If possible, get it checked by a mechanic before you buy for any major structural or internal problems- asking locals for the name of “their guy” is the best way to find someone whom you can trust. Like everything else, investigate all your options. Dealers are almost always more expensive than private sellers; even if they offer a buyback guarantee or other frills, read the fine print as the deal is rarely as good as it seems. The classifieds and notice boards again offer the most options in a lower price range. These often include other backpacker cars, which sometimes come with camping gear or toys as extra bonuses. Just make sure that the vehicle is as good as the tent that comes inside- it costs a whole lot more to replace.
One backpacker offers her thoughts on buying a car in New Zealand:
“I bought a car in Auckland from a random guy who was driving round town with a for sale sticker. Got it checked out by a mechanic and it lasted the whole year….top car!! Really cheap way of getting about if you’re in the country for a while. Don’t go for a camper van… they’re really expensive, break down regularly and scream ‘I’m a backpacker and have everything I own in the back of this van so am easy pickings to thieves!!’ Also be really careful of the backpacker car markets… they sound like a good idea, but I know a lot of people ripped off by them.”
And finally, don’t hitchhike. It’s just not safe.