What’s it Like to Travel with Busabout?

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True to my non-drinking, non-partying travel style, I had never been on a backpacker bus tour prior to this summer. Yes, there had been 4 days on Magic Bus last year in New Zealand, but seeing as I was there near winter and there were only 9 people on that bus, it doesn't really count; it had nothing on the Contiki-style tours of Europe you've probably heard about.

So when the opportunity arose for me to join a guided tour through the Balkans this summer with Busabout, I had to think about it.

Budva, Montenegro
I figured it would be like this Budva club 24/7.

Coming off a small group tour through Eastern Europe with Intrepid Travel, would I want to turn right around and join a big bus tour? Would it be full of party-happy 18-year-old Australians just looking to drink their way through the whole thing? Would I even have fun?

The itinerary for the Classic Balkan Trek I settled on was impressive — Istanbul to Split, Croatia in just 9 days. Five countries in 9 days. It was insane. It was sure to be trying at times. I might hate it.

But I decided to go for it anyway.

 

Here's what I thought about my Classic Balkan Trek with Busabout:

Why Busabout?

It would be easy to say “because they offered me a good deal” here, but there's more to it than that. Yes, Busabout's “Trips” are fairly cost effective, and yes, I did receive a discount on this particular one. But the price tag wasn't really what made me decide to travel with this company.

Busabout

Busabout was intriguing to me mostly because I hadn't really heard about it before. The company is best known for its flexible hop-on, hop-off bus passes throughout Western Europe (an awesome alternative to expensive trains), but also recently acquired Eastern Trekker and its associated guided tours through Eastern/Central Europe and the Balkans. With such a wide range of products to offer budget travelers, it seemed like a no-brainer for me to check it out.

Who will you travel with?

Even though I was afraid of being stuck on a bus with dozens of hardcore Aussie teens, the reality was quite different. Yes, the bus I was on was mostly full of Australians. But the average age on our bus at all times was probably closer to 23/24 than 18/19. Those few years made all the difference for me, and I actually made some fantastic friends on the trip — many of whom I'm still in touch with.

Parga, Greece

As for how many people you'll travel with, well that really depends on the individual trip. We started out with 17 people on a large coach in Istanbul, then dropped off a few and picked up a bunch more in Athens. For the last part of the tour, we had 39 people on the bus. Not exactly a “small” group, but luckily we all more or less got along.

Who is the guide?

For these guided Busabout trips, you'll have a designated guide who knows the area you're traveling through well. Our guide on this trek was Matej, a native Croatian who had ditched corporate life to become a tour guide. Matej was a typical Croatian when it came to his laid-back, party-happy attitude, but slightly atypical when it came to his propensity to share his opinions on everything from the EU to Greece's financial crisis with us. Some people hated this. I, personally, found it pretty interesting.

I won't go into too many details about Matej, however, because each Busabout guide is bound to be very different from the next. But, suffice it to say that Matej was definitely not a babysitter. While he did try to plan some group dinners/outings for us, some people on our trip felt his attempts were a bit half-assed. I think that was just his personality, though. But it just goes to show that you can't please all the people all of the time.

How will you travel?

On Busabout's “trips,” you travel on large motorcoaches. Our bus was comfortable (though the air conditioning struggled at times with the ridiculous heat), and our driver, Angelico, was very talented at navigating narrow roads.

Busabout

I should note, though, that traveling on a large bus through this part of Europe can be an adventure. Barreling down non-existent roads in Albania, playing chicken with other large vehicles on narrow streets in Montenegro, bribing border crossing guards so we wouldn't all have to go through passport control… Yeah, it all happened.

Where will you stay?

I actually had no clue what to expect of our accommodations before this trip. Very little was communicated to us beforehand about where we'd be staying along the way, but I was pleased to find out we wouldn't be spending too many nights at all in big hostel dorm rooms. Most nights, I shared a room with 3-5 other people, and we all usually had our own beds (i.e. not bunks).

But we sure had some… interesting accommodations. Like the Dorian Inn in Athens that wouldn't give us enough towels and had air conditioning units that only blew out hot air. Or the apartments in Parga where my cot was in the kitchen next to the fridge. Or the “resort” we stayed at in Albania where our rooms were in old converted army barracks. (Sorry, I didn't actually take any photos…)

In all, though, I couldn't really complain. Most of the places we stayed were clean and centrally located, and the largest room I found myself in was an 8-bed shared dorm in Split.

What will you eat?

The food in the Balkans isn't all that special — lots of salads and meat, basically. And because we spent a lot of time on the bus, a lot of our lunches looked like this:

Busabout
Rest stop meals… yum.

There were a few meals included in the price of the tour, but, honestly, they were some of the worst meals I had in Europe (they were in Greece in Albania, if you're curious). There were a few nights when our guide planned group dinner outings for us, but these too I could have skipped. I feel like we could have found better, more authentic food on our own.

The only meals I would highly suggest are the ones that came with an extra fee at some of the hostels we stayed at. The barbecue we had at Crowded House in Gallipoli was delicious, and the homemade feast at Saki Hostel & Guesthouse in Budva was probably the best meal of the whole trip. I would definitely recommend splurging on these!

What will you do?

I won't sugar-coat it: you will spend A LOT of time on the bus with this specific tour. Like, at least 6 hours on most days. Sometimes longer. However, considering how much ground this trip covers, I suppose it's not really that surprising.

As far as what you'll do off the bus, there are a few included activities (such as free orientation tours in most cities, and a fantastic guided tour of Gallipoli), and a few suggested activities that are budget-friendly (such as visiting a monastery at Meteora, and a comprehensive walking tour of Athens). The trip also allowed some flexibility and free time in most places, which allowed me to do things like lie on a beach in Parga, explore Budva's Old Town, and walk the walls of Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik, Croatia
Pretty Dubrovnik.

For me, the off-the-bus activities canceled out the long hours stuck on the bus.

Any downsides?

There were some downsides to this trip (most of which have been hinted at above), and I won't beat around the bush about them.

The lack of a clear itinerary before the trip bothered me — I didn't like not knowing where we'd be staying, or how long it would take to get from Point A to Point B each day. Some of this was probably the fault of our guide, but I feel like Busabout could do a better job giving out details online, too. Emphasizing how much time is spent on a bus on this tour would be helpful to anyone considering booking it (it was the biggest complaint I heard among my fellow travelers on this trip).

Thessaloniki, Greece

I also wasn't a fan of how the room allocations were handled on the trip. The first night, Matej just randomly assigned us to rooms. This was fine. But on subsequent nights, he just kept assigning us all to the same rooms. While I got along with my roommates fine, by the third night I had bonded with others in the group, and would have liked the opportunity to stay with them instead. There was also at least one couple on the trip who never managed to get a room to themselves, when there were occasionally 2-person rooms available that they wouldn't have had to pay extra for.

Would I recommend it?

Overall, I probably would recommend this trip — but with some caveats.

I would stress how much time you spend on a bus. This is a travel-heavy tour, and you should take that into consideration before booking it. I would also stress how much ground you cover in just 9 days — you certainly don't go along at a leisurely pace.

The main reason I would recommend this tour is because it allows you to visit parts of the Balkans you might not otherwise get to see. I probably would not have visited Albania or Montenegro if not for this tour, but I'm glad now that I have.

Budva, Montenegro

As for recommending Busabout, though? I definitely would recommend them in general. I've heard fantastic things about some of their other trips, and I would like to eventually try out their hop-on, hop-off passes in Europe.

Have you ever been on a trip with Busabout? If not, would you consider one?

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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38 Comments on “What’s it Like to Travel with Busabout?

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  1. Very honest review, great ups and downs of the trip. I haven’t been on a Busabout trip but am considering one.

      If you end up going on one, I’d be interested to hear your take!

      I tried to make my review as honest as possible – no sense writing one otherwise!

    This is an interesting take on the bus trip around Europe- never heard of Busabout before. Recently I took a contiki through Russia and was worried about being way too old (despite the age restrictions). I found the same mid 20’s travelers as well.

      Interesting about your Contiki through Russia! I wonder if it wasn’t full of slightly older travelers because of the destination? I hope you enjoyed it!

    Europe can be expensive to travel, so this is a cheap and convenient way to see the countries. Also, great way to make new travel partners. Thanks for sharing!

      It definitely is cheap and convenient, yes! And, like you said, a good way to meet other travelers, especially if you are traveling solo!

    This is one great review! thanks!
    I may take a bus tour one day. But I hate being on the bus for hours… The lack of an itinerary would bother me too… I guess it depends on the tour and company.

      It really does depend on the tour. I think other Busabout tours would have you on the bus for a lot less time, so they might be better for you!

    Just like you said–every tour guide is different and you’re never going to please everyone. On my Busabout tour, everyone was annoyed because our guide was SO gung-ho about organizing dinners and outings every night. Such big group dinners ended up being really expensive (splitting tabs!) and we didn’t always feel like we were going to the most authentic places. I was really happy that the average age on my tour was early to late 20s–totally shifted the dynamic from just Aussie teenagers!

      I was so happy to find that the average age was mid-20s! Good to know it was the same on your sailing tour.

      Interesting that your guide was a bit too enthusiastic and mine wasn’t enough!

    Thanks for your honesty Amanda! I have always been skeptical of big bus tours and even though you had some positive points, I don’t think I’ll be booking a tour like this anytime soon!

      You are most welcome, Sarah. As I’ve said before, I don’t see a point in writing a review if you’re not going to be honest about your experience!

    I have not heard of Busabout before. Perhaps its an Australian thing. But it does look like fun. Guided tours are great so you meet others on the trips as well and just follow the crowd. But then you can’t do what you want or where you want to go. Great photos.

      There WERE a lot of Australians on my tour, and yes, I think Aussies do tend to gravitate towards this sort of thing. But you of course don’t have to be Aussie to join one!

    Hi Amanda, I checked out busabout on the weekend and the sales rep mentioned that there was wifi on the buses… is this true? Thanks 🙂

      We didn’t have wifi on the bus I was on, but I think some of them may have it.

    Ive done a few contiki tours. I would totally do the boat-based one again. The bus based one I would pass on. Sitting on a bus is something you have to be really prepared for to be ok with it. Yes you get to see a lot of stuff in a short amount of time, but the speed is high and the amount of bus time can be tiring if you aren’t up for it.

    This does sound like a real neat route. Not too many people go through Albania.

      Yeah, part of the reason I decided to do this one was because of its slightly different route. I saw a few places I probably would have never otherwise visited!

      And a boat-based Contiki tour certainly does sound intriguing.

    Nice write up, I’ve used Busabout to see the Croatian islands as the girlfriend and I got a 2-for-1 deal towards the end of the season (the weather was still awesome though!).

    It was a nice mix of partying, seeing the islands and swimming in crystal clear waters. The guide was a bit hit and miss though – I would recommend them 70% 😉

      Well, a 70% isn’t too bad, especially for the price you pay!

      I’d love to do Croatia sailing sometime… the islands there all look amazing!

    I enjoyed your review and pictures. I’m usually not a fan of set itineraries, but I can see where it would have come in handy! That trip offers a lot of traveling in so little time; I guess a lack of itinerary allows trip coordinators to make unexpected changes. The passengers probably wouldn’t even know the difference!

    I have been on a tour with Busabout, I did Oktoberfest this year and had the best time ever. As you said, I made some great friends, who I am still in touch with now & I felt the way things were done gave us enough time to explore for ourselves as well as meet up with our fellow travellers. Our guide was really great, he actually saved my ass more than once which I am eternally grateful for (particularly as one was an incredibly embarrassing, heights/ vertigo moment). I am actually heading out to do a Classic Rhapsody with them in July, which I am so looking forward to!

      Great to hear that you had a good experience with Busabout, and that you’ll be traveling with them again! I remember looking at the Rhapsody when I was picking out my trip – it sounds like a good one!

    Hey, I just came across this by accident and thought I’d stick my nose in!

    I did the busabout hop-on, hop-off trip this summer and did the Alpine Pass route. I have to say that I found the whole experience amazing, although I do agree with some of your negatives. Since I was with the company for about 6 weeks I had the chance to meet and travel with quite a few guides and drivers. Most were lovely, some were a bit half arsed like you say and a few were down right annoying.
    My friend and I decided to find our own accommodation during the trip to save money and avoid the whole dorm thing. Safe to say although we managed some amazing places and 4 star hotels, we stayed in some complete dumps too!
    The buses are great, though not exactly somewhere you want to spent a long time on. Our lonest journey was a 1 hour stint between Germany and Paris – killer! Also, being from Scotland and spending so much time with only Australians (lovely as they are) started to drive me mad. They had no idea what I was talking about the whole time.
    I’d travel with the company again, and going by your review I’m now thinking about this trip for next year, so thanks!

      Good to hear you had a good experience with the hop-on hop-off buses. I definitely want to try using those sometime to make my way around Western Europe.

      If you do try out this trip next summer, I hope you enjoy it! (Though, beware those long hours on the bus!)

    Just curious I’m Booked on the classic rhapsody this end of may, did you find that most people on the tour continued onto the sailing busabout in croatia. It’s still something I’m debating doing….

      Yes, a lot of people were either going sailing, or had already been sailing in Croatia. Definitely one of Busabout’s more popular trips!

    Thanks for this write-up. I had been looking at doing this particular tour as I’m currently travelling alone. But I’m not keen on sitting on a bus all day! I did that with Travel Talk in Egypt and while I saw some amazing sites, sitting on a bus all day nearly broke me!

      Yeah unfortunately there’s a lot of travel time on this route.

    […] Western Europe with a company called Busabout. I traveled with Busabout last summer, too (albeit on a guided trip that time), and the company is definitely one that I would travel with again. But, since Busabout […]

    Thanks for the review now I have a better Idea of what to expect. l travel with Busabout next year doing the Turkey Aegean, Turkey Cappadocia, Mini Balkan then I will leave the trek in Athens and continue with them on the Greek Islands then fly to Rome for their Italian Adventure.

    I absolutly love Busabout because of the flexibility it gives you & the fact that most of the people are solo travellers that makes it easier to make friends. Its a much better alternative to Contiki and much more cost effective aswell. My only concern with their flexi trips is that when you get to your hostel you are left on your own to explore by yourself, where at a guided tour its an easier enviroment to get to know people. For me the people is just as important as the destination if not more. It will be my first time travelling out of Africa (from South Africa) & travelling solo aswell. But I believe going out of your comfort zone travelling alone can be interesting learning alot of live and social skills.

      Sounds like an epic adventure, Herman! I think you’ll find that, even though the flexi trip/hop-on, hop-off routes aren’t guided tours, you’ll make friends on the buses anyway, and there will be at least a few people who are doing the exact same route/schedule as you. I still found it really easy to meet people to hang out with!

    Hi Amanda,

    Thanks for posting your reviews- they are just the right sort of information I was looking for! I am currently tossing up between this tour with Topdeck:
    https://www.topdeck.travel/tours/eastern-explore
    Or doing the Eastern Europe Busabout tours: Classic Balkan followed by the Bohemian Trek and finishing with the Rhapsody Trek.

    I did a contiki tour when I was 21 and it was probably the best fun of my life. I guess what I’m tossing up between is the amount of time you get to explore yourself, and not be restricted by set activities. It will be the first time I am travelling alone, and this time round its important to me to be able to have a wander, and not to simply have time to take pictures of a castle, but actually go in it too.

    Have you had any experiences with Top Deck and if so, would you recommend them over Busabout?

    Thanks again,

    Tara

      Hey Tara! I’m afraid I don’t have any experience with Topdeck. I DID do Busabout’s Classic Balkan Trek, though. You can read the review here: https://www.dangerous-business.com/2012/11/whats-it-like-to-travel-with-busabout/

      That tour (and I’m assuming the others you mentioned) DID offer up a little bit of free time, but you also spent a LOT of time on a bus. I’m not sure how the Topdeck tour would compare, though. You might want to look into Med Experience, too, if it’s the Balkans/Eastern Europe that you’re really interested in.

      Overall, though, I think most of these tours are pretty similar in what they offer!

        Yeah I suppose they are marketed toward the same target groups so I guess I’ll have to look at the bang for my buck:)

        Thanks for the advice, I’ve fallen head over heels for your blog!

          Aww thanks, Tara! I really hope you enjoy whichever trip you decide on!

    […] remember being really apprehensive about doing a guided trip with Busabout a few years ago. I knew I’d be traveling on a large bus with lots of other young travelers, […]

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