The 5 Most Iconic VW Bus Trips

Wandering aimlessly from one place to the next is a luxury we all love to lap up thanks to the freedom afforded by our VW Buses. Not knowing where you plan to go next, or where you might end up, is both nail-biting and smile-stretching. And that’s exactly why we revel in this nomadic lifestyle. Sometimes though, the challenge of reaching a far-flung destination has our adventurous hearts burning with a desire to plan a long-distance trip. After all, the possibilities of living in a VW Bus are endless. To narrow those possibilities down for you a tad, we have compiled the ultimate list of iconic VW Bus trips. The five wonders of the road, if you will.

The VW Bus trips we have chosen will take you to the end of the world and back again. No, literally — the Pan-American Highway route takes you all the way from Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina, a.k.a. ‘The End of the World’. We also take you along the South African and US coasts, through the Alps, and even along the (in)famous ‘Hippie Trail’ from Europe to India. On the journey, you will also discover what made these routes so iconic, and what you can expect to experience when you travel along them.

Photo by: Buslifers Ambassadors, Calluna Trip

1. Through the Alps — The Original VW Bus Adventure 

At the start of our list of iconic VW Bus trips is (of course) the Alps mountain range. After all, the 1951 VW Samba itself was modeled with the idea of it being used as a touring bus through the Alps’ scenic peaks and valleys. You see, the 23 windows wrapped fully around the bus weren’t just a quirky design feature. They were intended to give us full 360-degree views of our surroundings, and bring us closer to nature. Who knows where us Buslifers would be now if the VW Bus designer, Ben Pon, hadn’t conceived the idea of using a VW Bus as a means of travel and adventure? Actually, let’s not think about it. Instead, let’s simply honor Mr. Pon by living out his original VW Bus dreams. 

There’s no surprise that the Alps was Mr. Pon’s destination of choice. Spanning seven European countries — France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria, and Slovenia — there isn’t a single angle from which these mountains don’t take your breath away. Snow-capped mountain peaks towering over turquoise alpine lakes. Bluffs pollinated with wildflowers. These are just two of the unforgettable scenes you’ll see along your journey. 

What you can expect along the way…

From east to west, myriad must-see routes lace the Alps mountains. Edge your way up Switzerland’s infamous winding Furka Pass which featured in James Bond’s ‘Goldfinger’ in 1964. Take pictures in on the Gardena Pass which takes you through Italy’s Garden Valley and past it piercing peaks. And glide past glaciers and waterfalls on Austria’s Grossglockner High Alpine Road. The region may be vast, but with so many splendid routes to satisfy your wandering soul, it’s the kind of place you can happily get lost in for months on end come summer or winter. 

See what others are getting up to on this route…

Many VW Bus travelers (and even some of our own ambassadors) have traveled to the Alps with the intention to ‘just pass through’. Now, they have no intention of leaving. Check out one of our Buslifers Ambassadors, Jsa at @my.travel.photo.diary who has lived in her 1974 VW T2 for over 10 years and is now based in Switzerland for more Alpine inspiration. 

Photo by: Buslifers Ambassador, My Travel Photo Diary

2. West Coast USA — A VW Bus ‘Trip’ Through Counter Culture 

The concept of “bus-life” may have been born in Europe, but its precedent was set by the USA during the mid-century counterculture movement. It was only after the literary Beat Generation movement from Berkely, California, promoted the open road as a lifestyle that it really took off. After that, hives of hippies traveled for gatherings, festivals, speeches, and community-living up and down the West Coast. Colorful VW Buses painted the roads from Venice Beach in Los Angeles to Fremont and Wallingford (aka the Center of the Universe) in Seattle, Washington. In the center of it all, however, was Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, California. Here, over 100,000 hippies gathered for the Summer of Love. 

Today you can retrace the very roads that made counterculture history and drove our love for VWs to extraordinary heights on one of your very own VW Bus trips. You won’t be surprised to see not much has changed — the hippies have most definitely left their mark. In fact, California, Oregon, and Washington, the three states that define the coast, are still considered some of the most liberal-minded in the USA. Whilst Haight-Ashbury is like a living museum for the hippie movement, Big Sur is basically one big hippie commune. Portland, meanwhile, would star in ‘Hippies and the City: A Love Story’…if it existed. In other words, not only do you get to see where hippies made history, you get to experience the hippie life for yourself. 

What you can expect along the way…

Cultural revolution or not, the West Coast is a marvel in itself. Wind down your windows and sniff the salty sea air as you coast up the Pacific Highway from the beaches of Cali to the conifers of Washington. Along the way, expect nothing but dazzling views of the Pacific to your left and wooded mountains to your right as you leave your troubles behind you for the possibility of what’s ahead. 

See what others are getting up to on this route…

Originating from France, meet Buslifers Ambassadors, Eric and Joanna, at @desfenetressurlemonde. This adventurous couple has crossed every border in mainland USA in their 1983 VW Vanagon Westfalia named Popo. Check out their Instagram handle or website for more inspiration on a West Coast trip. 

Photo by: Buslifers Ambassadors, Des Fenetres Sur Le Monde

3. From the West to the East — The “Hippie Trail” to India and Nepal

A key motivation of the hippie culture was the experience of spiritual awakening. It stemmed from the idea that the material world cannot bring true happiness and contentment. So, instead of looking outwardly for these things, the hippies started to look within. Whilst this concept was considered radical in Western culture at the time, it was ancient practice in the East. For many, therefore, the spiritual journey began with a physical one: from the constraints of Western Europe to mindful ashrams in India and Nepal.  

Of course, the hippies didn’t fly because life was about going slow and steady. Instead, communities from London, Paris, Munich, and other European cities traveled en-masse on one of the ultimate VW Bus trips. They crossed the European continent to Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan just to reach India and Nepal where spiritual teachers awaited them. This 11,000-mile route became known as ‘The Hippie Trail’. 

Obviously, travel through Afghanistan is now restricted due to conflict. However, it is easy to bypass by heading directly to Pakistan from Iran. Alternatively, take the Silk Road route from Iran to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to the Chinese border. From there, it’s possible to head south through Pakistan to India and Nepal.  

What you can expect along the way…

The journey across Europe and Pan-Asia is certainly long. However, there is nothing quite like experiencing the slow transition from West to East. Along the way, you will watch the landscape and culture transform in a million ways as you transform too. And whilst you may not pass bus-loads of hippies along the trail anymore, you will notice the legacies they left along the way. From the Pudding Shop in Istanbul to Freak Street in Kathmandu, The Hippie Trail lives on. 

See what others are getting up to on this route…

Follow Dutch couple Milene and Yuri on one of their latest VW Bus trips across Pan-Asia at @mygrations.nl. And don’t forget to check out their very own website for stories from the road. Starting in Venice, they are heading across Europe and the Middle East all the way to China in their 1976 VW T2. Again, incredible Buslifers Ambassadors are on the route already!  

Photo by: Buslifers Ambassadors, Mygrations NL

4. Coastal South Africa — The Garden Route

Stretching 190 miles across the South African coast from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, the Garden Route is one of the most rugged routes in the world. It was first taken by the Dutch East India Company after landing in Cape Town in the mid 17th century in search of trade opportunities. Turns out they liked it so much, they stayed and colonized the coast. Over 250 years later, this region is coveted for its fusion of Dutch and African heritage, and incredible Eden-like landscapes. Yes nature lovers, this one’s for you. Oh, and wine lovers, you’re in for a treat too. 

From the stunning scenes of Table Mountain National Park in Cape Town, the route leads east towards Stellenbosch and Route 62. These are two of South Africa’s most celebrated wine regions. The valleys in these regions are packed with dozens of vineyards and estates awaiting your arrival with a chilled white. 

What you can expect along the way…

Once sober enough to continue your journey, you will find yourself driving through one breathtaking national park after another. Wilderness National Park really is what its name suggests — vast, wild, and rugged. Tsitsikamma National Park, on the other hand, is all about those views over the Indian Ocean. And of course, there’s Addo Elephant National Park, a diverse savannah where elephants roam free. 

Although the Garden Route is named in honor of its vistas, the real highlight is its abundance of animals. Along the coast, expect the walk past waddling penguins on the beach, see shark fins wavering through the water, and whales and dolphins jumping out of it to greet you. And if you’re heading inland, tread carefully in case you run into elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, lions, or ostrich.  

See what others are getting up to on this route…

Being located at the southern tip of the African continent, the Garden Route isn’t as accessible as many other routes worldwide. Yet, it is not impossible. Aside from the obvious idea of buying a VW Bus when you’re in South Africa, you can also access the continent via Morocco. This is how Buslifers ambassadors @_social_traveling_ embarked on their African adventure in their VW T3. Of course, much of Africa is still endangered by civil war, so this particular adventure should be taken with extra precaution. 

Photo by: Buslifers Ambassadors, Social Traveling

5. Alaska to Argentina — The Pan-American Highway

If you’re going to embark on a road trip, why not choose the mother of all roads — the Pan-American Highway. Spanning 30,000 miles from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Ushuaia, Argentina, it is the longest road in the world. Well, actually, the highway itself only spans 19,000 miles from the Mexican border to Buenos Aires, Argentina. And yes, still counts as the longest. However, it is connected to direct routes reaching each end of the Americas. 

The proposal for this route was first introduced in 1889 at the First International Conference of the American States. Due to political differences, however, this monster of a road wasn’t completed until 1963. Since then, the route has become synonymous with adventure, and one of the most iconic VW Bus trips for the Buslifers community. 

From top to bottom, the route spans 14 countries including Canada, USA, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. With such a diverse range of countries along the route, it’s needless to mention the dramatic difference in landscapes it presents. But where would be the fun in that? 

What you can expect along the way…

From the snow-covered mountains and vast coniferous forest of Canada to the deep, dark jungles of Central America, the rainbow-colored Andes Mountains in Peru, and the starch-white salt-flats of Bolivia, the Pan-American Highway will never fail to fill you with wonder. 

Of course, this adventurous route appeals to the nomadic hearts of many Buslifers, including our own ambassadors. This makes the route about so much more than just the travel; it’s also about the community you find along the way. Wherever you stop, you’ll no doubt find fellow Buslifers to swap stories from the road with. No matter whether it be on the sunny coast of Panama or the chilly Andean Plateau in Peru.

See what others are getting up to on this route…

To visualize the adventures you could have on this iconic journey, get acquainted with our Buslifers Crew for inspiration. While our friends @laventuraenkombi are currently crossing Ecuador, @kombipalnorte are in Argentina, and family of three, @vidasrodantes, are heading north through Colombia to Central America. 

Photo by: Buslifers Ambassadors, Kombi Pal Norte

Top tips for international road trips

Inspired to set off on your dream road trip, but the legalities of border-crossing post-Covid 19 have you scratching your head? Read Border Crossings in 2021: Your Ultimate Guide to put your mind at ease.

Concerned about getting lost or becoming disconnected on your cross-continent adventure? Read How to Have Access to Wifi on the Road at All Times and be sure to check in with your mom.

Concerned your trip may just break the bank and dampen your dreams? Read How to Live a Budget-Friendly Buslife to keep the dream alive.

Emily Draper
Author: Emily Draper

Having visited over 70 countries across all seven continents, it's safe to say Emily has the voice of a true traveler. She has lived with the Hare Krishnas in Chile, an Amazonian tribe in Peru, and a retiree named Jerry in a Wisconsin trailer park. Now, Emily has embarked on the coolest adventure yet: across Europe in her self-converted bus.

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