Some days, traveling can be like riding through the song, “Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White Ts, especially the lines, “A thousand miles seems pretty far, but they’ve got planes and trains and cars. I’d walk to you if I had no other way.” When I lived in New York I used to count the modes of transportation I had to use to reach a destination. Walking to the subway to take the train to the airport shuttle to the airplane to the rental car to my mom’s house, for example. And the question always remains, is there another way? What is the best way?
The best way, in my opinion, is a fine line between most affordable and most direct. Sometimes that’s a car, an airplane, a train, a bus, a taxi, a bike, or my feet. Every destination has its own restrictions and options, so sweeping generalizations will not do here. Instead, a list of things to consider is warranted.
Things to Consider When Selecting Modes of Travel Transportation:
The less time you have, the more you will be willing to pay for speed. If it’s a 24 hour drive and a 3 hour flight, it’s a pretty easy choice to make. But often, the choices come down to a 15 minute bus ride versus a 30 minute walk. For those little choices, it’s frankly our mood, personal stamina, and budget that may end up making the decision for us.
Ahhh. Money. As travelers we are already living the luxury life by not going to work for a few days and eating out on the regular, but few of us are actually paying for the luxury tours and first class seats. So when you are deciding between things like train passes verses rental cars, cost is important to consider. When comparing prices be sure to include gas, tolls, insurance (if it’s not offered by your credit card) and possible parking tickets toward your cost of a rental car. Also, some countries require an international drivers license to rent a car, which is an added cost for the driver. Train ticket costs are more direct to calculate but lack a desirable amount of flexibility. Furthermore, if you board with the wrong ticket you can acquire quite the infraction. In the Czech Republic we each ended up with a $34 fine per person for accidentally buying ‘youth’ instead of ‘adult’ tickets.
Bonus note: I received a $60 speeding ticket in the mail 8 months after returning from Italy. We were only going 10 km over but they caught it on camera. I’ve also gotten parking tickets in Quebec and Austria. So word to the wise, to avoid driving penalties, slow down and read all the signs.
Having your own form of transportation (a car or a bike, what have you) allows for increased spontaneity and luggage carrying capacity. When my siblings and I traveled Europe last summer we chose to get a rental car for the first two weeks of the trip. This allowed us to move our luggage easily and transport our groceries from place to place. We could also start and end our days when and where we pleased, be it spontaneous runs across town for dinner or early morning starts to a long drive. Public transit offers pros in that it’s more relaxing for long distance travel and requires less navigation skills.
This varies by place, mode, and ability. Like, motorbiking is great, if you know how to motorbike. And buses can be excellent modes of transportation, but may not be safe for solo female travelers, depending on where you are. It’s another one of those things that requires research before you make the call.
My biggest argument for public transportation, be it trains or buses or rickshaws, is the cultural aspect. Yes, having a car provides flexibility and control. But if the world you’re diving into always takes the train, you are missing out, driving by in your car. You may get there faster, but you won’t really understand the journey. So even if you have a car, park it and ride the bus at least once. Experience first hand the frustration of changing trains during rush hour, hauling a taxi, and buying tickets. That’s normal life for people around the world, and travel isn’t just for looking at things, it’s for experiencing them.
Seat view, street view of my ride on a tricycle in the Philippines.