Planes, trains, and automobiles (and a few more options besides.) How do you know which form of transport to pick? And when? You might be heading to the airport, traveling between remote locations, or looking for the most scenic route. There will almost always be more than one type of transport that you need to consider. Here are a few tips to help you choose which mode(s) of transport will be right for you.
To begin with the obvious – if you are traveling overseas, you will almost certainly be doing so in a plane. For quick and easy travel over vast distances, it is perfect. All hail the Wright Brothers, etc.
You may, however, have to travel across a long(ish) distance during your travels. For example, from one European country to another, or from one side of a large country to the other side. If a flight takes under, say, four hours, you may have other options to cover the same distance. What then?
As mentioned, planes are by far the best in terms of speed. You can get somewhere in two hours that would otherwise have taken you an entire day. Not only this, but airports are designed with international travelers in mind, meaning that you will likely understand the layout and be able to find assistance easily.
This very familiarity, however, can count against planes as an option. If you have traveled to a new country to immerse yourself and experience the culture, you might be missing out on an opportunity by going for what you know.
Another consideration is that, on a practical level, plane trips can be difficult to work into a schedule. Airports tend to be quite far away from the main city, and getting back and forth can be a considerable effort.
Train stations tend to be found in busy “hubs”, and will often be at a city’s center. This means that you can combine them with your explorations quite easily. You can get a feel for your location as you find your way from the station to where you want to go. Trains also tend to follow relatively predictable routes and timetables, and are not subject to traffic jams. This could perhaps be a good transport option for getting from suburban accommodation into the city area.
For this kind of short-distance travel, however, it is important to remember that train systems differ vastly from country to country. Some are clean, neat, timed to the millisecond, and part of an extensive network. Others are old, irregular, and of limited range.
Trains can be good over long distances, being more comfortable than buses, and quite fast. They are often a great way to see some of the country you are visiting, as they do not always follow highways, but often cut through sections of countryside. Long distance services might only run directly between city centers, however. You may need to change to another service or even different transport altogether to complete your journey.
Buses can be perfect for short, local travel. They will often be part of an extensive network, and run frequently. They can also be a great way to find your way around, as they follow roads. By looking out of the window as you go, you can start to “connect the dots” and get a picture of the area in your head.
Similarly to trains, however, you should be aware that some countries’ public transport standards are lower than others. Buses might be unreliable, subject to heavy traffic, or possibly unsafe. You should research others’ accounts of the transport systems when making a decision. Do bear in mind that most forms of transport are safe if you travel in daylight hours and keep your wits about you – and especially if you are in a pair or group.
If you are staying in an area with little to no public transport, a rental car can be your best option. It can also be great to have a car for the purposes of “door to door” travel – unlike planes and trains, you do not need to switch to another form of transport to get all the way to your final destination. Having a car at your disposal gives you immense freedom over your scheduling.
Taxis have similar positive features. You do have to wait for them to arrive, but you don’t have to worry about finding parking (or forgetting where you parked…)
A taxi could be preferable to a rental car if the country you are visiting has a different style of driving to the one you are used to. I don’t just mean driving on the other side of the road; some countries have very lax ideas about overtaking in blind spots, cutting people off, speeding, and other not-so-fun things to deal with.
If you are in a city, you may find walking to be the best possible option for short distances. Sometimes, once you have gone to the effort of finding and waiting for your transport, dealing with crowds and traffic as you go, you might find that it would have taken the same or even less time to walk.
Not only this, but walking is one of the best ways to get to know a new place. If you are not worried about time constraints, consider walking even for slighter longer distances if you are able. Perhaps you are staying in a guest house, and you could walk into the town every day. Perhaps you could walk between museums, or local beaches. Soon, you will find yourself feeling at home.
If I were to start listing every type of transport available in every country or city in the world, I would be here all year. Anywhere you go, there is likely to be a form of transport specific to that location. There could be a subway system, water taxis, tuk-tuks, rickshaws, or even cable cars. Some of them might be exactly suited to your needs… others might just be fun to try out. Do some research before you go, and see if you can find a mode of transport that you weren’t expecting.