Traveling is a fantasy for many people, but the reality of it can seem overwhelming, expensive and something only for other people. But the more you learn a few tricks, the easier and cheaper it all becomes, and is no longer just for other people. So after reading this, maybe your only question left will be “where should I go?” This article will only focus on transportation, as that can be a beast in itself. Stay tuned for another article, which will feature accommodation, money, visas, etc.
Modes of Transportation
Flying: The first thing you always have to figure out is how to get to your destination. If it’s further away, you’ll more than likely take a flight to get there. But where do you even start? Which airlines are good? A really easy website to use, that takes away a lot of the frustrating research, is Skyscanner. Regardless of where you live or what language you speak, they have an option to show everything in your language, as well as your local currency. It’s easy to use, and it allows you to look for the following flights: one-way, round-trip, or even multi-city. They also have hotels and car rental options, so that you can have everything in one place. One really nice feature with them, is that you can set a price tracker. That means that you can put in your flight details, and when the price goes higher or lower, you’ll receive a notification. It’s free, and you can also set up multiple price trackers, if you want to compare a few destinations. Here’s a small article that explains everything about it.
Trains: Once you arrive at your destination, many countries use trains to get from the airport to the city center, travel within the city, or even to go from one city to the next. Traveling by train is typically very affordable, they leave often, and you never have to worry about traffic. But your first time using a train may seem overwhelming, especially if you’re going to a non-English speaking country. But thanks to English being a widely spoken language, most ticket machines have an English option. There’s typically an information desk at the airport, where you can have someone help you get to your next stop. There are also passes that help take a lot of the frustration out of your first time traveling by train. A good example of this, is the Eurail ticket, as it allows you to visit up to 31 countries in Europe. You can choose the One Country Pass or you the Global Pass, with both allowing you to choose how often you want to use the ticket. Such as any 3 days within 1 month. And you can purchase this from the comfort of your home. But as with any ticket, make sure to pay attention to how to validate it (some are valid from the moment you buy it, others need a timestamp from a machine just before you ride).
TIP 1: Many times, if you have the name of the stop you need, but you don’t speak the local language, you can show that to a local at the ticket machine, and they will typically help you.
TIP 2: Bigger countries like Canada, the USA or Australia, can be expensive and time consuming to travel by train.
TIP 3: One of the best resources for anything relating to trains is seat61. He provides excellent details on where to buy tickets, what the exchange rate is, if they offer somewhere to sleep, a map of the train lines there, etc.
Buses: When you want to get away from the craziness of mass tourism and see a little bit more of the local culture, or maybe you’re visiting a country or town that doesn’t have trains, then buses may be your only option. While they can take longer, you’ll see more of the country than you would with a train or a flight, and you’ll save major money. Some people even like to combine longer trips with sleeping hours, so they don’t need to pay for transportation, as well as a hotel room. A lot of buses leave from the main train station or somewhere central that’s easy to find. There will be an information desk or ticket machines nearby where you can buy your ticket, and a lot of times you can also buy tickets online. When traveling in the off-season, you can normally buy your ticket an hour before your trip and enjoy a coffee while you wait for your bus. But in the high-season, do plan ahead, as things fill up very quickly.
TIP: A great option in Europe is a bus called Flixbus. They don’t travel to all countries, such as Greece, but then they do have more rare options, such as Ukraine, Norway and Belarus. One example is from Munich to Berlin for around €20, whereas a train ticket for the same day can cost between €50-€100.
Carpooling: An option that doesn’t typically come up in travel conversations is carpooling. Carpooling?? What do you mean? Let’s say someone is driving from Rome to Milan. Instead of driving alone, he/she posts their trip, how many people can ride with them, how long it’ll take and how much it’ll cost. One of the main sites for this option is blablacar . You can read reviews from other passengers, see what type of music the driver likes, how much space is available for luggage, what type of car it is, and they put how talkative they are: one “bla” means they don’t talk much, “blabla” is average, and “blablabla”, well, you might learn their whole life story on that trip. Most of the time, you pay with a credit card online through their secure website, but some drivers prefer cash. It is a safe option, easy to use and at the time of this article, they have 70 million users in 22 countries. Most of the countries are in Europe, but it’s also available in Brazil, India, Mexico, Russia, Turkey and the U.K. It is also much cheaper than a train and sometimes cheaper than a bus. I’ve personally used this a handful of times and everyone has been very nice, easy to talk to, and very respectful of the whole process. The fact that you can read the reviews about the driver makes it all a much safer process, and one of the drivers has become a good friend of mine.
Car Sharing: There is a new trend to rent a car for only what you need. The traditional idea of renting a car is for at least one full day, you have to find a way to get to that location and back, and you always have to pay attention to what hours they’re open. But what about if you only need a car for 30 minutes or 2 hours? Then car sharing is great, as it allows you to pay for only the time you’re actually using it, either by the minute, or you can choose an hourly package. They have cars all over the city, so you just find the one that’s closest to you. To set up an account, just add your drivers license and a payment method to the website or app. When you’re ready, choose the car/location you want, how long you want it for, and then when you’re close to the car, use the app to unlock the door and off you go. A really great perk for most car sharing companies is that all of the fuel, insurance and parking fees are included in the rate. It’s in several countries, including the USA, Europe, Australia, Russia, South Korea, India, and a few others, with each country having their own cars and company names.
Ferries: One thing that might not be an obvious way to travel is by boat. For some places, like Greece, Thailand and even around the British Isles, it’s a fantastic way to get from point A to point B, while allowing you to relax out on the open water. The ferries that take more than 30 minutes, typically have a place for kids to play, somewhere to order food and drinks, and some even have a cinema, places to charge your electronics, as well as places to sleep (for overnight trips). Each company has their own prices, departure times, and amenities, but there’s a really easy-to-use website called Direct Ferries for most any ferry in the world, that helps you compare prices, departure times, amenities, etc. One nice thing about traveling with a ferry, is that you can typically take your bicycle, motorcycle or car with you. So if you’re traveling by one of these, you’ll pay a different fee, but then you won’t need to look for public transportation after the ferry.
Tours: Lastly, there are tours that are an easy way to see several places at once, with everything already planned for you. You pay one price, and everything is included, except typically food. There are one-way tours, which allow you to start in one city and finish in another, and there are also round-trip tours that start and finish in the same city. I’ve taken a one-way trip from Tallinn, Estonia to Riga, Latvia and it was a great experience. We were with a local who explained things along the trip, as well as at each of the stops. He took us to a local restaurant, to an old Soviet bob-sled track, some small towns, a few parks, a strawberry field, where we could buy fresh strawberries, and to a small museum. Despite all of that, it wasn’t rushed and it gave us time to ask questions about things that you’ll never find in a tour book. I’ve also done that with a sailing trip in Greece, where we went to 6 islands in 7 days, and each day we had land activities, including renting a 4-wheeler and traveling around the island or going on a small hike into an underground cave. Again, one price covered all of that, except our food. The great thing about a one-way trip is that it combines a tour, plus your transportation to the next city. Round-trip tours are also great, and can vary from 2 days to 30 days or more.
TIP: A great tour company that does both round-trip and one-way trips is G Adventures. I traveled with them on the Greece sailing trip and it was very affordable, we had a great tour guide, and everything was well thought out, before we even signed up.