Deciding to travel is easy. Actually working out the practicalities of getting around is a little less easy. One thing to think about when planning for travel is how you’re going to get around. Not around your destination (a combination of walking, taxis and public transport will usually sort you out there), but how to get from city to city or country to country. There are a surprisingly large number of options.
Yes, walk. Not the most popular of choices for obvious reasons, but a great way to see the countryside of the country you’re in. Many places have well-trodden walking paths that start and end in major centres, and if you want to see both of those places — why not walk between them? You’ll have to cut your baggage down to carrying weight, but you’ll have an awesome time. Consider the West Highland Way in Scotland or the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Or just walk out your front door.
Cycling is becoming a popular way to explore regions, but you can also use it as your main mode of transport. You can’t usually cycle on motorways, but back roads are fine, and may also have cycle lanes! Many of the walking paths mentioned above can also be cycled. In a lot of countries, you can take your bike on the train, which is a good option if you want to get back to your starting point or travel a bit faster.
An option made famous by Che Guevara, and more recently by various celebrities taking off on long overland journeys. You’ll travel faster than you would with pedal power, but you won’t have that much more packing space. Consider safety aspects like where you’re going to sleep, and make sure you know where the next petrol station is!
Depending on how long you’re spending in your destination, you might want to consider buying or hiring a car. Some cities have backpacker car fairs, where you can pick up a cheap ride and sell it off again before you go — you may even make a profit. Make sure you check out the laws about buying cars before you pay, though.
Hiring can also be a good option if you’re not staying long enough to warrant purchasing. Compare prices online, but be aware that the daily rental price might increase dramatically when you add in the extras — tax, insurance, mileage costs.
Make sure you investigate road rules before you start driving, since there are often some odd ones you won’t have thought of. Switching from driving on the right to the left, or thinking in kilometres rather than miles, can be other challenges you might face. Just keep your wits about you and you should be fine.
Another way to get around by car is to hitch-hike. Stick out your thumb and get a lift with someone who’s heading in the right direction. In some countries this is not at all advisable, in others it’s perfectly normal. You’re safer if you travel with a partner, and apparently a guy and a girl travelling together are the most likely to be picked up.
Travelling by campervan is a great way to see a country and take your home with you. Unpacking is minimised, and you can stop wherever you like. You can choose which size you’d like, but in general the more driving you’re doing, the smaller the campervan. Manoeuvrability is important — don’t be the person holding up queues of traffic on windy roads. We love Spaceships campervans because they are well-equipped and easy to drive. Unfortunately many places don’t allow you to park where the fancy takes you, and parking in holiday parks can get expensive. Do a bit of research about parking before you hire a campervan to make sure that it’s worth the extra cost — you might be better getting a car and a tent, or just staying in hostels along the way.
Boat: ferry, cruise, yacht, canal boat …
There are a myriad of boats out there, from tiny dingies to enormous cruise ships, and each one is going to give you a different experience. Ferries are usually scheduled, and can be any size — some of the larger ones have sleeping facilities, but most are just floating buses.
Hiring a private boat can make for a great holiday, but might get pricey, especially if you hire the crew as well. And cruises don’t have a reputation for being the best for budget travellers, but might be a good option if you want to see a lot of countries and the cruise ship itinerary fits your plan.
Travelling by cargo ship may also be a good option for longer distances, especially if you don’t like to fly. It’s not as cheap as you might expect — around US$80-100 per day, but the price includes transport, accommodation and usually all your meals as well. So it’s not bad value.
Public bus or coach
Buses might not be the most comfortable of options, but they are extremely prevalent, and can be wonderfully cheap if you book well in advance — companies like Megabus in the UK and Naked Bus in New Zealand can save you a lot of money if you compare prices with the more traditional companies. In some countries, like Turkey, long-distance buses are the most common way of travelling city-to-city, and they can be extremely comfortable.
Of course, you can always book yourself a Contiki tour and save yourself the hassle of travelling independently. You get less flexibility in your itinerary but you might meet some great people. Another option is the hop-on-hop-off type of bus ticket that many bus networks (like Stray in New Zealand, or Busabout in Europe) offer.
Trains are often the best way to really see a country. They are usually faster and more comfortable than a bus, and the seating configuration usually makes it easier to chat with your travel companions and meet new people.
If you’re travelling long-distance in a train, look into sleeping options. Of course, you can sleep in your seat, but it’s probably going to be more comfortable to spend a bit extra and get a bed. The range of compartments available will vary country to country, but as a rule, the more privacy you have, the more pricey it is. In Europe, it’s usually safe to share your compartment with other travellers — choose a top bunk if you’re concerned about your safety. The Man in Seat 61 has a lot of useful information about travelling by train.
It’s easy to get anywhere in the world relatively quickly if you travel by plane. The disadvantage is that you don’t see much of the scenery as you go, and it certainly isn’t the greenest option. Sometimes there’s no other option, though, especially if you need to travel from the UK to New Zealand in less than six weeks!
Most airlines are either traditional or budget. Traditional airlines are more expensive, but you’ll get a meal, in-flight entertainment, and often a complimentary bar service. Budget airlines are basically flying buses — you pay for any unnecessary extras like paying by credit card or taking a bag, and you get sub-standard service in return. (This is a gross generalisation, I know, but this is certainly the way it seems!)
Be aware that when you travel by plane, the airport is often quite a distance from the city it serves. A plane ticket might look like a great deal, but it might not be when you factor in the cost of getting to and from the airport at both ends of your journey.
Yes, there are a myriad of other ways to travel from country to country — hot air balloon? Helicopter? Tuk-tuk? If you’re an adventurer, you’re sure to find the most interesting ways to travel.
However you travel, make sure you enjoy the journey as well as the destination. Appreciate the quirks of the transport you’re taking, and you’ll have a trip to remember.
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If you’re interested in European travel, check out Craig’s new project which he’s doing with Karen Bryan – Top Travel Content Europe is a human-edited aggregator of the best online travel stories and advice.