Getting from point A to point B is one of the least enjoyable parts of a vacation for many people. Riding a bus or train is a mundane part of everyday life, so doing the same amid the stresses and culture shock of a foreign country may seem an unattractive option. There are, however, many advantages to slowing down on a long train ride – so how do you know when to opt for wheels over wings?
In many cases, taking a bus or train will be less expensive than flying, making overland travel hugely popular with budget travelers. Just don’t assume that’s always the case. Europe and Asia both have several regional airlines, offering inexpensive flights that can be even less costly than a trip by train. If you’re traveling on a shoestring, use sites like Rome2Rio and Skyscanner to compare travel costs and determine the least expensive option.
The quality of overland travel can vary wildly from country to country, so if you’re considering taking a trip via bus or train, do plenty of advance research so you know what you’re in for. In Asia, Thailand and Vietnam have lots of excellent train trips to offer, but their shared neighbor Cambodia is not nearly as developed when it comes to travel infrastructure. Similarly, the thought of a bus ride in South America might make you think of overcrowded vehicles where you share your seat with a chicken, but overnight buses in Argentina are actually rather posh affairs complete with reclining seats and wine-serving attendants. Every country is different and if you find the comfort factor to be lacking in overland travel, you may give more consideration to a direct flight.
If you’re on a tight schedule – as many one- to two-week vacations are – you’ll want to prioritize convenience. Flying may seem less time consuming, but remember that you won’t just be spending travel time on the plane, but also in the airport. Arriving two hours in advance of your departure is recommended for international flights, so you have plenty of time to check in, check your bags, and go through the security line. Between baggage claim and customs, you’re also likely to spend another hour or more in the airport after your arrival. Take all those extra steps into consideration when comparing travel time.
There are a lot of arguments in favor of flying, but there’s one point where a plane will never be able to compare to staying grounded: experience. Train travel may be slower than jet, but it’s also more leisurely. You’ll have better views, more personal space, and best of all, you’ll get to enjoy the romance of the railway. Traveling on trains and buses is how locals get around, so doing the same yourself can form a critical piece of experiencing the culture in a foreign country. You’ll have a much more enjoyable trip on land, from bullet trains in Japan to Australia’s Outback-crossing Ghan. Train trips like the Orient Express and the Trans-Siberian Railway have become classics – can you say the same for any journeys via plane?