When it comes to independent travel, there’s no one right way to go about it. There are a multitude of different ways to travel to, from, and around your destination. It’s all about creating a trip you’ll enjoy with the time and money you have to spend! As you’re creating your budget and itinerary, transportation is one of the major pieces of your travel experience to consider. In this post, we’ll cover what you need to plan for, the options you have to choose from, and how to decide which is the best for your trip. Let’s get to it, shall we?!
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Transportation Needs to Plan for in Your Itinerary
There are three different transportation needs to consider as you start your travel planning process. First, you’ll have to get to and from the transportation hubs in your destination(s) -- airports, train or bus stations, etc. Next, you want to think about getting around your destination itself. Lastly, you’ll need to get from one destination to another if your itinerary has multiple stops. Each of these have a variety of options and a few things to keep in mind when you’re deciding what’s best for your adventure.
Simply getting around your while on vacation can be an awesome part of the overall travel experience! For example, taking the water bus through the Grand Canal of Venice is a fantastic way to see the city and get from place to place. When you’re choosing your destination, spend some time with a map of your destination to get an idea of what you want to see and where it is in relation to your accommodation. Then you can figure out which choices will best fit your timeline and budget.
If you’re visiting more than one place on your trip, you’ll need to get from one to the other. The biggest considerations when making this decision is the travel time for each type of transportation and the cost. A quick search online should give you a good idea of what’s available so you can compare them.
Different Ways to Travel Using Public Transportation
Public transportation can be a wonderful option for most of your transportation needs. It’s definitely the most affordable. In cities like Stockholm or London, it can even be faster than taking a taxi. Some places, like Oslo, have an express train (it makes only a few stops) that links the airport to the city center. In others, standard Metro lines are what connect the airports and other transport hubs to the places you want to go.
Public transportation is also an affordable and efficient option for getting around your destination while you’re there, especially if you don’t have the time to spend walking from place to place. For major cities, check out the Go City passes -- some of them include public transportation along with entrance to the major attractions. Depending on where you’re going, you can find buses, trams, or metro (subway) systems to get you around. In this modern era, many of them have an app with a map of the network so you can plan your route. Lots of them also let you use the app for purchases and entrance, which makes it super easy!
Itineraries with Multiple Destinations
For going from one destination to the next, trains, buses, and ferries are the typical public transportation options. Many of the stations where you’ll arrive are near the city center which means you can easily book an accommodation nearby within walking distance.
Taking a bus is a super affordable option for getting from place to place. In many parts of the world, this is the best way to get around because trains are slow or non-existent. In Europe, you can buy a pass that will give you unlimited bus rides for fifteen or thirty days so you can see multiple places! Often, the travel time between bus and train rides is nearly the same, but the prices vary significantly. When I was traveling from Amsterdam to Bruges, Belgium the bus ride was only thirty minutes more, but cost me €30 less than the train.
Train travel is one of my favorite ways to travel because you get to see the scenery along the way. Plus, train stations are often right in the middle of the city. When visiting Norway with my mom, we took the train from Flam to Bergen and the landscapes were so gorgeous, I never even opened my book. I spent the whole time just staring out the window.
In certain places, like the Scottish islands, ferry is the easiest way to get from place to place. Most ferries also transport a car, if you have a rental. Stan (my partner in adventure) and I did this to visit the islands of the Outer Hebrides in 2018. We got to sit out on the deck, enjoying the views with a cold brew for the whole transit between ports. It was wonderful!
Getting Around Using Rideshares
When getting from a transportation hub to your accommodation, you may be able to book a shuttle van with other passengers going to the city center. This is cheaper than a private car or taxi. You’ll want to book this in advance to make sure you get a spot and know where to meet the ride when you arrive. Check with your accommodation to see if they offer this kind of service or can arrange a ride for you. When I was planning our most recent trip to Sarajevo, the host of our apartment arranged for someone to pick us up at the bus station and take us directly to where we were staying. It was super easy! We simply paid an extra €10 as part of our accommodation.
Rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft have become popular throughout the US. Uber works in places outside the States, but not everywhere. (Here’s a list of where they operate, if you’re curious). You can find similar services around the world (here’s a great article with other options) that will probably save you money over traditional taxis. Unless you’re short on time, I’m still a fan of the walking + public transportation combination for getting around a city.
BlaBlaCar is a service I’ve heard about, but have not yet used myself. This lets you carpool with others from one destination to the next. You simply enter your starting point, end point, and travel date to see if there’s anyone else taking that same route. I’ve heard good things about this option! For some routes, you can also look at group shuttles that allow you to book with other passengers but are smaller and faster than a bus.
Walking or Biking In Your Destination
Strolling the streets is one of the best ways to get to know a place, and my personal favorite. On more than one occasion, I actually walked more than 20 miles, just seeing what there was to see. Though, that’s not the norm (my feet would eventually fall off), it was a wonderful way to explore the places I was visiting. Walking, especially when combined with public transportation in big urban centers, can get you pretty much everywhere you want to go.
Another great way to explore is by bicycle. Though I’m not a confident cyclist, I’ve often been tempted to give it a try, especially in cities that are well set up for it like Copenhagen and Amsterdam. You can cover more ground than walking and it’s inexpensive, especially with the availability of bikes you can pick up at one station and drop at another. Many places have bike tours you can join for a few hours to boost your confidence and get an overview of a destination’s highlights.
Different Ways to Travel Using Traditional Taxis
Of the many different ways to travel from the airport (or other transportation hubs) to your accommodation, getting a taxi is usually the easiest, though not the cheapest. If convenience is your priority, you’ll want to take this option or pre-book a private car. You can always find a line of taxis waiting outside any transportation hub where you arrive. Make sure you ask what the cost is or find out if they run a meter before you agree to ride with them, otherwise they may charge you more than is standard.
When Stan and I arrived in Romania, we had this happen to us.. The taxi ride should have cost about half of what we ended up paying, but we didn’t ask before getting in the car. It had been a long day and had a fiasco getting cash at the airport, so we just wanted to get going. Lesson learned! (Side note: be sure to ask if they take a credit card or make sure you have local currency on hand to pay.)
Although rideshare apps are super popular, the traditional taxi is not dead, my friend! In places around the Balkans, you can look for the orange “Taxi” signs scattered throughout the cities and usually have a ride at the ready. Sometimes you can hail them as they’re going, though this has been very hit or miss for me over the years. The upside of taxis is that they’re more standardized and regulated than rideshare options.
Rental Cars for the Ultimate Flexibility
If you’re going to be in a major city, don’t bother with a rental car. Besides the higher cost of the rental itself, parking is a pain in the ass and expensive. Traffic can be a nightmare -- once I had to drive through the center of London to drop off a rental car I’d picked up in Scotland and it took forever! Also, some cities (like London) charge a congestion tax for driving in the busiest areas.
When you want to get out of the main urban areas and explore off the beaten path, rental cars offer the ultimate flexibility for your vacation! Plan a route that has you starting and ending in the same place, exploring more of the surrounding area, or pickup in one city and drop off in another, stopping to see all the awesome along the way. Just know that for picking up in one place and dropping off in another, you’ll most likely pay an additional one-way fee. Also, don’t forget to plan for fuel in your travel budget!
Different Ways to Travel by Private Car Service
Having a private car pick you up is an option at nearly every airport and also at some of the other types of transportation hubs. It’s definitely the most expensive option, but can give you some peace of mind if you’re feeling unsure about navigating the other choices. We hired private cars to and from the airports in Istanbul because public transportation wasn’t a viable option and the airports were far from where we were staying. The first one was a total fiasco -- it was hard to find and the driver took the super long route to our place. However, I chose a different company for my flight home and it was wonderful! My driver was early, which was great since I scheduled the pickup at 4 AM and would have been in trouble if he hadn’t shown up. Plus he was so nice and friendly, we had a great time chatting all the way to the airport. Though the first ride wasn’t ideal, we still made it to our accommodation, so it worked out in the end.
You can also book a private transfer to get you from one place to the next, whether around a city or from point to point. I’ve never actually done this because I’ve been able to find something that works really well for much cheaper. Though, when I was looking at getting from Kotor, Montenegro to Dubrovnik, Croatia I did look at a few private car options, just out of curiosity. Most of them cost more than €100. I would have arrived an hour or so sooner, but my bus ticket was closer to €15. It was an easy decision for this girl. Less money on transportation means more money for eating delicious things!
Choosing the Best Ways to Travel for Your Trip
As I said at the beginning, there’s no one right way to create your trip. I encourage you to take a page from the value travel approach and get clear on what’s most important to you. This is going to vary based on your unique travel style. The biggest considerations for making your decision are usually budget, travel time, and the overall experience.
When it comes to planning your travel budget, how much are you willing to spend on transportation? What’s the trade off between what you spend and the experience? For travel time, compare your options and see what makes the most sense for the time you have to spend. If your trip is a week long, a shorter travel time may be more important than if you have a month. When it comes to the overall experience, decide what you really need to have and eliminate the options that don’t fit.
Now that you’ve got all sorts of information to come back to when you’re planning the itinerary for your next trip, the fun can begin!
What are your favorite ways to travel? What awesome experiences have you had using them? Share yours in the comments!