I am a bit of a geek when it comes to transport. I think that’s because my father worked for a bus company as I was growing up, so I was surrounded by all things bus, tram and train.
But for me, it is more than the technology. I enjoy being able to travel for the journey itself and for what it symbolises: an openness to explore, to learn and to see the world.
You can learn a lot about a country, its culture and history from its modes of transport. From the mopeds, tuktuks and bicycles of South East Asia to the hybrids and Hummers of the US, the modes of transport you are faced with is often in stark contrast. And you are frequently reminded that transport is a status symbol and a luxury many of us cannot afford.
I am in the privileged position whereby I can use transport for pleasure and as a way of exploring different parts of the world.
Here is a list of a few of my favourite journeys, and the methods of transport that made the experience so special.
Amtrak-ing Across The United States Of America
Everyone has a rosy, idealistic notion of road-trippin’ across the States and tend to forget that there are other ways to see the country. Now, whilst I won’t deny that hopping in the convertible to embark upon your epic journey wouldn’t be good fun, I am going to suggest that you should travel the USA by train.
Why? Well, I found that it was remarkably cheap; I bought a month’s rail pass, and discovered that I saved a lot compared to buying individual tickets. It was a hop-on-hop-off kind of affair, so I could plan my journey as I went and as long as I booked my ticket in advance for each journey, I never had any problems getting a seat. Sling in a student pass (if you have one) and suddenly you are looking at paying not very much to cover a vast amount of ground.
Stations are situated pretty much in the centre of town, therefore I never had far to go to my accommodation. An absolute God-send when you don’t have the funds to pay for cabs and buses to and from out of town airports.
You get to see so much of the country. From my window I watched the rolling plains of North Dakota glowing in the evening sun and felt that I was getting to see parts of the USA that I would have missed shuttling about in a tin-can in the sky.
You can sleep on the train. Well, maybe not if you have trouble nodding off in places other than your bed, but for me, I could save a night’s accommodation cost by sleeping on a long distance train.
You meet some interesting people. Grab a drink in the cafe carriage as you’ll be here for a while. You never know who you may meet.
Exploring New Zealand By Car
Nothing gives you a feeling of happiness like driving in New Zealand.
The roads are uncrowded and breathtakingly beautiful. Scenery that leaves your jaw aching with the wow factor confronts you at every turn. Remember to add photo time to your journeys; you will want to stop and take a lot. There are glaciers, geothermal pools and geysers, mountains, caves, lakes, forests, and the list just keeps going on and on.
Driving around NZ is absurdly easy. Forget plotting Sat Nav routes, just grab a good ol’ fashioned map and you will come to realise that there are only so many roads to get you to your destination. Plus, looking at a map in NZ is a sheer pleasure due to the wonderful place names, many with their origins in the Maori culture, making you smile.
There are many places where you can freedom camp, but if you require a few more facilities, than, well, none, there are also numerous Department of Conservation campsites and privately owned campsites. Companies such as Top 10 provide toilets, cooking and washing facilities.
Hop On / Hop Off: The Greyhound Bus In Australia
Gee, Australia is a BIG country. I was not keen at the thought of driving the vast distances of the East coast of Australia when I was backpacking there, and like so many others, bought a ticket for multi-journey travel. It is simple: as long as you are travelling in the same direction and you pre-book your bus, you can take as many stops as you like along the way.
I journeyed from Cairns all the way through to Sydney by bus.
I made sure that I stopped off at some of the smaller places along the way: Mackay and Rockhampton for example. In these smaller towns and communities I got better taste of Australian life by trying to get off the well-beaten backpacker path.
Long distance coach travel doesn’t sound that appealing on the face of it. I can understand your hesitation. But Greyhound stop regularly, allowing you to stretch your legs, get a toilet break and something to eat. Load up your Ipod with some new tunes, pack a book and the time actually goes quicker than you would expect. This goes without saying that whilst you relax in your seat, Australian vistas roll past the window. Beautiful.
Slow Boat Up The Mekong River In Laos
I love being on the water as much as I enjoy travel by rail and road. Perhaps it is because the journey forces you to slow down, sit back and take in your surroundings like no other situation.
From Luang Prabang in the beautiful, verdant Laos I boarded an elegant wooden houseboat on the Mekong river. We spent the night at Muang Pakbeng before crossing over the border into Thailand.
Our local guide explained how the family who lived and worked on this boat had to divert the boat to sail along the deeper channels to avoid grounding. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, the rudder hit a rock and the family moored the boat alongside a sand bank. I watched as the men dove again and again under the murky water, with no goggles to protect their eyes and no tools to work with. Gradually, they pulled the damaged rudder off and installed a new one.
Onboard later that day, as we ate a delicious, home cooked meal, I realised that I had never heard an angry word uttered or seen the family frown or distressed. The Mekong flowed as peacefully as the people who made its waters their home and livelihood.
Exploring Thailand’s Islands By Moped
When you are surrounded by palm trees and each corner you turn leads to you a tiny, deserted beach, the best way to appreciate all of the hidden spots of the islands of Ko Samui, Ko Tao and Ko Pha Ngan in the Gulf of Thailand, is by moped.
Now, I have never ridden a motorbike before and I am a bit of a scaredy cat to boot, but I really enjoyed the exhilaration of the moped. Donning my helmet and trusting a dependable friend to drive, I hopped on the back of the bike and quickly felt comfortable.
As soon as you leave any built up area, many of the roads are made of dirt, with rivulets carved in them from previous rains. The majority of the islands are made up by mountains and tropical forest. Twisting and turning, up and down, you venture past coconut fields and beaches.
Take a map and ask the locals where they wouldd recommend. You can discover hidden waterfalls, admire the view from the summit of the island and watch the sun touch the sea on your own private beach at the end of the day. There are lots of places to rent mopeds from on these islands, but for peace of mind, ask at your accommodation for reputable companies.
What have been some of your favourite journeys, and how big a part did the transport play? Have you got a good story to tell about a time on public transport?