Planes, trains, automobiles: Picking transportation for vacation
April 21, 2022 • 10 min read
What we'll cover
How to pick the perfect travel transportation
Find the best way to travel based on time and cost
Pros and cons of transportation options
As the saying goes, it’s all about the journey, not the destination. And if you’ve ever planned a vacation, you know determining how you’ll make that journey is pretty important. Will you be boarding a flight, road tripping or an option less-traveled?
By thinking outside of the box, you can save money and make for a more unique and memorable trip. Planes, trains, automobiles and everything in between can make or break your vacation, so these travel transportation tips will help make for some smooth sailing on your next adventure.
Hop on a plane
Planes are a popular travel choice — and for good reason. After all, what other option could allow you to visit Australia and Hawaii in the same week? If you’re traveling overseas, there is really no competition for speed and convenience (even if you have to pack light) and for cross country, while you might not save money, you’ll certainly save time.
In most cases, planes are the quickest and most convenient way to travel cross country, transforming an otherwise day-long road trip into a few hours. And if you’re globetrotting, flights are a no-brainer to get you to your destination as quickly and comfortably as possible. Planes are also generally dependable and trackable with set schedules and notified delays. You’ll also typically find multiple options for arrival and departure dates, and depending on your destination, you might even be able to get picky about what time of day you’d like to take off.
You'll often pay a premium for its speed and ease, making air travel one of the most expensive options available — especially if you’re traveling with a family. While some domestic flights can be relatively affordable (even compared to driving if you’re traveling solo), costs can skyrocket into the thousands for destinations abroad and can continue to add up depending on the airline you select along with any upgrades. Choosing alternative modes can minimize transportation costs but sometimes sacrifice time and comfort. And don’t forget you’ll need to prepare and arrive early for your flight to deal with airport security and will need to adhere to any luggage restrictions.
Take a train
Especially in Europe and Asia, riding the rails can be a cheaper alternative to flying without sacrificing much time. Whether you’re squeamish about flying (or you just enjoy the extra leg room), trains are a great option for intracontinental trips to get you to your destination quicky and comfortably. If you’re city-hopping, you’ll get more flexibility in your schedule and might get to score a few extra stops along your way.
Most trains (high-speed and conventional) are reliable and moderately fast. You might even enjoy a scenic route since many routes pass through mountains, remote villages and even seaside. Compared to driving, trains are relatively affordable, fast, and safe. You can also walk, read or enjoy a meal at top speed. And a bonus – it’s one of the most environmentally friendly ways you can travel.
With trains, you might find limited destination options and the experience can be inconsistent in terms of cleanliness, space and number of passengers (it can get pretty crowded). This holds true for train stations as well. One train station might be in the city center, and you’ll have no issue getting to your hotel, while in a different stop you might find yourself a little far from your final destination. Compared to driving, trains can be more expensive and you’ll have less control in terms of where you’ll stop or if you wanted to take a detour through a certain town or city on your way.
Journey by bus
If you have some spare time and are looking to maximize savings on transport, buses are a sound choice to get from point a to b. Be prepared for the long haul when traveling by bus. You'll be subject to road conditions, traffic and typically extended hours. So be sure to look for buses with air conditioning and a bathroom.
Wherever in the world you might be, buses are likely one of your cheapest options for long or short distances. For longer trips, some sleeper buses have reclining seats if you want to catch a few winks, and many come Wi-Fi equipped. Saving money on airfare, cabs, rideshares, or car rentals also means you can put that extra savings towards food, lodging, sightseeing and the all-important souvenirs. For shorter trips within city limits, most transit buses will make many stops, so you can likely find a route to everything on your itinerary.
Bus routes can take a long time as they make frequent stops along the way and are susceptible to road conditions and traffic, so you may want to avoid them if you're on a tighter schedule. They can also be crowded or uncomfortable, so be prepared to a ride without air conditioning (or maybe standing up). Crowded buses can also mean full buses, so you could find yourself waiting for the next one or searching for an alternative last minute. Keep in mind that bus schedules can be rather limited, so be sure to check the schedule ahead of time and note what time the last bus runs, especially if you’re planning a night out.
Go for a drive
Who doesn't have a great road-trip story? Cars can be a great way to get around when you're looking to travel from city to city and while you fulfill your itinerary. If you already own a car, driving can be a very economical choice, but if you have to rent a car, it can get expensive. Don’t forget you'll need to navigate so have Google maps on hand.
You can travel at your own pace when you’re behind the wheel and you’ll have lots of control and flexibility both on your way and once you arrive at your destination. You can even opt for side-trips or daytrips without much interruption and if you don’t consider yourself a planner, being on your own schedule might make your trip more enjoyable. If you’re traveling domestically, driving your own car can be a great way to save money, especially if you’re traveling with a larger group.
Distance can be a serious limit when traveling by car. Even if you’re not limited by traveling overseas, driving for long hours (or over multiple days) can be tough on your body and you may need to find lodging along the way. Self-navigation in unfamiliar places can be a challenge and getting lost in a destination unknown isn’t fun. You’ll need to budget for things like gas, food, snacks, and maintenance. And if you’re driving to a metropolitan area, parking can get expensive quickly (and it could be hard to find).
Rev up the RV
Traveling by RV is like taking your road trip to the next level. You’ll have some unique conveniences on the road, and you’ll save on accommodations and meals since you can sleep, cook, shower and more right behind the wheel.
RVs can be the total package when your destination is remote. For instance, if you’re planning to explore a national park, campground or hiking destination, an RV can be incredibly convenient, since many outdoorsy destinations already have dedicated spaces for motorhomes. RV’s will pay off best the more you use them, so if you own your RV and road trip throughout the year, you’ll likely save some serious cash. RVs serve up the same benefits of self-navigation and open scheduling of a car with a side of homemade breakfast.
The upfront cost of owning or renting an RV isn’t cheap, so be sure to compare costs before you commit. If your destination is urban, RVs can become a hassle. Parking is a challenge, and if you’re traveling for the food and cultural attractions of a metropolis, you’re likely not looking to spend much time in your abode. Not to mention, RVs take up a lot of space, and if you’re not used to driving an oversized vehicle, navigation can be challenging. Don’t forget that you will need to do chores while you’re on vacation, and may be responsible for sewage along with cooking, cleaning and grocery shopping.
Try public transit
Whether it’s the subway, elevated train line or another form, public transportation is a great way to get around once you’ve arrived at your destination. It’ll save you money compared to pricier options such as rideshare apps or taxis. And if you’ve got a good sense of direction, it is often a speedy and cheap way to get around, provided it's available wherever you’re going.
Public transit is often the fastest way to get around big cities globally and you’ll get to travel like a local. If you’re staying within city limits, it will be far cheaper than rideshare apps, cabs, or a car rental – where you’ll save on parking too. Public transit also tends to be more reliable than driving since it’s not subject to road conditions and traffic. In many places (especially older cities), public transportation stops are designed with tourist attractions in mind so you can plan out your stops based on your itinerary (and might even find a few extras on the way).
Many destinations are sorely lacking in public transit options so if you’re hoping to avoid budgeting a chunk toward intracity transport, be sure to do your research on affordable options that could work for you. Speaking of planning ahead, you may need to do some additional prep work such as researching routes and securing tickets in advance to avoid wait lines. Some public transport options, while fast and convenient, can get a little uncomfortable. If crowded trams, no air conditioning, and lack of seating will dampen your vacay vibes, you may want to consider alternatives. Also keep in mind that unless all your excursions are next to stations, you’ll need to wear your walking shoes.
If you can get to your destination by sea, you might want to consider a boat, ferry or cruise. Traveling by boat can be a memorable (and scenic) part of your vacation. It can also be a cost-effective for ocean, island, lake, or river destinations. (Think Mediterranean or Caribbean.) Keep in mind, depending on your boat of choice, your experience may vary from a ferry to a luxury ocean liner.
All-inclusive is that elusive phrase that so many seek on vacation. Many cruises offer complete package deals, allowing you to predict costs without budgeting what you might spend on food and activities. You'll also get to see multiple places without booking new accommodations, saving your money and the hassle of re-packing. Meanwhile, if you’re just boating from point a to b, many island or waterfront destinations have ferry options that can be cheaper and more convenient than flying. If you’re using your own boat (or renting one), many seaside destinations allow you to dock and explore the city (just don’t forget to budget for docking fees). Whether you’re island hopping in Greece or taking an excursion to Staten Island or Alcatraz, traveling by water can be an easy and convenient way to explore.
If your destination is landlocked, you’re out of luck. If not, you’ll want to compare prices and check if you or anyone you're traveling with gets seasick. (You certainly don’t want to learn you’re sensitive to motion sickness on a week-long cruise.) Keep in mind that if you’re cruising, your itinerary will be relatively strict, so spontaneous side trips are probably off the table. If you’re planning on using your own vessel, you'll need to make sure that it’s operated by someone with proper training and experience. Don’t forget—boating can mean lots of chores and maintenance and tends to pay off more on longer trips. Don’t forget to budget for things like gas, docking fees, groceries, and maintenance.
Take a savings journey
The trek can be just as important as your destination. But whatever way you choose to travel, make sure it’s enjoyable and affordable for you. Create trackable goals and budgets for your road trip to Montreal, your flight to London or any vacation travel destination with Buckets, a feature of Ally Bank’s Online Saving Account.