Catching public transport just doesn’t have the same appeal at home as it does when you’re traveling. There’s nothing exotic about jumping on a bus in Brisbane city or slogging it through the burbs on your daily train commute. Where I live on the Sunshine Coast we barely even have public transport! And yet, when you’re in a foreign country, the way you get from point A to point B, all become part of the glorious, romantic adventure. Whether it’s riding on the back of a motorbike in Indonesia, (without the inhibitions of a helmet) or dodging heart-palpitation-inducing traffic in an Indian rickshaw – the way we travel becomes part of the beautiful fabric of our journey tales. But there are risks and rewards with every option!
Here are five of my favorite modes of international transport, the best places to experience them and some of the risks you can choose to either ignore or minimise.
There’s something about riding a motorbike that gives you an overwhelming sense of FREEEEDOOOM! The wind in your hair, the landscape so close you can touch it, the smells filling your nostrils as you cruise past small villages with cooking fires burning. Ahhhh… perfection. This is one of my personal favourites and I jump at any opportunity to travel by motorbike whether it’s a scooter in Bali, doubling on a boda-boda in Uganda (make that tripling because the driver doesn’t count) or hopping on the back of a friend’s motorbike in India – I’m always up for a ride. BUT, of course, this mode of transport poses significant risks. First of all – check your insurance policy. Are you covered to ride a motorbike? A lot of basic policies won’t cover you, so you need to make sure you are comfortable with the risk. Being choppered home from Bali on an emergency flight with a broken back is not only inconvenient and painful, it could also be HUGELY expensive. Secondly, don’t be stupid. Remember you are riding in a foreign country, with very different road rules and road conditions. Think potholes, bribes, aggression, and traffic like you’ve never seen it before. It’s always worth taking into account that if you can’t ride a motorbike at home, it’s not likely you will have magically acquired the skills to ride one in Asia.
Rickshaws are awesome! There is something exciting and exotic about jumping in a rickshaw and hooning off at the mercy of the driver when you land in a country (or pottering off if you happen to be in a cycle-rickshaw in Vietnam). You still get to feel the wind in your hair and see the sights up close and personal like you do on a motorbike, but with a little more protection. Plus you have the added benefit of local knowledge and conversation with the driver, as well as using a service that is providing gainful employment for locals. And it’s amazing to see how much you can fit in a rickshaw! We have had some LOADED journeys with suitcases and backpacks in India as well as surfboards in Sri Lanka.
Travelling by train has got to be one of the best ways to see the scenery and also observe locals in their day to day life. In fact, there’s a bit of an understanding among travelers in India that you’ve never really traveled there until you’ve been on the trains. I’ll never forget pulling into a train stop in South India and a local family traveling in our carriage hanging out the window to meet their family or friends at the station who just stopped by as they were passing through to deliver tiffin boxes loaded with food for the journey. More proof that it’s the sights, smells and sounds that really do linger in your memory and make travel such an addictive, colorful adventure! One of my all-time favorite and probably most recommended train trips is the journey from Ella to Kandy in Sri Lanka. It’s one of the most picturesque journeys you will ever take, as the train winds through luscious green tea plantations in the hill stations. The beauty of the trains here are that you can travel with the window open and the breeze in your face, or you can stand by the doors and lean right out to get the full experience. Just magic!
The cons – safety is obviously a concern on trains in some countries. India has a pretty bad track record of derailments and theft can also be a problem so make sure you travel smart and keep your belongings protected. It’s a great way to travel on a budget though! Train travel in Asia is already ridiculously cheap, plus you can save on accommodation if you take overnight sleepers for the longer journeys.
Travelling by bus has a lot going for it! It’s cheap, it’s convenient and you can take in the views. Obviously, there are some cons to bus travel – it can be painstakingly slow – depending on the location – and it some parts of the world it can be quite dangerous. Some of the best parts of the world for bus travel that I’ve experienced are Vietnam where the overnight buses are a great, cheap way to cover some ground, and Turkey for the first class bus experience. The price of bus travel in Turkey is fantastic and it also feels more like you’re on a plane. There are ushers who serve drinks and snacks and TV screens for your viewing pleasure.
Safety is obviously one of the major concerns to consider. I’ve traveled on buses in Africa where I felt considerably “at-risk”. My first bus journey was from Kenya to Uganda where someone came around with a video camera to take video footage of our faces before the journey began. I would have been happy to stay naively oblivious to the purpose of this exercise but my husband informed me that they wanted to have footage of us and where we were sitting so our bodies could be identified in the event of a crash. Very disconcerting! Even more alarming was the fact that we saw bus wrecks frequently on the side of the road.
There is something completely magical about being out on the water when you’re traveling. The wind in your face, the sun on your skin and the sound of the water lulling you to sleep or into a post lunch-coma – sounds delicious right?!? I can’t say I’ve been on any boat trips while traveling that has been disappointing. In fact, there are too many highlights to even recall! Whether it’s simply as a mode of transport (getting from one Greek island to another, or crossing countries on a ferry) or as a stand-alone adventure (sailing on the Turquoise Coast in Turkey, the islands of Croatia or on a junk boat in Halong Bay), boating is something I feel like I should schedule every trip if possible!
In places where it’s a major tourist drawcard there is often a lot of competition which is great for keeping prices down but does mean there can be some fairly questionable quality trips as well. And in developing countries where safety isn’t carefully monitored, there are obviously risks, so you do need to do your research and make sure you only travel with companies that have a good reputation.