I’m often reminded just how much travel comes with the job of being a travel writer. Those endless hours in airports, cramped in buses, trains and taxis. Yet transportation is not only necessary to get around, but it can also shape your experience, the places you see, and the people that you meet. Below are 10 different modes of transport to explore a country, and some of the pros and cons that come with them.
1. By Bicycle
A bike has plenty of advantages. Moving slowly, you experience more of the land, its nuances, and people. There’s no glass bubble protecting you, as your bike becomes a full sensory experience. Cycling around a country keeps you strong and fit, adding targets and goals to celebrate every night. You’re travelling light, and so keeping it simple. Some countries are better for this mode of transport than others. Good roads definitely aid the avid cross-country cyclist, as does good weather. Of course, not everybody is up for the physical challenge, or has the length of time required for discovery by pedal power.
2. By Classic Car
Not everyone has an antique car, but a normal car will also do. There are various clubs that organize epic driving expeditions around the world. Driving in convoy, you become part of a community, a roadshow, a moving circus that intrigues the locals just as surely as they intrigue you. North America, Australia, South Africa, North Africa or Eastern Europe, the convoy can drive up to 500 km a day on planned itineraries. According to the website of a recent expedition from Vancouver to Alaska, drivers could expect “25 days of exciting motoring, spectacular scenery, good fellowship and fun.”
3. By Surfboard
A surfboard won’t get you from A to B, but it does provide a handy excuse to explore coastal towns and tropical islands. Surfers are passionate about their waves, booking surf vacations around the world. Countries in Asia like the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Indonesia have incredible surfing, as do Central American destinations like Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Take your surfboard and follow the trail to the best beaches and the best waves, which are usually accompanied by happening beach bars and surf communities.
4. By Local Bus
Here’s a picture of me jumping on top of a Guatemalan chicken bus (I assure you, no chickens were harmed in the making of this photo). They are called chicken buses because it’s not uncommon to be sitting next to one. Or five. These old American school buses grind and choke over mountain passes, in places like Central America, Southeast Asia, and parts of Eastern Europe too. Passengers are crammed like sardines, the buses never, ever leave on time, and are prone to break down for hours. It’s not something you enjoy at the time, but you sure laugh about it when you think back about it. Travelling like locals makes you feel like a local, tasting a small slice of life in an exotic land.
5. By RV
Some people don’t like to travel because they don’t like to leave the comforts of home. So why not take your home with you? Modern RV’s are so well-equipped you never have to go without the kitchen sink, satellite TV, refrigerator, double bed and bathroom ever again. Driving across America has always been alluring, exploring the continent at a leisurely pace, stopping off at landmarks along the way. Other RV destinations are Norway and France. In summer, an army of RVs hits the road, coming together nightly in makeshift communities at excellent RV Parks along the way. I did my first RV trip last summer. It won’t be my last.
6. By Foot
There’s taking it slow, and then there’s taking it really, really slow. Long distance hiking is a serious challenge, involving a serious time commitment. The benefit is that you interact with the land and locals on the ground, step by step. Bill Bryson’s bestselling books often have the travel writer walking on famous routes, averaging several kilometres a day, stopping to smell the roses, and make a few jokes too. My longest hike thus far was spending a week on Vancouver Island. Next spring, I’ll be trekking 21 days in Nepal to Everest Base Camp. If anyone would like to join me, let me know!
7. By Motorbike
From Che Guevara to Easy Rider to Ewan McGregor, the idea of travelling long distances by motorcycle holds a timeless appeal. Accelerating on the open road, the wind against your leathers, the growl of your engine. Hills are no problem for today’s powerful touring bikes, although riding in bad weather is no picnic. In India, I met many travellers who had bought 500cc Enfields to tour around the country, selling them when they left. Baja California, Chile and Argentina, Rome to Istanbul – there’s no shortage of legendary bike routes around the world. Just remember that with speed comes danger, so take your time!
8. By Train
I spent three weeks crossing Mongolia and Russia by train. In that time, 11 days were spent on a train, including one 5-day stint without any stopping. Life on a train becomes almost hypnotic. The sound of the tracks, the motion of the carriage, the blur of the never-ending countryside. Perhaps more than other forms of travel, trains give you permission to stop. You can read and talk and think, gazing out the window as the world literally passes you by. Pretty much everything is beyond your control. You will arrive when you arrive, and depart when the whistle sounds. You may as well sit back and enjoy the ride.
9. By Kayak
There are some places in the world where you can kayak for weeks, encountering incredible wildlife, untainted natural beauty, and even indigenous tribes. Places like Venezuela’s Orinoco Delta, the Amazon, or even British Columbia’s Broken Group Islands. Tonga has 50 gorgeous islands to explore, while along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast you can camp overnight on islands amongst lavender and vineyards. Another popular kayaking destination is the Ionian Sea in Greece, where you can paddle over turquoise water to the whitewashed islands mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. Physical, yet gentle, kayaking on river or sea is an unforgettable way to get around.
10. By Thumb
Hitchhiking is always a crapshoot. You might get a great ride in a big luxury car, or find yourself squashed amongst the livestock at the back of a truck. You can meet friendly locals who go above and beyond, or, heaven forbid, put yourself at the mercy of lunatic. You could spend hours waiting in the rain, or get picked up by the first car to come along. Hitch-hiking across Europe, North America, and other parts of the world could be because you’re broke, or a matter of personal choice. It’s a mode of transport suited for the ultimate “where will the universe take me” adventure. I once spent hours on the side of an Albanian highway waiting for a ride. An old man rode up to me on a leathery donkey, and started playing his homemade flute. I remember that moment vividly, waiting in the sun, enjoying the lostness of it all. A thumbs-up moment for the power of hitchhiking.