Go to ground: top tips on travelling without flying
Using ground transport rather than flying can result in unforgettable memories and take you places planes can't reach. Lonely Planet's Best Ever Travel Tips offers advice on down-to-earth travelling.
The recent resurgence of enthusiasm for ground-based travel has seen more and more of us hitting rail, road and sea to reach our destination – and following in the footsteps of our travelling forefathers at the same time. With a little planning and a taste for adventure, these trips can be the source of some unforgettable memories, and take you to all sorts of places a plane can't. Increasingly you no longer need either more time or more money to take the scenic route.
• Book ahead for ground transport if at all possible – everything from first-class rail to budget buses reward those who can plan in advance. Sometimes the fare can be low enough to mean that even if you end up not taking that particular route it's not the end of the world.
• Rail and bus passes may not represent the good deal they once did. Point-to-point tickets can now often be had for so little that, provided you know where you want to go and aren't travelling at peak times, a few hours online is the best way to book a cheap journey. However, for an old-fashioned, go-where you-please rail adventure, a travel pass is still your best friend – not least for the discounts on useful services that usually come with it.
• Overnight trains and buses are a good way to save on a night's accommodation. You also gain an extra day in your destination and they can represent terrific value, especially compared to a night in a hotel. However, it's best not to be too ambitious about using these services. More than one night in a row on the move can leave you feeling like a zombie for days on end.
• Budget buses are more and more a startlingly cheap way of getting around, and are giving established names a run for their money. In the northeast USA, between big cities in Western Europe and anywhere else where large numbers of people use particular transport corridors, these services – often originally set up to serve migrant communities – offer regular, quick, no-frills journeys. You may have to ask around to find them – they don't usually bother to use bus stations and often pick up passengers from street corners. At the other end of the market, first-class buses offer huge comfy seats, on-board movies and meal services – a very stylish take on coach travel.
• Pack a complete change of clothes on long-distance train and bus services. Even with a few minutes in a station, whipping out a bag with one clean set of everything and dashing to the toilet means you'll return to your journey feeling a little less like you've been on it for as long as you have. The better train and bus stations even have showers, too.
• Investigate cheap bike-hire schemes, like the Paris Velib (www.velib.paris.fr) program. An increasing number of cities lay on these no-nonsense clunkers for locals and visitors, which can be a tremendously convenient alternative to a long walk or sweaty journey by public transport. To prevent theft you usually need to sign up in advance online and pay a daily, weekly or monthly subscription fee.
• Travel partners help a lot on long journeys. If you don't have one and don't want one, a pair of headphones fulfil many of the same functions and can help send out a signal that you're not in the mood for chatting (even if they're not attached to anything).
• Ground transport can become impractical or even impossible during public holidays, varying from incredibly busy to nonexistent depending on where you are in the world. This is a good time to book in somewhere interesting for a few days and nose around town (perhaps with that cheap hired bike), taking in some celebrations or seeing quiet corners.
This is an edited extract from Lonely Planet's Best Ever Travel Tips by Tom Hall © Lonely Planet 2010. AUD$14.99