How I choose transportation options when traveling solo
This is how most of us solo travelers choose transport options. Google "Place A to Place B". Click on a bunch of options. Compare the transit time. Compare the cost. Click on a few more options. Read forums. Scribble notes. Think over those options. Maybe post online and see what others have to say. Get more confused. And finally go back to choosing the cheapest option.
If you intend to travel smarter, it's time to get smart about your transport options too. So here are my 3 simple rules you can apply when choosing transport options.
Rule #1 - Long Travels = Buses
Say, you're on a long travel itinerary of anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks. Chances are, you're either traveling to take a well deserved break or you are a freelancer of some sort. Either way, you wanna be prioritising your budget for stuff you really, really wanna do (like a cooking course in Thailand) or for last minute changes in your itinerary. So busting bucks on a faster transport option may not be worth it - with the exception of getting to the airport for a pre-booked flight. Choose a local bus or van service instead. In Southeast Asia the price difference between a 10 hour bus and a 2 hour flight can be up to 90%. Buses give you the flexibility to carry along your own food and there is far less fuss about how big or heavy your travel bag is. And if you're kind of a 'no-plan-Dan' like me, buses are also the only option that you can 'ditch' your itinerary halfway and just alight if you happen to find a beautiful, safe town along the way.
Rule #2 - Short Travels = Rentals or Flights
Now if you're traveling solo for business or a weekend getaway, the story is quite different from rule #1. Time is of the essence, and the last thing you wanna do is to spend 20% of your precious schedule negotiating traffic and delays. Saving money is important, but you have already spent quite a bit of it on your flights to-from this destination. So the 'smart transport calculator' in your head should be comparing cost-per-hour of each option. In my calculator, renting a motor vehicle or buying a flight ticket come up top. Between the two options, it really depends where you are. For example, renting a car in Norway is fairly cost effective, especially if you go electric. But in Southeast Asia, given the dozens of budget airlines here, renting falls short in comparison. As a bonus tip, if you indeed go for a car rental option, you can find a fellow traveler on Solopacker to hitch a ride with you and share the cost of fuel.
Rule #3 - New Lands = Trains
Some of you are not gonna like it when I say - not everything is about the '$' sign when you solo travel! This is why I have knowingly designed rule #3 to make smart transport choices for the sheer joy of travel. I'm from Singapore; so destinations like Spain, Kazakhstan and Rwanda are genuinely new and exciting for me. Without the super power of stopping time, I want to make sure that even in transit I allow myself every opportunity to find authentic experience - local etiquette, the kind of music locals like, and what are their favourite travel snacks. So if you're traveling solo in a place that you worked so hard to strike off your bucket list, there is no better option than taking the train. Trains are a fine balance between money, time and experience. It could be a short, 45-minute train ride between hot-spring towns of Japan, or 24 hour train journeys from north to south Malaysia - the ride is as much a part of your solo travel as the two stations you're in between.
If you're a solo traveler looking for instant advice about transport options from trusted locals, try Solopacker.