One of the questions we get asked quite a bit is how we get around when we travel overseas, particularly when we don’t speak the native language. The short answer is that we take public transit.
There are occasions where we elect to utilize private transfers due to reasons that we detailed here. However, we generally utilize public transit (trains, subways and buses) and recommend that option for several reasons:
- It saves money. Rental car fees are an added expense, but beyond the fee for the car itself, there are a host of other fees. Many hotels charge hefty fees for parking. Outside the US, many expressways are toll roads (the free roads are often poorly maintained and deadlocked in traffic). Parking is generally not free in most places (especially downtown) and often difficult to find. Gas is often much more expensive than Americans are used to as well ($6 a gallon is cheap overseas). The combination of all of these added fees often adds much more than it is worth to get a personal vehicle. Also, many cities offer substantial discounts to tourists for train/bus passes, which will allow you to explore nearly the entire city for one low price.
- It saves time. In an unfamiliar place, your time spent figuring out parking, directions, tolls etc. will far outpace the time you save by using a personal vehicle. There is nothing more frustrating as ending up on a toll road and driving miles beyond the place you want to be and paying double the price because of a missed exit (we’ve probably paid over $100 in missed exits over the years due to the high cost of toll roads).
- You are much less likely to end up in an accident. The combination of issues – unfamiliar laws, unfamiliar road systems, unfamiliar city, unfamiliar fees, unfamiliar insurance requirements and unfamiliar expectations can all add to very much a “distracted-driver” experience. Just the process of figuring out where a gas station is and how to get gas can be harrowing. This adds a lot of stress on your trip that you could do without. Oh, and good luck learning to drive on the opposite side of the road in rush hour if the country you are visiting has a British road system – we’ll give you $10 if you can rent a car for the first time in Bangkok and not mistake the turn signal for your windshield wipers less than 20 times your first day.
- You usually see a lot more. You are not focusing on the road, so you are free to enjoy the countryside, people watch and view the strange billboards.
- It is usually predictable. There are set timetables and route maps, plus fares are always fixed so no haggling is involved. Plus, a subway will never boot you off due to becoming irate at your inability to speak the language – BRILLIANT!
- It is generally safer and easier for children. It’s very easy to roll a stroller on and off trains, as well as some buses. No car seat means an extra hand free to carry duty free and gifts back home.
Occasionally there are places where it is better to rent a car (usually on small islands where the roads are easy to figure out like Saipan or Aruba) but in general, we have found this to be the exception rather than the rule.
We’ll write more on how to evaluate and navigate different transit options (to include taxis) soon. In the meantime, let us know if you have any questions!
*Feature Image is the Deutsche Bahn Ice Train that I took to Paris from Germany in 2011*