Traveling by Train, Rental Car, Taxi, Shuttle, Bus, Ferry, or Donkey
Traveling in a smart way means lots of decisions on how to get around, how to get the best bang for your buck on train tickets, bus rides, boat crossings, or other methods. In reality, much of this is best figured out at the source. Use a guidebook, ask the local tourist office, and ask other travelers. If you’re not at a top-end hotel (where the answer is almost always “take a taxi,” then ask at your hotel too.
First and foremost, read a guidebook to where you are going. It is amazing how many questions you see on travel message boards from people who are too lazy to crack open a book. The work has often already been done for you–take advantage of it! Quibbles about styling aside, almost any guidebook is going to be relatively accurate on the transportation options.
Then check out the online message boards.
Trains and Buses
If you want to find out what the public transportation options are before you go, the best bet is the check the guidebooks for companies (and their websites) for your particular destination. Some nosing around on the web will usually turn up something, but I find it best to go where the work has already been done, at JohnnyJet.com. See his listings for the following:
Trains Throughout the World
Bus Companies (limited to the big guys)
Monorails, Hitchkiking, and Ride Shares
Public Transportation by U.S. State
For train travel anywhere, it’s hard to beat the comprehensive rail site Seat61.com.
Often a country or city’s tourism bureau site will have links to the local train company or established bus lines. Find subway maps from around the world here.
Car and Driver
There are ways to set up a car and driver in advance, either from a private company with a web site, one listed in a guidebook, or one set up in advance through your hotel. (5-star or cheap flophouse, either way they usually have connections.) If you’re watching the budget though, be advised that this will get you the newest car, air conditioning, and an English-speaking driver in a crisp uniform. If most or all of this is unimportant to you, set it up locally after arrival, when you’ll have the power to choose and negotiate.
Renting a car is seldom the wisest or least expensive option, but in some cases it makes sense and in the sprawl-happy U.S. it’s hard to get outside a city center and go somewhere without your own wheels. If you belong to a frequent flyer or loyalty program that will earn you bonus miles or you have some valuable coupon, use that. Otherwise, it’s best to use the aggregators to compare prices across all companies. The differences can be very dramatic–as in $11 plus taxes per day at one place for a compact, $49 a day plus taxes at another.