Trains, Planes, and Automobiles: Which to Take and Why?

As you ponder your next adventure, how to get there (and around once you’re there) is likely in the forefront of your mind. In this day and age, transportation has no doubt become an invaluable commodity to the common man. This applies particularly to those of us that have, and ultimately have given into, wanderlust. Modern advances in transportation have allowed world travelers to explore the vast reaches of the globe. The question is, which one, the train, the plane, or the automobile, does so with the most efficiency? The answer relies largely on personal preferences and limitations like budget and destination, as well as on smaller aspects like convenience and comfort level. In this article, I list the pros and cons of each mode of transportation and make recommendations for some common travel situations.

The train

Believe it or not, train travel has become quite popular in recent years. As gas prices continue to rise, travelers have begun to consider alternate forms of transportation. Traveling by train certainly has its merits.

  • Trains are fast, direct, and often connect a country’s major cities. Japan’s bullet train system, for example, is highly efficient and expands over several Japanese cities.
  • Train travelers can be completely at ease. You don’t have to maneuver through streets, get directions, or suffer through traffic!
  • Train travel is easy to plan and relatively inexpensive. For example, to travel between Rome and the nearby Perugia, you could simply check the train schedules online, head to the station, buy a ticket and wait.
  • Most of all, train travel can be fun! You can admire the gorgeous countryside between cities and get the opportunity to meet locals and other fellow travelers!

There are however, a few things to consider when taking the train.

  • Taking the train can occasionally be inconvenient. You have to adjust your itinerary around the train’s time tables. Additionally, if you wanted to travel to a city without a station downtown, you would have to plan further trip transportation accordingly.
  • Trains can be particularly crowded, uncomfortable, and dirty, especially in cities where they are a common commodity.
  • Though you have the opportunity to meet great people, you also may find yourself in close quarters with drunkards, weirdos, and pickpockets among a number of other unsavory characters. So you have to practice caution!

The plane

The plane has almost, if not completely, overtaken the boat as the primary mode of travel overseas. But when one considers travel between cities or countries on the same continent, how does it stack up against the train and the car? Plane travel certainly has a number of appealing qualities.

  • Planes are the fastest mode of transportation in the world today. Naturally, cutting down on actual travel time can save you time for exploring your destination!
  • Plane travel can also be relatively economical depending on where you are. For example, due to high competition between budget airlines in Western Europe, I was able to buy plane tickets for a better deal than if I were to buy train tickets.
  • Like with train travel, traveling by plane also allows you to multitask. You can read, play games, etc. on the plane without worrying about where you’re going.
  • Planes are also probably the safest way to travel, considering the much tighter forms of security on board. Your belongings will also remain safe from thieves!

Planes also have their downsides.

  • This applies particularly to if you’re traveling in America, but the numerous pre-boarding procedures can be high stress. If you hadn’t already done so online, you would need to check-in, turn in any checked luggage (under a certain weight and now most likely paying for it), and get your boarding pass. Then you would need to pass through security, which in American airports is a special kind of hell involving stripping, throwing away perfectly good bottles of water, and having your private bits scoped by TSA officials.
  • Being confined to those tiny chairs can be quite uncomfortable, especially during long flights.
  • Although you don’t normally have to watch out for pickpockets on the plane, you may encounter smelly, loud, or obnoxious people on board!
  • And naturally, as you are paying for speed, planes also tend to be the most expensive form of transportation.

The automobile

Cars are arguably the most used and most useful mode of transportation; the average joe will use the car on an almost daily basis. But what does that mean to us as travelers? When is renting a car the most economical option? Let’s consider the pros.

  • A car allows freedom to travel! With a car, you can leave when you like. You can get to your destination or not. You can take detours whenever you wish. You can go sightseeing with ease. Cars are optimal in that they encourage the true spirit of travel–spontaneity!
  • Traveling by car also means privacy. You can go ahead and cuddle with a loved one, consume snacks like a pig, or put your bare feet up on the dash.
  • By far, cars tend to also be the most comfortable mode of transportation. The weary car traveler can take a rest stop and switch driving responsibilities with a passenger.

You must also take note of the car’s negatives.

  • Car travel can be particularly time consuming if one considers roadblocks, detours, traffic, and the like. In this sense, they cannot match the time efficiency afforded by the train, and more so, by the plane.
  • Car travel is also notoriously expensive. On top of steadily rising gas prices, you would have to take into account rental fees and possible maintenance for potential problems.
  • The freedom that comes with traveling by automobile is also accompanied by stress. The car becomes your responsibility, so you must be extremely careful driving it. Additionally, you might have to worry about parking wherever you go which can be a huge hassle.
  • If you’re especially environmentally conscious, cars are also the worst for mother earth.

General travel tips

Take the train if you:

  • would like to see the European countryside between major cities.
  • want to travel between Tokyo and Nagano.
  • want to meet similarly weary travelers.
  • have a good amount of time to spend in your destination.
  • want to hear the somehow nostalgic sound of the locomotive pulling into a station.
  • are going between two rather close cities like Boston and Providence.
  • want a relatively hassle-free travel experience.

Take the plane if you:

  • are short on time.
  • want to travel around western Europe efficiently.
  • want to see a free in flight movie.
  • are traveling between the west and east coasts of America.
  • love airplane food.
  • are going through rather unsafe territory in Africa.
  • need to go overseas (obviously).

Take the automobile if you:

  • would like to roadtrip across the United States.
  • want to be in charge of your own travel adventure!
  • get hungry constantly.
  • want to be able to explore Manila to the best of your ability.
  • have a ton of material belongings that you simply must take with you.
  • are the type to take spontaneous detours.

Again, transportation choices depend largely on personal preferences. If you’re the planner type who’s on a relatively tight schedule, you should probably go by plane. If you like to take things slow and perhaps daydream about the wonders of landscape, the train’s for you. Or if you’re a free spirit who would love to take control of his or her own adventure, then I suggest the car. This article is nothing but a set of general guidelines to help you make your transportation decisions. The rest is really up to you!

Eunice Gopez is a former Go Overseas intern and graduating senior at UC Berkeley. She loves writing, travel, and naturally, writing about travel.

Comments on Trains, Planes, and Automobiles: Which to Take and Why?

20 June 2012

Good article..Gotta be the train every time! Room to move around, mingle and gaze at the changing countryside. Its the ultimate in slow travel (well, in SE Asia anyway – no bullet trains here) Also leaves a much lighter footprint compared to 1,000 of autos or inter-continental jets.

See 2 of my articles for a couple of reasons why riding the rails never fails!!

26 August 2013

If I have a choice – train travel all the way! I love the views, not having to focus on driving, not being stuck in traffic jams and not having to go through the rigmarole of security and long lines at the airport. One day I hope to experience the ultimate train trip – the Transiberian!

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