How to Pay for Travel, Part 6: Transportation

Monday, March 3

Once in a new place, there's always the question of exactly how to get around town! And the more places you visit, the more trains, planes and automobiles you need to take! Today we are going to talk about getting the best bang for your buck in terms of transportation, because there are tricks to be had when it comes to movement!!

{walking in paris}

Walking: Let's start with FREE transportation! Did you know you are in possession of your own transportation…legs! {ok, ok, I know!} But really, walking becomes so handy when you are strapped for cash. Walking is obviously best utilized in big cities where you can stay relatively close to the center of town where all the action is. Then, plan ahead with a map so you can walk to all your sites of interest. In many European cities we've traveled to, we've been able to utilize our nifty Rick Steve's books and take his "self guided" walking tours! This kills two birds with one stone, as you spend zero on transportation and zero on hiring a local guide! win win! A few years ago when we stayed in Edinburgh, Scotland we were able to hit up all our points of interest just by walking, spending no money on transportation our entire trip! Yes, you will be dead tired by the end of the day, but that's what a good night's rest is for:)

{taking the trains in Germany with my little sister}

Trains:  To be honest, trains can sometimes be the more expensive option. I would always compare train costs to airfare and buses before I purchased a ticket. However, sometimes when traveling to a more unknown/rural destination, trains are your best bet. In Europe, trains are the bomb because they are fast, and can get you just about anywhere with the right itinerary! A few years ago I went to go visit my cousins in Germany, but had to fly into Amsterdam because I had a free ticket (from my Delta Credit Card!). From Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, I took the train (which is conveniently located right under the airport!) to a small Dutch town along the German border where my cousins drove over the border and picked me up. It was convenient and easy. But bottom line- always check to see if there is a cheaper option than the train!

{flying from Nepal to India…yes, we had to walk out to our plane, hahah}

Planes: Somehow we have this idea that planes are always more expensive than trains or other forms of transportation. This is just not so! Planes can sometimes save you both money AND time, but you have to know what airlines to look at! We are ALL about budget airlines in our house! Here are a few of our favorite "go-to" budget airlines for different areas of the world:

Ryan Air (Europe): You may have heard of this Irish gem of an airline, and with good reason! They  offer the best rates around! A few years ago during our UK trip, Kev and I flew from England to Ireland for $10, and then shelled out a whopping $30 to go from Ireland to Scotland. The problem with Ryan Air though is that you have to watch out for the fine print.
- Here are a few tips for smooth sailing with Ryan Air:
1) Know where you are flying into:  The airports Ryan Air flies in and out of are rather obscure, and are never the main airports. For instance, the Ryan Air airport in Paris is over an hour away from actual "Paris", in which you will need to shuttle in to town. I personally don't mind this detail because hey, i'm saving a gazillion dollars!!!, but just make sure to check the actual location of the airport so that you can budget your time, etc.
2) Check the baggage policy: Ryan Air has a weird/strict baggage policy. You can take one carry-on item for free, but must pay for any checked luggage. Just be aware that your ticket will rise in cost the more luggage you have! However, more than once i've "disguised" my rather massive backpacking backpack for my carry on! whoops!
3) Make sure you check in properly: Ryan Air has strange check in policies. Make sure you really do read the fine print on how to check in. It's easy to do, but just make sure you read it!
Don't let me scare you, they are a super great airline and I love flying them- you just need to be on top of the procedures with them!

Air Aisa (Asia)- This airline is so fabulous I want to marry it! Kevin and I flew Air Asia in Thailand when we flew from Bangkok down to the gorgeous islands down South! I believe our round trip ticket from BKK to Krabi was $50 or so a person! They are punctual, clean, efficient, and cheap!

JetStar (Australia & Asia)- JetStar is an Australian budget airline, and like those Aussies, they are wonderful:) This past year when traveling through Vietnam, we were shocked to find that flying on JetStar was actually quite a bit cheaper and more time efficient than other modes of transport. We needed to get from Ho Chi Min City to Da Nang, and at first were ready to buy tickets on the train (thinking they would be cheaper!). But no, JetStar stole our hearts (and saved us money!), and we ended up purchasing another set of ticket from Da Nang to Hanoi a few days later. As a rule of thumb, never rule out airfare as the cheapest option…you may be surprised:)

Southwest (USA)- I could sing their praises all day, ohhhhh, I actually already did in this post here! {guilty as charged!} SW wins every time for me in cost, no-nonsense hassle, and their newest feature which allows you to change the date of your ticket at no additional charge (given that the fare is comparable). I also have an affinity for their in-flight magazine…I secretly want to subscribe! ha! They always run deals too:) And if you love them, get their credit card {more on this here}

Buses: Some of our most shady/ghetto/hilarious experiences have transpired on a bus, but this is where the magic's at if you want to be cheap, like us! Buses range from being classy (air conditioning, a bathroom, food included, etc), to being a downright dump on wheels (messy, disorganized, no AC, no bathroom, cramped quarters). We've ridden in both and have lived to tell another tale! Your best bet when it comes to buses is to read reviews online for each bus line, figure out what's important for you on a bus, and then go from there. Buses are fantastic options in Asia. We took a bus from Bangkok Thailand to Siem Reap Cambodia. It was 8 hours (re: LONG!!!) but we paid a total of $30 for both of us, as opposed to a $400 plane ticket across international borders. Take special care when purchasing bus tickets across international borders because often you need a visa for the country you are entering. For instance, if you bus into Vietnam, you must ALREADY have your visa. They do not give you a visa upon arrival if you are US citizen. So, just do your research online, and you'll be golden! In Europe, buses can trump the more expensive train costs any day! Kev and I took a bus from Galway to Dublin, Ireland, and it was easy peasy and cheap. So, all i'm saying is give buses a chance!

Local Transportation: One of the greatest aspects of really experiencing a new culture is embracing their local transportation options. If you want to catch the cheapest ride in town, just do as the locals do!  Each country in the world has a slight variation on their transportation options, so do your research and explore once you arrive. Here are a few of our favorite rides from our travels:

Tuk Tuk (Thailand & Cambodia): A tuk tuk is a motorbike attached to a carriage. It is such a fun ride!
{our tuk tuk in Cambodia, as we explored the countryside}

Micro Van (Nepal): Kevin and I took Mircrovans all over Kathmandu. We were packed like sardines into a van, but for 30 cents a ride, you couldn't beat it!
Bentor (Indonesia): Like a tuk tuk but the motorcycle is behind the carriage!
Jeepney (Philippines): These jeep-type brightly painted vehicles blare loud music and pack you in, but
it certainly is an adventure!
Boda-Boda (East Africa): Motorcycle taxis! Watch out, it's a wild ride, but a cheap one!
Longtail boat (Thailand): These crazy little boats work as ferries to take you out to the islands!
{long tail boat on Railay Beach, Thailand}

Underground: Most large cities around the world utilize an underground transportation system. In London it's called the Tube, in Paris the Metro, and in New York City the Subway. If you plan on being in a big city for a few days and find you can't walk to all your destinations, look into a multiple day pass which potentially could save you money. When we visited London, our bulk tube pass saved us some cash, and we definitely took advantage of it!

{our fearless driver in Dingle, Ireland!}

Rental Cars: Rental Cars are perfect if you like to get off the beaten path and do your thang! You can actually score some cool deals (by either using credit card points, or booking online). We rented a car in Ireland, and those days  were our absolute favorite as we had the freedom to stop whenever we wanted and explore a new area. In Ireland, our car was 20 Euros a day (plus gas). We booked it on Auto Europe's website {here}. Rental cars can actually be cheaper if you are traveling in a group, splitting it multiple ways. But a word to the wise: driving can be stressful in big cities, so we tend to only rent cars when we go rural!

Tour Bus: Sometimes, bundling your transportation with your site seeing can actually save you money. Do the math and see if you save any money by booking an all inclusive tour.

{our day of scooter adventure in Hoi An, Vietnam}

Motor bikes: I cannot begin to tell you how much my husband is obsessed with driving a scooter/motor bike. Talk about a kid at a candy store, haha! Renting a scooter for the day is probably one of the cheapest/ridiculously fun adventures you can have. For $8 we rented a scooter in Hoi An, Vietnam, and spent the entire day cruising around the rural farms, beaches, and villages. On a hot day, nothing beats the open air!

Bikes: A personal favorite of ours when traveling, biking fulfills both transportation and exercise! Most of the time, renting a bike is very cheap. It also comes in handy on a beautiful day where you long to site see, but don't want to go underground in the metro! There are some fantastic bike tour companies that offer insightful and fun biking adventures!  One of our favorites has been Mike Bike Tours (in Amsterdam and Munich). Our latest biking craze has been the tandem bike! We spent a day biking to the city of Damme in Belgium on our tandem, and it was so delightful to ride together. If you are a big time cycler, and want to make a whole trip out of biking, check out Back Roads tour company. They are pretty amazing (however, not cheap).

{Halong Bay…seriously the most beautiful place in the world}

Boats: Boats can be transportation at its best, and sometimes, at its cheapest! If you plan to be near a a body of water, consider boat transport! In Bangkok, some of the cheapest transportation is to ride on their ferry around town. In Cambodia, we opted for a dinner cruise along the Mekong, where the ambiance was hard to beat. Or, take a cruise (which knocks out, food, transportation and accommodations all in one package!). Most recently we booked a cruise on Halong Bay in Vietnam. For $175pp we received 3 full days of lodging, food, transportation, and planned excursions! It was incredible! So keep your eyes peeled for water options as well!
{visiting the floating villages in Cambodia}

Some general tips when taking transportation:
1) Research: Always do your research ahead of time on average pricing so that you don't get ripped off! In many countries, the locals will sense you are a tourist and try to take advantage of your ignorance on the local prices.  Kevin is amazing at researching and having a sense of what we "should" be paying, and then is able to haggle at an appropriate price.
2) Haggle: Most local transportation options allow you to bargain with them on pricing. Whenever Kevin and I took a taxi in Nepal, we always haggled with the driver! It's part of the process, so don't be scared!
3) Compare: Check out all the options before you buy, to make sure you are getting the best deal. Like I mentioned before, don't rule out airfare as sometimes it's cheaper than trains (as we found in Vietnam).    Typically local transport and buses will be the cheapest, followed by trains and airfare, and of course, walking is FREE!
4) Buy tickets in advance: Sometimes buying tickets in advance will save you a good amount of cash. This certainly applies to buying airfare, but can also apply for buses and trains as well. If you are riding trains in Europe during peak seasons/holidays/big events, make sure to buy ahead. In Asia, we found we saved a few dollars booking bus tickets online ahead of time (instead of on the day of departure).
5) Print out all e-tickets & maps: Kevin and I carry a manilla folder filled with all our tickets when we travel! Having a hard copy is both a matter of convenience and safety. Print out all your pre-purchased tickets and store them safely. It's as easy as that! Also, if you are renting a car and need driving directions, print out directions from googlemaps before you leave on your trip. A GPS doesn't always work out (trust me, we've had so many fail on us!), so having a back up map full of directions can be a life saver.

I think i've literally exhausted you with this list! haha!

Happy Monday Friends!
Love Katie

ps- If you've missed any posts in this series, you can catch up below:
Part 1- Prioritize your spending
Part 2- Travel Credit Cards
Part 3- Food
Part 4- Teach Abroad
Part 5- Accommodations


  1. When we were on our month long trip in Europe we walked every where! Even though it takes longer you save so much money and get to explore new areas along the way. These are some great tips!

  2. loving all your travel advice. reading these posts have got me itching to travel asap!

  3. girl! you are amazing!!! this all belongs in a magazine!!! thanks for taking the time to do this!!! It's all soooooo helpful!!!

  4. Love love love this Katie! We literally JUST started planning our stay in Georgetown, Malaysia and transportation is my next major thing to accomplish. So far our top 3 choices are walking, bikes, and motorbike. Also excited to have learned about the bus option from Bangkok to Cambodia! Might have to do this in October!! :)

  5. I've flown Air Asia a lot! You do have to pay for baggage with them, of course, but my family uses them all the time! I've also done overnight trains and buses quite a bit...Malaysia's had some problems with bus drivers taking too many risks and some really horrible bus accidents in the past few years, which is a bit scary when you're driving through the mountains. But yeah, doing your research is the best bet! My parents have done so much of this that they're my first person to ask when I want to make travel arrangements!

  6. I love this post!!! When I visited Salt Lake City I walked and took the TRAX (light rail system.) It was really cool!

  7. I would love to travel with you! Looks like you guys have an amazing time wherever you go! Weve had some pretty interesting experiences here in Peru. {Buses and Motos {Peru version of the tuk tuk} and some scary taxi rides =/ Ive had to tell off a few taxi drivers for threatening my life! yikes! but they make good stories!

  8. Such great tips! You guys are experts. :)

  9. Oh I love this little series you have! Can't wait to read all parts.

  10. Oh my gosh TRAINS! I have such a happy memory of my mom, brother and I sleeping on a train from Munich to Paris when I was little. The seats literally folded out into a bed. Hilarious!

  11. So I absolutely agree with every one of these and have used all of them, except for the planes! I mean, obviously I've taken planes across the oceans, but I've never looked into these local flights (other than Southwest here in the States). This is so brilliant! I can't believe how cheap those flights are! I will keep this in mind for the next time we are traveling overseas!

  12. Great post! I love to walk around when I travel places. Not only because it is the cheapest way of getting around, but you see so much stuff and people. I ti of course more time consuming than taking the bus or something like that, but if you can walk to where you are going why not do it!

  13. This is a brilliant article!

    I'm a big fan of hiring a car to get around. I like that freedom. I live in the UK so have taken my car across Europe (we drove from the East of England to Sweden in one day!).

    I also love walking around cities. I might take the underground/trams systems but I'd rather spend the time exploring lesser-seen parts of the city in between destinations.

    Jess - Love Adventure


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