Mode of transportation
To determine how to get from Point A to Point B anywhere in the world, I use the following two sites extensively.
Rome to Rio — claims to show you how to get anywhere. The strength of this website is it will give you options and expected costs to go from Point A to Point B. It also provides you with the frequency of particular mode of transportation and sometimes with timetables. Obviously, it works better with popular locations. Although you could book your ticket via links provided by Rome2Rio, I find I often get better prices if I try different booking sites.
Google Maps — You can use Google Map to determine how to get from Point A to Point B. With most major cities, Google Maps will provide you with the timetable for local trains and buses. For example, if you need to take a bus from where you are staying to a particular site, Google Map is a good tool to show you how to get to the bus stop, when you can expect next bus, the estimated length of travel time and approximate cost.
Typically, it is expensive to travel in North America. It is not the case in Europe or Asia where passenger trains are very popular. Geography and population density has a lot to do with that. As a rule, the earlier you book a train ticket, the cheaper it is. If you are travelling for a longer period of time and for multiple countries in Europe, you should consider purchasing a pass such as Eurailpass or countries specific rail passes. In general, if you are under 26, you can purchase a Youth Pass in Europe. Rail passes tend not to be cost effective in Eastern Europe where train tickets are usually inexpensive.
For various European Rail passes, Rick Steves’ has an excellent page on the topic.
Years ago, overnight sleeper trains between major European cities were very popular because it saved traveller time and money. Most sleepers are couchettes (bunk beds) and rooms may have 1, 4, or 6 berths. However, with the advent of discount airlines, many of the overnight train services have been terminated because it is often cheaper to fly. In March, 2018, I did take an overnight sleeper train from Munich, Germany to Zagreb, Croatia. If you booked the ticket really early, the cost was €39. Not bad for an 8 hour journey with a bed.
Types of Trains
High-speed trains in Europe can be found in Western Europe and the newer generation of trains can go as fast as +300Km/h. In comparison, China’s latest generation of high-speed trains can also travel at +300km/h. Also, there are more high-speed trains and tracks in China and the rest of the world combined. In the December 2016 and August 2017, I took high-speed trains in North-East and Southern China. They were both inexpensive and comfortable. If you are going to ride a train China, make sure you purchase a ticket with an agent or at a hotel. Buying tickets at train stations will be difficult if you don’t speak Chinese and without any Chinese document, you won’t be able to access the automated ticket machines.
If you have time, travel with a slower train such as InterCity or Local will save you money. Of course, the trade-off is time.
Web resources and online train booking sites
The Man in Seat 61 — this is an excellent and comprehensive site on rail travel. Mark Smith, the owner of the site is a passionate train traveller. The site contains lots of great information and it also has links for you to purchase your tickets.
LOCO 2 –– this site is based in England and specializes in train tickets in UK and Europe.
Typically, using the above sites mean you have to pay a bit more because you pay a premium to use an English site. If you can understand the local language, it is always cheaper to purchase the ticket via the local train company. However, keep in mind that without a local credit card, you may not be able to purchase a ticket even if you can understand the local language.
Most major cities offer 1-day or multi-days travel pass. Do some number crunching to decide if you should buy a pass. Although it may be more expensive than pay-as-you-go, having a travel pass affords you more flexibility. An alternative to a daily pass is a stored-value card. For example, in London, England, you can purchase an Oyster Card and in Hong Kong an Octopus Card. These stored-value cards are convenient because you don’t have to deal with various fares and exact change. Some cities, e.g. Portland, OR; Buffalo, NY; or Calgary, Alta, offer free transit in the downtown core. Use them.
One of the best ways to discover a city is via a local bus. I once took a bus from lower Manhattan to Upper Harlem in New York City. The $1.00 (at the time) fare allowed me to ‘see’ a number of different neighbourhoods in an imposed leisurely fashion. If you don’t want to get lost, stick with subways or trams. If you know the name of a station, you can’t really get lost. For a big city like Paris, London or Hong Kong, equip yourself with a compass to find the best exit. Exits could be blocks apart and a compass will save you time and energy.
If you are travelling to Europe, check if it is worthwhile for you to purchase a EuroRail pass. I believe the rule that you must purchase a first-class pass if you are older than 26 still holds. Do some research before you pay the money.
Uber — I have used Uber extensively in my trip to Poland to Romania (Summer 2015). What I like about Uber is that I don’t have to struggle with the pronunciation of a foreign language, dealing with local cash, and being ripped off by dishonest taxi-drivers. All the transactions are done over an app and all the trips are recorded. If I think the driver is ripping me off, it’s very easy to complain. My experiences with dealing with taxis in foreign countries have been poor. Uber took the hassles away.
Taxi — In some cities, such as Hong Kong and Lisbon, taxis are inexpensive and usually plentiful. In some cities, during with taxis could be a bit of hassles. When I was in Stockholm, Sweden, not only different taxi companies charged different rates, a driver refused to use a meter for one of my trips. Once, in Bangkok, Thailand, I had to take a taxi at 4:30am to catch an early flight. The hotel concierge had arranged one for me and spoke with the driver about using the meter. About two blocks away from the hotel, the driver unflagged the meter and quoted me a price that was twice what it should be. My option was to get off at 4:30 am to catch another taxi. Another time, after dropping me off at the Penang International Airport, a taxi driver claimed that he had no change after I gave him a big bill. When I informed him I didn’t mind waiting, he magically found some small bills.
Car Rental — I don’t usually rent a vehicle when I am travelling in Asia or Europe. In North America, I have rented cars in a number of cities without any issues. I do try to rely on public transportation but sometimes you need a car to get around to more remote places. The cost of renting a car is actually reasonable but the extras may end up costing you a bundle more. Check with your own auto insurance to see if your policy covers your rental vehicle. Most major credit cards also offer insurance coverage. Call them before you book so you know.
Personally, I do not purchase additional insurance from the rental company.