Common Sense Transport

Woman and child on moped with umbrella, Luamg Prabang Laos (c) O.Boundy

Some of the countries we have visited on our travels are vast.

We hadn’t quite appreciated the time we would spend actually travelling from one destination to the next.

Bus journeys in South America can take 28 hours (without stopping), road surfaces can be non existent making that sleeper bus very much an ‘awake all night’ bus, and there could be a tropical storm when you fly (this didn’t seem to prevent departure).

It didn’t take us long to work out that comfort and safety were the top priorities for us when getting around.

Signs to Paraguay and Argentina Iguasu, Brazil (c) O.Boundy

Common sense transport on arrival

Arriving at a new destination is exciting but can sometimes be a little daunting.

When booking your accommodation it is always worth asking whether the hotel or guesthouse could offer a free transfer from the airport or station. You will be surprised at the number of times they will say yes. It is often a very low cost item to them that can secure your business.

When we arrive somewhere new, if we’re haven’t got a free transfer and are not completely confident that there will be a local bus or train we will book a taxi from a reputable taxi stand in the airport or bus station. As a last resort we have paid for a transfer through our accommodation.

Common sense getting around locally

Local buses offer an excellent insight. You will see everyday life out of the window, talk to people who will find you fascinating and also wonder why you aren’t taking the tourist bus. They are always extremely cheap but mostly cramped, hot and uncomfortable.

Local Bus Laos (c) O.Boundy

If you’re 6ft + on a local bus in Laos on unsealed roads you are in for a very uncomfortable journey.

We recommend using local transport for shorter journeys and booking a better standard of bus for longer distances.

Don’t ever bank on your bus arriving or leaving on time.

Maintenance standards aren’t great in a lot of places so take provisions in case you are stuck at the side of the road for a few hours. The resourcefulness of people is amazing, our driver in Bolivia managed to mend a broken fuel tank with some toilet roll and cement from a local building site.

Common Sense booking transport

If you are somewhere remote or where communication is difficult, booking transport through your accommodation can be a good option. Yes, it will incur a service charge, but usually they will collect the tickets for you and can secure your seat. We have done this as a last resort on a few occasions.

Common sense buses

Bad sleeping bus VietnamWhilst travelling around South America we mainly used buses, primarily because it was cheap and the connections were good.  We did look into flights but they were considerably more expensive.  However, if you are short on time, paying more to get their in a tenth of the time can be beneficial. Don’t however discount the time and cost getting to and from airports, check in times, waiting at baggage claim, unexplained delays in getting through customs and then transport to your destination.
We book most of our bus tickets ourselves at the bus station.  If you are struggling to be understood, write down your destination and show the sales person.  It’s nearly always cheaper to pay in cash.  Pick your seat wisely;  try to find out where the toilet is situated and book a seat well away from it. We don’t need to elaborate on the smell of a bus lavatory after 36 hours.

Don’t presume that the ‘luxury’ or ‘executive’ buses will be either. If someone sells you a VIP ticket in South East Asia make sure it really is a VIP ticket and not just a VIP priced ticket on a normal bus.

We always tried to book the most luxurious seats available.  They can range from partially reclining seats to a fully reclining seat with individual entertainment systems, pillows and a waiter service.  The luxury buses are only a few pounds more expensive and it’s really worth it.

Common sense flights

Trip plane, BrazilWe did book a couple of flights in South America. In some countries non locals are not permitted to buy air tickets directly as the prices are subsidized by the government. We booked our tickets through a combination of travel agents and booking directly with the carrier where we could.
 Check prices first using expedia or farecompare to get a ballpark figure. Often local agents can offer very competitive fares especially for domestic air carriers. Always check the price with the airline directly just to make sure you are getting the best deal. Hidden baggage, weight and seat selection charges can inflate what might seem like a reasonably priced flight on a budget carrier to a normal priced flight on a non budget carrier. Keep this in mind when booking, even short flights with no legroom are uncomfortable and sometimes a free sandwich and bottle of water really does make the difference to your day.
Again, don’t presume that you will reach your destination on time, we had to wait for the army marching band practice to finish before we could board our flight in Bolivia:
Bolivian Marching band on runway (c) O.Boundy

Air travel in South East Asia is very reasonably priced and for long distances you may only be paying a few pounds more than the bus, especially if you book in advance. You do, however run the risk of missing out on seeing some great local countryside and impressive running repairs.
Rickshaws, songthaws and moto taxis can be an exhilarating  and cheap way to travel within a city.  Check your travel insurance covers you to ride on a motorbike and always insist on wearing a helmet – the road rules in South East Asia and India are very different to home, you can’t quite imagine until you get there.

For trains advice pretty much anywhere you can’t beat the man in seat 61. This has proved to be an invaluable resource for us.