One of the main things to consider when traveling is transportation. Do you rent your own car? Keeps calling a cab each time you want to get to a different location, or use the shared public transport methods, e.g. buses, trams, and metros. The short answer is, there is no single correct answer. It differs from one place to another, and one person to another. Below is not an expert’s point of view, but rather my opinion from the travel experiences I’ve had. You’re welcome to share and add your tips and comments.
- Convenience: When available, you just tell the driver where you want to go, and you will get there in your private ride without having to worry at all about directions.
- Privacy: Beside the driver, you’re in your own ride and won’t have to rub shoulder with strangers.
- Availability: At some countries, this is quite easy as taxis are around all day and you just have to signal one. Other times these taxis aren’t around whenever you need them, and you must call for one. Calling means extra waiting time. I’ve had once to walk for over 30 mins back and forth in Baltimore looking for a cab with no luck. Only an information lady at the mall was able to call one for me. Imagine have a whole family walking alongside you with little kids? Not fun, but luckily that was not the case with me.
- Cost: Every ride is going to cost at least a little. A lot if you’re traveling a bit far. Every trip is normally back and forth as well. Now imagine you’re traveling in group and need more than one.
- Luxury: If this is a concern for you, taxis can be really new and luxurious, or really old and without even air conditioning. This depends on the country you’re going to, and sometimes you can’t guarantee a good enough car for your taste.
- Safety: If you’ve been on several taxis before, you know some are speed racers and you just wish to arrive in one peace. Especially when the charge is a fixed fee, but even when it’s meter based, those drivers are bored to death from driving all day, and very often have low tolerance.
Public Shared Transportation (Bus, tram, metro)
The convenience and availability of such method of transportation varies greatly from one country to the other.
- Low Cost: Being a shared transport method, prices are usually much cheaper to get around, and you can usually buy full-day
- Socializing: This may not be something you want to do, but truth is, you learn a lot about the culture and people behavior through the use of public transportation. You will see how friendly (or unfriendly), helpful (or unhelpful) they can be. Depending on the friendliness, you may even be able to strike conversations with the locals and get to know more about them.
- Waiting Time: Not always do you find public trams and metros arriving soon. Sometimes they’re very scarce, and there is a lot of wait time in between. This is all time that is taken from your trip. Time is money, and you have paid a lot for your trip. Perhaps you just don’t want to waste it waiting for the ride to come.
- Punctuality: You will want to make sure those public transportations do function on time. In many countries, including the US in some areas, those schedules are more of guidelines. I had to wait for one hour not knowing if the bus had just left, or it’s about to come.
- Crowded: Is it crowded? Probably. Can you stand up during the whole ride if there are not seats available? Do you have children, elderly, or pregnant women traveling with you? Sometimes those metros will be full, and there is no escape of standing. Sometimes even rubbing shoulder with strangers. This could also be a problem for women who wouldn’t want to get too close to foreigns.
- Working Hours: Sometimes public transportation would shut down at night, leaving you stranded outside. So always have a taxi number with you for such scenarios.
- Ease of Use: It will take you sometime to get used to the public transportation and know how to get around usually. Matters will be worse if the maps and destinations are all in the local language which you don’t speak.
Things to Consider:
How available and accessible are these public transportations in that area? Sometimes they are very common you would look silly if you rent your own car. Amsterdam for instance has one of the best public transportation systems ever. There are bus and tram stops all over the city, and then there is also the metro. You can get a full day pass for all of them for few Euros. Trams do stop operating at night though.
In other countries, those public transportations will only take you so far, and then you have to do some walking, or get a taxi to get to your destination. So it’s more of a time/money saver for long journeys, but it won’t get you there all the way. Or, they may be very scarce and using them always includes waiting time. In the worst case scenarios, there may not be any mean of public transportation at all. Nothing you can use at least. Many countries don’t have metros or trams. Dubai, for all it’s fame had just recently launched it’s tram.
This is usually a bit scary, as you drive in a place with different rules, and different driving behaviors. It can be the best or worst option based on the place you’re visiting.
- Time Saver: Nothing beats having your own private car at your disposal. A 10 mins walk can be made in 3 mins drive, and you don’t have to wait for anyone. This may not be true however for long trips where a train might get you faster.
- Convenience: Having your own car means you can move between places easily. You won’t need to carry on the groceries, you can visit different places in a single day without having to worry about how to get there, and the change in your day plans will be much more easy.
- Fun: Especially if you’re traveling on the high way, with beautiful surrounding environment. This can be a highlight of your trip by itself.
- Cost: Renting cars usually isn’t cheap, especially if you want a decent car. Not to mention the cost of gasoline. A car refill could cost more than $50 sometimes. Add to that the possible insurance against damage, theft, and 3rd-parties that you may want to add.
- Liability: When you’re driving, you’re responsible for any damage, loss, and 3rd party damage. Even if you have insurance, an unfortunate accident will truly ruin your day.
- Learning Curve: Sometimes the country you’re visiting have different rules, and different driving behavior. You may be used to the normally easy going driving in your country, but in US, if the car does not come to a complete stop at the Stop sign, you’ll get a ticket. Priority is for the pedestrian walkers as well, and red signal still means you can make right turn with care taken. If you don’t know that, you would look odd and might get into trouble. On the other hand, my friend told me about how in Lebanon he got shouted at for standing at the red signal! You wouldn’t see that coming would you?
- Getting Around: Yes you might have a GPS, but still keep in mind, you have to drive your car around and get to the place you want. Sometimes, the GPS isn’t up to date enough to help you reach your destination.
Things to keep in mind:
- Is it a left-driver, or right driver country? Usually it will be a left-driver driving on right side. But in places like UK and Australia, things are the opposite. Check it out, and make sure you’re comfortable with driving on the other side if you have to. It can be confusing. For list of countries and their driving side, check this link.
- Get your GPS: I wouldn’t drive in a foreign country without one. It will be big time saver for you, and will help you find places you didn’t know about, and get road shortcuts. You can either get one from the car rental company, or bring your own if you have one.
- Ease of Driving: Sometimes, roads are well organized, and well mapped with road signs, and have decent updated GPS systems. Very often however this may not be the case. Roads might be too small, crowded, with poor road signs, aggressive drivers, and out of date GPS maps. In such cases, driving might by it self be a headache you’re better off without.
- Language: If roads signs are only written in local language, this may be difficult to follow.
- Driver License: In most places in US, you can use your local driver license with English printed name on it to drive around. Other countries however will require you obtain an international license from your country before driving there.
- Baby Chair: If you need one, make sure you ask for it.
- Car Rental: http://7ojozat.com/car-rental.php
- For public transportation information, make sure you read about the country you’re visiting on both Wikipedia and WikiTravel.
- Twitter: Dont feel shy. Ask on Twitter or any other social site you prefer, like Yahoo Answers. People can be quite useful.