Planes, trains and shoestrings

The most cost-effective options vary from country to country so do your homework before you take off

John Burke
John Burke

Travelling around the world may sound like an idyllic way to spend your summer, but even your fantasy trip can become a nightmare if you don’t take care of all the boring details first—obtaining a passport, getting immunized and, most importantly, finding out the easiest and cheapest ways to travel.

John Burke, director of Odyssey Travel, said Eurail passes are a great option for rail and ferry travel in Europe.  

“For European travels we issue Eurail passes on the spot,” Burke said. “These allow you to travel in an unlimited fashion either all over Europe or in certain areas of Europe. It gives you access not only to rail travel but also to ferry travel in some areas.”

Another popular mode of transportation in Europe and elsewhere are the Hop-on Hop-off buses, Burke said.

“This is a bus which would have a designated route,” he said. “They might start in London and it might go on a zigzag pass all the way through Europe. You would get on the bus in London and then get off in Amsterdam and then get off in Barcelona. Because they are kind of touristy buses they will also stop at hostels. Those are very inexpensive and give you flexibility. … That is a less expensive way than Eurail passes, but it does not have the diverse experience. You cannot go everywhere.”

For flexibility, Burke said leasing a European car is an economical form of transit when travelling with a small group of people.

“As opposed to renting a car, which is taxable, car leasing does not attract tax,” he said. “The number is three or four people and then you are travelling to a place kind of like travelling here. It also gives you tremendous flexibility. And you also get a brand new car, like an Audi.”

Because not everyone goes to Europe for the summer, Burke said if travelling to Latin America, students should take advantage of public transportation. 

“In Latin America, I would use public transport,” he said. “It is easy and frequent. I wouldn’t even consider renting a car. It is primarily bus transportation. You’ll get grades of buses. So you’ll have anything from the chicken bus right up to coach travelling. That depends on what city pairs you are trying to get between. Coach buses will not take you to smaller cities.”

Unlike Europe and South America, Burke said, using public transit in Africa requires a greater deal of patience and careful planning.

“As far as public transport in southern Africa, it is not very frequent,” he said. “In Botswana and Namibia you really have to carefully plan your trips. If you are in East Africa, there is a shuttle. … If you are going to the game parks, you can use the vehicles of the game park.”

Although there are many forms of transportation to get from place to place, they vary in terms of speed and cost.

Joachim Scholz, PhD candidate in marketing at the Queen’s School of Business, has travelled all over Western Europe. He said there are fast and slow trains, catering to the amount of time one has.

“It depends on how much time you have,” he said. “If you want to go from north to south Germany, you can either take the fast train, which costs a lot but it brings you down four to five hours. Or you can take slow trains, which take you the double amount of time.”

In terms of air travel, Scholz said to be wary of cheap plane tickets within Europe becasuse the flight options land in remote areas and you then require additional transportation from the airport to major cities. 

“Planes could actually be cheaper than going by train, but only if you have the right connection,” he said. “If you can schedule your planning, planes would be the cheapest, but only unless you don’t have to change planes. Last time, I went with Ryanair, and you can get it very cheap. If you book in advance, you can get flights for 50 to 100€. … Some of these low-cost airlines fly from obscure areas. On top of your ticket for the airplane, you probably pay almost the same amount for a bus to get to your destination.”

Anthony Brydon, ArtSci ’09, has been to various countries in South America. He said the current exchange rate makes cabs and domestic airline tickets affordable.

“I would recommend cabs, because the exchange rate is good right now,” he said. “In Brazil you can get cheep airline tickets: Gol, Varig and Tam. Gol would be the cheapest. Purchase tickets online. Sometimes you can find flights for 15 or 20 Reais at one in the morning. Those sell quick.”

Brydon said he has benefited from using ISIC discounts. But, he said they aren’t perfect.

“I get a $200 discount with ISIC,” he said. “The catch is, you’re not as flexible. If you have to change your flight, [the discount] cancels off.”

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