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Avoid International Bus and Train Services

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Travel Tip #6- Avoid International Bus and Train Services

Sometimes, while traveling, you just want to cross a horizon in one foul swoop, and quickly get from one country to another. In many large cities and prime tourist locations there are buses and trains companies which cater to this desire by offering services that cross international boundaries in one straight go- usually from capital city to capital city. These buses and trains are usually quick, comfortable, easy, and, yes, expensive. In this travel tip I would like to emphasize the expensive part of these services, and to highly recommend against them. Frankly, in most circumstances, I think these posh international charters are a colossal waste of our precious travel funds, as there are local alternatives that are not much more of a hassle, and are exponentially cheaper.


Local bus

All you have to do is take a bus or train to the border town of the country that you want to travel into, walk across the border, and then carry on using public transport. It is usually that simple, and traveling this way will save you a lot of cash. Many local people cross most borders in the world this way on a daily basis, so there is usually a flood of transportation options surrounding border areas. Take your time with this, and pick the cheapest transport option. Many people will try to hustle you at a border crossing; trust nobody that could potentially benefit financially from you taking their advice. Rather, seek out a local who is going the same way you are and follow him. It is as simple as that. Find the bus full of the most locals and jump into it. In the borderlands there are only two ways to move: going or coming. So it is not too difficult to figure out where any vehicle is headed.

[adsense[Last summer I wanted to quickly get from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. So I went to the main train station in Beijing and tried to buy a ticket straight to Mongolia. I was shuffled around from ticket vending window to ticket window until I was finally told that I needed to purchase my passage at a CITS (China’s national tourist agency) office in an upclass hotel. This immediately foreshadowed an emanate rip off, but I checked it out none the less.

Yup, upon going into the CITS office and trying to get a ticket, I found that this service was a colossal rip off. They only route that they would offer to me was on the Trans-Siberian express, which has predominately become a tourist service that goes from Beijing to Moscow. I do not recall the exact price that they were trying to get out of my to go to Ulaanbaatar, but I recall that it was over $80.

It only costs a fraction more than this to go all the way to Moscow!

No way. This was far beyond what I was willing to pay to travel by train for this distance.

So I trudged right back to Beijing Central and purchased myself a local ride to the Mongol border, and half way to Ulanbaatar, for around sixteen dollars. When I went to board the train a couple of days later I realized that I was actually going on the Trans-Siberian Express anyway! Only I was herded off into the local compartment and rode is style for a penance of what the other tourists paid.

When I arrived at the border town of Erlian, I got a room for the night and then crossed into the Mongolia the next morning. I then boarded a local train right on the other side of the border and rode the rest of the way to Ulanbaatar for a mere ten dollars. In all, I traveled from Beijing to Ulanbaatar by taking two local trains for a combined price of around $26, and only arrived a day later than I would have if I paid $80 for the international, “Trans-Siberian Express” service.

I have found this story to be played out in many countries that I have traveled in. Taking local transport to an international border, crossing on your own volition, and then picking up local transport on the other side is often times far cheaper than taking an express “international” service.

A traveler who saves a dollar today, has a dollar to travel another day.

Photo by Loren Everly

The only flip side to this travel tip is that international frontiers oftentimes tend to be breeding grounds for every opportunistic hustler and rip off scenario that can be imagined. Though I stand by this piece of advice, I must admit that sometimes it is just as prudent to take the international service to avoid the border shuffle hustle.

I would highly advise the reader to take this travel tip as more of a suggestion than a rule. Check out the situation before crossing an international boundary, talk to other travelers, weigh the coins in your pockets, and find out what would be the best way for yourself.

So this is my piece of advice to all of you beat and battered wanderers.

As always, take it or leave it.

Walk Slow,

Wade from www.VagabondJourney.com

  • Travel Tips
  • International Train
  • International Bus
  • China
  • Mongolia
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Filed under: Bus Travel, Train Travel, Travel Tips

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 80 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3128 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Zhushan Village, Kinmen, TaiwanMap