MONGUI, Colombia- The ride from Villa de Leyva to Mongui, Colombia necessitates taking three buses, though all the rides are short. I put into place an old travel strategy: when given the choice between sitting in the front or back seats of a minibus, sit down right next to the driver. This entry is about how my family traveled from Villa de Leyva to Mongui.
Unless going on foot, there is no way to travel without some form of transportation, and the modern vagabond has an incredible amount of options available. From buses to trains to planes, boats, cars, bicycles, motorcycles, moto-rickshaws to even hitchhiking, the variety of potential methods of locomotion are nearly endless. This is the index page on Vagabond Journey Travel for all things in travel that have to do with transportation. What follows are transport method overviews, tips, and discussions. This page constantly evolves as more information is added to it, and you are able to submit your transportation tips below in the comments for other travelers to learn from.
Types of transportation and tips for their usage
Going by bus is probably the most common way of traveling in much of the world. Being prepared for fitting into packed buses, finding out the true price of a ticket, how to get off at your destination, not being robbed, and where to find the cheapest options are all critical for successful world travel. A traveler stands to spend more waking hours on buses than in almost any other form of transports, so coming up with strategies to keep yourself entertained is also of pertinence.
Tips for bus travel
- Find out what are the cheapest options- There are often many different classes of bus services in most countries, and if you are a budget strapped traveler you want to find the cheapest option available. Ask around at your hotel and at bus stations for the cheapest options. Keep in mind that, as a foreign tourists, many people are going to try to corral you into going on the first class buses. Make sure you firmly assert what class transportation you want, whether it is second, third, or forth class. It is the journey in travel that makes it all worth it, and, unless just trying to get somewhere quick, I see no advantage of paying double or triple for first class bus service. Remember that Cheap travel is not just to save money, as riding in close proximity with “the people” of a given country is perhaps one of the best ways to meet them.
- Find out the proper price- Sometimes bus conductors try to scam foreigners into paying more money for a ride. There is a simple formula for preventing this: 1) Buy tickets at a kiosk, a station, or from an official vendor, 2) If this is not possible, ask your fellow passengers how much the fare should be in advance of paying the conductor or driver. If you know the price and just pay it before the conductor can even request the amount, things seem to work smoothly. As a couple different passengers and, once you have a working idea of how much the ride should be, say “[monetary amount], right?” while you pass over the money. If other passengers can hear you say this, the chances of the conductor scamming you are greatly diminished. But some countries have duel pricing systems for tourists and locals that are very out in the open. If in such a place (like Jordan, Egypt, Southeast Asia, some parts of Central America), taking the conductor out of earshot of the other tourists and telling him that you know what the price is suppose to be and offering him an amount in between the local and tourist rate will sometimes work.
- Use minibuses- In many, perhaps most, countries there are minibuses that ply various routs. Just stand on the highway in the direction you want to go and flag one down. Find out the proper price in advance and hand this amount over to the conductor without further ado. Yell up to the driver when you want to get out, and they will stop. Unless going a long distance, this is often the easiest way to travel by bus, and one that many tourists are too intimidated to try.
- Keep yourself entertained- Talk with your fellow bus riders. Like you, they are probably not doing too much as they are whisked around for hours on the bus. If you can, reading is also a good way to pass the hours. I generally take notes on the landscape and the people I observe while riding buses. Some travelers tweet continuously on portable devices. While some just sleep. Whatever your strategy, it is best to prepare to make good on your bus hours, as there are liable to be a lot of them along any given journey.
Finding a country that has a good rail system is often one of the perks of around the world travel. India, China, Morocco, and Europe all have excellent train systems. Train travel also tends to be cheap and, in my opinion, more comfortable than bus travel. On a train, the traveler can get up and walk around, stand by open doorways, move through cabins to find conversation partners, sit down and eat a meal or drink beer in the dining car, and, basically, fend for their basic needs and entertainment. Trains also have the potential for becoming mobile temporary villages, and are prime places for observing culture in practice. I truly love traveling by train, and choose it as my preferred form of public transportation.
Tips for train travel
- Enjoy it. Traveling by train is for the journey, not only to get from point A to point B. Talk with your fellow passengers, walk between the cars, look out the windows, read, have fun.
- Know the passenger train class system and the pricing tiers for the country you are in. Sometimes tourists are automatically given in pricey sleeper cars when purchasing train tickets. If this is what you want, then make sure this is what you get, but if you want to save some money be sure to request the appropriate class. Usually, a seat is the cheapest class available.
- Try to avoid sitting by the bathrooms. This area can become a little gross throughout the course of a long journey.
- Never, ever, ever, let a passenger train pass over your head when walking under an overpass. Crap and piss often just falls through a hole in the bottom of a train. I observed a traveler learn this lesson the hard way once in India.
- Defend your position. Sometimes it happens that you are in a sleeper car with other passengers who seem to want more space than they paid for and they encroach upon your area. The power struggles that can occur when riding in a train cabin with strangers can become ridiculous, so make sure you stand up for yourself from the beginning: do not let your fellow passengers kick you out of your own bunk.
Many of the most annoying experiences of travel happen in relation to taxi drivers. Some call them the scum of the earth, but, though I would not go this far, I can understand the sentiment. In point, if you are not right on top of a taxi driver they may very well railroad you. Sometimes the scam is adding additional charges to the meter, sometimes it is driving you in circles to run up the cost, sometimes they will pretend they do not have change if you pay with a larger bill, sometimes they will try to charge you more than the price you agreed upon, and sometimes they try to take you to a tourist shop where they receive a portion of the commission if you buy anything. I do not tolerate such scams. If a taxi driver does anything other than take me straight to my destination for the agreed upon amount I jump out, walk away, and either pay nothing, our agreed upon price, or a fair price depending on circumstances. Do not let taxi drivers scam you.
Tips for taking a taxi
- Make sure that the meter is blank before starting off. It is a common scam to “forget” to reset the meter before transporting tourists. If the numbers on the meter read anything other than 0.00 at the start of a trip, tell the driver to reset it. If he doesn’t then get out of the cab.
- Most taxis in the world do not have meters. So you must negotiate a price with the driver in advance. Ask a few locals as to how much it should cost to get to your proposed destination and they offer this price to the various taxi drivers you encounter. Do not pay more. Very often there are culturally set prices for taxi transport that all the locals know to pay. Often, if you show a driver that you know the cost of the ride they won’t try to overcharge or pull another fast one on you, as the assumption is that you are “semi-local” and know what is going on.
- If you can help it, keep your bags in the cab with you, not in the trunk. I do not like giving anyone leverage over me in travel, especially a taxi driver. If a driver has my rucksack locked in his trunk then I am in his pocket and am at his expense — though rare, he could hold my backpack for “ransom” and make me pay a blotted fee for his service. I also like to be able to just jump out of a cab and leave quickly, just in case the driver tries taking me to a shop rather than my destination or I’m presented with another annoyance to get away from.
- More tips for taking a taxi at Taxi Travel Tips.
Often called tuk tuks, motos, moto-cars, and various other local names, auto-rickshaws are popular throughout India and Southeast Asia. These little machines are essentially just dummied down taxis and they fly like little mosquitoes in swarms through the streets. They are generally two stroke motorcycles with an enclosed area with a bench either in front or behind the driver for passengers. Generally, three people can fit into one auto-rickshaw, but the fit is always tight, as the design specs for most do not comply with the surface area of the typical westerner’s body.
Tips for taking auto-rickshaws
- Be aware of being ripped off. Auto-rickshaw drivers are often like taxi drivers with little dog syndrome. Use all the same precautions as taking a taxi but be even more ready for an auto-rickshaw driver to attempt to cheat you, drive you in circles, charge an expensive price, take you to a shop where they get a commission on the sale etc . . . If this happens, stand up for yourself right away. If the driver still does not listen, jump out and walk away. Auto-rickshaw drivers seem to have no recourse for the foreign traveler who just walks away when they try to rip them off. So if you get to your destination and the driver demands more money than what was agreed upon, pay what was agreed upon and split — don’t fight.
- Don’t let them stop for gas. A common fast one is to run up the meter while getting gas. This is just another rip off move. If the driver really does not have enough gas to take you to where you want to go, then jump out and take another rickshaw.
- Be aware if there is a meter or if you must negotiate a price. Often, even for rickshaws that come with meters, I will work out a price to pay for a ride with a driver so as to avoid the “running up the meter” or “rigged meter” moves. For me, it is often easier for me to agree upon a price and pay it upon arrival at my destination than ruining a trip worrying if the driver is pulling a vast arrays of fast ones on me. To negotiate a price try to find out how much it should cost from the locals or your own experience and work out deal with the driver. Often, you may pay a little more with this option, but not as much as you will pay if the driver plays any “meter games.” Also, I do not like feeling on guard in travel, sometimes I would rather pay 25 cents more just to enjoy the ride.
- Shop around. Unless I have been in a city for a while and know exactly how much an auto-rickshaw ride should cost, I will typically negotiate prices with three or four different drivers prior to choosing one. Never be hesitant to just walk away from a rickshaw driver tying to get more money that what should be charged.
- Don’t be the foreign idiot. Don’t justify being ripped off by an auto-rickshaw or taxi driver claiming that you are “helping out the people,” or “I am a tourist, I can afford to pay more,” or “But it is so much cheaper than in Canada.” Demand honest treatment and respect. Paying an excessive amount of money for something is not an act of charity, it is a move that just renders you a fool and makes things more difficult for all travelers who follow.