Alternatives to Flying: Other Ways to Get From Here to There

By Nora Dunn on 28 March 2011 (Updated 10 January 2012) 2 comments
Photo: Nora Dunn

With the advent of budget airlines offering unbelievably low airfares and our maniacal desire to get from A to B as quickly as possible, flying is usually the only option we consider when traveling. But there are alternatives to flying — ways to get from here to there that might actually save you time and money.

Flying Myths

Perhaps flying is your go-to travel option because you assume that it's the best way to travel. Let's tackle some of these flying myths.

Myth #1: Flying Is Faster

Although your actual flight time might be a few measly hours, how long does it take you to get to and from the airports on either side? How far in advance of your flight do you have to arrive to navigate the long check-in and security lineups? And how long do you wait for your luggage to arrive on the conveyor belt (accompanied by profuse sweating and a series of please lord, let my bags have made it on the plane with me mantras)?

The last time I flew, my three-hour flight was actually a ten-hour exercise from door to door. And everything went smoothly; imagine how much longer it would have been if there were delays or complications (as there so often are).

Myth #2: Flying Is Cheaper

Boy, you can’t beat those budget airline prices. Or can you? Keep clicking through the check-out screens online, and soon enough you’ll have doubled or tripled (or more) the initially quoted price after you add in various airport taxes and fuel surcharges, additional costs to check your luggage, and the price of any food or drinks you purchase on-board (or before). Budget airlines make their money on these incidentals, and — worse yet — catching you with luggage that’s slightly over the weight restrictions then levying steep penalties.

Next, you must factor in the cost of getting to and from the airport which either involves the cost of gas and parking, or the airport bus or train. None of which is cheap.

Myth #3: Flying Is Healthier

Okay, I don’t think anybody could argue that flying is a healthy way to travel. You’re filed into a carpeted tube with dozens (nay, hundreds) of other people breathing recycled air. If one person is ill, chances are you will be subjected to their germs.

Even if you can stave off illness, you’re at risk for cramping and circulation problems from sitting in such a small space for long periods of time, and I don’t believe that transporting between time zones with no way for the body to adjust is particularly healthy. Jet lag is a perfect example of how hard flying can be on our bodies.

Alternatives to Flying

Having said all this, sometimes flying is unavoidable. It’s still the most logical and effective way to navigate really long-haul travel over oceans and between countries over long distances (and if you’re smart and do it with frequent flyer mile strategies, it doesn’t have to break the bank). But if it isn’t entirely necessary for you to fly, check out some of these alternatives.

Car

An obvious option is to hop in your car or get a rental car, travel at your own pace, and have wheels to get around at your destination. But be aware: in addition to the obvious costs of driving (gas, insurance, and rental charges if applicable), other expenses of taking the car (like wear and tear,repairs, and parking) can throw your travel budget off-line.

Let’s explore some alternatives to flying (and driving) that are a little easier on the wallet – and the environment.

Car Pool

People have been car pooling to work for ages now, so why not expand on the concept? With various car pooling (also known as ride sharing) networks and websites, you can find somebody going your way with whom you share the driving, cost of gas, wear and tear, etc. You even have built-in company for the ride, and possibly a new friend or two out of the deal. You have less freedom in making stops along the way than if you drive yourself, but more freedom than you would with public transportation.

It pays to do a little due diligence in finding a ride, such as planning to meet in a public place before you hop in the car destined for horizons unknown, and letting a friend or family member know where you are headed. As an additional security measure, in using some of the larger car pooling services like eRideShare, you can correspond with your potential ride without giving out your personal information.

Bus

Long distance bus travel is far from luxurious, but with more and more bus services providing free wifi on-board and more comfortable seats, it’s not a terrible way to go.

Most bus stations are centrally located in town (hence, no need to hoof it out to a remote airport), and you can arrive half an hour in advance of your departure and still get a good seat. You can pack as much into your luggage as you wish (within reason), and rest assured that it’s along for the ride.

Buses also make regular rest stops for you to stretch your legs and grab a snack if you wish. And if you’re on a budget, you can’t argue the price of taking the bus.

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Boat

If there’s a big body of water between you and your destination, your only option other than flying is to take a boat. Short hauls (journeys up to about 24 hours) can be easily navigated by ferry, and are often both reasonably priced and comfortable.

Longer journeys such as overseas travel can be accomplished by taking an ocean-liner cruise (which is super expensive, but luxurious), or freighter. Although you might think that hitching a ride on a cargo ship would be inexpensive, it doesn’t measure up in comparison to flying. At $90-130 per day — and most overseas trips lasting between two weeks and two months — it’s not cheap, but the journey is an experience in and of itself, especially if you like being on the high seas.

Here’s a website with a few freighter travel resources to get you started.

Train

Train travel is my favorite way of getting from here to there, hands down. Having grown up taking the train 400 miles from Toronto to Albany NY every summer to visit my grandparents, the long journeys have embedded themselves fondly in my memory.

Similar to bus travel, you’ll find train stations centrally located, and rarely do you encounter luggage restrictions or complications. The price quoted is the price quoted, and depending on the route you can sometimes get wifi access on-board.

Trains have a few additional advantages over buses; more often than not there’s ample leg-room and comfortable seating, you can get up and walk around, and there are usually power-points available to charge and operate any electronics you have with you. These perks create a more luxurious and relaxed pace to the journey, which to me is well worth any extra cost over taking the bus.

Not only that, but because of the relaxed and generally comfortable style of travel that the train offers, you tend to meet and engage with interesting people enroute. Take my recent 11,000km journey across Australia and back as an example.

Your Overland Travel Resource

One of my favourite sites and an excellent resource for overland travel is The Man from Seat 61. In an effort to reduce his own reliance on air travel and illustrate the alternatives, this Londoner created a website demonstrating how to get from London to anywhere and everywhere — overland. His preference is for trains, but wherever there aren’t train routes, he shows how accomplish the travel task via bus and boat.

Since its humble beginnings over 10 years ago, Seat61 has turned into an award-winning worldwide resource with valuable information on trains, buses, and ferries. You can find out exactly what to expect from each “class” of travel, what the prices and schedules are, and how to get a good deal if there’s one to be had.

Whenever I travel (and for me, that’s a lot), Seat61 is my first point of attack in researching my options. Even if I can’t save time on the journey, I’m happy to take the train anyway; as opposed to flying, with the train I arrive relaxed, with a full immune system, and so many stories to tell.

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My Dog Foster

I too love the train. I have tried to convince friends who must travel from Buffalo to NYC that they are spending aproximately that same amount of time (8 hours) dealing with the airports for thier "1 hour" flight. Especially since the train takes you to the middle of Manhattan. No shuttle or limo from JFK or Newark. They just don't seem to get the idea, they are fighting tooth and nail that the train takes forever.

I, like you, maintain that the trip is about the same amount of time and much more relaxed. Also, it's hard to get any work done standing in line for security.

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Whitney

Thank you for this helpful resource! I have always traveled by air but I'm now ready to stop the madness/pollution and can't wait to try these other options.