I have a pretty flight-heavy itinerary for my RTW trip, but I will have big overland trips during each leg of my itinerary. When it comes to overland travel planning, I am completely enamored with Rome2Rio and its corresponding app FetchMyWay. These tools can compare thousands of overland travel options to any destination with both cost and time estimates.
I determined fairly early on that anything longer than 10-12 hours on a train or bus is too much for me, particularly in areas where travel conditions aren’t the best. I’ve traveled a lot over the past 10 years, but only in the United States and Europe, never the Third World.
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Overland in Europe
I’ve been to Europe several times before. Obviously Western nations have very strongly developed bus and train companies. Overland travel is a super convenient choice in Europe. I only have a few flights scheduled in this leg of my trip. The first two are in and out of Reykjavik. The second is from Barcelona to Naples, and the third is from Athens to Istanbul. Iceland is an island so I have to fly to reach continental Europe. The other two flights are on inexpensive budget airlines. In fact, these flights could be cheaper than going overland.
The rest of my travel in Europe, however, will be by bus and train primarily.
Getting from Naples to Dubrovnik is a long haul. At first I thought I’d work in brief stopovers in Venice; Ljubljana, Slovenia; and Split, Croatia to break up the trip. Then I realized it would be more time-effective to take a bus to Bari and ferry to Dubrovnik. The rest of the Balkans are more closely situated, so taking buses and trains is fairly simple, fast, and inexpensive.
I will be purchasing all my tickets a la carte, rather than buying a Eurail pass. Counting stopovers, I’ll be taking eight trips over the course of two months, which on Eurail costs about $500. According to Rome2Rio, a la carte tickets could cost less than half that. Plus, not all Eastern European countries are part of the Eurail network. I’d have to buy some a la carte tickets anyway, adding to my overall costs if I go the rail pass route. Once again, DIY pays off.
Overland in Southeast Asia
I have four flights planned for my travel through Asia. Flying from Delhi to Kathmandu is only about $30 more than a bus, and spares me 30+ hours winding through the Himalayas. Likewise, flying out of Laos into Vietnam saves a long trip through a largely undeveloped nation. My other two flights are necessary because Indonesia and Japan are island nations. (Though if I had an extra month on my hands, I could probably hash it overland to Bali through south Thailand and Malaysia.)
That actually leaves much of my time in Southeast Asia to be managed overland. Between various travel guides and BootsnAll’s great article on overland travel, I understand that Thailand and Vietnam have quite comfortable trains, but Laos and Cambodia do not.
I plan to travel by train through Thailand and despite the “horror stories” take the slow boat from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. (You’ll note I have horror stories in air quotes. Expectation is the mother of disappointment, so knowing I should bring a cushion, a book, $2.50 for a tuk tuk, and my own snacks, I don’t think I’ll be so unhappy with the slow boat.) After flying into Hanoi, I’ll continue south through the rest of Vietnam overland, and finally through Cambodia. Travel through Cambodia will probably be one of the more uncomfortable parts of my trip, but if Rome2Rio’s time estimates are accurate I won’t be on any one bus in Cambodia for longer than the average workday. If I can handle working in a public rental meeting room for 8 hours, I think I can handle anything!
Creating this loop through Southeast Asia also ensures two of my flights in Asia touch the Bangkok airport, a major hub for the region and therefore a means to cheaper airfares. (Thanks price competition!)
Overland in South America
(Since researching visa requirements, I’ve found that Brazil’s rules are too stringent for me to work it into this particular trip, so I’m cutting it from my route. Instead, I’ll fly from Tokyo to Buenos Aires and get a round-trip overland ticket to enjoy Montevideo, Uruguay for a longer period of time, as opposed to the original itinerary detailed here.)
South America is another region whose overland travel quality varies wildly from country to country. This is probably what I’ve learned the most about from BootsnAll’s free trip planning course. I had kind of assumed that overland travel in South America would just be like overland travel in Central America – the proverbial “chicken bus” – but depending on where I am, that might not be the case. Argentina apparently has super plush buses with seats that lay flat and attendants serving wine.
I’m visiting four countries in South America proper – Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Peru – so I’ll plan to do about half of my travel by flying and half overland. South America is just so large and I’m hitting a few highlights that are farther apart, so it makes more sense to fly more frequently. Plus, I have the frequent flier miles to cover the cost.
That’s actually a fairly representative rule of my itinerary: half flights, half overland. I have $1,500-2,000 (or about 10% of my budget) allocated to flights, and if Rome2Rio is an accurate resource, I can safely assume I’ll spend under $1,000 (or about 5% of my budget) on buses, trains, and ferries.
Given that this will be my first long-term travel experience, and my first travel outside the U.S. or Europe, I feel pretty comfortable with that balance.
This is only part of the RTW route planning picture. See my full RTW itinerary.