Everytime you travel overland, you have a decision to make. Forget flying, that’s for holiday makers on a two week break, we’re travelers so if and when it’s possible we wanna cover the ground by land. So now we’re committed to being cheap, dirty and adventurous generally you have to choose between two modes of transport, train or bus.
They’re interchangeable by method alone, each has it’s perks and drawbacks. I’m convinced that you have to be a fan of one or the other, with no middle ground, so let’s have a look at the pros and cons of each and try to draw some conclusions:
1) You’re not locked in your seat, you can walk at least the length of the carriage and hopefully even more. Plus there may even be a dining cart!
2) If it’s a long haul journey, which inevitably it will be, you get a chance to jump off the train at every stop and replenish your supplies of Oreas and beers (or whatever else you may be crazy enough to carry)
1) Trains are often more expensive than buses, as a budget traveler that alone can be a determining factor. In the age of high-speed trains, this price increase is becoming more and more common.
2) In any country aside from the 1st world (God I hate that term), trains are actually slower. I know this will come as a surprise to newbie travelers but it is infact an absolute truth. Most of the trains in the developing (another term I hate, but I’ll use it to speed up our communication) world run on older lines, negating the possibility of faster trains.
1) Almost invariably the bus is the cheaper option, furthermore commonly there are different grades of buses so you can cut your costs further still by slumming it for 12 hours or so.
2) Buses, unbelievably almost, are faster than trains especially throughout South America and Asia (the backpacking hotspots)
1) You’re cramped in like a sardine and there’s no escape side from a couple of 3 minute stops every 6 or 7 hours. Certainly less comfortable than trains.
2) The unpredictability of the time of departure/arrival. With a train you generally know what time you’ll leave and what time you’ll arrive, the same can not be said of a bus which is exposed to traffic, breakdowns, please stops etc. You never know what time you’ll arrive if you take the bus.
I’ve done 50 hours straight in buses across India and Nepal, 81 hours straight in a train across Kazakhstan and Russia and endless 20 hour+ journeys in between and in my opinion, as a long term traveler with no end date in site, I’ll go with whatever is cheaper.
However, when bus journeys start to exceed 24 hours I’ll start to try to avoid them, but anything under a day is decided by price. After the one day mark, it’s train all the way. Happy travels!