If someone were to ask me “What’s the ideal way to travel, and what would be your ideal trip?”, my answer would be sure to start with “It depends…”. This is because, as we know, the objective of a given trip with all of us is entirely situational. Sometimes we travel for business, other times for pleasure. Sometimes the sole purpose of trip is to safely get to our destination ASAP. Other times it’s all about the trip itself and what we want to see/do along the way. It gets even more complex when our planned trip is intended to fulfil more than just one of these objectives. We might also have different preferences or perhaps even fears, such as being afraid to fly. These biases are real and understandable, and they must be factored into our decisions and plans.
There are basically two types of trips: business and pleasure. Since the travel objective with nearly all business trips is to simply get from Point A to Point B, I’ll focus more on pleasure travel in the sections below.
Thus, I will outline the basic modes of travel and types of vacations and offer some thoughts on their relative pros/cons and trade-offs. I will also offer some thoughts on selecting the right travel mode for a given trip/vacation.
Modes of Travel
I believe most major modes of travel fall into one of these five categories:
I won’t spend as much time describing each of these modes (mostly common knowledge) as I will discuss how each might or might suit a particular trip.
Air travel is a quick, safe, and efficient (well, maybe not as much now, until the growing pains of restarting air travel post pandemic settle out) way to travel from point to point. In general, the longer the distance, the more advantageous it is to travel by air. Air travel is particularly advantageous whenever you want to simply get to your destination and you aren’t really interested in the trip itself, such as with business travel or visiting an out-of-town friend or relative. It might also be the least painful way to travel long distances with young children, who often get restless and cranky when in the car for long periods. However, it is usually the most expensive, and it lacks the flexibility of some other forms of travel.
Automotive travel, aside from local public transportation, is how we routinely travel short distances, such as driving to work or the grocery store. It is also instrumental in sightseeing trips in that it offers maximum flexibility in route planning and schedule. Road trips are an old favorite of mine because I can plan a route that will pass through multiple points of interest, and I can spend as much or as little time that I wish at each point. However, long days behind the wheel can be monotonous and tiring.
Travel by train seems less popular these days, but I do believe it definitely has its place and that it is often overlooked. In addition to being a somewhat lower-cost alternative to air travel, it can be a great way to experience the journey in a relaxing way. Some Amtrak trains have a “view car” that is comprised of mainly glass, which enables panoramic views of beautiful places that we pass through while on our way to our destination. Some also offer dining and “sleeper” cars. Even if the particular train you are on doesn’t have these amenities, you can still get up and roam versus being confined to a small seat. I also find train travel to also be relaxing. I can sit back and enjoy the ride/views and not have to worry about driving, stopping for food and having to lug my baggage into and out of a hotel/motel each evening. Of course, this usually takes more time than air travel, but it might be quicker than automobile, depending on the situation. Amtrak offers routs between many major cities.
Bus is also a longstanding common mode of long-distance travel. Greyhound offers routs between nearly all major US cities. It’s a great lower-cost alternative to train travel for someone who simply wants to get from Point A to Point B. Although more spacious than most airline coach seats, buses tend to be less flexible/comfortable than trains. Bus travel also tends to offer more direct routes between cities than trains, such as between Los Angeles, CA and Las Vegas, NV. Since it has been an exceptionally long time since I last traveled long distance via bus, I’m probably the least knowledgeable about this particular mode.
It seems that, since the days of Queen Mary, boats have become much less a common mode of mass transportation, aside from ferries, which usually cover very short distances. However, a cruise can provide the ultimate vacation. More on that in the “Cruises” section below.
It seems that, much of the time, we rely heavily on air travel for business. It is usually the fastest and most reliable way to get from Point A to Point B. Airfares are usually paid by the traveler’s employer, hence cost is usually not a major consideration.
The selected accommodation is usually a hotel that’s located I the immediate area of the place of business being visited. Business travelers usually rent a car to get from the airport to the hotel. However, if the place-of-business is at the hotel, such as a conference or symposium, then travelers will often take shuttles, taxies, Ubers, etc. between the airport and hotel.
Now for the fun part – planning that ultimate family vacation, honeymoon or getaway for you and that special person! As we know, vacations come in all shapes and sizes. I’ll outline the most common types below. The choice depends simply on what would provide the most pleasure at a price that you can afford and are willing to pay.
Cruises have become extremely popular, and for good reason. They are the ultimate way to visit and take in different places and sights without the hassle of traveling between destinations. It’s as if the various destinations come to you in your “floating hotel/resort”. Also, the time at sea is a destination in itself. It offers the flexibility of simply relaxing on deck with your favorite book, hanging out at the pools/spas with your family/friends and/or other folks whom you might meet while on board the ship. There is also often a myriad activities for the kids, especially on family-friendly cruise lines such as Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International.
Cruises vary in duration from several days to several weeks, and sometimes they run over a month. A typical itinerary is a combination of days at sea (while traveling to/from and between set destination ports) and a day at a given port/destination. While at each destination, it is your option to disembark or stay on board the ship. Many onboard activities continue even though the ship is docked at a given port. If you wish to be more adventurous and disembark, you normally have the option between exploring the local area on your own or purchasing an excursion/day trip. Such excursions can be purchased via the cruise line or via the local independent businesses. Although usually more expensive, I would strongly recommend purchasing it through the cruise line, because the ship’s crew will know you have disembarked and will be sure to wait until you return prior to setting sail to the next port. However, should you miss the “all aboard” at the end of that particular day and fail to re-board the ship prior to its setting sail, you will be completely on your own to arrange transportation to the next port or back home – not a good way to end that dream vacation!
At sea and evening activities usually include live entertainment, fun games for kids of all ages (approximately 2-100+), movies, etc. There are often shuffleboard and table tennis stations on one of the main entertainment decks, and of course lots of bars, lounges, and eateries.
A lot of the food, drinks, movies, entertainment, and basic activities are included in the basic fare price, with the exception of alcoholic beverages and special activities. This makes cruises a surprisingly “best value” compared to many other types of vacations. Think about it, you have all transportation, food and entertainment all covered in one ticket price. In fact, I was told that many cruise lines make most of their money selling alcoholic beverages and excursions whereas the basic fair barely covers their costs.
There are a lot of good packages out there, and they are offered by reputable companies like Marriott Vacation Club (MVC) and Adventures by Disney. They operate somewhat like cruises, except they are usually via land and the focus is more on the destinations than on the journey. A typical itinerary is fly to one city (domestic or international), then a tour bus will take you around to the key sites. They will put you up in different hotels as you go, then fly you back home at the end of the journey. Such packages usually include air travel, ground travel, hotels, and some meals. (You will likely be on your own for some meals during “free time”). This can be a fairly expensive way to go, but it’s a great way to safely visit key sites in foreign countries without fear of getting scammed or worse. I like the balance of doing some group tours/activities while also having some time to explore on my own. It’s all a great way to see a lot of things in different places in a short time.
Another great way to vacation is to spend time at a resort villa, which usually consists of a full kitchen, living room and 1-3 bedrooms. They are often timeshares, but your can rent them as well. I like the ease and flexibility they offer, like having a place to lite for a few days to over a week. From there, you can take day trips around the local area or just stay put and enjoy the amenities, which are usually quite abundant at the middle and higher end resorts. Many good resorts also offer plenty of fun activities for the whole family. If not into that, you can just hang out by the pool and relax. Resorts are great for kids as well, as they often have large pools with water slides, miniature golf, tennis, basketball, a game room, etc. Although renting a villa can be expensive, you tend to save a lot in food if you cook in most of the time instead of going out. If interested in renting a week at a resort, Interval International (II) can have some good deals. II is also the usual 3rd party broker for timeshare owners who want to trade their week and stay at a different resort for one season. I have enjoyed some great, affordable vacations with my family by trading my MVC week for a resort in a location outside the MVC network. Picking a good location is paramount if you like getting out. Some resorts are located in areas in which much is happening, others are in more remote places. So, you’ll need to decide which location is best for you/your family
As I mentioned earlier, this is an all-time favorite of mine – the ability to go where we want, when we want, and decide how long to stay in each place. It’s usually also easy enough to change plans once a trip is in progress if there are just two or three adults and no advance hotel/motel reservations. Not having reservations may seem risky, but I have traveled this way a lot and have always managed to land a good spot for the night. I have also found that the “spot rates” toward the end of a given day are often less than when booking in advance. Of course, road trips require more work due to the driving and lugging baggage in and out of hotels/motels each night.