Category: Land travel

Cultural difference #3: riding the train in China

Unlike cultural difference #1 and #2, this one, train rides and how people behave on the train in China is something I read about as opposed to something I noticed in my own travels. I never took a train in China, nor do I think I’d want to based on what I’ve read.

However, what I see on Youtube just doesn’t look as bad as what I expect considering the horror stories I’ve read.

But the videos seem tame compared to this description from Why China Will Never Rule the World:

The hard sleeper compartments contained six bunks and were packed with couples, families, babies, wandering toddlers, and men who would slurp instant noodles, down cups of baijiu (80-120 proof liquor), and then head to the passageway to smoke and spit on the floor….women hung their bra and panties from bars above the windows.

And it’s noisy and people are nosy. The paragraph I quoted from above concludes, “Perhaps it’s because the Chinese lead lives of such great tedium that they are such great busybodies.”

At least the soft sleeper is supposed to be better than the hard sleeper. Interestingly, the author of Why China Will Never Rule the World says that Chinese people don’t look out the window while the ariter of this article on Chinese trains says the opposite. But they both agree that a train ride is China is constant noise. And if you read on to page 3 of that article you learn, “I won’t try to sugar-coat what it’s like riding in standing room on a Chinese train. It sucks.”

If you’re white and in the standing area, you become famous and get to take pictures with the natives and help them with their English. I doubt I’d be in the mood for that.

UK road trip ideas

I’ve heard about a number of driving vacations in Ireland, but not so many in England. However, I imagine that if you want to visit a few country towns, driving would be the way to go. Since I’ve already been to London, I thought my next tip to England should include a few different places, including probably a visit my friend studying at Oxford.

A search for driving in England turned up the Mongol Rally, where you drive an old car 8,500 miles from England to Mongolia. Could be fun with the right company I guess.

I also came across some car insurance, which you would want if you’re insurance back home didn’t cover you while driving on vacation. Car breakdown cover certainly seems like a good idea, especially if you’re driving an old British clunker all the way to Mongolia.

I found a few bus tours. Not being a huge fan of tours, one of those itineraries could work for a driving holiday. One includes Oxford, which I would certainly want to include in my trip:

Day 1 – Cotswolds

Travel through the English countryside and visit Oxford and then Stratford-upon- Avon. It’s then a short drive to Anne Hathaway’s cottage.

Day 2 – Cotswolds / Bath

Explore the Cotswolds (picture-postcard villages). First visit Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and then drive to Bath, stopping at a few nice villages on the way.

Day 3 – Bath

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bath should be a pretty place to walk around. There’s the Jane Austen Centre, and while I’m not a huge fan I would be interested to know how her hometown affected her. Lacock is a village nearby that has been used in TV and film productions such as Pride and Prejudice, The Other Boleyn Girl and Harry Potter.

Day 4 Stonehenge / Windsor Castle

Do some more country driving to get to Stonehenge and then Salisbury, which boasts Britain’s tallest cathedral spire. Windsor Castle, the Queen’s favorite, is the last stop on this itinerary.

That’s really a pretty good driving itinerary if you stretch it out a bit. Obviously I’d spend more than one day in Oxford visiting my friend. I could also go for an extra day or two in Bath. I’m not so sure about Stonehenge. I guess it’d be worth a look but I don’t see myself being overly excited there.

Of course, I just scour the web for itineraries for fun. We have some potentially good ones right here on this site, like this one on movie tourism in Wales.

Has anyone here done any sort of road trip in the UK?

Politically incorrect road trip report

I’m linking to a road trip report that does contain some foul language so don’t visit if you don’t like that sort of thing. But if you do, this is a fairly entertaining story so far. It is, as I’ve already warned, pretty objectionable as well though. Don’t say I never link to an alternative source to bring you a travel story:

Day One, I wound up in Detroit, Michigan at 4 AM at the f***ing seediest motel of all time. We walked in and a bunch of black guys who looked like they wanted to rob/r**e us started talking to us. We slept about a block in between 9 and 8 mile at a place called the Victory Inn Suites. We got a room with a hole in the ball of the bathroom, and my bed’s mattress was so f****d up that I had to sleep on the floor. I went outside to go buy some booze across the street, and I stood outside and drank a bit. I got solicited by a prostitute twice and a guy walked in circles around our car for about 20 minutes after I went inside. We brought all of our s**t into our rooms and none of us slept, but I got wasted and watched some hilarious public access show.

If you want more of that it goes up to day 4 so far…

$130 car rental for a 13 day, 3,400 mile road trip?

It may sound too good to be true but here it is. Hertz needs to get their cars in Arizona to LA so they have a sweet deal – $5/day car rentals. How would you get from Tuscon to LA?

The only thing left was deciding where to go. In the first week, I made it as far as San Antonio (for Fiesta) and Austin (for bluebonnets, though they are sparse in this drought year). The second week coincided with National Park Week, which meant free entry to such spectacular places as Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico) and Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona).

Interestingly, San Antonio was also a stop on this honeymoon road trip. Personally, I’m pretty cheap so I love a bargain and will have to come up with a plan for taking advantage of Hertz’s $5/day car rental scheme.

Crazy cross country road trip / honeymoon

Here’s an interesting roadtrip / honeymoon. The planner could use some advice on making sure the road trip is romantic. Any ideas?

Here’s the plan – which will be kind of rough to allow for spontaneity. Any ideas on how to make this trip more romantic since it’s our honeymoon?

Leave from NJ drive to Knoxville and then to New Orleans – stay for 2-3 nights in a nice hotel.

Drive from New Orleans to Vegas (stopping in San Antonio for a night & El Paso for another)

Spend 3-4 nights in Vegas in a nice hotel.

Drive up to Zion National Park, then to Denver, then back to NJ – stopping to sleep in either Kansas City or St. Louis and stopping in Cincinnati for 1-2 nights (sister & parents live there).

Never more than 12 hours in a day driving. 14 days and 5,500 miles.

This would be for our honeymoon. We’ve both done Europe, Cruises, Hawaii etc. We both love road trips and don’t know when we’d get an opportunity to hit the road like this again.

Her car gets 30mpg on highways (Jetta) and the seats fold down and you can lay in the back seats/trunk for naps. We’d stay at fancy places in New Orleans & Vegas. Try to find the best restaurants in the city’s we stay over in.

Are we crazy?

What makes a good road trip?

This article on road trips made Yahoo’s front page. California gets 2 of the top 10. The others go to Maine, North Carolina / Virginia, Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Colorado, Arizona, and Georgia.

In looking over the road trips on this blog, it seems that like in the article California is well represented…

California road trip

Another CA road trip

Stuff to do between LA and San Francisco

17 mile drive & the lone cypress

Jamaica road trip

Road trip based on Elizabethtown

I think it’s worth pointing out that when the article says best road trips they really mean the most scenic. I would say that the best road trips are usually based on your company or what you do along the route.

For example I still remember one winter break in college when a friend and I drove from new Jersey to Orlando over 2 or 3 weeks. Then back to Jersey in a day. It was driving from youth hostel to youth hostel and seeing some small towns along the way plus meeting cool people in the Orlando youth hostel that made that trip memorable.

And I remember driving alone from new Jersey to New Orleans for Mardi Gras not long after graduating college. The drive itself wasn’t that great actually – no company (some good music I think though) and no stops worth mentioning.

I also remember driving to a Phish concert with some friends while in college. New Jersey to Lake Placid and driving to Ohio for a LARP in 2007. Nether road trip was long or scenic but both are great memories thanks to the company.

Anyone take an extended train trip?

Reader submitted question: My wife and I were talking Vacation last night and thought maybe a train trip to Colorado might be pretty cool. Our son is really into trains. Has anyone ever taken an Amtrak across a few states? My only experience has been the Surf-liner from the OC to Del Mar, for the horse races.

Any tips on how to book such a trip would be appreciated. It seems no matter what I try, I can’t avoid having to take a bus somewhere along the line. That is a deal breaker.

I talked to a few people. One guy said he took an Amtrak from Wuphat, Mississippi to New York and back in 1997. His advice was to get a sleeping car.

Another guy remembers taking a train from Minneapolis to East Glacier, Montana in 1971. He loved the vista-dome cars and said you spend a long time going across the badlands of North Dakota and then these huge mountains just loom up. Of course he has no idea what it would be like today.

Another guy said that if your son is into trains there is nothing like the Durango Colorado to Silverton Colorado run and you should do it at all costs. Supposedly you’ll recognize scenes from many Westerns and have a chance to visit Mesa Verde. “Neither you nor he will ever forget it.”

Another guy has travelled across Canada and back twice on VIA Rail. He loved it (though it was not recent) and says there is nothing better than traveling by rail: falling asleep to the rhythm of the rails, waking up to scenery rolling by, meals in the dining car. “It’s something everyone should experience at least once.”

Another guy took Amtrak’s Autotrain from VA to FL (overnight trip). They had a cabin for a family of four. He and the kids loved it but his wife wasn’t as enthusiastic. They hit Disney and then Tampa before driving back to Sanford for the train back. His kids (3.5 years and 1.5 years) especially loved dinner in the dining car.

Of course there were negative responses too. Some people complained about the price. One guy said all his Amtrak experiences have been negative. He says the Lake Shore Limited and Maple Leaf never arrived anywhere relatively close to “on time” and on every trip, they ran out of food and drinks and the toilets overflowed and the seating areas were too crowded to relax. Most trips experienced multiple delays in relatively clear weather. Most went unexplained.

And to end on a positive note, one guy said that 10 years ago he went to see a friend in Toledo Ohio. He got the train in Newark down to DC then from there took the train to Chicago (he got off in Toledo) at 2:30 am. Apparently they open the station just for that and close it 15 minutes later. “Thank God the phone booth outside had a yellow pages attached (try finding that in NY) and I was able to call a taxi.” His biggest issue was that rail travel is not smooth but he loved the great views from the dome car of West Virginia mountain towns.

Anyone else able to share a long-haul train experience?

Where would you stop on the Tans-Siberian & Trans-Mongolian Railway?

I’m certain I’ll have to buy a book or get a travel agent’s help or take an organized tour (or maybe more than one of those three) but first I’ll ask here for advice on the Trans-Siberian Railway, specifically the Trans-Mongolian branch. I would choose the Mongolian branch because I have never been to Mongolia.

Where would you stop, stay, and explore on a Trans-Siberian / Trans-Mongolian trip? According to Wikipedia, these are the stops (I don’t think the rivers are actually stops but you could stop as close as possible if the river was something you had to see (and not just looking out the train window).

Moscow

284 Yaroslavl

289 Volga River

957 Kirov

1436 Perm

1816 Yekaterinburg

2144 Tyumen

2706 Irtysh River

2712 Omsk

3332 Ob River

3335 Novosibirsk

4098 Krasnoyarsk

4101 Yenisei River

4516 Taishet

4520 Baikal Amur Mainline junction

5185 Irkutsk

5642 Ulan Ude

Branch off from the Trans-Siberian line (5,655 km from Moscow)

Naushki (5,895 km, MT+5), Russian border town

Russian-Mongolian border (5,900 km, MT+5)

Sükhbaatar (5,921 km, MT+5), Mongolian border town

Ulan Bator (6,304 km, MT+5), the Mongolian capital

Zamyn-Üüd (7,013 km, MT+5), Mongolian border town

Erenhot (842 km from Beijing, MT+5), Chinese border town

Datong (371 km, MT+5)

Beijing (MT+5)

Now the first thing is that I’ll be doing this during my summer vacation so I’ll have time. 20-30 days seems about right but it could be more or less.

As long as I’m in Russia I know I want to see St. Petersburg and Moscow. Irkutsk and Lake Baikal are also supposed to be must-see spots.

Ulan Ude is a Mongolian border town that some tours visit and Ulaanbaatar is Mongolia’s capitol. I don’t actually know hwy the tours would choose Ulan Ude and not visit other border towns.

I’m not desperate to visit China but the train does go to Beijing. I’ve never been there and the flight from there to Seoul would be nice and cheap.

Driving from Jersey to Florida on Thanksgiving

Got this email asking for help – it’s a long shot but maybe a few of you know something about driving from the New York / New Jersey area down south:

I’m going south from NJ to FL with a one night stopover. Last year I believe I was advised to take 95 S to 495 via 295 after the Baltimore tunnel (895?) due to some construction and then get back onto 95. It’s confusing when you don’t go there frequently. Is that still best? I’m leaving very, very early Saturday morning after Thanksgiving.

I hear that sometimes it is quicker to take 78W out to 81S, then take that to 77S then 26S and meet up with 95 right before Florida. It avoids the major metropolitan areas. Also a pretty scenic drive. It depends on when you’ll be passing Baltimore/DC but I’m not sure if there’s ever a good time to pass that area…

Anyway, I was planning on passing DC area around 10 AM or so. Is taking 295 still a good option? I’ll check out 78W – 81S idea since it might save me some Sunday Thanksgiving bottlenecks.

295 past the BWI parkway is under construction, but it’s still an option. Someone said that if the idea is to keep moving then 50 to 301S to 95 is an option. The 81 to 77 to 26 to 95 is going way out of the way (by over 100 miles, or so) and traffic on I-81 can be tough, too.

Maybe I’m leaning toward taking 301 S just after the Del Mem bridge and meeting up with US-50 near the Ches Bay bridge and then split back off on to US-301 S near Crofton, Md and take that down to I-95 (meets up north of Richmond) to miss most of the mess in the DC area.

I dunno — I need help!

Have you ever used Greyhound – If so how was it?

Submitted question: I’m looking at what it will cost to see my parents in the Nashville, TN area over Christmas. I’m traveling from New Jersey. It’s pretty depressing to look at the discounted prices even 5 months out. Anyway right now Greyhound is far and away the cheapest but they say the trip is 25 hours long. If anyone has every used Greyhound for a trip in that length range, how was it?

I’ve collected a few responses. Please add your comments below if you can help.

Response #1: Of course my suggestion is to either take a cheap flight or train ride to your destination. But if you have no choice but to take the bus for budge reasons, here are tips I picked up after riding Greyhound on a consistant basis.

1) Try to schedule taking Peter Pan bus as much as possible. It’s the same company but Peter Pan buses have better and more comfortable seats (leg room is important).

2) Try to enter the bus somewhere in the middle of the line, never early. Reason being, if you get in the bus too early, you can’t control who you sit next too. If you enter the bus somewhere in the middle, you have a decent shot at picking an OK person to sit to.

3) iPod, cd player are a must. Make sure you have enough music to pass the time properly.

4) People who pick YOU to sit next too, they can have body odor, or eat fried chicken and wipe their hands on their shirt to clean…….in the process smell like greesy fried chicken for the entire lenth of your trip.

To combat this, carry an orange in your backpack/jacket pocket. Peel the orange slowly durning your trip if someone sitting near you smells. Each time you peel the orange, the citrus scent will mask most of these odors.

5) Finally, don’t sleep on the bus. Even prior to that horrific Canadian Greyhound story, I never felt it safe to sleep on those buses. If your trip is 20 hours, try to sleep\nap prior to you leave on this trip and stay awake the whole time.

Response #2: took it when I moved from San Fran to NY in ’02. Did it b/c shipping my stuff with greyhound was the cheapest way back then. My horror story is that my bus broke down in the middle of the Utah desert on a 95 degree day, and we had to wait 3 hours standing around an exit ramp for a replacement bus to pick us up. But besides that, the rest of the ride wasn’t bad. For about 80% percent of the way, I could get my own seat, so there weren’t any smell issues, and I didn’t see a lot of sketchy people, though I watched my backpack like a hawk. I remember staying in a hotel in Chicago, where I met a nice Tibetan family from the bus. Still, I’d keep looking for a cheap flight.

Response #3: I’ve taken buses all over and not just greyhound – I often take the “Chinatown bus” from D.C. to NYC when I visit family – that costs as low as $15 each way.

On Greyhound I’ve done countless ~4 hour trips, as well as Nashville to DC, Vegas to LA, and the Ironman Seattle to Denver which topped out at 50 hours. I don’t mind them at all – I don’t get bored very easily (music, reading, or just space out for hours at a time) and I find Amtrak prices just offensive. Flat out absurd. $110 one way D.C. to Penn? Gimme a break. I’ve also ridden all over the country via craigslist “rideshare” including from Denver to Vegas with a guy who turned out to be an amazing person and from San Fran to Denver with a raging hippie who was driving all the way to NY State.

I’ve never had any problems with travel (knock on wood) and enjoy the aberrations that buses or rides with random people tend to bring. Plus since I don’t have any kids, I have little to lose. That said, if you have the coin – train rides are always preferable since they’re faster and you can get bombed in the cafe car.

Response #4: What they don’t tell you when you buy your tickets is that you aren’t reserving a spot on a bus. You’re buying the right to ride that bus, or a bus after that to your destination. If the bus is full at your connection, sorry next bus isn’t for 6 hours. Oh, and we wont tell you what gate ahead of time, that way all the people that show up right before then can beat you to the line when it is announced.

Response #5: I had a “one and done” experience with greyhound and mind you this is only from Albany, NY to Port Authority, NYC which is a 2 hour 30 min ride tops.

I could not stand how crammed in it was and the type of crowd that was on the bus. Some really really weird people on the bus. Crying babies for the whole ride. I ditched my ticket for the way back and opted for Amtrak instead. I could have just had a one time bad experience but I’ve heard from other people, they haven’t faired too much better.

Look into how much an Amtrak ticket would cost you but, because I really wouldn’t wish a 25 hour greyhound trip on anyone.

Anddd…to add to that, there was an article maybe a month ago about a guy getting decapitated on a greyhound bus trip. Obviously that’s pretty extreme, but it’s not suprising.

So I did some research for you. Looks like you can fly round trip for about $300, not including car service to Newark or Phily airport if necessary. You could also rent a car and drive yourself down there. Anything is better than a 25 hour Greyhound bus trip.

OK, add your comments if you have anything to share.