In the case of choosing the best mode of travel for your next adventure or business trip, there’s rarely just one transportation option available. While it’s a given that a plane can travel up to 600 miles in just over an hour, it takes some time to actually get you and your luggage up in the air. Trains are much faster than buses, but they’re not available in all areas and can be very costly in some countries. Buses are the slowest mode of travel, but at the same time they rarely experience delays, require next to no boarding time, and are absolutely the most affordable option in every country you’ll visit.
So which mode of travel is truly the fastest?
A plane traveling at 570 mph (920 km/h) is certainly the fastest way to get from one end of the planet to the other, if you’re looking at a reasonably long trip that requires several hours of travel time. Airports require you to be at the airport at least an hour ahead of your flight to negotiate check-in, customs, and boarding procedures.
Traffic surrounding the world’s busiest airports typically requires at least an hour of drive time getting to your departure destination. Then, when you reach your final flight destination, it can take anywhere from 30 – 60 minutes just to exit the airport. Planes are fastest for long cross-country trips, or when an ocean and/or several continents separate you from your destination.
Trains move much faster than buses and because there’s no customs involved and little travel time required to get to the station, a train can be an extremely fast way to travel hundreds of miles in a short time. If you hop on an overnight train, the few hours saved by taking a long flight can be negated if you sleep on the train as you normally would at night or bring your work for the day with you while traveling — without all the airport hassle involved with flying.
On the other hand, when traveling in countries like Japan, China, Spain, and France that have high-speed train networks in place, it would be silly to travel by plane if there’s a bullet or maglev available that travels to your destination. High speed trains can reach speeds of 400 mph, while most commercial planes like the 747 top out at 570 mph. Not much difference when you can jump on one of these trains in minutes and be on your way.
Unfortunately, the infrastructure ($$$) required to set up these systems will prevent most countries like the United States, Canada, and the UK from ever adopting high-speed trains as a method of travel.
Buses offer the same benefit of less hassle and departure time that trains do, but are rarely the fastest option. Most people take buses to save money or because trains don’t run in the areas they want to travel to or from. However, it’s important to consider that sleeping for 7 or 8 hours on an overnight bus trip offers much less hassle than a 2 hour flight that quickly turns into 5 or 6 with all the different time-consuming steps it takes to actually get on the plane.
If you have to sleep prior to your trip anyway, the bus might be your most viable option when considering all the time and aggravation involved in traveling by plane, while saving significant money over the cost of a train in most countries. Technically, it’s slower, but if you kill two birds with one stone, such as sleeping while traveling, or skipping the office that day and taking your work with you, technically, you’ll arrive at your destination at the same time you would have if taking the plane or train.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer as to which mode of travel will get you to your destination the fastest. Factors like travel to and from the airport, customs, checking bags, and delays are are a major factor to consider if you believe a plane will get you where you’re going the fastest. They’re mostly ideal for long trips or when traveling to remote destinations.
Trains can be much faster than planes or buses depending on the area you’re traveling to/from. Very fast if high speed networks are in place. They’re also typically more expensive outside of Europe and their highly affordable Eurail network. This is especially true when buying one-time-use tickets as opposed to something like an extended Eurail or Japan Rail pass.
Lastly, buses are a great way to travel and watch the scenery go by at a speed that won’t make you nauseous. They’re also cheaper than planes or trains. They definitely won’t get you where you’re going the fastest, especially over long distances. However, they’re a viable option if you can combine sleep or a day of work with the ride itself.
What’s your favorite mode of travel?