a gps in a rental car while getting around on a vacation in Hawaii
Travel Tips

Getting around on vacation: how to decide which way is best?

Choosing the perfect kind of transportation to use on your vacation is no joke.

Here I mean getting around at your destination, not getting to it. Just so you know.

There are just so many ways of getting around to choose from, and each of them has its pros and cons!

Do you want to have almost complete control of your time by having a rental car or have a chance to just relax and enjoy the views on a bus?

Do you want to walk in the city and find some hidden gems or quickly get to your next spot by taking a taxi so you can enjoy it longer?

Well, the perfect way of getting around on your vacation depends on many factors, so again, like with the accommodation, we can’t tell you – do this!

But there are some questions that you can answer that will help you decide which is the best for you.

First, though, let’s look at some of the more popular modes of transportation that you can use on your vacations and their respective pros and cons.

Shall we?

What are the ways of getting around on a vacation?

There are so many different modes of transportation on vacation that you can use that, obviously, I cannot mention them all. So here go the most popular ones – and the pros and cons associated with them.

Let me again say – I’m not talking about getting to your destination, I’m talking about getting around when you’re there already.

Renting a car

Mt Teide at nighttime
This picture of Teide was taken after sunset on Tenerife – only possible if you have a rental car

Renting a car gives you a lot of freedom to move around how and when you desire. Having a car is especially nice if you need or want to travel long distances, run some errands, or you want to explore more places at your own pace.

The cons of renting a car are that it can get quite expensive. Even if the daily rate is not that high, you have to keep in mind that there will most probably be a deposit held on your card in case of an accident or you need to get insurance to avoid the deposit, then there are fuel costs, plus there might be paid roads. Don’t forget about parking fees as well!

And, if you are travelling with children, you either need to take a car seat with you or rent one – for an additional cost, of course.

We personally wouldn’t rent a car in a big city. With the parking situation being as it is in cities and the traffic, it just doesn’t make sense. That’s why in Japan we went with using public transport.

But on the other hand, it’s much nicer to have a car when you’re out of a big city. For example, Patagonia is one of the places where having your own rental car is the best way to get around. Everything is a long distance away and there are so many views to enjoy just randomly on the side – or in the middle of – the road!

Note that you might need a credit card (not a debit card) to rent a car in certain places, for example, Italy.

Using public transportation

view of mount Fuji above the clouds
Only time we saw Fuji in Japan was from a bus

Buses, trains, trams, trolleybuses, old town trolleys, boats… lots of choices.

As I said already, in Japan we got around by using public transport. Since most of our time was spent in bigger cities, it just didn’t make sense to rent a car. Plus, it was much faster to take a Shinkansen to get from one big city to another. Budget-wise it worked out better as well.

Depending on how big your group is, public transport might work out quite a lot cheaper than renting a car. Especially if you plan to have quite a few days where the car will not be needed, like when going on a multi-day trek or if you plan to spend multiple days in wellness or a spa.

The thing with public transport is, though, that you have much less wiggle room with time. The transport might depart at a time that is inconvenient – especially in the evenings. On many occasions, we’ve had to leave places earlier than we’d like to because the last train or bus was departing. Examples of these times are Cinque Terre in Italy and Côte d’Azur in France. When researching our trip to Patagonia, we decided to rent a car because otherwise there was a chance that we’d have to rush things to make it to the last transport.

Another thing is the stops or stations that you’d need to use might be inconveniently located which would result in a lot of walking or many transfers, thus losing time that you could otherwise spend sightseeing.

Taxi or a rideshare such as Uber

a couple in fron of the Golden Gate bridge
Took a taxi in San Francisco to go and see the Golden Gate Bridge. Otherwise, we managed with the public transport and walking!

If you’re not willing to rent a car or take public transport, using a taxi or rideshare is another viable way of getting around on a vacation.

You get the control that having a car gives you – leave when you want because you don’t have to adhere to a strict schedule and go where you want because you are not limited to bus stops. And, unlike when having a rental car, you don’t have to worry about finding a parking spot in a busy city.

But there is a downside as well. Taking a taxi, obviously, is much more expensive than using public transport. And you have to be careful because there are many drivers that will take tourists the long way round just to earn more money.

Another thing is that taxis and such are a more convenient way of getting around if your vacation is in a major city, not in a more rural location. There might not be any taxis available in smaller towns!

Go on a guided tour

a car from a tour company which was our way of getting aroun on vacation on Salar de Uyuni
A picture from our trip to Salar de Uyuni – we went on a private tour, as it was safer.

A bit of a different way of getting around on vacation, but one that gives you a way to avoid pretty much all of the stress of planning out activities, like how to get where you want to go, where to eat, how long you need to spend there…

You just need to figure out what you want to do and sign up for tours. There are many companies available that have tour guides and transfers included in the price, and some hotels even offer tours with your stay.

Another good reason to take a tour is if it would just be too stressful and dangerous to do the driving and planning yourself. That’s why we went on a guided tour through the Salar de Uyuni and the lagoons by it – there’s no phone network and the place is pretty much completely uninhabited. It would just be too dangerous.

Plus, we’ve met some really cool people on some of the tours.

The downside to this way of getting around on vacation is that you have to follow the group. When it’s time to leave, you need to leave even if you’d like to look around more, and you need to stay with the group even if the place where you have stopped doesn’t really interest you.

Walk or ride a bicycle

panorama of Florence
Florence is one of those places where everything is close enough together so that you can just walk

Walking or riding a bicycle are actually ways of getting around on a vacation that let you enjoy the city more personally, so to say.

There are even some hotels that offer borrowing bicycles for free, so this way of getting around might be completely free for you.

They are much slower than others, of course, so if your schedule is crazy packed it might not be feasible. But still, I’d suggest walking for at least a part of a day and enjoying the place like a local.

Travelling by foot or bicycle sometimes takes you to some off the beaten path neighbourhoods. Who knows, you might find a hidden gem somewhere!

Flying

Unexpected, right?

But sometimes it’s the best way to get around when you’re already on a vacation, not just one of the best ways of getting to your destination.

For example, when travelling around Chile, we took many flights – Santiago to Easter Island, then back and on to the Atacama, back, and to Patagonia and back!

It would have been impossible or inconvenient to travel any other way.

Even in Europe, it’s sometimes better to fly around a country if you want to see many “corners” of it – for example, in Italy.

Questions (and more) that will help you figure out how to get around on a vacation

Before you decide on which is the best way of getting around on your vacation, basically, whether you should rent a car or not, answer these simple questions. They will help you narrow down the options that would be the best for your particular case.

Of course, don’t forget that you don’t have to choose just one way of getting around on vacation – you can mix and match, so to say, as well!

Time? Comfort? Control? Cost?

a couple walking on Sentiero degli Dei in Italy - good to visit with public transport
Picture of us from Sentiero degli Dei in Italy – it was convenient to use the public transport, as we hiked the point-to-point trail.

First thing you have to figure out really!

What is most important to you?

Would you like to save on transportation?

Does the cost matter less than the control that you gain?

Do you not want to plan but just enjoy?

How long does it take to get from one place to another?

Some of these things I’ll expand on in the next questions, but maybe you already actually know what’s the transportation that you want to use?

How much are you willing to spend?

When checking public transport prices remember that in many places you can buy the daily or multi-day passes that might work out cheaper or save you time. In Tokyo, though, it cost less to use single tickets.

When renting a car don’t just look at the cost per day – there are usually some additional costs that you have to take into account. I already mentioned some of them – deposit, parking, fuel, road costs etc. But on the other hand, if your group is big enough, it might be actually cheaper to rent a car.

Transportation is usually the costliest part of a vacation. So, how much are you willing to spend on it?

How precise is the public transport – does it depart on schedule?

Shinkansen in Osaka station
The public transport in Japan is very, very precise.

In some Southern countries, such as Italy and France, the public transport schedule is more as a suggestion. If the bus comes on time and departs on time, it’s almost a miracle!

Once, in France, we went to a train attendant with the schedule and asked if the train will come, and he laughed and mimicked tearing the paper apart, haha. To be fair, that day there was a strike of train conductors, but, well, I’m pretty sure there are more days when they strike than they are when they work…

On the other hand, in Japan, our Shinkansen was 30 seconds late, and the conductor was bowing and apologizing so profusely! So there you can be 99,9% sure that the transport you need will be there when you want it to be. (Unless there’s an unexpected snowfall which paralyzes the whole region… which, yes, happened to us. Our travels are fun!)

So before you decide on using public transport, make sure to research how reliable it is.

How much do you value the comfort of coming and going when you want?

renting a car is one of our favorite ways of getting around on a vacation
In Patagonia, it’s much nicer to have a rental car

If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like strict schedules, I’d opt for a rental car. Or a taxi or walking if you’re in a city with bad public transport.

We’re this kind of people.

That’s why in very few cases we’ll go on organized tours – if we find a place interesting, we often stay there longer than planned. Or, if it’s boring, we’d rather spend the time somewhere else.

For example, in Hawaii when driving the Crater Road, we stopped by a lava tube and saw two tour buses there already. We just decided to drive on and stop by the tube on the way back. If you’re on a tour that’s not really an option. Or, as I said, if the weather is bad like in Patagonia, you just have to endure it until the next bus comes.

Do you just want to enjoy the sights and not worry about anything else?

Well, then a tour might be the best option for you!

We went on quite a few tours while in the Atacama Desert in Chile.

I already mentioned the Salar de Uyuni tour, but there were some others that we went on. Those were day trips, so we just enjoyed everything, listened to the guides, and went back to our hotel afterwards.

How far from each other are the places that you want to see?

Kyomizy dera temple in Kyoto in autumn folliage
Quite often when walking, it’s possible to stumble on some nice views

If it’s close enough to walk, why use public transport?

If it takes multiple days to get to the place with public transport or a rental car, can you fly instead?

If the places are rather far from each other, it might be convenient to fly there or take a night bus.

Sometimes the best way to make a decision is to just check what options you have!

Last words about transportation on vacation

Sometimes, it’s really easy to decide on how to get around on a vacation. Other times it’s quite a headache.

Remember, though, that just because you have a car rented, it doesn’t mean that you can’t walk or take a bus or taxi instead!

And even if you think that you will not need a car, don’t hesitate to rent it last minute (budget permitting, of course). We had to do that on Easter Island, as the weather turned out such that our plan of riding a bicycle would have been bad. Plus, the horses on the road looked scary, haha.

What’s your favourite way of getting around on a vacation?


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Kristine is the owner and main blogger of Wanderlust Designers. Her main goal is to show everyone that you can travel and see the world even when working full time.

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