Is Flying Always Preferable to Overland Travel?
by George Rajna
When traveling abroad, the majority of travelers fly between locations with the obvious advantages of speed and convenience despite the far higher costs associated with air transportation. Even though air flights have advantages, going overland between countries can lead to visiting locales that are often overlooked because they are inconvenient to travel to from airports of capital cities.
My wife, Lisa Niver Rajna, and I have been traveling in Asia since July 2012 for well over a year. During our travels throughout countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, India, and Nepal, we use public land transport to meet the majority of our transport needs. As a general rule, we avoid air transport if the trip by land is less than eight hours. The reasoning is that quite a few preparatory hours are necessary to be able to fly. Airports are generally located far out of town both in the departing and arriving cities. Also, people flying must arrive to the airport at least two hours in advance. Therefore, the minimum time necessary to prepare to fly and transfer to the arriving city hotel will take a minimum of four hours, not including flight time. Hence, it makes sense to fly only when land travel time substantially exceeds the time it takes to prepare for and take the flight.
However, even when travel time by land is extensive, the reward of visiting sites and remote towns can easily outweigh the convenience of a flight. For example, while traveling from India to Nepal, we were easily able to reach Buddha’s place of birth, Lumbini, since we arrived by land rather than the distant airport in Kathmandu. A structure that houses a stone marks the spot where Buddha was actually conceived. From Lumbini, we headed to Tansen – an authentic, non-touristy town – situated near a variety of day hike trails. The friendly local people were sincere and curious about international travelers. School children and young adults frequently struck up conversations at restaurants and other establishments that cater to both locals and tourists.
Another example of advantageous overland travel occurred when we traveled by land between the countries of Laos and Cambodia in South-east Asia. The Laos side boasts beautiful scenic jungle islands including Don Det.; this remote island is home to lush jungle, water buffalos and friendly children. In the tropical climate, floating downriver in inner tubes is a pleasant way to spend the afternoon. Not far from the Cambodian side of the boarder is the town of Kratie, famous for viewing the pink river dolphin.
In addition to opening possibilities of traveling to out of the way destinations when traveling overland, travelers are literally able to feel the change from one country to the next as it actually occurs. For example, when we departed India after having traveled there for three months, our arrival by land to the Nepali boarder town Bhairawa located only perhaps ten kilometers from India, was a world away in the manner that people interacted, with an evident and tangible change in the local culture.
Of course, flying between destinations using air transportation has its place in both domestic and international travel. However, with an open mind, time, and a sense of adventure, travelers can take advantage of cheaper land transport to save money and see worthwhile sites at the same time.