Trains versus buses — which is better? (The List)

Written by on September 29, 2010 in Blog, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, Travel Tips - 10 Comments

Given the fantastic experiences I had on the trains through the Balkans, I decided to write-up a pros/cons list of taking the bus versus taking the train. Both can be good. Both can be bad. Often times, at least in the Balkans, trains are the less expensive option, so when watching the budget, they are the only mode of transport that can work.

Buses are better because:

1. They don’t have to stop at an entrance to a tunnel for 40 minutes so a train going the opposite direction can pass through.

2. Most times (except in the Balkans), you have an assigned seat. That means the person next to you has an assigned seat, too. You don’t have to sit and silently pray to be the lucky couchette that doesn’t fill up. (Every train I have been on has had one couchette, for some reason or other, that has remained blissfully near-empty).

3. There aren’t sliding glass doors where people in the small aisle can glare at you while they think you are sleeping or reading your book.

4. No one can come into your little bus aisle. On trains, people come into your couchette in the middle of the night.

5. There (most of the time) is air-con.

6. There are stops for food and drink.

7. The toilets aren’t from the 1970s. Yes, most buses don’t have the toilets on-board open, but when you stop for #6, you get to use a REAL restroom. Granted, you have to pay, but is a small fee to know you won’t get some rare disease or have to dodge the grime and gross that comes with toilets that are never cleaned on the train.

8. The lights on the buses turn off at night. You don’t have to wait for everyone in a couchette to finish reading, word puzzles, etc. to turn the light off. The bus driver does it for you. And then, if you WANT a light on, you have your own little light you can turn on.

9. If you stop for a long period of time you can get off of the bus, and tell the driver you are doing so. On trains, good luck finding the conductor.

10. You don’t have to lift your heavy bag into the storage compartment above. It won’t fit. Instead, it goes below (sometimes for a small fee), but you are gloriously rid of the extra baggage until you arrive at your destination.

11. You don’t have to worry about avoiding eye contact. No one is sitting in front of you and facing you. The only thing you can stare at is the scenery out your window, or the back of the person’s head who is sitting on front of you.

12. The guy in the food car can’t blare his loud polka-style music so everyone the next car over can hear. There is no food car on the bus.

13. At stops, you have a selection of food. On the train, you have a choice of a few very overpriced sandwiches, none of which are actually filling or tasty.

14. Unless there is a problem with the bus, every time you stop, or go down a hill, or wind around a mountain, you don’t damage your ear drums with the high-pitched scraping of the brakes.

15. Buses take less time to get to the final destination than trains.

Trains are better because:

1. You can walk around.

2. You can’t watch the conductor and hope the person doesn’t fall asleep. You just have to assume the person won’t.

3. You can use the toiled on board. At your own risk. And wash your face … if you trust the water coming out of the faucet. If there is water coming out of the faucet.

4. You get off of the road and get to see some beautiful and untouched parts of the world.

5. If people speak your language in your couchette, you can have a conversation. Or a party.

6. Trains are cheaper (at least in the Balkans).

7. You don’t have to worry about traffic.

Which do you prefer and why?

About the Author

Diana Edelman is a travel writer and expat currently residing in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She is a former career breaker and long term solo traveler. Today, she helps promote responsible elephant tourism and is the co-founder of #RTTC, a weekly chat on Twitter focusing on responsible tourism. When she isn’t writing, Diana handles the PR and social media for Save Elephant Foundation, which runs the popular Elephant Nature Park. Her writing as appeared in About.com, Thought Catalog, The Huffington Post, Matador Network, Travel + Escape, Luna Luna, Vegas Seven, World Nomads, Viator, CheapOair, OneTravel and more.

10 Comments on " Trains versus buses — which is better? (The List) "

  1. Guido Claessen September 29, 2010 at 2:18 pm · Reply

    What I prefer all depends on the place, price, time and distance. Sometimes it’s the bus, sometimes the train. And of course sometimes the airplane, and usually my car :)

    In Western Europe it’s actually the opposite from Eastern Europe when it comes to speed and price: trains are generally faster, but more expensive. When it comes to travelling overnight, I think there’s really no other choice than the train, since I can’t sleep on buses.

  2. Camels & Chocolate September 29, 2010 at 5:28 pm · Reply

    Trains, hands down. I get super carsick on buses, plus there’s the no bathroom issue, as well (as a lot of them don’t have a loo). I just love the whole concept of train travel, too! I wish we did more of it here in the US. Every time, Scott and I take a train out to visit his parents in Sacramento, it’s a major fail–it takes twice the time it does to drive from San Francisco, not to mention is $30 per person each way!

    • The Adventures of D October 25, 2010 at 1:35 pm · Reply

      I do like the trains a lot, but going thru E. Europe, I think the buses were better — faster, more comfortable, less stressful. But, any other time, I am a train girl!

  3. Andi September 30, 2010 at 7:24 am · Reply

    Trains trains trains!!! I find them to be so unbelievably peaceful. I used to love taking the train from NYC to DC. I arrived in such a great mood. Like I had just visited the spa LOL.

    • The Adventures of D October 25, 2010 at 1:34 pm · Reply

      They are sooo peaceful!!! I love them, just not in Eastern Europe. :)

  4. Natalie - Turkish Travel Blog. October 3, 2010 at 7:27 am · Reply

    I am not really a lover of either. Having being in Turkey yourself, you will know that public toilets on bus trips are disgusting!!!

    Train travel is also a bit ad hoc unless you are traveling to and from a major city.

    For me, it is the plane definitely.

    • The Adventures of D October 25, 2010 at 1:33 pm · Reply

      Planes are great!!! I think after traveling through Eastern Europe for so long I got used to less than nice toilets. But you are right, some of the stops in Turkey have really foul facilities. There were a few times I wanted to shower :)

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