October 17, 2019

Planes, Trains and Chicken Trucks

Waiting on the train…

How do you get from point A to B? This past weekend, we turned in our rental car and made the transition from dangerous foreign driver in a strange land, to being a wandering, car-dodging tourist on foot in urban London.

To be sure, we breathed a sigh of relief when we successfully inserted the car at its final resting place at Gatwick airport, handing it over unscathed. But leaving the realm of the independent driver also means giving up all the perks that go with it. No more sprawling out, and simply throwing the overflow gear and groceries ‘in the car…’ our lives must once again compress into what we can carry under our own power. No more leaving when we’re good and ready and driving out to that remote, hard to get to monastery on a cliff; we’re now at the whim of the idiosyncrasies of the local transit schedule, and our explorations limited to wherever it happens to terminate.

Of course, there are a trade-offs fro the better. Not having a car to worry about is a huge stress (and financial!) relief. No more hunting for parking spots. No more hearing a loud crash outside your window at night, and wondering what state the parked rental car is in. Plus, mass transit means lots more exercise. True story: we’ve got one of those new-fangled apps on our phone that tracks how many steps you’ve taken, and we noticed a distinct upward trend when we’re carless. And that’s despite the fact that we make an effort to run several times a week. When we rent a car, we inadvertently revert to couch-potato-ism.

At very least, mistakes made navigating the mass transit system usually entail snafus such as hoping on the wrong train, and while irritating, are much less consequential than errors made when driving. Plus, I tend to visually explore my environment lots more on foot, whereas driving, I have a laser focus on what’s coming at me next. Chris Hatfield’s cardinal rule for astronauts (link) to look two steps ahead at ‘what can kill me next?’ is also a good rule for travelers.

I also feel we have more fun, meet more people and have more overall adventure on public transport than driving. How many solo monotonous car journeys really stand out? Do you look at getting from here to there as a meandering adventure, or an unwelcome aggravation, something to ‘get it over with’ as soon as possible?

One of our most memorable trips when we circled the world back in 2007 was the slow boat down the river from Battambang to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Now, we hadn’t even planned on visiting Battambang. A series of missteps landed us in Cambodia on Chinese New Year, and getting from the border to Angkor Wat became something of a weeks’ long adventure. But we got a good look at everyday Cambodian life, and made friends we keep up with to this day.

Now, we could’ve simply flown from Bangkok to Siem Reap in a day, saw the temples, snapped some pictures, and that would’ve been that. And yes, we have taken the direct route on occasion, say, to fly straight from Lima into Cuzco, Peru, rather than face a 20 hour death bus over the mountains. But it’s the folks you meet along the way, the locals who will probably never own a car or see their name on an airline ticket, that we remember the most.

Well, those are our thoughts for this week. Hey, we just reserved our next Air BnB stay in Bath, UK and airline ticket from Manchester back to Gibraltar for our three month stay back in Spain; we now know where the next roof over our heads will be all the way out until 2017, the farthest out we’ve known for some time .


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