As the saying goes, it’s all about the journey. And while discount airfares are more widely available than ever before, I find myself seeking passage quite literally a little more down to earth.
Riding the Rails
Every year I pick up my Japan Rail Pass for a week of travel — business and pleasure — along the rails of the Rising Sun. Depending on exchange rates, I spend about $250-300 USD on a 7-day pass that I use to hit Osaka, Nagoya, and Tokyo, plus a couple other cities each year. The high-speed train is faster and more efficient than flying as you can skip all the early check-in rules and security procedures, and with the rail pass you can make plans on the fly. Add up 2 or 3 rail trips and you are already reclaiming the cost of the pass. Plus it works on local lines, such as the JR lines in and around Tokyo, and even a few local ferries and buses.
Eurail passes are also quite awesome. These tend to be a bit more costly so even if you plan on whimsically hopping on and off around Europe, it is worth checking some routes and prices to make sure you are better off with the pass and not just booking individual tickets. We used a 15-travel-day pass and visited cities in Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. The passes easily paid for themselves in this case.
Perhaps not the best solution for anyone prone to seasickness, ferry travel opens up a lot of options. Say you are in Turkey, visiting Izmir or the ruins of Ephesus. A ferry from the island of Chios, just offshore by local ferry from Turkey, offers an overnight ferry cruise to Athens. Get a cabin or sleep on deck and wake up in Greece. A day trip from Helsinki to Estonia is possible on a 3-hour ferry route to Tallinn. And getting back to my Japan Rail Pass love, there is a ferry from Busan, South Korea to Fukuoka, Japan. It’s fast, easy, and puts you a short bus ride from the high-speed rail station.
For all ferry trips, I used AFerry out of the UK. Not only have the gathered most of the major ferry routes into one place, but they also frequently offer better rates than the local ferry companies themselves. I’ve gotten on the Busan-Fukuoka route for half the price shown on the JR Beetle website, for example. AFerry also puts all possible lines out there for comparison. Be aware you must book more than 5 days in advance. But this works and you get a PDF voucher to exchange for your ticket when you arrive: