The plane is off limits

A world tour with public transport

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Traveling the world by public transport - is that possible? Sure, we say! The plane is no longer an option for us. Reason enough to worry about sustainable travel and what we like so much about it.

Travel the world sustainably? That's fine!

We have been traveling to and through Asia for a year now, always by land . We started this trip with many questions: Can you always find a transport? How long will it take to get from A to B? How much does it cost? And what about security? We soon noticed that yes, traveling overland works! So far, we've always felt faster than expected, nicer than expected and safe.

After 12 months on the road , we came through countries that are easier to travel to and others where travel by public transport is more complicated and exhausting. In Iran we were pleased with an excellent network of comfortable intercity buses and good and fast train connections. In Tajikistan, on the other hand, this was out of the question - only jeeps, crammed to the ceiling, drove to the larger towns of the Pamir Mountains on bumpy roads.

What has now become normal when traveling overland: it takes time! Six hours on the train through Germany? We drove from Augsburg to Hamburg or Berlin and almost completely crossed the country. Six hours on an Indian train? A relaxed half-day trip, we don't even have to take the night train. Our perception of time and distances has changed over the course of our trip and with local conditions.

Just recently, we took an Indian night train from Hampi to Hyderabad. 530 kilometers for which the train took 11½ hours. We chose the “AC 3” category, in which six people share their compartment, just like the old sleeping cars of Deutsche Bahn. The difference is that they are not closed compartments, but are open to the aisle and are only separated from the next compartments by partitions.

There is no escape on the train or bus

With us in the compartment, Bharti, 39, was on the way back home. She was so happy to finally get female reinforcements in our male-dominated six-person compartment that she sat on our bed with us. The train rattled through the dawning Indian night and we had plenty of time to have a nice chat. Bharti told of an exciting walk through the Indian jungle and I could feel the adrenaline still pulsing through her veins, she was still so excited.

In addition to the story, I got to see many interesting photos from their adventure. But bedtime was getting closer and I couldn't suppress a yawn despite the exciting entertainment. The next morning at 5:00 a.m. Bharti said goodbye to me, she got out. Fortunately, we had already exchanged numbers the night before.

When I arrived at our accommodation in Hyderabad, I received a message from Bharti. She invited us to her house for dinner, husband and son were also there. On the day of our departure we met her and spent a great afternoon together. Bharti had thought a lot about what the two foreigners would like to eat and so there was pasta without a single chili pepper, even chili flakes! We were touched. Bharti and her husband took us to the train station in the afternoon, because with another night train we continued our journey from Hyderabad towards the Indian east coast.

There was no Bharti on the train and so there was enough time to review this nice encounter. Sebastian and I now agree that we only make many great encounters because we sit together with the people for hours on the train or bus. We also meet nice people in the city and talk to them. But usually someone has to go again soon and the conversation ends. There is no escape on the train or bus. And with the long journey times, it is possible to interrupt the conversation for a nap and resume it later.

We remember many such nice things: For example, Mr. and Mrs. Basu, who enjoyed our delicious home-cooked lunch on the train through the north of India, even though we ourselves had a whole bag of provisions with us. Or Nian, the great Chinese boy who traveled the same route with us on the train with his father and grandfather, and with whom we played a fun >

Then there was Mashroof, the driver of a “shared taxi” in Pakistan , who asked us to wait a little while and brought a huge bag of walnuts for us as a gift. Or the nice passengers in the Chinese train crammed to the ceiling. We didn't find a common >

On 2½ seats through the mountains

And in the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan? Did we choose the jeeps on bumpy roads there? No. We were lucky here and found a ride in another traveler and his Toyota van. With Thomas from Liechtenstein we drove through the Pamir for four weeks, shared the narrow driver's cab of his 2½-seater from morning to evening and made compromises every day. Bartang Valley? Or stay on the main slope?

For this we were rewarded with the freedom to be able to make stops anywhere along the way, because that's the only thing that sometimes falls by the wayside when traveling overland by public transport: the bus driver follows a schedule and the system collapses when we start would hold the many places that are interesting for the different passengers. So sometimes it happens to us that we would like to stop but cannot because the bus, train or “shared taxi” simply continues. Fortunately, we were different on the Pamir Highway and we made full use of this freedom.

So why not travel with your own vehicle?

For us, traveling with our own vehicle is out of the question. On our carpooling in the Pamir Mountains, we had to take forced breaks from time to time due to flat tires or minor repairs, and drove long detours in Uzbekistan to find diesel somewhere. For every overnight stay or every day trip without a car, a safe place for the vehicle must be found. And the purchase price before the start of the trip is more than we have spent on our whole trip for two.

In addition to these considerations of practicability, costs and time savings, it is also important to us to be on the road with the smallest possible ecological footprint. Because, of course, our proportionate fuel consumption in a public bus, which we share with many other people, is significantly lower compared to our own vehicle.

Instead of a packed car, we are flexible with two backpacks - one large and one small - and can choose our means of transport for each route. We travel with small luggage and therefore have to worry about much less than a car and its contents. Above all, we can look out of the window while driving, instead of torturing ourselves through Mumbai's downtown traffic or avoiding potholes the size of tires in slalom.

Traveling by public transport from A to B usually works well. It only happened once or twice in a year that we had relied on a bus and, surprisingly, it did not drive. We had to reschedule. But on the other hand - flights can also be canceled without notice.

At the beginning we still thought that if traveling overland would not work at all, we would fly if necessary. After 31,316 kilometers by road and rail, we know that traveling overland is excellent. The plane is no longer an option for us. We no longer want to do without traveling from one country to another, crossing national borders, adapting to new currencies and new >

  1. Phylipi Leal

    “Slowly, consciously and with fun. " Very good!
    Congratulations on this great story. I hope people have a day in Germany where public transport will also talk to each other!

    Greetings and keep going!

    • Dear Phylipi,
      thank you for your comment! Yes, you can sometimes hear a pin drop in the Deutsche Bahn, it is so quiet ... ;-)
      We are keeping our fingers crossed that you will soon find a talkative next-generation seat in the German public transport system and send you greetings from Tibet
      Leo Sebastian

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