Travel Tips for American Missionaries

It’s been several years since I owned a car. Therefore, I mostly depend on public transportation to go from city to city. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things that will be shared in this article. Although much of this information can be helpful when traveling to other nations, I will mainly focus on three types of public transportation available within the U. S.

1) Planes - Obviously flying is a more attractive option when going longer distances. However, security lines became longer after 9/11 as well as the list of things passengers cannot bring aboard an airliner. Check the TSA website if you’re uncertain about what you’re allowed to transport in your luggage.

Speaking of luggage, one of my biggest pet peeves is baggage fees. Nowadays almost every American airline charges $20 or more just to check a suitcase. Some such as Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant also charge for carryon bags. United Airlines will soon charge economy travelers for the use of overhead bins if their carryons won’t fit under the seat.

One exception to all this nickel-and-diming is Southwest Airlines. They allow passengers to check up to two suitcases for free as long as they don’t exceed size and weight limitations. You can also bring a carryon bag plus a personal item (such as a laptop) that will fit under the seat. Another nice thing about Southwest is they won’t charge a fee if you change your schedule plus their fares are comparable and often cheaper than other major airlines.

To make sure your luggage doesn’t exceed an airline’s weight limit, always weigh them at home before heading to the airport. You may want to leave a few pounds to spare in case your airline tries fudging their scales or you acquire extra things at your destination.

2) Trains - It’s unfortunate train travel here isn’t widely available like in Europe. Not every major American city has an Amtrak station. Surprisingly train fares in the U. S. are often higher than air fares.

Amtrak has other drawbacks. They are often not on time plus their cafe food is quite expensive. Eating in the dining car can be a pleasurable experience. But if you want to save money, bring along your own food especially for longer trips. Stopovers on Amtrak are few and very short. You will have little (if any) time to leave the train and eat elsewhere.

One thing I like about Amtrak is they have a more generous baggage policy. Except in selected cities, passengers are allowed to check two bags for free (two more can be checked for $20 each) plus bring two carryons and two personal items. So if you need to transport a bunch of stuff to your destination, Amtrak might be your best option.

3) Buses - Those of you who frequently use Greyhound can probably recall times you said, “I’m never riding the bus again!” Long bus rides can wear a person out. Fortunately Greyhound buses are now equipped with wifi and power outlets. This will help pass the time if you go online a lot. Still I try to avoid overnight trips whenever possible. Usually I don’t sleep well in moving vehicles.

Keep in mind Greyhound buses have overhead bins that are smaller than those on trains and planes. Many carryon bags won’t fit in there. Personally I use a gym bag and pack some of my stuff into a backpack that fits inside. Then when boarding the bus, I remove the backpack before placing that and the gym bag above my seat. That way I can fit more stuff in there without getting slapped with an extra baggage fee.

Like the airlines, Greyhound has become more restrictive regarding luggage. They now allow just one free checked bag under 50 pounds and one carryon under 25 pounds. Megabus has a similar policy but instead of a baggage fee require passengers to buy another ticket if they want to travel with an additional suitcase. Although Megabus fares are often cheaper than Greyhound, passengers sometimes have to wait outside before boarding. This can be uncomfortable in cold weather or if it’s raining.

Another travel option you may want to consider is Craigslist. People offering rides or looking for them post ads in their “rideshare” section. During the last couple years, I traveled from western Iowa to Minneapolis three times via rides found on Craigslist. The cost for gas was much less than if I had taken the bus. Before agreeing to ride with someone you don’t know, find out in advance if they smoke, have room for your luggage, how many pit stops they allow, and if you can be dropped off at a specific destination.  

Regardless of how you travel, look for opportunities to share the gospel with fellow passengers. Sightseeing can be fun but shouldn’t be a distraction from the real reason God may be sending you somewhere.

“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” - 2 Timothy 4:2

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