Renting a Car vs. Taking the Bus or Train: Pros & Cons

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A bus and several rental cars are stopped on the road

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When it comes to planning your next trip, there’s a lot to take into consideration. However, the first step in your journey is always figuring out how you’re getting there, which usually begs the question: Is it better to rent a car or take a bus or train?

Think about what kind of area you’ll be visiting and what matters most on your trip, then weigh the pros and cons of car rental versus traveling by bus or train. At Wanderu, we make it easy to book cheap bus & train tickets, and we also take the hassle out of finding cheap rental cars. So, utilizing our extensive expertise on each of these travel modes, we’ve compiled some ideas to help you decide what would work best for you.

Renting a Car

A traveler drives their rental car on a mountain road

Choosing to rent a car boils down to how much responsibility you want on your trip. Sometimes, cheap rental cars can be hard to come by, which means you have a more significant financial responsibility. You are also responsible for all of the driving. Depending on your plans and needs, that can be a great perk or feel completely overwhelming.

Pros:

  • Independence
    Having a private car at your disposal allows you to travel independently at your leisure. You aren’t dependent on a bus schedule, and you can stop for bathroom or snack breaks whenever the need hits. This is a valuable perk if your travel companions are especially needy (hello, small children).
  • Storage
    Private transportation means private storage for your luggage. Making a stop on your way to your final destination or planning a day trip? You can lock your bags in the car without hauling them around.
  • Weather protection
    A car is ideal for any destination with extreme weather. There’s no waiting for the next train while you stand in the rain, snow, or heat. Instead, you can hop in and crank the AC or seat warmers as you please!
  • Available all hours
    If you’re doing lots of off-hours travel, a rental car can simplify things. You’re not left standing around in a deserted bus station at midnight. You’re not scrambling to make the 4:30 AM train so you can make it to the mountaintop by sunrise.
  • Flexibility
    Did we mention flexibility? You can do what you want, whenever you want, wherever you want. If you’re having a great time somewhere and decide to extend your visit, you don’t have to deal with customer service and hefty change fees. Instead, you just head back whenever you feel like it. Just make sure you return the rental car on time to avoid unnecessary additional expenses.

Cons:

  • Cost
    Renting a car comes at a higher price, and that doesn’t include just the vehicle itself. You’re also paying for tolls, parking, and gas. Don’t forget you may need to cover the car rental insurance as well!
  • Inflexible with changes
    While most car rental options on Wanderu come with free cancellation, many car rental companies have minimal flexibility. If your plans change or you have to cancel your trip, you might lose any deposit you put down.
  • Driving stress
    Big city driving is not for the faint of heart. Neither is long-distance driving across hours and hours of nothingness. You need to be prepared for the challenges that come with driving. And if that’s not something you are up for, taking the bus or train is definitely the better option for you.
  • More stops necessary
    Ready, set, FOCUS. Long drives can be monotonous and make you sleepy. You need to listen to your body and know when it’s time to take a break, which can slow down your travel.
  • Driver responsibility
    The driver situation can make or break the choice to rent a car. If there’s only one driver for a 14-hour trip, you might prefer to travel by bus or train instead of driving. That way, you can avoid exhaustion which can lead to mistakes with fatal consequences.

Taking a Bus or Train

Traveling by bus or train instead of driving means you’re trading one type of freedom for another. You’re indeed completely dependent on the schedule. However, once you board, the responsibility of getting to your destination is completely off your shoulders, and you get to relax and enjoy the journey.

Your travel speed depends entirely on the mode of the train or bus, which is important to weigh against the choice of renting a car. A direct bus or an express train will be much quicker than a bus or train completing a city loop with 17 stops along the way.

Pros:

  • Cheaper
    Public transportation comes with cheaper costs. If you book your trip in advance, you can easily score tickets for as low as $10 or $20. Traveling by bus or train instead of driving means you can spend more money on fun things to do at your destination or splurge for dessert every single night.
 
  • Traveling freedom
    Are you planning a long-haul trip? Your entertainment options are endless! Read a book, watch a movie, crochet, or partake in some above-water basket weaving. Your hands and eyes are free to help pass the trip quickly.

Read more: 7 Free Streaming Services to Watch Instead of Netflix

  • Pass on parking
    No endless searching for parking. No paying for parking. Need I say more?
  • Ideal for nondrivers
    If you don’t have a driver’s license or haven’t driven in years, traveling by bus or train is your golden ticket. You can get where you need to go without the responsibility of driving yourself. Side note: You do need an ID to board the bus or train, so make sure you don’t leave that behind.
  • Fewer accidents
    Statistically speaking, compared to driving, traveling by bus or train is a safe activity. Buses and trains are also bigger and sturdier, so in the unlikely event of an accident you’re well protected.
  • Easy sightseeing
    You have the freedom to enjoy all the sights. It’s perfectly safe to watch the mountains passing or check out the quirky houses along the way when your eyes don’t have to be on the road at all times.

Read more: These Are the 12 Most Scenic Train Routes in the U.S.

Cons:

  • Pre-planning required
    You’ll need to research timetables as well as available bus and train options to find the time and service that best fits your needs. It’ll take some extra work upfront. Fortunately for you, when you book your bus or train trip on Wanderu, you get all available options in one convenient place.
  • Schedule is king
    Speaking of timetables, you’re at their mercy. Your itinerary revolves around the bus or train schedule. That gets especially tricky when you’re using multiple modes of transportation, and you need them to align, so you don’t miss your connection.
  • Must use caution
    Public transportation means interacting with the public. Now, people are generally good and helpful. However, you still have to use caution in keeping yourself and your belongings safe.

There’s never one right answer when it comes to choosing how to travel. However, there is one right answer when it comes to booking that transportation. No matter what you decide, Wanderu makes it easy and cheaper to get where you’re going.

If you plan on taking a train or bus, we offer the lowest prices without any extra fees. If a car rental is what meets your needs, we’ll make that happen with free cancellations on most bookings.

Happy travels!

Travel Safely

At Wanderu, we want to make sure you are equipped with all the information you need to plan a safe trip. Please visit our COVID-19 Travel Guide for the latest tips & advisories.

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About the author
Katie Schuknecht

Katie Schuknecht

Katie resides in her hometown in Kentucky with her husband and daughter, but she loves visiting other corners of the world. Her top 3 favorite adventures include exploring the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns, Australia, the redwood trees in California, and Olympic National Park in Washington state.