Transportation Modes: Our Top 20

Transportation Modes Around the World

It’s not about the destination, but rather the journey . . . or something like that.  Getting around in an unfamiliar place can be a challenge. Add to that a different language and foreign currency, and a trip from Point A to Point B might seem daunting at times. Nevertheless, when we look back, the way we’ve gotten to a particular destination is sometimes just as interesting as the destination itself. Below is a list, in no particular order, of some interesting transportation modes we’ve encountered on our travels.

Tuk Tuk transportation mode

Tuk Tuk, Laos

  1. Tuk Tuk/Auto Rickshaw/MotoTaxi

    These three-wheeled, motorized vehicles can (usually) get you where you need to go quickly and economically. They are used like taxis, and price should be negotiated before you get in. They can be found in different forms all over Southeast Asia, parts of Central and South America, China, India and beyond. In places like Bangkok, a ride in a tuk tuk is on every tourists to-do list. Do some research on what you should pay for a short ride. If you don’t, just be ready to pay up, and think of it as one of your “experiences.”


    Mokoro, Okavango Delta, Botswana


  2. Mokoro

    A dug-out canoe used in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Built from a single ebony, sausage or teak tree, this craft took us through the delta to view some of Africa’s amazing animals. We were bush camping for a few days in the delta, and the mokoro was our only transportation mode. A “poler” steers the boat standing with a long pole and pushing off the bottom of the shallow waterways. This is MUCH more difficult than it looks. I know. I tried. (TM)

    Bamboo Railway

    Bamboo Railroad, Cambodia

  3. Bamboo Railway

    There’s only one of these left that we know of, in Battambang, Cambodia.The famous bamboo train (Norrie) started in the 1980s, inspired by the small vehicles used by the rail workers to make repairs.  Roads were terrible at the time, and people were struggling. The bamboo platforms on wheels were strong, and built for minimum cost. They run along the old, French-era single track. We had a blast on our ride!

    Reed Boats

    Totora Reed Boats, Lake Titicaca, Peru

  4. Reed boats

    On Lake Titicaca in Peru you may come across Las Islas Flotantes de los Uro (Floating Islands of the Uro). This floating village is made of the totora reed (a cattail type of rush). The totora reed is also used to make the homes the people live in, as medicine, to make handicrafts to sell to tourists, and more.  When we visited, we took a ride in a totora boat.

    School Bus

    Bus to Choroni, Venezuela

  5. School Bus

    Similar to the ubiquitous chicken bus in Guatemala and parts of Central America, a converted school bus is used in Venezuela to make the trip over the mountain from Maracay to Choroni (Puerto Colombia). The buses are old Bluebird school buses that have been outfitted with new custom paint jobs, stickers, colorful lights and a sound system that leaves your ears ringing.  Fearless drivers lay on the air horn around each blind curve as you make your way up and over the mountain. There are some beautiful views, if you can stand to keep your eyes open.

    Overland Truck

    “Shaggy,” somewhere in Namibia

  6. Overland Safari Truck

    On our journey from Zambia through Botswana, Namibia and on to South Africa, we traveled in an overland safari vehicle named “Shaggy.” These vehicles are put together with many of the inside pieces from a bus (seats, etc.) but with the passenger compartment separated and raised in the back. The driver and guide sit in front in the cab, and communicate to the passengers via an intercom system. Under the main compartment is storage for tents, food and other gear.

    Longtail Boat

    Longtail Boat, Bangkok, Thailand

  7. Longtail Boat (Water Taxi)

    Native to Southeast Asia, these craft use a second (or third or fourth)-hand automobile engine to maneuver through rivers and canals. The hull is long and narrow, usually like a canoe, but they can be up to 30 meters (100 feet) long. The drive shaft is extended out behind the boat, with the propeller on the end, giving the longtail its distinctive look. In Bangkok, watch your head, some of the canals are narrow and boats pass under low bridges. It sure beats Bangkok traffic though.


    Hanoi, Vietnam


  8. Motorbike

    Known as Xe ôm in Vietnam, Ojek in Indonesia, Motoconcho in the Dominican Republic, and Motodup in Cambodia, motorcycle taxis typically carry one or two passengers. Some are licensed and wear a special vest or official uniform. Others are completely freelance. Most commonly, you can just wave one down and haggle the driver down to a decent price.


    Siem Reap, Cambodia

  9. Bicycle

    Probably the most widespread of all vehicles across the globe. We have rented bikes in nearly every country we’ve visited.  Prices range from up to $20 dollars an hour to as little as one dollar for a whole day. This was the case in the photo above, Siem Reap, Cambodia, very cheap, though the bike did lack brakes!

  10. Shared Car/Jeep/Van

    Also common all over the world, shared vehicles are always an adventure. From long-hauls to shorter circuits around town, this transportation mode often requires some strategic planning. Choose your seat wisely or you may find yourself in an unintentional hours-long game of Twister. One example is the Songthaew: These are usually a pick-up truck with open sides and back. You enter through the rear and sit on a bench that runs along either side of the vehicle. They can be used as a private or shared taxi, but more likely they are a shared ride along a predetermined route. That doesn’t mean there are set stops though, so be sure to shout if you need to get out!

    Camel Cart

    Camel Cart, Bikaner, India

  11. Beasts

    In some places, camels, horses and donkeys are the most common people-carriers. Our favorite experience was in Bikaner, India, where we rode out into the Thar desert by camel and spent the night with a family there. Beasts don’t just carry people though. They work hard transporting all sorts of goods and materials.


    Campervan, New Zealand

  12. Campervan

    When traveling in Australia and New Zealand, these are the vehicle of choice. Campgrounds are very well-kept and affordable. Unlike the larger motor home or RV, campervans tend to be smaller and lack a toilet or shower. There is also not usually separation between driving and sleeping spaces. Our campervan in New Zealand was a converted Nissan Vanette, and we lived quite comfortably in it for about a month. There was space for bags under the bed, and from the back you could access a table, chairs, a cook-stove and kitchen items.

  13. Funicular

    Also known as a cliff railway, the funicular involves both cables and a track, taking people up steep mountainsides that could never be climbed by a traditional train. The key is that there are two cars. The descending car helps pull the ascending car up. One of our favorite examples: the tram leading to Victoria Peak in Hong Kong was one of the first funiculars in Asia (opening in 1888). The steepest part is a 48% grade! Park of the Hakone circuit in Japan is covered by the Hakone Tozan Cable Car (箱根登山ケーブルカー Hakone Tozan Kēburukā).

    Cgo Yong

    Robot Cow, Cambodia


  14. Cgo yong

    Found in Cambodia, this is nothing more than an engine welded onto a wooden frame. The name, literally translated, means robotic cow. It is used to transport both people and goods.

  15. Maglev

    Maglev is short for magnetic levitation. Maglev trains basically float over tracks, with magnets creating both lift and thrust. In Shanghai, we rode this transportation mode to the airport on our way to catch a flight to Hong Kong.  We were traveling during peak hours, so it ONLY went about 190 mph. Had it been off-peak, we would have hit about 275mph!


    Hagglund at Antarctic Center, New Zealand

  16. Hagglund (Bandvagn)

    This all-terrain vehicle was fist developed in Sweden in the 1970s for its army’s use in harsh conditions and over extreme terrain. The vehicle has tracks like a tank and is made up of two units with a pivot point in the middle. Near Christchurch, NZ, you can experience the Hagglund being put through its paces at the Antarctic Center as you cross the ice, go up and down muddy hills and through the water.

    donkey cart transportation mode

    Donkey Cart, Gili Air, Indonesia

  17. Donkey Cart

    For those who can’t or more likely don’t wish to carry their luggage to their guesthouse, the donkey cart is available in the Gili Islands (Trawangan, Meno and Air) of Indonesia.


    Shinkansen, Japan

  18. Shinkansen

    The bullet trains are a network of high-speed trains connecting major cities in Japan. They are known for punctuality (you can…and people do…set your watch by the arrivals and departures), comfort, speed and efficiency.  A Japan Rail Pass is highly recommended if you want to take full advantage of this excellent long distance option.

    Cable Car

    Gifu, Japan

  19. Cable Car/Gondola

    Cable Cars are used to get people up to the top of steep mountains/slopes or across bodies of water. Large windows provide spectacular views. Some of our favorites: Hakone Ropeway, Japan; the Teleférico de Mérida, Venezuela (the highest at 4765 meters and longest (12.5 km) cable car of the world; and the Table Mountain Cableway in Cape Town, South Africa (with a rotating floor).

    Propeller Plane

    Nasca Lines Flight, Peru

  20. Small Propeller Plane

    The definition is obvious. Our favorite rides? Ciudad Bolivar to Canaima (the start of the trek to Angel Falls), Venezuela; over the Okavango Delta, Botswana; Caracas to Los Roques, Venezuela; over the Nasca Lines, Peru; Cape Cod to Boston, Massachusetts!

About the author

Tamara and Donny have wandered together since 2004, with no cure for their insatiable wanderlust. They write about discovering new destinations including beautiful photography, plus budget travel tips and how to give back through travel.