February 15, 2024 | Samantha Henman

The Weirdest Ways To Travel


Weirdest Ways To Travel

Surely by this point any seasoned traveler is tired of road trips, train travel, and flying. We’ve heard that even first class can get boring! But of course, those aren’t the only options out there.

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Hovercraft

Remember watching a PBS documentary or news story on TV as and seeing a hovercraft and thinking wow—this is the way of the future? And then they seemed to completely disappear? Well, they didn’t disappear everywhere…

Hovertravel Hovercraft Freedom 90 At Ryde Isle Of Wight Terminal - 2011calflier001, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Alaskan Hovercraft

It turns out that hovercraft still serve an important function in extreme climates. In particular, they’re used in Alaska, since they can float above ice, snow, and water—where more traditional vehicles might have trouble. And Alaska’s not the only place…

Hovercraft-MVPP5Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

The Ferry Hovercraft

Though people wrote them off due to the noise they make, hovercraft are making a comeback as a potential vehicle for mass transportation. One began running as a ferry in 2010 along the Heilongjiang River on the Chinese and Russian border. There’s also one even closer to home.

The Takamatsu L.Willms, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

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Hovertravel

A company called Hovertravel in the UK runs a hovercraft ferry from Southsea, Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight and calls it the fastest ferry service to the island—it takes just ten minutes. The best part? The iconic Union Jack emblazoned across the front.

Hovertravel Solent Flyer, in Ryde, Isle of Wight - 2016Editor5807, CC BY-SA 4.0 , Wikimedia Commons

Freighter Cruising

Sure, you could take a luxurious cruise ship to the port of your choice—but if you’re on a budget and in it for the long haul, did you know that you could also hob aboard a freight ship for your cross-Atlantic or Pacific travel needs? 

Lake Freighter Ojibway (Lower Lakes Towing) - 2008Corey Seeman, Flickr

Freight Travel Characteristics

There’s no pool and I’m not quite sure how good the concierge service is, but freighter cruising does have one thing in common with a cruise: the biggest boat you’ve ever seen. There’s also no wi-fi and few other passengers to make friends with. Oh, and it’ll take months to get to your destination. But what better way to unplug.

Lake Freighter Saginaw (Lower Lakes Towing) - 2008Corey Seeman, Flickr

Bamboo Train

What has two rails, a lightweight design, and no brakes? Cambodia’s bamboo train, of course. Also called a norry or nori, the bamboo train at its height was cheap, fast, frequent, somewhat haphazard, and probably quite dangerous.

Bamboo train (Battambang, Cambodia) - 2011Paul Arps, Flickr

Bamboo Train Origins

During the Cambodian civil war, trains needed flatbed cars at the front to sweep for mines, and passengers were offered cheaper fares to ride on the open carriages. Well, free for the first one—the one in the most danger—and half-price for the second.

Bamboo train driver - 2009Travel Aficionado, Flickr

Bamboo Train Characteristics

Bamboo trains are so light that when two come face to face on the same set of tracks, the crew/passengers of the lighter one will get off, remove their car from the tracks to let the other one pass, and then put it back on. You can’t do that with a freight train!

Norry AG Gilmore, Flickr

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Bamboo Train Construction

Bamboo trains are quite easy to build, taking about four days in total. A steel frame is overlaid with bamboo slats, and they usually use wheels left over from military tanks. Originally, poles were used to propel the vehicles, but now, most have engines borrowed from motorcycles or tractors.

The Bamboo Train.Building the train - 2006Gusjer, Flickr

The Bamboo Train Network

Much of the bamboo train network was built by the French colonial government but later shut down. A government-run bamboo train network also operated at slower speeds—30 mph as compared to other network’s 50mph.

Norries await passengers - 2014shankar s., Flickr

Can You Still Ride The Bamboo Train?

Service along bamboo train networks took a huge downturn in the 2000s as the network aged and the rails became overgrown. Regular rail service took over former networks, but luckily there’s still a bamboo train near Wat Banan which caters to tourists that opened in 2018.

Bamboo Train on trucks - 2011Antoine 49, Flickr

The New Bamboo Train

One lucky addition to newer bamboo trains, including the one near Wat Banan? Brakes! You can ride the new bamboo train 4 kilometers from near the base of the Phnom Banan hill to the Chhoeuteal commune. All aboard!

The bamboo train in Banan, Battambang Province - 2018Christophe95, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Totora Boat

Water taxis are great and all—but few are as cool-looking as a totora boat. These incredible vessels set sail in Lake Titicaca and around Easter Island in Peru—and some of them look just as distinctive as the statues that they might cruise by.

A traditional totora boat near Isla del Sol. - 2009Christopher Porter, Flickr

Totora Boat History

Reed boats are some of the oldest known boats in history, and the totora boats get their name from the totora reed, which is native to South America. The Uros people, who actually predate the Incas, live on small islands built from totora reeds in Lake Titicaca, and are also responsible for many totora boats.

An Aymara man next to a boat made from totora at Lake Titicaca, Bolivia - 2021EEJCC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

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The Biggest Totora Boats

Not only are the Uros people still around, they’ve also helped construct monumental totoro boats. These include the Ra II, which successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and the Tigris, which went from Iraq to Pakistan to the Red Sea.

Reed boat Ra II - 1998Pedro ximenez, CC BY-SA 2.0 DE, Wikimedia Commons

Totora Boats Now

If you happen to be in Peru and have half a day to spare, you can catch a totora boat tour, where they’ll pick you up from your hotel in Cusco and take you in a totora boat around Piuray lagoon. The guide will help you learn about local traditions and history as you enjoy the ancestral reed boat.

Lake Titicaca Uros totora reed boats - 2007Yan-Di Chang, Flickr

Dog Sled

Necessity is the mother of invention, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the cold, harsh winters of the north. Where horses and oxen feared to tread, Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes stepped in.

Siberian Husky's pulling a sledge - 2012Rainer Lippert, Wikimedia Commons

Dog Sled History

Dogs have been essential for hunting and travel in the north for centuries. The first recorded instance of dog sleds comes from the 10th century BCE. If you’re bad at math, that’s some 3,000 years ago. And it wasn’t always just Huskies and Malamutes…

Fur trappers with snowshoes and dog sled team, Alaska, - circa 1900Wikimedia Commons ,Picryl

The Dogcart

Historically, other breeds of dog were used in Belgium and the Netherlands to pull a cart and help deliver milk to home. Dogcarts were also used in Victorian England by bakers. If you’ve got a cart and Rover feels energetic, you can always try and revive the trend!

Traditional dog sled, Greenland - 2010GRID-Arendal, Flickr

Dog Sled Racing

Dog sled racing remains a popular sport. The dogs run in a fan-shape in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, whereas in the western part of the Canadian north and Alaska, they run side-by-side in pairs.

Dog Sled Transportation - 2002ARM User Facility, Flickr

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Dog Sled Teams

Dog sled teams consist of lead dogs, point dogs, swing dogs, and wheel dogs. Point and swing dogs may be optional and take position between lead and wheel.

Dogs on sea ice, Greenland - 2010GRID-Arendal, Flickr

Dog Sled Positions

The position of the lead dog is self-explanatory, whereas the wheel dogs are the real workhorses of the team, and may have to pull the sled out of the snow.

Kemmerer Stage Stop Dog Sled Race - 2023strangebiology, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Dog Sled Tours

You don’t need to go all the way to the Arctic to enjoy dog sledding. You can find dog sledding tours pretty much anywhere there’s snow. Tours are available in Alberta, Canada; Anchorage, Alaska; Tromsø, Norway, and even Ely, Minnesota and Jackson Hole, Wyoming!

World Championship Sled Dog Races - 2008Troy B. Thompson, Flickr

The Jeepney

What’s one way to make mass transportation a little more fun? Add a little kitschy charm, of course. The Jeepney is actually the most popular means of transportation in the Philippines and the colorful vehicles have become an enduring symbol of Philippine culture.

View of a Jeepney turning outside - 2018Bahnfrend, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Jeepney Characteristics

The design of the Jeepney is based on the 1943 Willys Jeep—but made much more fun with a coat of paint and brightly-colored decorations. Jeepneys may use different models and colors in different areas, though the most typical design is red.

Willys MB Jeep - from 1943 - 2009Joost J. Bakker, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Jeepney Models

Just because “jeep” is in the title doesn’t mean they’re the Jeep brand—modern jeepneys can be made from Mitsubishi L300s, Ford Fieras, Toyota Tamarays, Hyundai H100s, Isuzu Traviz, and many more. There’s are even electric jeepneys now!

Passad jeepney of Iloilo.Berniemack Arellano, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Jeepney Travel

Jeepneys are not only a popular method of travel—they’re the cheapest too. They run and stop like buses, can take payment on board, and though they have ample seating, they may often be overcrowded.

An overloaded Jeepney in southern Philippines - 2007Keith Kristoffer Bacongco, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Jeepney Of The Future

What’s one way to get around traffic? Fly over it, of course. In 2024, LuftCar signed a deal to develop a “flying LuftCar super-jeepney,” based around an already-existing electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle model meant for island hopping.

The Jeepney - Manila, Philippines - 2011your local connection, Flickr

Camel Caravan

If you find yourself looking to cross the desert through North Africa or the Arabian Peninsula on a trip, why not look to one of the oldest forms of travel in the area and try out a camel caravan?

Camel caravan, Erg Chebbi sand dunes, Northern Sahara, Morocco - 2009Ali Eminov, Flickr

Why Camels?

Now, if you’re in a hurry, the camel caravan might not be for you. They’re really only moving about as fast as a human would walk—but they remain popular regardless, thanks to their ability to withstand the harsh conditions of the desert.

Camel caravan in the Amatlich erg, Mauritania - 2019Valerian Guillot, Flickr

Camel Caravan History

Historically, camel caravans were used as a means of travel all over the world, including Africa, Asia, and Australia. They were an essential part of the Silk Road trade route and helped connect north and central Africa through the Sahara desert. There were even camel caravans in the US, if you can believe it.

Camel caravan between Hafir el Auja & Kosaina - 1978Library of Congress, Picryl

The US Camel Caravan Experiment

The US Camel Corps was a project initiated by the army in 1856, when they ordered 33 camels to Indianola, Texas. Though they were well-suited to the climate and the job, the soldiers and their horses didn’t care for them. Some were sold and others escaped—resulting in a feral colony that lasted for more than a century.

Feral camels, Central Australia - 2014Mark Marathon, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Camel Caravan Organization

Much like sled dogs in Alaska, camel caravans typically travel in pairs side-by-side, though their files could be much wider. They were used to carry cargo while camel pullers walked alongside, them, leading them as they went.

The caravan, lead by proud Tuareg, carries all our food and luggage - 2012Rainer Voegeli ,Flickr

Camel Caravan Tours

If you want to cross the desert in a camel caravan, you can book tours leaving from Marrakech, Morocco or Queen Alia International Airport near Amman, Jordan. If you’re looking for something a little less authentic that’s also closer to home, many tourist areas in Mexico like Cabo San Lucas offer camel rides.

Sunrise camel caravan return from Berber tent camp - 2006Robbie, Flickr

Hot Air Balloon

What came before the plane and has a much better 360-degree view? The hot air balloon, of course. The hot air balloon was actually the first successful human-carrying flight technology, with the first flight taking place in the late 18th century in Paris, France.

Hot air balloon and moon - 2011Tomas Castelazo, Wikimedia Commons

How Does A Hot Air Balloon Fly?

Hot air balloons use a source of heat to heat the air inside the balloon. The cool air outside the balloon and the hot air inside creates a difference in density, which allows the balloon to fly. Usually, fire-retardant material is used near the source of the flame, while the rest of the balloon is nylon.

Hot air balloon is inflating before liftoffmuratart, Shutterstock

Hot Air Balloon Types

Hot air balloons can be made in a variety of shapes, from the traditional inverted teardrop shape to novelty balloons shaped like animals or buildings. The vents at the top of a hot air balloon are used to allow the pilot to safely release hot air for a smooth descent.

Aerial view of a European landscape from a hot air balloon with a loving couple.Oliver Denker, Shutterstock

Hot Air Balloons In Action

Passenger hot air balloons can be small enough that they don’t even use a basket, just one seat for a passenger—and they can be so big that they can easily fit two dozen people for a flight. Those larger-sized balloons will have an envelope that’s 600,000 cubic feet.

Hot air balloon - 2008Rona Proudfoot, Flickr

Hot Air Balloon Tours

If you’re interested in a hot air balloon tour, we’ve got great news for you—you can find one nearly anywhere in the world, unless you happening to be hanging out on a remote mountain in Tibet or in the Arctic Circle. There are tours all across Europe, South America, Asia, and the US, and there’s even a hot air balloon theme park in China.

Hot air balloon in the sky.Travel Faery, Shutterstock


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