Motorbikes, Trains, And Automobiles
Advice For (Photo) Road Warriors

Photos © 2004, Roger W. Hicks, All Rights Reserved

We fly less than we used to. Terrorists don't worry us: realistically, flying is still far safer than driving. But we don't like the hassle, three-hour check-ins, restricted carryons, frequent x-rays, and endless security checks. In that sense, the terrorists have made us (and many other people) change our behavior significantly. We still travel and take pictures--we just don't go by air.

Sometimes we have to, of course. Driving to India from France (where we live) would be hard work. Driving to the US would be even worse. Sea travel is slow and expensive. But wherever we can, we ride a motorcycle; or drive; or take a train. Let's consider these in reverse order.

Trains can be photogenic in themselves, not merely a means of transport. This partially rack-worked railway goes up to the southern Indian hill station of Udaghamandalam, also known as Ootacamund or just plain Ooty.

Train travel is much like flying, though generally more comfortable, with more room. It can even be quicker for journeys of 200 or 300 miles. The train goes slower, but you go from city center to city center instead of airport to airport. There's no long taxi or bus ride each end, and check-in times are far shorter.

Today's American passenger network is skimpy and slow, but next time you plan a European or Asian trip, think hard about trains. In addition to the advantages mentioned earlier, you get to see the countryside. India from a train window is pure magic, especially in the early morning, though last time we took the Ost-West Express (Berlin-Moscow) the windows were so filthy we couldn't see much. Admittedly that was some years ago.

There are usually few or no luggage restrictions on trains but you still need to remember that sooner or later, you are likely to have to carry your luggage. Porters are rare or nonexistent in many countries, though still common in India. Do not overburden yourself simply because there are no size or weight restrictions.

Only a dusting of snow here, but later that month it would get much worse. Fortunately our Series III SWB has one of the best heaters I have ever encountered in a Land Rover.
Gas at European prices hurts: over $5 for a US gallon.

You also need to take precautions against theft. Thieves love railroad stations, where security and policing are far more lax than at airports, so keep a firm grip on your camera bag, especially when assisted by "helpful" passers-by. I learned this lesson over 20 years ago at Old Delhi railway station. The carriage lights were mysteriously out. So, I discovered later, was my camera bag. In a sleeper, if you can't lock the door convincingly, put one arm through the camera bag strap and use it as a pillow. Run a bicycle cable lock through the handles and straps of all your bags.

It's easier to keep track of three pieces of luggage than five, and besides, three big pieces are easier to carry but harder to steal. Our suggestion: buy a Porter Case. This doubles as a luggage trolley and can carry ridiculous weights. Ours goes all over the world with us. Except on steps or escalators or very rough surfaces (including some Third-World sidewalks) it is pure magic.

Our luggage normally travels with us in our Land Rover, too: a 1972 short wheelbase station wagon. Many people will tell you that you can't drive long distances in an old Land Rover, but they are wrong. The high and mighty seating position means that you get to see a lot of the country you are traveling through, and a realistic cruising speed limited to the old "double nickel" (about 90 km/h) means you have time to enjoy the scenery.

All right: sometimes things do go wrong. I should have stuck with proper Indian-made luggage frames on the magnificent Enfield Bullet--one of the finest motorcycles in the world. Instead I had German frames fitted. One of them cracked. But never mind. Radheesh Motor Works offered "Tinkering and Welding." This required both.

You can also shoot from the roof-mounted luggage rack (there's an access ladder at the back). With a normal tripod this gives a viewpoint over 11 ft (3.4 m) above the ground. And you can go off-road. A 2000-mile round trip to Spain and Portugal in 2003 revealed that the only real disadvantage, apart from the fuel and oil consumption, was getting into car parks with height limits below 2 meters (6 ft, 7").