We all have the iconic image of the Amish traveling through the bucolic countryside to the clip-clopping cadence of a horse ad buggy. The Amish still use the horse and buggy for short-haul travel, generally 10 miles or less. The thinking behind the horse and buggy is that it kept the Amish from "spreading out." After all, community and family are the mortar that holds the bricks of Amish society together. If church, family, and jobs are spread over 50 miles, that will undermine cohesiveness. For much of Amish history, the logic held. But as the Amish population has grown, the need to move to new areas – often far away – in search of cheap farmland has increased. This search for farmland has spread Amish families out. That means an Amish person in Ohio is unlikely to take a horse and buggy to see a family in Montana. What then?
Also, fewer and fewer Amish are farming these days, and those who can't build successful home businesses sometimes have to work far away. Distance has necessitated the need for creativity and practicality. So far, the Amish have generally managed to strike a balance between not owning cars and embracing other means of transport.
The Amish have become a society like the movie Trains, Planes, and Automobiles, and then some!
🚃 The Amish and Transportation: How Do The Amish Travel?
Amish Transportation: Private Cars & Hired Drivers, a.k.a Amish Uber
The Amish invented Uber before Uber invented Uber. Point-to-point, pay-as-you-go transportation is by far the most convenient. Some call these services Amish taxis. However, Amish families are usually large, and cars have limited space. So Amish people hiring car drivers to take them places is more common on medium errands. Say, take them to the hospital two hours away or a doctor's appointment in town. Hiring a driver to take them by car on a long trip is rare, and they usually need more space.
Amish Transportation: Vans
This is often the most practical way for an Amish family to travel. An Amish family with 7 or 8 children, a couple of parents, and a lot of luggage can all pile into a 12 or 15-passenger van chauffeured by a non-Amish person, usually a family friend or a hired hand, and they can travel in comfort. There are drawbacks.
The vans are gas guzzlers, and there are safety issues with 15-passenger vans. They are among the most dangerous vehicles on the road regarding tip-over risk. (Personal note: I have driven Amish families around in a 15-passenger van on long multi-state trips. I was okay with driving it, but does take a lot of stamina and awareness).
Amish Transportation: Planes and Air Travel
Contrary to what many people think, the Amish are not "prohibited" from traveling in planes. No "church directive," says the Amish can't travel by air. That's not how Amish culture or church works. Yes, traveling by plane is considered extravagant and worldly, but so are many things that the Amish use but don't own. That's the distinction. Amish families in Montana maintain close family and business relationships with kin in Ohio, for instance, and that sometimes necessitates speed. So the Amish will hop on a Cleveland to Helena flight. Sometimes there is just no other way. Or Amish - generally New Order – that do mission work overseas will book flights to countries like Haiti or the Philippines, where they carry out their tasks.
Amish Transportation: Trains
When speed isn't an issue, the train is preferred among the Amish. The drawback is that it needs more point-to-point flexibility than a hired van driver, but a whole family or multiple families can buy tickets, spread out the train, and watch the world go by. Favorite destinations are places like Colorado and California, where Amtrak has service. So if an Amish family wants to take a long journey "out west," a favorite pastime, they may purchase tickets on the Southwest Chief or California Zephyr.
Amish Transportation: The Classic Amish Tractor
Believe it or not, some Amish "get around' owning cars by taking tractors into town. In Oakland, Maryland, where the Amish church allows tractors, it is not uncommon to see Amish people driving a giant, lumbering tractor into town.
Amish Transportation: Buses
This is tricky….buses can be convenient ways for the Amish to travel. However, I’m really not talking Greyhound. Although, I have seen Amish people on commercial buses like Greyhound. Still, that is more rare. Greyhound can be cheap and convenient, but it’s can be an uncomfortable pleasant ride. Usually, however, they will take charter buses. If multiple families want or need to go someplace at a distance they can charter a motor coach that’s really comfortable with an onboard bathroom and it’s quite luxurious and if they all split cost, it’s pretty manageable. There are a few bus lines that cater just to the Amish, like the Pioneer Bus line that makes in Ohio to Florida run during the winter.
Amish Transportation: Electric bikes or E-bikes
These are a newcomer to the Amish transportation menagerie. E-bikes run on battery and pedal power; the battery is often powered by a solar-powered charger, allowing the Amish, most notably in Holmes county, Ohio, to conquer the region's legendary hills. And Amish people can head to their jobs that are sometimes now 10, 15 or 20 miles away from home. An e-bike allows that distance to be covered far quicker and with less sweat than a traditional gear bike.
❓ Common Questions About How The Amish Travel
The rate fluctuates with the price of gas, but during the past few years with gas around $3 a gallon (give or take a buck), the price has been around $1 a mile. In Pennsylvania, Amish taxi drivers need to be registered and there are price controls.
As the answer says in greater depth below, yes, there is no formal church doctrine prohibiting the Amish from flying in planes. So some Amish do partake in commercial air travel.
Most interstate highways expressly prohibit horse-drawn animals on the freeway and a slow-moving buggy would be a hazard. So, no. However, there are state routes that are 4-lane divided high speed highways, like Ohio Route 32, that buggies will travel on. They'll usually travel on the shoulder of the road, but even then can be a hazard to motorists not expecting to share a high-speed highway with a buggy.
🔮 The Future of Amish Travel
Increasingly, there are other "compromises "between the Amish need for speed and distance while trying to keep the car at arm's length. Some Amish groups now allow a "designated driver." This is still a rare practice, but a small group of Amish known as the "Lobelville Amish "allows one or two people in the community to learn to drive so that they can transport other Amish places. The same is true in the Amish town of Pearisburg, which borrows more communal elements from the Hutterites.
My prediction is that more and more Amish will adopt cars and that, at some point in the future, will cause a deeper split within the church. But that is just a prediction!