Getting Around Town: Tips for Using Public Transportation When Traveling

Exciting, Green and — Best of All — Cheap

Any time you fly to a destination it begs the question — how are you going to get around while there? While there are always forms of airport transportation that can shuttle you between the airport and your accommodations, exploring the city in question is another problem.

Renting a car is usually an option, but it’s certainly not the most cost effective. Nor is it the most prudent if the city you are visiting is populous and known for its traffic jams. Sometimes using public transportation abroad is your best option!

While maybe the bus in your hometown has negative connotations attached to it, taking public transportation in a city abroad can be a great way to immerse yourself in the culture. Here are some things you should consider before making up your mind.

Tips for Navigating a New Place Using Public Transportation

Plan Ahead

Planning ahead is key when traveling to a new place and using public transportation. You will need to know the routes, the hours available and what types of public transportation are available. Before landing in a new airport, make sure you know how to get transportation from the airport. Do you need to book a taxi or can you hop on a train right from the terminal to travel into the city?

Also, you should know how to pay and when and where you will pay. Do you need to purchase a fare card? Will you need to have cash or exact change? Can you pay with a credit card? Typically locals move fast when using the subway and buses, so knowing the drill in advance will help keep you from feeling overwhelmed by everything that is going on.

Pack Light

Using public transportation means you won’t have the luxury of a car trunk to store your belongings, or help with loading it and carrying it. Packing light is key to enjoying your experience on public transportation. Limit your bags and luggage to what you can easily carry and you will be glad you did.

Pay Attention

Especially in a new place, you’ll want to pay close attention to your surroundings so you don’t miss your stop, and also so you can easily re-trace your steps to get back to your hotel room. Paying attention also helps keep you safe as you travel.

The Pros and Cons of Using Public Transportation

The Pros

Growing up in the United States, where good public transportation infrastructure only exists in large cities, I didn’t have many opportunities to take buses, subways, trains or other forms of public transport. Since it is a new experience, taking these forms of transportation nowadays is fun and novel to me.

Secondly, taking public transportation is a cleaner, greener way to travel compared to a private vehicle. Hop aboard a subway in the next city you visit and you can feel good about your impact on the environment.

Public transportation is also a good way to travel with the locals and like the locals. You will have a more authentic experience of your destination than you will have if you book a car and driver. Lastly, public transportation is almost always much easier on the budget than either hiring a driver and car or renting a car for your trip.

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The Cons

While all of those pros may have you googling subway maps for the next trip you have planned, you should keep these cons in mind before you jump in headfirst. Most are only minor inconveniences that can be easily compensated for with a bit of planning.

First of all, taking public transportation means you are forced to rely on preset routes and cannot go anywhere you please. Unlike a private car, using public transportation can make it more difficult to go off the beaten path when you travel.

You are also at the mercy of the hours of operation. While many large cities have public transportation available nearly 24/7, some smaller cities may be more limited in their offerings meaning that if you plan to party until 3 a.m. at the club, you’ll have to find an alternate way home.

Public transportation can also be quite crowded during rush hour, especially in large cities. This makes it a less comfortable way to travel, but just think of it as getting up (really) close with the locals.

Lastly, for family travelers, public transportation can be a bit of a gamble. Some kids love the thrill and excitement of taking a new type of transportation, whereas others will not do so well with the crowds and other aspects of the process, making it a bit more difficult for those who travel with youngsters in tow.

How to Safely Use Public Transportation

Taking public transportation is typically a very safe way to travel, but a bit of internet research about your destination will reveal more details about the particulars of the place you are visiting. Research in advance whether there are certain parts of the city to avoid or certain times of day you should avoid taking the bus or subway.

As is almost always true in crowded urban areas, it is wise to be aware of your surroundings when taking public transportation. Opportunistic theft and pick-pocketing can be common on buses, subways and similar forms of transport in many parts of the world. Be aware of your valuables at all times and keep your wallet in your front pocket.

Lastly, make sure you mind the gap when stepping between the train and the platform. This one always seems obvious, but with the image of seeing an adult women fall through a crack up to her thigh on a Bangkok train fresh in my mind, it seems prudent to mention it here!

With these tips you are sure to have a fun and memorable time taking public transportation in your next destination.

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