Taking public transportation is the best way to conserve energy (read gas/petrol), save money and travel with the locals. But taking public transport in a foreign country can be daunting in terms of how to use, when to use, what to use, costs, rules, etc.
Read up, ask your friends on social media, visit transportation websites – do your research to understand how the public transportation system works at your destination. So here are some tips on what you must do:
- Transportation options: What are your options there? Not every city or town may have buses or train/metro/subway system. Heck, some may not even have any reliable (in terms of costs and time) transportation!
- Costs: What are the costs per ride? Do they have any day-tickets/passes? The costs may vary by the mode of transportation. Some places may have cheaper buses than trains, but may take longer.
- Save money: How can you save money? Depending on the number of rides you plan to take in a day, buying a day pass may be cheaper than a single ride. Another example is purchasing a Japan Rail Pass will save you over $300 on ten rides on Shinkansen, but it has to be bought outside of the country.
- Rules: What are the rules you must absolutely follow? Some transportation require you to buy tickets before boarding and punch them in a machine after boarding. Whereas others may allow you to purchase tickets after you board.
- What are the consequences of getting caught without a ticket? Find out if there are scams associated with this so that you don’t end up paying a fine to a scam artist in a uniform.
- Understand routes: Look at the maps and routes. Have a good understanding of the stops/stations to board and get out. And importantly, which direction the transportation is going? Having a sense of traveling north/south/east/west may help, but understand the last stop on the route because that is what will be mentioned on the transportation (bus/train) or at the stops. Make sure you’re going in the correct direction, else you end up wasting the one-ride ticket.
- Behavior: What are the behavioral rules? Where are you allowed to sit/stand? For example, in Jordan men must not sit next to women in any transport because it is considered rude or against the culture. Or, in Japan it is considered rude to talk on your phone or to strangers on the subway.
- Manners: Manners go a long way and learning simple terms like “excuse me” and “thank you” in the local language helps maneuver yourself through the crowd.
- Alternatives: Are there any faster or cheaper alternatives to public transport, like taxis? Depending on the time of the day, the buses or trains may not be working and you may have to take a taxi. Knowing your costs for a taxi ride is essential if they don’t run on meter.
Finding information can be frustrating because most transportation websites are in local language, so make use of Chrome browser’s auto translate feature. In all purposes, a Google search is your best friend; and don’t be shy to post of forums like TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree, Reddit, etc.
Most travelers like me don’t do a lot of research and leave it to the last minute assuming “there has to be some way the locals do it”. This is fine as long as you don’t fall in to any unexpected costs or situations. In these cases, asking your hotel staff or hosts for safest and reliable options always helps. Most of them will also help you in booking transport for you via phone or apps.
It’s fun to ride along with locals, and save money by taking the public transportation when you’re abroad.
Share your experiences with us in comments.