Unless you live in a major urban center in America, you may not take public or mass transit except when you travel. Navigating public transit in a country where you can’t use your phone and may not speak the language can present challenges but also some great rewards. Here are my tips to make taking public transportation easier when traveling internationally.

  1. Give yourself extra time. There is nothing worse than missing a bus you have to be on. Give yourself extra time in case things go awry, you need to purchase tickets, study a map or ask for help. Extra time means less stress.
  2. Study a map before you start going anywhere. Take the time to look online, or when you first arrive to really study a map. Circle your main stops- hotel, train station/airport. This will help you get home again, and give you Reference points.
  3. Pay the correct amount. You may not see people paying, but everyplace has a verification place- whether it’s cash, a token, swiping a card or scanning a ticket. You may not get caught if you skip it- or skip part, if it’s a two-stage system- but you don’t want to be the tourist that gets a fine or arrested for not paying.
  4. Do not stand right in front of the doors and push your way on. Take a step back or to the side and let people off. It speeds up each stop if people can get off the subway or bus before you try to get on.
  5. When you get on, make your way to the center or back. The only exception is if you’re getting off in 1-2 stops. People won’t have to push by you to enter/exit.
  6. Be comfortable with standing closer to strangers than you normally would. I grew up in a place where everyone drives, there’s lots of space, and I like a good amount of personal space. However, in cities and in other cultures, these preferences may not be there. You will likely be packed in closer than you’re used to during peak times. Take a breath and feel sorry for those that experience it daily.
New York Subway

New York Subway

Lest you think that it’s all work, here are some of the rewards of taking public transit when you travel.
1. Saves money. Public transit is cheaper than renting a car, paying for gas and parking. Now you have some extra to spend on fun things!
2. Potential to save time. During peak hours, it can be faster to take the subway than a car. Particularly in cities with terrible traffic (I’m looking at you Moscow).
3. You experience life as a local. You’ll meet and interact with regular people going about their lives. This can lead you to better cultural understanding and some great finds (neighborhood recommendations, for example).
4. Stories. You will have stories. It may be the nice old woman you chatted with, or how you got pushed, or the adventure of taking the wrong train or bus. Travel is an adventure!
What other tips do you have? What has been your best or worst public transit travel story?

One Thought on “Public Transportation Tips: International Edition

  1. In major European cities there is a place on the transportation kiosk screen to select a language. English is almost always one of the choices. Very helpful!

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