The Best Tips for Taking Public Transportation Anywhere in the World

Full disclosure: I did not grow up with public transportation. There was no Uber or Lyft or other rideshare option (and still isn’t) in the town where I was raised. When I lived in Japan for a summer, I had to figure it out on my own—often in Japanese!—or just not go anywhere. When I moved to D.C. after college, the option to take public transportation instead of drive everywhere was part of the appeal!

The point is, whether you’ve never used public transportation, or you find yourself needing to learn a form of public transportation you’re not used to, it can be intimidating. Add in jet lag and location unfamiliarity, and you might be tempted to give up and call a cab or a rideshare! I get that, but I also urge you to give it a go. Here are my best tips!

Use the Transportation Feature on Your Phone’s Map

This is so handy! Did you know that the map app on your phone has a public transportation function? And it’s been my experience that it’s quite accurate, too. It’ll tell you which bus, metro, subway line, or other transportation to use, how many stops you’ll make, and even give you walking directions from the nearest station to your destination!

Also helpful: The Top 10 Travel Hacks from a Professional Traveler

Ask the Locals

If you want the most accurate, least sugar-coated version of what the public transportation is like in a place, ask a local! They can tell you which bus is always late, how to get to the right station for the route you need, and more local common knowledge. They can even tell you how to save money sometimes!

Ready to ride!
More here: The Best Ways to Save Money While You’re Traveling (without missing out!)

Study the Timetable

This is most applicable if you’ll be taking a bus. Typically, the timetable for a particular bus is posted at each of its bus stops. This will tell you when the next bus should be coming, so you’ll know when to expect it. Just make sure you’re looking at the right schedule, whether it’s for the weekend or weekdays! It will be handy to Google the local words for the days of the week. 

Learn how to read the time table!
Read next: How to Be Your Own Travel Advocate

Have Cash On-hand

Metros, subways, and many other forms of public transportation require a card of some kind, which are usually easy to get at a train or metro station, or even a visitors’ center. But many still operate on a cash-only basis. It’s always a good idea to have some local cash on you, just in case.

Very often, you’ll be expected to have exact change, so find out how much your trip will cost before you hop on. You can Google, ask a local, or sometimes the cost will be posted on the time table. 

Some transportation options require a special card, but others require cash. Be prepared!
Read on: The Most Common Mistakes When Planning Travel (that you may be making!)

Pay Attention to How Many Stops You’ll Make

Be sure to take a look at the map that will most certainly be posted inside your public transportation, or posted somewhere in or around your station or bus stop. Count up how many stops you’ll be making, and then pay attention to them on your ride. Very often, announcements on public transportation are difficult to understand, even if you speak the same language! Don’t count on being able to understand the announcements; consider it a bonus if you can understand them!

Don’t get mesmerized by the rhythm of the road!
Keep reading: The Ultimate List of Road Trip Tips

Smile and Say Thank You in the Local Language

If you’re on a metro or subway, the conductor is probably not in a place where you can thank him or her personally, but if you’re on a bus, ferry, or tram, it’s nice to thank the driver! Always learn the word for “thank you” in the local language–it’s the word you’ll use the most because there are helpful people everywhere.

Obrigado! That’s “Thank you” in Portuguese!
Read next: Words to Learn in the Local Language

Want more? Get my best tips and travel hacks on my dedicated Travel Tips Page!

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