Not every foreign visitor is willing to brave the locals’ mode of travel. Bus schedules can be confusing, routes can be confounding and sometimes change without much notice. Metro transport can be disrupted, leaving you feeling stranded–and then there’s the question of day passes, weekly passes, and prepaid transit cards. But if these things can be dealt with, it’s often the easiest and least expensive way to get around.
I find it amusing that various visitor guides warn you against taking buses in certain cities, citing them as dangerous or the place where pickpockets prey on foreigners. While I’m sure there are places where that’s true and you do need to be ever-conscious of your belongings wherever you are, we’ve had only positive experiences.
That’s absolutely true. You and I now consider buses and trains our preferred way to travel. It’s a great way to quickly learn about local culture even if it takes longer to get to our destination.
We’ve had many cities where people are eager to help when it’s not clear what the bus fare is or if a particular bus goes to where we want to go.
I will never forget my first reaction when we boarded the bus in Hanoi and several young people immediately got up to give us their seats. To be honest, I found it annoying—hey, we’re not that old and we’re certainly not infirm.
But after a while, I kind of liked knowing that, no matter how long the ride and intense the traffic, I would be comfortably seated. I also remember when we saw passengers in a packed rush-hour bus in Vietnam pass change the length of the bus without incident.
Not all of the rides are pleasant however, I remember stories of bus drivers in Quito, Ecuador driving too aggressively since they’ll be fined if they fall too far behind schedule. And that diesel smoke blasting out of every bus makes breathing on the street really unpleasant.
And that’s why taking the train, when available, is typically the way to go.
I remember being particularly impressed by the new metro in Medellin, Colombia–clean, on time, and a source of enormous civic pride. My main problem is knowing which bus or train to take–but, then again, that’s why I have you around. Well, that’s not the only reason…
Very funny. It usually falls to me to figure out bus and train routes–and, of course, they’re always changing. Most of the time Google Maps has useful transit information but is sometimes prone to inaccurate locations. I’m using Moovit more now that they cover over 1,800 cities in 79 countries. With the help of these great tools we always seem to figure it out.
We’re sure there are many wacky tales to tell of navigating a new city. Let us know what you did to figure it out.
by: Mike & Eileen Brill-Wagner