Between detailed routes and unpredictable traffic conditions, reading a bus schedule is enough of an adventure at home. Trying to get from point A to point B in an unfamiliar city – or even worse, in an unfamiliar language – can be overwhelming enough to ruin your afternoon sightseeing, especially if mass transit isn’t already part of your everyday life. But that doesn’t mean you should write off bus and metro rides. Not only will you save money on public transportation, by riding like the locals do, you’ll get to experience your destination in a more authentic light. Follow these tips and tricks to turn the subway platform to a place of peace.
Study your map in advance
Don’t wait until you’re at the station to figure out where you’re going. Picking up a map of local transportation should be one of the first things you do upon arriving in your destination. If by some chance one isn’t available at your hotel, make a local visitors center your first stop. Each morning, take a few minutes to study your map in advance and sketch out a game plan for the day. Write down directions as a cheat sheet, but do your best to memorize the first few steps. Wandering around a bus or train station in a daze, stopping to pull out a map, or studying the map at the station for too long can all mark you as a tourist and therefore an easy target for pickpockets or other nefarious types.
Load up your phone
While you should always have a paper map as a backup, a smartphone can be your best friend in helping you navigate a foreign city. Google Maps is likely something you already use at home, making it easy to use on the road. It has a public transportation option and you can download maps for later use offline, so you don’t eat up your data plan. Some cities even create special apps for their public transportation systems. Do your due diligence before leaving and find as many tools as you can to guide your way.
Ask for help more than once
In addition to your own mapping efforts, don’t leave the hotel without asking the advice of the concierge or another front desk employee. If you’re already out and about, asking a local on the street is an option, but you may be even better served by heading inside the nearest hotel and asking a staffer there for directions. They’ll be knowledgeable, likely to speak English, and after all, it is part of their job to help direct tourists. Just be polite, no matter how frustrated you are.
Memorize a few key phrases
If you’re traveling in a country where you don’t speak the language, be prepared to meet the locals halfway on the communication front. In addition to the basics, like hello and thank you, if transportation is a concern, memorize a few key travel phrases. Good places to start include “Where is the train/bus station?” “How much is a ticket?” and “When does the next train/bus arrive?” Any decent pocket phrasebook will include an entire section on getting around town.
Be attentive, patient, and flexible
Whether you’re studying a map at the station, counting stops on the subway, or asking a local for directions, pay careful attention and be ready to roll with the punches. Getting lost is stressful, but it’s also a fact of travel, and who knows? You may just discover a hidden treasure you hadn’t imagined. More importantly, if you have a well-balanced itinerary, missing one train won’t be the end of the world. So in your public transit adventures, keep things in perspective and you’ll be at no risk for a ruined trip.