How to Use Public Transit when Traveling

Public transport (transit in USA) can be a wonderful element of any vacation. You get to see the "normal" denizens of your destination on their normal workday commutes, the construction workers and the secretaries, not just the waiters, concierges and others in the tourist industry. Also, the view from a bus or a train is elevated and often better than from a rental car. Some of the best experiences I have had travelling have been the spontaneous conversations and experiences that I have had taking public transit. Its better for the environment. more democratic and allows you to concentrate your vacation dollars on more important parts of the vacation. However, taking public transit takes just a little bit of preparation before you leave.


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    Get a physical map of where you are travelling to showing the roads and your destinations. Such maps can be printed out from the Internet, purchased from gas stations or airport convenience stores, or found in guidebooks.
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    Search on the Internet to locate the website(s) for the public transit agencies in your destination. Search terms to include are bus, train, tram, light rail, subway, monorail, or ferry and the name of your destination. Be sure to search under the city name, the county name, the state or province, and maybe the country for smaller countries. You never know what level of government the public transportation is organized under.
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    Compare the routes of the public transit websites with your maps and determine what routes you could take, when they run and how often they run. Look at the fares and how much cash you will need to bring with you.
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    Try to estimate how long it will take with public transit to carry out your itinerary.
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    Adjust your itinerary at this point and decide what mix of public, private and personal (walking/biking) transportation you will use. For instance, you might take the free hotel shuttle from the airport (private), the bus from outside your hotel to the downtown area (public) and then walk around the downtown area (personal).
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    Print out public transit maps and schedules for the particular routes you are planning to use.
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    Have at hand the general phone number for transit information where you are going if there is one. Also have at hand your map(s) and your new itinerary or schedule including the routes you will be taking.
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    Make sure to have cash and coins for the public transit. They do not take cards.
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    Have a wonderful vacation!


  • Often, there are "express" or "commuter" routes which only run during the rush hour in the morning and afternoon. They may be slightly more expensive but are often much faster.
  • If safety is a big concern of yours, then sit close to the train conductor or bus driver.
  • Public transit takes longer. Bring something to read or music to listen to just in case your route or fellow passengers are uninteresting. Leave plenty of "cushion" time if you are going to an event with a set begin time such as a show, dinner reservations, or meeting family or friends.


  • You are more exposed taking public transit: more exposed to the sights, sounds and smells of your destination but also to the racial, class and political conflicts of your destination. As a visitor, you do not need to get caught up in such conflicts. Be sensitive to the "vibe" of people around you. If you feel unsafe, do not hesitate to call a cab. Normal people on public transit should be bored, or chit-chatty, not tense, angry or sullen. Riots and hate-crimes are rare but a bus or subway station is the last place you want to be in one.
  • Every city has an area that is less safe. Be smart about where you go and when. Its always a good idea to ask the people around you who are of the same social class whether it is safe. A bus in a rough and tumble area might be OK for a tough-looking shirtless Australian backpacker but not for a society lady wearing diamonds and evening gown.
  • Large metropolises may have entire small cities that are unsafe for middle- or upper-class travellers (Compton, CA or Newark, NJ, for instance). Public transport may not be appropriate if you are visiting such places. You can check crime rates on the Internet.
  • People with intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental illness, substance-abuse problems or elders with dementia are frequently not able to drive and so take public transport. You are likely to run into such people on public transit. Though they may act a little different, they are usually safe. Take your cues from the other riders. If everyone is giving the person some space, do the same. You can move to a different seat, tell the driver or conductor, or exit the vehicle if you believe there is a safety threat (to the person, to you, or to someone else). On the other hand, if people are nodding or engaging them in conversation, feel free to do the same. Mentally ill and disabled people are also part of society, and they are trying to get to their destination just like you are.
    • Usually, if people are unable to safely travel from one place to another on their own, then one of their friends or family members will be with them to help.
    • People with disabilities may be targeted by bullies. Get help or invite the person to sit next to you if someone is being cruel to them.

Things You'll Need

  • map
  • transit maps
  • transit schedules
  • your itinerary or schedule
  • cash and coins

Article Info

Categories: Public Transport