How to Navigate Public Transportation in a Foreign Country

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Arguably one of the best (and cheapest!) ways to explore a new city is by using public transportation. However, public transit systems can seem extremely confusing, especially if you don’t speak the local language. Don’t let this intimidate you! If you come prepared, metros, ferries, and buses can actually be much less daunting than they appear. We’ve spelled out our tips for how you can successfully use public transportation in a foreign country.

Map It Out (Or Ask) Ahead of Time

With the rise of awesome navigation apps like Waze or Google Maps, getting around has become much, much easier. Before you head out to your destination, map out your route using one of these programs, or by asking your hostel/hotel reception. If you can figure out the best bus or metro to take to your specific location, and the appropriate stop to disembark, all you have to do is listen out for that stop to be called. When doing your research, also make sure to check how

Another great way to ensure you’re in the right place is by asking the bus driver or a transportation employee for guidance. He or she can usually tell you how many stops you need to wait, or can give you a heads up on when the right time to disembark is.

Learn a Few Phrases In the Local Language

This isn’t mandatory, especially if the language is incredibly difficult (e.g., Arabic or Chinese), but it helps to know and understand a few words in the local language so you can ask for help. Something as simple as, “I’d like to get off at [this station], can you help me?” or, “Which station is this?” can help you avoid confusion and rely on the help of others to orient yourself.

An alternative to this is to have your hostel/hotel reception write down your location on a slip of paper, so that you can show it to a bus driver or a friendly seat neighbor for assistance. This way, you don’t have to worry about butchering pronunciation or making a mistake, and you’ll be likely to get to your destination successfully.

Connect Your Phone GPS

Did you know that on Google Maps, you can download an offline map in many places and track your own location, even if you’re in airplane mode? Before you leave your wifi zone, download the offline map of your destination and track where you are at all times. Although it’s usually a bad idea to have your electronics out in the open while in crowded places (like public transit), you can sneak a peek or two at your map as you’re riding along to ensure that you’re in the correct spot.

Look for Landmarks

While riding on public transportation in a foreign country, it’s important to keep an eye out to where you are at all times. Not only should you always be aware of your surroundings, but you may be able to see your destination before your stop comes, making it easier to know when you should get off the bus or tram. If you’re traveling overland, be sure to watch for big landmarks and signs that indicate where you are. If you already know the name of your stop, it should be easy to spot if you’re paying attention.

Have a Backup Plan

In case you get terribly lost, it’s good to know what your backup options are. Hopefully, you won’t have to use these options, but it’s just good to have a grasp of what the other transit options in the city look like. Is there Uber in the city? Are there lots of taxis driving around that you can hail? Is it walkable? If you have a plan B, you’ll feel more confident and have more peace of mind as you embark on your public transportation journey.

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Kay is a full-time working professional located in Washington DC who takes every spare vacation day to get outside and explore the world. When she travels, she loves visiting the most iconic and naturally beautiful destinations in the USA and abroad. You can typically find her wandering the streets of a city, running through a park, taking ridiculous self portraits, or hiking a mountain somewhere. Connect with Kay: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

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