One of the best things about traveling is using the local transportation systems. Sure, it is scary at first but there is no better way to get to know the city and her people than traveling amongst them. Besides it is usually the cheapest way to go.
One of the best ways to explore is the subway. Did you know there are 160 metro systems in 148 cities and 55 countries throughout the world? Cities such as Shanghai, Madrid, Toyko, Seoul, Miami, Budapest, Rio de Janeiro, Toronto, Helsinki, Rome, Cleveland, Manila, Lima, Mecca and Stockholm depend on the system to transport their citizens to work and shopping districts. You should depend on them too. HINT:With multi-day discount passes which make one-way travel a dollar or less it is the way to travel on the cheap. Fare prices vary per city but single ticket averages include $1.09 USD Seoul, $2.50 New York and $0.13 USD in Cairo.
Green Line 2 and the Brown Line 6 on the Seoul Subway
Once you figure out the system it is a breeze. And most systems are very similar. After purchasing your ticket and putting in the turnstile which opens the gate; you head down to the tracks. Looking at your map you determine where you need to get off. Then you look for the last station at the end of the line and go to the track that lists that station as the end station. Once in the system you will see the name of the stop that you are currently at and on either side the station before and the one after. Stand at the lines and wait for the train to arrive. Now let those exiting out and now (and this is the important part) push your way in.
In some stations you will also be guided by the color of the line. Follow the color to your tracks and repeat the above. Transfer stations where many lines converge are indicated on maps and signs. Here you may transfer from the green line you have been riding to the orange line that takes you to your destination. Many subways systems also have dual signs with the primary language written first followed by signage in English.
Another way to get around your chosen city is via the bus. While it is often more difficult to learn and time consuming it is often cheaper and great way to talk to locals to find out the best restaurants, parks and stores in the area. Again, buses have starting and end points to their routes which you just follow in the direction you want to go. Many cities also have electronic maps which show you where the bus is at the present moment and when it should arrive. We found this to be true last month when were were visiting the fairly small city of Xinchang, China.The cost was about 60 cents (USD) each way.
Boating is another popular way to travel in some cities. Venice immediately comes to mind with its numerous water taxis but San Francisco, New York, Sydney and Istanbul also use taxis and ferries to shuttle people about. While often more expensive than subways and buses they are much more relaxing and provide great scenery along the way. Prices for the Sydney ferry varies from $1.87-$4.50 USD. We took the ferry from Auckland to Devonport and bought a 10 pack for about $31 USD.
Trains also move people into the city from neighboring towns. We rode in and out of the city of Edinburgh from the suburbs of Livingston many times. The trip was scenic and comfortable and we ended up smack dab in the middle of the city just where we wanted to be in about 22 minutes. The cost is about 8.60 (eight pounds sixty) The advance purchase of rail passes brings the cost down considerably.
Chicago is another place with a great train schedule as is Dublin and Zurich. Commuter trains are definitely a bargain especially with long term passes bringing the prices down to about the same as a subway ride in some areas.
While decreased transportation costs are a great reason to take local transportation many other reasons abound including:
- Because they are often faster than taxis in traffic you don’t waste time and can see multiple sites in a short period of time.
- Public transportation stations often have ATM’s, banks and shops for added convenience.
- Since your goal should be to converse/mix with the locals you can easily ask them to recommend a good restaurant at your next stop or directions to where you are going. Often times if you have a confused look on your face people will stop to help you get on your way.
- Public transport allows you to hear things which can result in amazing conversations. All you have to do is say something on the order of “I heard you talking about ______. I am a visitor and am wondering if it is a place worth going to.”
- It gives you a different perspective of the city. Places you normally would not get to see suddenly come alive and all you have to do is hop off to visit someplace not on the agenda.
- Commuter transportation gives you a chance to talk to the locals. I cannot count the number of times we have met someone while using commuter trains only to be invited to their house for dinner.
- Outlying areas suddenly become more accessible. Last month, instead of basing ourselves in Shanghai we took the subway and bus out to the beautiful ancient water city of Xinchang something we surely would have missed had we not used public transportation.
- You reduce your carbon footprint using public means rather than a rental car.
- Its fun! If you don’t have a subway/ferry/train nearby there is nothing more thrilling for the kids than to take a new form of transportation. I mean seriously, what kid doesn’t love riding on the train!
So get out there and explore the city you are in and commute the way the locals do. I guarantee to you that if you do a whole new world will open up in ways that you had never imagined!