Why I Almost Always Take Public Transport When Traveling

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Transmilenio Bus in Bogota, Colombia.
Transmilenio Bus in Bogota, Colombia.

Public Transport For Me

The other day I wrote about our recent Uber experience in Colombia. I mentioned in that post that I rarely use taxis, simply because I prefer public transport. Sure public transport can be exhausting and often takes a little longer, but there is no better way to be up close and personal with the locals and it also saves a TON of money.

You Can Save A Lot Of Money

Lets face it. Taxis are expensive. There are a few exceptions to this, but for the most part they cost significantly more than public transport. For example, in Colombia where taxis are relatively cheap, it cost us about 4x more for three people in a taxi or Uber than taking public transport. In Bogota, a trip for three to the airport runs about $20 in a taxi while it is less than $1 per person on the city’s Transmilenio Express bus system.

Over the course of our visits to 65 countries over the past seven years, we probably have saved thousands of dollars by limiting our use of taxis. Whether on vacation in Hawaii, backpacking through Europe, or making our way around Southeast Asia we have done this time and time again.

Safety

This is partly a family travel site and thus the question always comes up about safety. We always use common sense when traveling, but that is it. We have never had any problems with our son or otherwise on public transport. Use the same precautions you would elsewhere and everything is great.

When our son was young we would always hold his hand, but riding with him was never really an issue. In fact, locals often would make room for my wife and him to sit since they loved seeing a traveling family. Our only other concern was about pickpockets, but I just make sure to guard my stuff and have never had an issue.

Ride With The Locals

As anyone who has ridden on a crowded train in China or an overstuffed bus in Latin America can tell you, public transport is also a fantastic experience. It is one less thing that removes you from the local culture. When you are riding with the locals, you are one of them. Experiencing the same thing that they do everyday.

This type of exposure becomes even more important for those people who stay in luxury hotels all of the time. There is no doubt in my mind that fancy hotels separate us from the locals. I love luxury as much as the next person, but there is a fine line between experiencing a culture in a whitewashed Western way and actually experiencing a culture. Besides there is nothing better than walking into a five star hotel fresh off of public transport with a backpack strapped on.

Strategy

When planning trips, I always look for hotel options that are close to metro lines. I am not a huge fan of busses only because they are infinitely more complicated than train lines. Train lines have a set path and transfer points. There are also a lot less of them. Riding busses gets more complicated since there are sometimes hundreds of routes and stops.

I also look to stay in shape when I am on the road. Funny enough, I always lose a ton of weight when I am traveling and somehow fail to keep it off when I go home. (The opposite of most people.) Having a hotel that is a 10 minute walk from a Metro line can guarantee an extra 20 minutes of walking every day. While some days (like today) it can be torture to walk 10 minutes back to the hotel after a long day, it is worth it to me.

Tips

Most public transport systems have websites with route planners. This will allow you to see how to get from your hotel to various sites around the city via public transport. Often times, Google Maps has this function built in as well. It can be an easy and fantastic way to plan your trips.

You will also find that most Metro systems have an app with a map and route planner built in. Even if there isn’t a map, you can always find a picture of the system map and save it on your smartphone. This makes it easier to figure out where to go when actually out and about.

Something To Think About

As you may know, I am currently on the road. My son and I are traveling in Chile right now and thus this issue is close to my heart. We are staying at the Grand Hyatt Santiago which is a fantastic hotel, but once the doors close behind us it might as well be in America.

Every morning we wake up and set out to see the city by walking 15 minutes from the hotel to the nearest Metro stop where we begin our day just like everyone else in the city. While we are loving the luxury of the hotel, our days outside of it are far from luxurious. We are traveling and that is how it should be.

Conclusion

Over the next few weeks I am going to bring you a few more posts such as this that try to show you how we travel. Our travel habits have been developed over the years and are motivated by my desire to see as much as possible for as little as possible. My thoughts and habits have evolved over the years, but we continue to do more than others for far less money.

So it is time for you to chime in. Do you take public transport? If so, then why and do you feel it gives you a more local experience? Let me know!


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5 COMMENTS

  1. I like to experience the culture like you do. That being said, we were in Panama in March and boarded a very full bus headed back to Panama City. Our suitcases (carry ons) we’re put in the aisle and my daughter shown the “jump seat” between the driver and (someone who must have been) a friend of his.
    The driver started behaving like a maniac, trying to run other cars off the road, tailgating within inches, cutting people off, etc. (remember, my daughter, 18, was right up against the windshield.). People on the bus were angrily shouting back and forth to the driver. The driver and his buddies were talking and laughing; my daughter turned and gave me a terrified look, and we got off–amid much laughter–at the next stop to catch a different bus.
    My daughter speaks Spanish, I don’t. Apparently, the driver wanted to “give the gringoes a ride they won’t forget!”
    Fortunately, we are alive to tell about it–it truly was a wild ride!!!
    This is a reflection of a few stupid kids, but not the entire country.

  2. Thank you for reminding me about using public transport. I’ll never forget how impressed my New Yorker husband was when I knew how to take the Roma metro when there were no taxis anywhere. I had read it in a guidebook. Public transit has so many positives … metro is usually pretty simple but it’s underground. I’m going to learn the bus system in Paris or die trying!

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