how to safely navigate public transportation abroad
November 8, 2022
Author: Marissa Kozma
Even if you live in New York and are no stranger to the subway, navigating public transit as a tourist can be intimidating. Some cities, like Paris and London, have extensive metro systems, while others, such as Dublin and Rome, are better to explore by bus. But whether you’re planning to take trains, buses, trams, ferries, cable cars, or another form of transportation, there are some steps to take to ensure the journey runs smoothly. Here are five ways to safely navigate public transportation abroad like a pro.
Map Your Journey Ahead of Time
If you’ve booked a hotel room or vacation rental property away from the airport, chances are you’ll try to use public transportation instead of taking taxis or rideshares to your destination in order to save money. Many major cities offer reliable public transit to and from the airport, so after you claim your bag, be sure to take advantage of free WiFi and service desks in the airport and pick up a reliable paper map, ask for directions from airport personnel, or download a mobile app to map your journey.
Many mobile apps, such as Google Maps, Citymapper, Moovit, or Transit, offer directions in most destinations around the world, while major cities such as Tokyo and Munich, have their own apps for navigating the metropolises and their surrounding regions. These apps are useful for figuring out transit arrival times, delays, walking distances to stops, and more, and many are available for use offline.
By downloading OZZI, travelers can also receive information about which forms of transportation are safest in your destination and common phrases or gestures to use. The app also tracks your location so it can offer real-time alerts on nearby crimes, weather disturbances, rail strikes, civil unrest, or other hazards in your area and provides detailed maps of your area to help you navigate or avoid neighborhoods with extra risk.
Count Out Your Fare
After you’ve planned your journey, make sure you have the right amount of change in order to buy a ticket. Your palms might get sweaty handling big bills at an ATM, so make sure you only have enough out to buy a one-way ticket to your accommodation at the ticket machine and store the rest in a secure location. If you know you’ll be using public transportation for a certain number of days, take advantage of day or week passes, which will help you save on fare costs.
Be sure to only count large bills at ATMs, ticket booths, ticket machines, or at your accommodation — and never on public transportation. Use credit cards when you can, but always have some extra bills and change on you in case of emergency, and download OZZI to learn about the local currency, tipping etiquette, ATM availability, and more in your destination.
Speak to the Driver or a Local
Don’t be afraid to ask for help! While you should never let a stranger handle your luggage, phone, or other personal belongings, you can always ask to be pointed in the right direction. Signs can get confusing, especially in a foreign language, so if you’re nervous boarding a bus, tell the driver where you’re headed or ask a fellow passenger when to get off, but never give anyone the exact address or name of your accommodation.
Prepare for Pickpockets
It does happen abroad, so be vigilant in large crowds. These people love to prowl on public transit. Technology such as cameras, phones, laptops, and headphones, should be safely stored in your luggage and never taken out during your journey. Never keep cash in your back pocket and store passports, money, and tickets in a RFID blocking neck pouch hidden underneath your coat or clothing or in a safe front or interior pocket you can have eyes on at all times. Hold onto your backpacks and purses at the main zippered compartment and don’t leave duffels or suitcases unattended.
Have a Back-Up Plan
Sometimes we might find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation on public transit and that’s okay. If you get lost on the metro late at night or the bus is later than you expected, make your way to a crowded, well-lit location and consider your options. Use your phone to call a cab or rideshare and pay the extra cost to your destination or ask a police officer or transportation official for assistance. If these options aren’t available, consider calling your hotel or vacation rental host. In a pinch, they’ll know what to do to ensure you get to your destination safely.