Taking public transit in strange and unknown places is one of my "guilty challenges" (instead of guilty pleasures, I refer to these things as guilty challenges because it's something that I shouldn't necessarily like to do, but I love the challenge of it! And the feeling of satisfaction when I master it 😈)
I love taking public transit for several reasons, but mostly it's because that's the place where you see the real culture and life of the place you're visiting. You'll see tired parents dragging home their children from school, businesswomen on their way to work, a graveyard security guard eating his morning meal, and so much more!
So don't be scared of or bummed you're taking public transit, rejoice in the opportunity to experience the authenticity of the city.
Here is my best advice for taking public transit while in an unknown place - some of these may seem simple, but you'd be surprised that not many people do these things!
1. Use the bus rather than the subway
While the metro/subway/railway may take the shortest amount of time, I usually take the bus instead because of two reasons: first, the environment is typically a bit better. In my experience, buses tend to be in better shape than the metro, and sometimes even have air conditioning! Plus, I've had more luck finding a seat on the bus. (Also you won't be looking like a fool trying to figure out which metro exit you should take - cause you'll already be on the street!).
But the main reason why I elect to take the bus rather than the metro is because it gives you the opportunity to see the neighborhood! It's like a free bus tour - you just have to do the research yourself 🤪
Recently while taking the bus in Paris, France I was able to discover several new places along the route that I wanted to visit:
The first was a LARGE outdoor food and goods market that spanned multiple city blocks. I quickly screenshotted my place on Gmaps so I could go back.
The second place I saw was a large cemetery where the tomb of Jim Morrison is. I had seen this cemetery on the maps but driving by was great because I learned where the main entrance was and it totally piqued my interest even more.
The last place I saw on my bus ride was a large public square with a huge statue and tons of cafes lining the streets. I actually stopped here on my way back to get lunch!
So you see, riding the bus instead of the subway can have a lot of benefits. I challenge you to take a route you haven't yet and experience something new 💥
2. Keep your ticket in a handy place
This may seem like a no-brainer but I've witnessed a lot of people digging through their bags and blocking space near the exit. In my experience, you never know if you'll need your ticket to exit the metro station so I always keep it in my front pocket or somewhere super handy so I can quickly grab it in case I need it.
This also makes it much easier if a guard comes onto the bus or train asking to see your ticket!
3. Use the reflections to your advantage
This is my #1 tip while using public transit. On the metro or subway, it's almost always dark outside of the train so there are reflections on the glass at any time of day. And of course, this trick only really works at night on buses.
But either way, use all the tools at your disposal to keep you and your belongings safe. I use the reflections in the glass to become aware of everyone around me, as well as keep an eye on things like my backpack or a back pocket, which are out of my line of sight.
You can also use this trick to see if anyone in particular is staring at you or looking at you or your stuff a lot. There have been times where I saw men through the reflection looking at me several times and I moved to a different part of the train to avoid them.
Better safe than sorry!