Transport is an important aspect to consider when planning a trip to a new city. Sure, you’ve probably worked out how you’re going to get there, but you also need to consider how to get around once you’re there. Walking is a great option if you’re going to be based in the centre near all the attractions, but chances are that you’ll need to go further afield at some point. You could take a taxi, or hop on a tour, but often the best way to get around is to copy the locals and take public transport.

Public transport varies from place to place, but could include buses, trains, trams, monorail, or colectivos (cars that run set routes like buses), among others. Some places don’t have any public transport to speak of, and sometimes taxis and tuktuks are so cheap that they act as a defacto public transport system. And part of the fun of using the system is working out what the system is.

So, why use local public transport while travelling? To listen, hit play below or find episode 342 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

1. It’s cheaper

Most of the time, travelling by public transport is cheaper than going by taxi or organised tour; usually considerably cheaper. You’ll need to find out how to pay for the bus or train before you set out: do you pay the driver or buy a ticket beforehand? Is it cheaper to buy a multi-ride pass? This information should be available online, or ask your hotel concierge or local host.

Public bus
Buses are what people often think of first, but there are many other forms of public transport.

2. You see more

Bus routes are not always the most direct way of getting from one place to another; this means that you’ll see parts of the city that you might not have gone to had you been travelling by taxi. Plus, you’ll be paying more attention to your surroundings since you need to work out where to get off (I often have a map open on my lap so I know exactly where I am), so you’ll see more of where you are and learn more about how the city is laid out.

Of course, if the city has an underground metro system, you won’t see much during the journey — dark tunnels are pretty much the same anywhere. However, you’ll have to find your way to and away from the stations, which means once again you’ll be paying attention to your surroundings.

Plus, many cities decorate the metro stations in interesting ways, and some have art displays or museums inside the stations — which you’d never know about if you weren’t travelling by metro.

You see more when travelling by public transport.
You see more when travelling by public transport.

3. You’re more in touch with locals

Travelling like a local is a great way to get an idea of how locals live. We arrived in Sao Paulo at rush hour and had to navigate the metro to get to our couchsurfing hosts’ house: an hour of crush. It was uncomfortable but eye-opening: tens of thousands of Sao Paulians go through this exact experience every day.

You might find yourself in conversation with the person next to you, as I did in Encarnación, Paraguay, or be surprised by the silence of the journey. You may be entertained by buskers or offered food, drink, or one of a variety of products: I saw a man buy a mirror on the subte in Buenos Aires, then bought myself a pack of tissues a couple of days later.

Travelling by public transport can be an adventure in itself.
Travelling by public transport can be an adventure in itself.

Sure, there may be some criminals around who are out to rip you off — keep a close eye on your belongings and pay attention to anything out of the ordinary that’s going on — but most of the people travelling by public transport are just going about their daily lives, travelling to and from work, going to visit friends or heading out for a meal.

Travelling by public transport is an experience in itself. Don’t miss out on it by always choosing the more sterile option.

What has been your most interesting experience when travelling by public transport?

This episode of the Indie Travel Podcast is sponsored by 23 and Me. is a genetic service that provides you with DNA reports about where your DNA comes from around the world.

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Note: this article was originally published in 2011, and was recorded as a podcast in 2017.

Your thoughts on "Why use public transport when travelling"

  • Also utilizing public transport will help us to know more about the culture of the place. As we can interact with many people and can come to know their thoughts.

    on November 28, 2011 at 4:31 am Reply
  • Hi Linda! Just found your blog and I'm really enjoying your posts! We're living in China now, and often take "bus adventures" in our city where we just hop on a random bus and see where we end up. Usually we ride until it makes the full loop back to where we started. We've seen some interesting parts of our city that way, including getting stuck at a coal mine out in the boonies! Like you said, taking public transport is a great way to explore a place like the locals do and see things you might not have seen otherwise.

    on May 16, 2012 at 7:45 pm Reply
    • Hi Jen, your bus adventures sound like fun -- but I hope you weren't stuck at the coal mine for too long! I'm glad you're enjoying the site. :)

      on May 17, 2012 at 7:55 am Reply
  • We subscribe to your podcast and heard this one today. We couldn't agree more! We (husband and wife) are on a year long adventure traveling around Europe. Everywhere we go, we take public transportation and love it! In over 8 months, we've only rented a car twice. Taking buses/trains/trams/etc in an unfamiliar country was intimidating at first, but it's so much better than driving. We love getting to see more of the city and meet new people. Plus, we don't have to worry about parking, tolls, and the differences of driving in a new country (signs, laws, side of the road, etc.). Whether it was a Tube strike in London that shut the city down or taking a mini bus in Turkey, or a taxi in Cairo, we have so many fun stories of our adventures on public transportation!

    on July 21, 2017 at 3:05 am Reply
  • Thanks, great guide. Also trying to use local public transport when traveling

    on May 9, 2018 at 9:18 pm Reply
    • Thanks Michel! Glad to hear you're also using public transport -- I think it adds something special to the journey. :)

      on May 10, 2018 at 2:13 am Reply
      • Exactly ! You get to see how people live in their everyday life, and sometimes meet some of them =)

        on May 10, 2018 at 5:07 am

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