The best tips for traveling by public transport – an ode to public transport

For me the best part of travel is the adventure. I want to feed my memory with stories I never forget. Immerse myself in new experiences, weird moments and meetings with new people. We travel continuously, more than two years already, and for us there is one best thing to do to run into the best moments and to create memorable encounters. Our little secret; our travel pleasure, is traveling by public transport.

While traveling by public transport, adventure and inspiration are guaranteed. You will be surprised during your journey. That is the beauty of traveling by public transport. You are not in control. You need to let go and go with the public flow. This might mean you have to wait for several hours in the middle of nowhere. Or you are squeezed in between beautiful dressed but smelly locals. And if you are extremely lucky there are animals close by. Nothing seems to be too strange or too odd when you travel by public transport.

Meet the perfect strugglers Travelling by Public Transport
Traveling by public boat in Myanmar. 14 hours on deck. No chairs. Start in the dark. End in the dark.

Benefits of traveling by public transport

Traveling with your backpack in an unknown exotic country implies many surprises during the day. The country you are traveling is different from your country in many ways. The system for buying a bus- or a train ticket is different. The queue has different rules. The food is different. It smells terrible and it smells delicious. People’s behaviour is different and sometimes unexpected. But remember you are in heaven because this is what you want, right?

We love the chaos and the uncertainties. For us this means traveling. And traveling by public transport does the extra magic. It is like an accelerated university degree in ‘letting go’.

What are the benefits of  traveling by public transport?

Save money

One of the best things of traveling by public transport is saving a few bucks. It is so much cheaper than traveling by the tourist trail minivans, buses and taxi’s.

Travel in a slow pace

Traveling by local train or local bus means you have to slow down your pace. Let go of your efficiency goals and control wishes and absorb the heartbeat of the country. You will see the gradual change of the landscape and people outside your transport windows.

traveling by public transport
Slow down in India. It was so hot even locals took a rest.

Meet local people

There is no better place to chat with local people than in public transport. The train is slightly better for this goal than the bus. Going around like this is a perfect way to learn about the country, the culture and the people. It is also a good place to try new food. Locals offer you plenty, so if you are brave enough you will enjoy the new tastes.

traveling by public transport
We took the train from Jaisalmer to Bikaner and met this family. It was 40 degrees and everybody was sweating like crazy..

Discover local habits

Every country has its own public transport rules. In India and Nepal it is normal to take the bus with your goat. The goat will probably be on the roof. In almost every developing country the public transport system is deployed as a package delivery system. So you will have to sit next to big baskets filled with grain or vegetables. Metal stuff. Big boxes with random things and of course chickens. Chickens do often travel in public transport across the world.

traveling by public transport
Discover local habits and blend in as best as you can.

Traveling by public transport is better for the environment

It might not be a direct benefit for yourself but in the end this is a giant benefit of choosing public transport over private transport. There is already a bus driving from A to B so why should you step into a tourist minivan for a lot of dollars? Probably to make your trip efficient. But isn’t the whole idea of traveling to let go and give in to the beats of the country? It doesn’t make sense to choose the tourist trail over the local trail. Because why should a country have two different logistics – one for locals and one for tourists – to the same place? In the end it is better for the environment to have one for both.

Expect the unexpected

When you travel by public transport remember it is not what you are used to. It is less efficient. You might experience a lot of heat and sweat during the day. Expect strange odours penetrating your nasal wings. There is a high chance for delays or broken engines. The beauty is it all doesn’t matter. The more shit happens the better your story for your friends and family is when you are back home.

traveling by public transport
This public bus we saw in Cuba, Havana. The funny thing is it represents where we come from. Utrecht & Amersfoort! Expect the unexpected!

If you like to know what budget lessons we learned during our travels. Don’t forget to read our blog about travel on a budget –  10 budget travel lessons we had to learn too.

Public transport travel preparation advice

Since we always travel with local transport we want to share with you a list of how to prepare for a nice day, or longer …, of traveling by public transport.

  • Bring half a liter of water. That’s enough for a day. You can fill up at your destination.
  • Bring enough local change. So they can’t fail to give the correct change if you buy your ticket or food along the way.
  • Keep your precious belongings close by. Also when the bus stops for dinner. Just bring your bag with you.
  • Make sure you have ear plugs
  • Bring a plastic bag in case of motion sickness
  • Don’t drink too much because it is super uncomfortable to need to go and you can’t
  • In case you travel by night make sure you have warm clothes. Especially in tropical destinations they like the air conditioning on full power and you freeze to death during the night. Another smart thing to do if you travel by night bus or night train, is to bring a liner (a light sleeping bag).
  • Always trust the knowhow of local people. They help you to make a transit, hop on other busses or give the final directions if they drop you besides the highway. Which is pretty common in a lot of countries 🙂
  • Make sure you have something to create a pillow with. This comes in handy when you want to nap.
  • Bring some food. Bananas are great and salty cookies as well. For longer bus journeys the bus probably stops a couple of times as a chance for some speed eating. If you don’t have your own food you will not suffer any form of starvation. Always ask whether breakfast, lunch or dinner is included.
traveling by public transport
Sumatra. The engine broke down. I had to wait the whole day for a new bus. When prepared it doesn’t matter.

Interested in how to prepare for your next trip as well?

Trip preparation
Read here how to prepare a (long) trip in 22 easy steps

The important travel-by-public-transport-phases you should know

The last thing we want to share with you are the phases you will go through if you travel by public transport. The phases look like:

Enthusiasm – Crash time – Euphoria – Hungry – Enthusiasm – etc

At first you are excited and overwhelmed by enthusiasm. After the first euphoria you will feel sleepy. The travel rhythm makes you want to sleep. You don’t want to but you will. This is one of those fights you always lose. After you crashing into sleep you wake up and experience euphoria. All the colours you witness are extremely beautiful. Your senses are open to everything. This is the best time. It is like you are high on life. At some point this feeling of euphoria ends and hungry enters. After you fixed your craving for food your enthusiasm is back and the circle will start all over again. Don’t fight the loop but embrace it.

Have fun with exploring as much as you can by public transport. We hope you liked our blog and advice. Do you want to share one of your public transport tricks? Let us know in the comments below.

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