Wednesday, June 26, 2019

{Travel Like a Pro}: City Life x Public Transit

A Paris Metro Station
What do some of the world's greatest cities, like New York City, Madrid, Bangkok, Paris, Chicago, London, and Washington, D.C., all have in common?  Sure, they're all bustling metropolises.  But the common thread of which I hint goes further.

For a traveler who seeks to make the most of her time in a given destination (read: immersion in the local culture and scene--with lots of to and fro), they all share a gem that has been invaluable in making my forays in each city real life #travelgoals. The gem of which I speak is the public transit system that each possesses for getting locals, and visitors, alike, around town in the cheapest (yes, to that!) and often most warp speed, efficient manner (double yes to that!).

London's Public Subway aka The Tube
In my earlier travel days, public transit was the default because I simply had no other means of regular, affordable transportation at my disposal.  For example, arriving in Spain as a college student, and soon after settling in Madrid to study abroad, meant embracing the metro for my comings and goings--and quickly proved to be an interesting lens into the people and culture in which I was now living.  Ultimately, if not surprisingly, my goal of mobility was met in memorable and often laughable ways.

The following Summer found me similarly planted in Washington, D.C. to take on a stint as a Legislative Aide on Capitol Hill.  It was a dream opportunity in an already favorite city, but the girl had no car.  (In truth, my car was back home awaiting my return, based on a judicious decision thrust upon me by my mama.  She was not about to chance my then still questionable driving skills against the D.C. traffic.)

Inside a Bangkok Transit System Station
Living in a dorm room at Georgetown University meant a daily commute that consisted of bus routes that converged into the Metro rail and ultimately got me close enough to 'The Hill' to manage the remaining sneaker-clad trek.  And you know what?  Like Madrid, I couldn't have amassed a better grasp of the city and its unique offerings almost any other way.  Like it or not, I was fully immersed--and truly gained homes away from home. 

Fast forward several years later and the merits of public transport were a distant memory and thing of the past.  In those pre-Uber/Lyft days, I was the taxi cab queen (with an occasional private car and driver added to the mix.)  Beyond the coins that were consumed, I was largely relegated to the destinations in my direct queue and minimally ventured much further beyond to gain broader exposure.  In retrospect, I was happy and loving it, but didn't know (or rather forgot) what else I could have enjoyed.

The Louvre Museum Metro Station in Paris
And I'm proud to say that I eventually shed those ways and once again made public transit my ally for taking in the cities in the immersive manner that has always defined my travel aspirations.  Did it take a bit of courage when navigating on foot, stopping (frequently) to ask strangers for directions or guidance, or deciphering through foreign languages when in Paris and Bangkok, for instance?  Yes, of course.  But the pay offs more than outweighed any inhibitions that I had.  And once I adopted that mindset, it became a natural option, no matter where my footprint landed.

My ultimate local navigation style includes a medley of public transportation (weather permitting, daylight mostly, non-heel wearing goings) and taxi/ride sharing transportation (mostly when the above conditions are reversed.)  I feel like such the "big girl" and local when I'm out there navigating those city terrains and hopping on and off the train.  And then there's the fringe benefit of being more aware of and connected to my surroundings, making my travels all the more fulfilling.

Often the simplest things have the biggest payoff and, in the world of big city exploration and mobility, this is definitely one of them.  If you're not already on the public transit bandwagon, I highly recommend it.

Happy Travels!

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