Transportation in Europe
I apologize to anyone who is studying abroad in a non-European country but since my travel experience is limited to Eastern and parts of Western Europe that is what this blog will cover.
Moscow, Paris, Prague, Vienna, Budapest – you name a city and it probably has an extensive transportation system comparable to Washington, D.C., Boston or New York City. The only difference will be language. Believe it or not, not all signs in Europe are posted in English and this makes many tourists rather frustrated. Here are some things to prepare for taking public transportation for the first time in a new, unfamiliar city (and trying to blend in):
- Research the city before hand. Most metros are color-coordinated which makes things so much easier. Others are named by the last stop on their line which may not be the stop you’re going to. Some may require validating tickets before you even get on the escalator while others may be on the honor system like the light rail in Denver.
- If you have to validate your ticket going in to the metro and leaving again, make sure you have the correct ticket with enough money on it in an easily accessible place so you don’t hold up the line – and look like a tourist.
- If (when) you get on the wrong line going in a different direction, do not panic. Simply get off at the next stop, walk across the platform, and get on the next train – after you’ve made sure it’s the correct train.
- Never pull out a map in public transportation system. You will immediately be labeled as a tourist, and probably an American, and not only will you be stared, laughed and pointed at, but you will also make yourself a target for petty theft. Most trains, in fact I’ve never seen one that doesn’t, have system maps inside the train cars. Situate yourself next to one, memorize the part you need and be on your way!
- Always carry a bag that has a zipper and keep valuables inside the bag, inside an inner pocket if possible. Thefts thrive on naïve tourists in metros and you will be burgled.
- When in doubt, ask.
- If you have a bulky bag put it on the ground between your feet. In Moscow if you keep it on your shoulder you will probably be clobbered by old ladies’ umbrellas . Keeping a bag between your feet instead of on your shoulders or back will allow about 3 more people to shove into the car during rush hour (and it’s harder for somebody to steal something when it’s at your feet than when it’s behind you). It’s a common courtesy, and in many places an unwritten rule.
- Keep hands, feet and small purses inside your personal bubble at all times, never on the bench next to you.
- Don’t stand too close to the tracks.
- Don’t talk loudly, either to your friend or on your phone. Americans are loud and people really don’t appreciate that.
If you follow these tips and do as others do you will conquer your fear of public transportation in a foreign country in no time. It is the cheapest, quickest, and easiest way to explore a new city, or show your parents around when they come to visit. Be safe and have fun!