Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “Life is a journey, not a destination.” This beautiful saying has been twisted, turned and flipped around in order to apply to just about everything we do, including travel. Travelers are encouraged to soak in the unexpected, the in-betweens and the spontaneous ventures off the beaten path where legendary stories and adventure await.
What you didn’t know is that by journey, Mr.Emerson was subtly encouraging travelers to take local transportation whenever, and wherever possible. Okay, that might be pushing it, but it’s good advice and something to keep in mind when tempted to hail down a cab and make a beeline towards your next destination. Why, you ask? Well, here are MY 5 reasons to take local transportation when traveling overseas:
Understanding the culture: When I was volunteering in Tanzania, I would take the bus every other week into the city to purchase food and staple goods with my Canadian colleagues. The bus we took into the city was so full with people that those of us who were lucky enough to grab a seat ended up holding small children on our lap. These trips formed the basis for my learning Swahili, and, through conversations I had with the children and their parents, I acquired an enormous understanding for the life of the Tanzanian people! Interacting with the locals, no matter where you are, is the best way to understand a new culture and what better forum than en route from one destination to another when time is, really, all you have.
Understanding the society: Transportation plays a central role in any society and can provide us with great insight into how life really works on a daily basis. How do people get around? By bus? By car? By boat? By tuk-tuk? By motorcycle? Do people commute into the city everyday from the countryside? Is public transportation widely used by the population? What’s the traffic like? Taking the local transportation makes you aware of what is going on around you.
Out of your comfort zone: Whether it’s jumping on a bus without being entirely sure where you’re headed or taking the wheel in a foreign land, stepping outside your comfort zone is one of the most amazing things about travel! I will never forget taking the bus from Kuala Lampur to Malacca and the feeling of dread as I stepped off the regional bus and onto a local one with no sign or number letting me know I was headed in the right direction (read the full story here). Or the experience of driving a motorcycle in Cambodia which wasn’t something I ever thought I would do. I mean, I’m nervous enough driving around downtown Montreal, but Cambodia? Well, guess what? I did it! To date, it is one of the coolest things I have ever done. Step outside the box and enjoy the journey! You’re likely to get lost once or twice, but you’ll have a hell of a time doing it.
Great memories (and stories): The great things about local transport is, you’ll always have a good story to tell back home. From going full circle on a bus route in Toulouse en route to a rugby game to having a man eat my cookies on a overnight train in India, my travel journal is chalk full of funny things that happened to me while taking local transportation. I’ve taken overnight ferries in Thailand where they cram passengers in like sardines, slept underneath a table on the “sex-boat” from Finland to Sweden, had squawking chickens flutter at my feet aboard a local bus in Tanzania and nearly fallen off a camel in Morocco – and look… I’m still here and I’m still going to take local transportation, every time.
If you never try, you’ll never know! Transportation in any country can go either way: it can be really enjoyable, or…well, not. But, if you test the various methods of travel, you’ll soon find which are your favourites and which are to be avoided in the future! For example: I LOVE overnight trains. I love zoning out, putting my headphones on and falling asleep to the rocking of the train in between stations. I HATE long boat rides where I can’t lie down. I get seasick! No thanks! From now on, it’s the top bunk for me!