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Witte Travel Guide: 4 Tips for Using Public Transportation Abroad

Public transportation in Paris

Unless you are a seasoned traveler or you live in a big city, using public transportation while traveling can sometimes be intimidating. But public transportation is not only very budget friendly, it is also very efficient. As a bonus, you get the experience of traveling “as a local”. Recently, I used London’s Underground, more commonly known as the Tube, to get around the city. If you are still planning transportation for your upcoming trip and don’t know how you are going to get from the Tower Bridge to Westminster Abbey in less than 15 minutes, here are a few tips:

Purchasing your pass or tickets

If you know far enough in advance where you will be traveling, you can buy a pass ahead of time and have it mailed right to your door. But if you don’t have the chance to do this before your trip, don’t worry — Underground stations have a ticket counter or an automated kiosk where you can make your purchase. I did not purchase my card ahead of time; I simply used one of the automated machines.

To use the Underground system in London, you can choose to purchase a single / return ticket, a day pass ticket, or a reloadable Oyster card. The Oyster card is usually the easiest option, and it can also be used for other modes of public transport as well: bus, tram, London Overground, National Rail, etc. The Oyster card cost me a £5 deposit and then I was free to load as much money on it (or “top up”) as I saw fit. Another example is the Metro in Paris, where you can purchase a pass ahead of time, or buy individual tickets at automated Metro stations. Keep in mind that it is usually more cost-efficient to buy a pass, rather than point-to-point tickets.

Public transportation ticket options in London

Grab a map

Maps are often considered out of date and old fashioned in today’s technology-filled world. But I can tell you from experience that, when navigating a new subway system, a small portable map is your best friend. Stations always have large maps posted throughout, but with a portable map, if you are planning your day over breakfast, you can mark the names of your stops ahead of time. You can often find free Underground maps in the tube stations, or you can download and print them in advance. I also always download the local public transportation app on my phone, as this is always very helpful. But take note, sometimes cellular service while traveling abroad is spotty, especially if you are underground in a subway system.

London Underground map

London Underground map courtesy of Transport for London

Stay safe

It is very important to always be aware of where you are and where you are going. Double and triple check the names of your stop, and keep an eye on those around you. Always keep your personal items with you. Sometimes transport authorities will want to check your pass or ticket before exiting the system to make sure you have paid for your transportation. Make sure to keep your metro card or ticket in a safe, but easily accessible place until you have exited the station. It is not worth risking a fine because you did not keep track of your ticket.

Waiting for the Tube in London

Ask questions

Before you travel, be sure to ask your travel professional any questions you may have. They can assist you in purchasing these passes ahead of time, or guide you through the exact process for the city you are visiting. Stations also have professionals throughout the system to assist you if needed, so don’t be afraid to ask!


Have you tried using public transportation while traveling abroad? Share your experiences with us in the comments or on Facebook!