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The Adventure of Catching a Local Bus in a Foreign Country


Solo Travel Tips: How to Catch a Bus in a Foreign Country | Myanmar

I love traveling by local bus when I visit a country! Somehow, the sights, sounds and smells of the landscape feel more vibrant and awakening.  I feel alive!

Woosh, the scent of a produce market. Cruddle cruddle, wheels against a gritty dirt road. Clunkle, clunk, screeech… the  old gears change releasing the perfume of burning oil and exhaust.

So far I’ve traveled by bus through almost all the countries I’ve visited in the past four years. It gives me a chance to see and experience a city’s streets and how locals live their daily routine.  Some like to escape that experience but not me.

Still, taking the local bus as a solo traveler can be a challenge, especially if you don’t know the language.  Depending on the country, taking the bus to get around is not always comfortable, time-efficient or easy.

A taxi will shoot you straight to your destination, but with a local bus, there’s an air of mystery and a fair share of self-doubt to toil with as you ask yourself whether you’re going about things correctly. One or more missed stops can throw your route off. This ultimately turns a lot of tourists off to bus travel.

But don’t let the “getting lost” part intimidate you.

Just plan ample time to getting to your location and consider this an adventure. Some countries have challenged me, but have also given me the best memories.

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6  Solo Travel Tips : How to Catch a Bus in a Foreign Country

With developing countries or rural cities, the foremost hurdle is that you may not always have English bus signs to help you get around. Instead, you must rely on your travel survival instincts, your inner GRRR to get you through.

 

1. How to find  a ‘bus stop’ if you don’t see one

Sometimes there are no obvious telltale bus stop signs. How do locals find the bus?

Visual cues can be a pod of people waiting or standing around on the side of a street. Even if there are bus signs (like the photo below)  if it’s in a foreign language, you may mistake it for something else.

Tip: Ask a local.
That’s almost always gotten me an answer, a finger point in a direction or at least a shrug, which means… ask the next person. Officials like police men or bus attendants are helpful if they’re around.

bus stops in myanmar, how to catch the bus in yangon myanmar, how to catch the burmese bus, getting around in burma, getting around in myanmarThis ultimately turns a lot of tourists off to bus travel.

2. How to Hail the bus

Yup, hail. In some countries, you have to wave the bus down or enter a bit of the street to show your intention to catch it.  Only then will the bus driver pull over to pick you up. If you’re a shy type, this may feel difficult for you, but it’s the only way you’ll get a bus to stop for you. I was in the Nepal countryside waiting at a non-descript- but presumed-  country bus stop, but the bus kept whizzing by me without stopping. I stood at that bus stop for an hour, clueless as to why no one was stopping for me. Only when I saw locals waving the buses down did I realize the bus doesn’t make a stop unless you want to get picked up.

 

3. How do you find the right bus and the correct stop to get off at?

Tip: Have your guesthouse write the address or bus numbers for you… in the language of the country.

When there is little English spoken or used, using the country language is key. Miming can only get you so far. It’s very hard to mime directions if you’re  lost or need to get off at a stop you’ve never been to. Have someone write your bus stop and number on a paper for you so you can show it to the bus driver or attendant. This is the easiest way to communicate  with locals.

 

Upon entering the bus, I immediately “play the helpless tourist” and show them my piece of paper with the bus directions. Often this is the cue to them that I won’t know where to get off and need help. This tip has saved me more than a handful of times.

Also, showing locals a map isn’t always enough to gain sufficient help, especially if you’re showing them an “English version” map of the city (which most likely you are… tried it a handful of times). Addresses, bus numbers, directions, any important information written in their language is the best tool to approach locals with if you want help.

 

4. How to find your stop

Tip: Make friends with the bus driver/ attendant and sit nearby

So far, I’ve not had many bad experiences with bus drivers or attendants. I’ve accidentally fallen asleep, passed my stop, gotten lost, etc.. and many drivers have gone out of their way to help me get onto my right route safely.

Bring yourself to their attention and be visible.  Sit near them. If it’s an attendant, he/she will come up to me and give me a nudge that my stop is coming up. If it’s the bus driver, he’ll usually look in his mirror at me and call my stop out. But when it’s peak traffic  and the crowd swarms, they can forget, so occasionally inquire about your stop.

 

5. How to find your return  (or departure ) bus

 

Remember what side of the street you’re dropped off on. The return bus generally does it’s pickup on the opposite side of  the street. Also, it doesn’t hurt to ask passing locals, where the bus stop  is.

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6.  If you get lost… no worries…

No one likes “getting lost”. It’s a stressful experience for many,  myself included. What helps me overcome this fear is knowing I can hail a taxi. If there aren’t any taxis in sight, then I’ll talk to locals, eventually finding someone that can point me to a logical solution.

The important part to remember is that although you may travel solo, you’re never alone. Your environment is your resource and that’s what you must use. It usually makes for stronger and more personal experience.

 

Other Bus Guides (based on country):

Adventures on an Indian bus: Is it safe being a solo female traveler in India?
7 Ways to Get Lost on a Bangkok bus
How to Catch a Bus in Nepal
A Guide to Transportation in Laos

 

What are your solo travel tips on how to catch a bus in a foreign country? Have there been any countries you’ve enjoyed taking the bus to get around? Any countries you might be reluctant to use them ?

10 Comments

  1. Silvia says:

    Ahh this are great tips! While traveling with friends I almost always use local transport, including buses, but it can be so daunting on my own! I always end up feeling embarrassed, like the locals are staring at me (I mean, they usually are). But you’re right, it does make for a more exciting journey and I shouldn’t be scared off of it!

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Silvia: It feels daunting at times to me too, but it comes with the ultimate reward and realization it’s doable alone. Most local stares are out of innocent curiosity; just don’t raise a video camera and talk to it in front of them or they’ll really get entertainment value out of you. lol. When you realize there’s a bit of awe behind those eyes (not resentment or hate) it’s easy to see them as children staring out of wonder. And we do that back to them.. in their own country… while taking souvenir photos of …them! It’s Western stares that you don’t want; usually they mean bad things. lol.

  2. Arun says:

    I took a local bus from Yangon to Yele Paya and had to face some of the difficulties. The bus-stop was not in an easily locatable place and it took some incomprehensible conversations on the street before I was pointed to the right location. And on my way back, I missed my bus stop and ended up a few stops ahead and had to catch another bus to get back. It was fun though. My guesthouse folks wrote the bus number and destination for me on a piece of paper, without which I would never have made it..

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Arun: Sounds like quite an adventure! Experiencing the flaws of travel can be extremely frustrating when you go through them, but great when you look back on them. Seems like you encountered something more valuable of the country than the standard route of point A to B. =)

  3. Ekua says:

    I have a love/hate relationship with buses abroad. These are great tips. What also really helps me is studying local maps… but sometimes I’ve just hoped on a bus headed in the right direction, hoped for the best, and somehow found my way!

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Ekua: While you like to plan, you have an open mind for possibilities and that’s all you kinda need for travel. =)

  4. @TravelEater says:

    Great tips! I like taking the bus in other countries too. You can learn a lot about the culture (eg in Sont Maarten, it is polite to say “how do you do” and make eye contact with every person on the bus when you board !)
    I had a terrible time taking the bus out of the city in Panama City, Panama (complicated by the fact that I speak only a few words of Spanish). I wrote a post about it to help others benefit from my mistakes!
    http://traveleater.wordpress.com/panama-how-to-take-the-bus-if-you-dont-speak-spanish/

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