If you plan on being on the ground long in your chosen destination, it’s certainly worth your time to learn the lay of the land. While walking and taxis can get you most of the places you need to be, there is a lesson you learn after many years on the road: almost every single country in the world outside of the United States utilizes buses as a main system of transportation for its people. And while it might be a somewhat foreign concept to some people, buses not only provide regular and on-time service, but they also only cost a fraction of what it takes to drive a vehicle.
Living like a local means adapting and doing things the way the locals do it. Regardless of where you decide to set up shop as a digital nomad to follow the location independent lifestyle this is the core message behind these posts: live like a local. It doesn’t mean living poorly or shunning basic needs. It simply means choosing intelligently the best places to live based on the cost of living combined with interesting cultural adventures and excursions.
Buses are the main means of transportation for people around the world. You can go to any backwater corner of Europe, South America and Asia and still find reliable, regular bus services or some form of commuter vehicle with room enough for half a dozen people or more. They are incredibly cheap, cover all corners of the country like a spiderweb of networks reaching out from the transport terminals and as long as you know a few basic things you can use them to get around in a way that puts you at the heart of living like a local as you explore the districts of your city.
A great way to start is just buy a ticket for a bus and get on it. Ride it around the circuit and see what you see on the way. Jot down notes or upload the data to your iPad or similar and save that information for later on. Sure, it’s an adventure and yes, you have no idea where you are going when you get on the bus (which can be a bit of a rush for the uninitiated), but the end results are total immersion in the environment which forces you to take notice of certain things more than you normally would. Survival instincts kick in if you are a first-timer, and you track landmarks and make notes for use later on.
Learn how to read the bus signs and save your spare change for buses. You are going to be using them a lot in foreign destinations. Most of the time the ticket vendors only deal in small bills or change, so you won’t be able to use large bills in any case. As far as learning how the buses work, most buses will either have a map at the station with a clearly-marked route on it, or they operate as they do in Latin America, which means the major landmarks and street names are painted on the front of the bus and when you see one heading towards somewhere you need to go you simply hop on.
Buses are not for poor people only. This is one of the common mistakes some first-time tourists make when they come from a Midwestern town (or similar location) in the United States where buses are almost non-existent, such as Greeley, Colorado where I used to live. There, the buses are unorganized and only run about every 45 minutes to an hour. There, only the poor people ride the bus. After all, you are a nobody in the U.S. if you can’t afford to have a car, and most people won’t ride the bus unless they have absolutely no other option. In most other countries, on the other hand, the bus is a major means of transportation for millions, and everyone from the lower class up to the upper middle class rides buses on a daily basis. It’s cheap, reliable, on-time and they are always running, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Mexico is a good example of a quality bus system. Not only do they cover every corner of the country but the larger companies, such as ADO, have overnight buses with beds along with WiFi, catered food and work stations so you can stay connected to your home office even while on the road for extended periods of time. You can cross the country for a fraction of what a plane ticket costs and be just as comfortable along the way, albeit you will arrive slightly slower since buses aren’t as quick as planes. Argentina and Brazil also have phenomenal bus systems, as does Italy, Bulgaria, Greece, England and just about every other developed or developing country in the world. So the next time you are planning a trip abroad or an extended stay as a digital nomad, remember that living like a local means having access to excellent bus routes and taking advantage of them is just part of the game.