TL:DR; When I’m on vacation, I like to get to truly get to know where I am, in many aspects of the word. The best way to do this? Take the bus.
I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of supposedly compelling reasons for public transit; why we should all use it, why it’s an important part of any city’s growth, why it’s changing the way cities develop.
Unfortunately those are all reasons we should take public transit. They are altruistic, feel-good appeals to the (admittedly small) parts of us that want to save the world. “But”, we say to ourselves, “buses are uncomfortable, and smelly, and don’t do exactly what we want”. Our brain points an obvious arm towards our car: “that thing right there is comfy and always on time” it reasons, “and we can sing along to Bieber at the top of our lungs while we do it”.
But when you’re travelling, that home comfort disappears. Driving isn’t quite as easy, even with a GPS. Sure, we can get around on foot, and with a cab (after all it is vacation), but I’m going to suggest another alternative: take the bus. Why, you might think, would I subject myself to the bus when I’m on vacation when I don’t even want to take it in my own city?
In one word: for the people.
When I travel, I love to “be a local”, which in some places for me is easier said than done (“be an ex-pat” is the best I can hope for sometimes). My best experiences while travelling come when I feel like I’m seeing the real city, not the one displayed for you by “Tourism Barcelona”, or wherever you are.
If you’ve never had that experience, there’s an easy solution: next time you’re in a new place, take the bus. You want a real cross-section of what the people are like in the place your visiting? Head out of your hotel during the morning commute and take the bus. Feel like you don’t really know your own city well enough? Become an undercover tourist and take the bus.
The people you see on buses are real. They are going about their lives, in this magnificent city you flew all this way to see. They give the city a soul.
There’s one more advantage I’ll mention to using public transit in a foreign city: it’s an easy way to learn the layout of the city quickly, without having to memorize every nook and cranny. A transit map is often a skeleton of the city, mimicking it’s shape and form, but keeping things simple. If you ride the bus and keep your eyes open, you will start to feel much more quickly that you understand how the city works, and that leaves a lasting connection. Remembering how the city felt is much more powerful and lasting than how the city looked.
So go forth, feel the city, and take the bus.