Hit The Road
Public transit is best way to probe cities
ONE OF THE BEST things about living abroad, which can also be one of the most difficult things, is not having a car. Hawaii has such a car culture that the prospect of living for months without one can seem like an impossibility. But if you are going to be living in a bigger city, like New York, Boston, Tokyo, London or Paris, public transportation is much easier than getting around by car, and it can even be liberating.
When I went abroad for the first time and looked at the multicolored lines on the London Underground map, I was overwhelmed. However, within a few days I understood how things connected, how to read the station signs, and that following the rest of the crowd was the best way to learn the cultural rules of riding on the tube. You will be in close proximity to people you've never met before; somehow, having your face in some stranger's armpit will seem perfectly normal.
You will find that public transportation gives you the independence you need to travel to any big city, which not only encourages more travel, but boosts your confidence, too.
ONCE YOU'VE mastered one subway system, negotiating others is pretty simple, except that the names and number of lines can change. In Boston the subway is called the T, and each line is named after the color that it appears as on the maps. On the Paris Metro, things get a tiny bit more complicated if you don't speak French, but you can pretty much figure things out by becoming familiar with station names. The subway in Tokyo is extensive, and a bit like looking at the tangled wires behind your television set, but people are happy to help you find your way -- it might just be a matter of waking one of the seasoned riders from their commute-time nap.
With the state of our world, public transportation can sometimes seem risky. I was in London the summer of the bombings, and everyone was on edge for a while. I remember that the trains stopped running at Tottenham Court Road, and everyone was forced to leave the station. Waves of people came pouring out onto the streets, squinting in the sunlight and pulling out their map books to figure out how to get to their destinations without the aid of public transportation.
For a few days, people were wary of going back underground or getting on a bus for fear of more attacks, but the bus and subway systems in London are such a part of everyday life that things had to return to normal quickly. The citizens of London were angry because taking away their freedom to ride the public transportation meant taking away their independence as city dwellers, and they weren't going to let the bombings keep them from living their lives.
Perhaps because of past terrorism, public transportation has become safer because of the heightened security measures instituted afterward.
Joy Uyeno travels frequently throughout the year, and her column geared toward beginning travelers or youths experiencing their first extended stay abroad appears the second Sunday each month in the Star-Bulletin Travel section.