Responsible tourism is all about THE WAY you travel - all the way from where you stay to how you get from A to B. Sophie Foreman tells us why getting public transport on your next adventure cannot only be a conscious and sustainable travel experience but also the most authentic.
Buses, trams, trains, boats, tuk-tuks: I've had a love-hate relationship with local transport during my life. Living in a rural village, the hourly bus to the neighbouring hamlets and town bought me essential freedoms. But having lived in London for seven years, the novelty of the daily commute on the London Underground, being squeezed into someone's sweaty armpit, gasping for air, has definitely begun to wear thin.
One public transport experience that's etched in my memory, is an 11-hour overnight ride from Kigali to Kampala which involved a bus from the 1960s, people sitting on stools in the aisle, a couple of hitch-hiking preachers, having people's babies thrust upon me and only ONE toilet stop. The fact I was even on the bus was a miracle! Nobody knew what time the bus was supposed to turn up or depart. After waiting for an hour, we inquired again and were quickly ushered into a taxi which started cascading down the road, we soon realized, in pursuit of the bus we were supposed to be on, but just hadn't stopped at our terminal that day! Closing in on the target, the taxi driver, proceeded to move onto the opposite side of the road to get parallel with the bus, manically waving and beeping until it pulled over for us. This was the only bus of the day, and this was how we were going to make sure we got to Kampala in time for our departing tour.
So after a nerve-wracking experience like that, why am I going to tell you about the joys of using public transport when you're travelling? Well, that same bus journey was also where the women on the back seat taught us all their local songs. Because, I may have been crammed on a stranger's lap in a mini-van in Cape Town, but that's also where I danced with the other passengers as the man in the front row started playing his trumpet.
HERE'S WHY I EMBRACE PUBLIC TRANSPORT ON HOLIDAY, AND WHY YOU SHOULD TOO:
1. It's good for the environment
This goes without saying. Yes, it's tough to be carbon neutral when you're travelling halfway across the world, but we can try to be responsible and sustainable where we can. Choosing to rent a bike, walk or take the train will definitely reduce your footprint. I understand, sometimes a taxi is the only option and if it is, make sure you stay safe and, where possible, ask your accommodation to order one for you.
2. It's cheaper...
...which means you can travel for longer and spend your money on experiences that really matter to you. In my late teens an early twenties, I could rarely afford a taxi, let alone a private rental vehicle, and my way of seeing the world was very DIY. Saving money by taking the longer slower route, meant I could splash out on a bungee jump or white water rafting.
3. You can eat the local cuisine
You might be sold 'the local cuisine' in the main tourist traps, but taking a journey on the bus or train is the only way to see what local people really eat. There is nothing like experiencing food in real life whether it's grabbing a rolex (heavenly omelettes wrapped in a chapati) from a man selling it through the window at the bus stop or buying a mango from the woman with the basket of fruit sitting on her lap as she journeys to the market.
4. You get to meet new people and celebrate their culture
This all depends on which country you're in and, to an extent, how outgoing you're feeling on that day. For example, if you try to speak to someone on the tube in London (a sure fire way to out yourself as a tourist), lovely Londoners will either straight-out ignore you, or give you a pitying smile, wondering if you're of sound mind or not. However, jump on a bus in the rural countryside of just about any country, and you can pretty much strike up a conversation with everyone and anyone - a real way to learn about another culture. Ninety-nine percent of the time, if you're travelling within another country (whilst being respectful and responsible), people are proud to share their local knowledge with visitors.
5. It gives you time to take in the scenery
'Slow Travel' is a responsible travel term we hear thrown around a lot these days. It can mean many things: from reducing our fast-paced consumption of 'experiences' or taking the time to be more conscious about your travel choices. But public transport is, quite literally, slow travel. You won't be getting anywhere in a hurry. But if you embrace this, you can truly absorb the sites, sounds and scenery on say a two-day train journey through India or Ecuador. You might stop off in small towns and villages along the way that would have never been on your original bucket list, but represent an authentic reflection of life in that country.
So wander forth, (always aware and respectful of the local customs and social situation) and enjoy creating wonderful new memories while using public transport. Yes, there may be some uncomfortable experiences wrapped up with the great, but they're certain to be an adventure, give you a new perspective on life and make for some good stories!