SkillsTravel

After living in Washington, D.C. for the past five years, I am a convert. A convert to public transportation, that is. Until I moved to this city, my gold ’95 Honda Accord (please, don’t laugh) was the preferred method of getting from point A to point B in my suburban town. I was pretty unfamiliar with how city commuting worked. I imagined confusing maps with too many colors, a lot of random numbers, accidentally going the wrong direction, and always being a few cents too short. I admit it took me a period of trial and error to get D.C.’s transportation system down pat, but once I did, I never looked back. In this article I want to tell all city-visitors and those city slickers who are still skeptical about all the great reasons to make public transportation your main method of getting around. Here are my tips on how to use public transportation like a true pro.

1. Download the app. It will absolutely become your best friend. Most metropolitan areas with public transportation systems have an accompanying app for smartphones that are equipped with maps, schedules, and a real time schedule that allow you to see exactly when a bus or metro will arrive. This means no more looking at scribbled-on posters or fading signs, just look at your handy personal guide via your phone anytime, anywhere. This is the app I use for Washington, D.C. – it’s great!

2. Buy a rechargeable card. Getting a permanent card you can reload with money is useful if you are going to be using public transportation frequently. Not only does this mean you can have a nice plastic card, as opposed to a flimsy paper card or coins, but it allows you to get right on your bus/metro quickly without stopping to add money.

3. Minimize train transfers to save money and time. Transferring can sometimes lead to extra waiting time and fees, so I do my best to avoid it completely. I like to do this by walking a few extra blocks to the line that takes me directly to my destination. Not to mention getting a few more steps in the day is always beneficial for your health!

4. Follow the unspoken courtesy rules. Sometimes these rules are written (“Save these seats for disabled and elderly passengers.”), but sometimes they are not. For example, be that kind person to give up your seat to a pregnant woman or someone with lots of groceries. Try to help someone with his or her bags and make sure to keep the seat next to you empty so someone else can sit down. Public transportation karma is real, people.

5. Keep your wallet in order. Or your pockets, or your purse, or wherever you store your card/ticket/coins for your journey. Putting these items in the same place every time you commute will help eliminate headaches and minimize impatient groans from passengers behind you as you board and depart.

6. Always travel with water & a granola bar. We don’t live in a perfect world, so sadly public transportation is sometimes unpredictable. Since you can’t predict when a delay may happen or do anything about it when it does, the least you can do is be prepared. I like to always have a drink and small snack on hand at all times because that way, I may be late and annoyed, but at least not thirsty or hungry!

I hope these tips bring you some good ideas and clarity on how to utilize public transportation and enjoy its services. Happy traveling!

Image: Flickr

CultureEducation

Traveling between my native Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. has become routine for me since starting school at The George Washington University nearly four years ago. After a couple of tedious, traffic-filled car rides and even more horrendous experiences with buses (think overflowed bathrooms and broken air conditioners), I’ve decided trains are without-a-doubt the best method of transportation there is. Here’s why.

  1. Trains are relaxing and convenient. Their movement gently sways side-to-side, the quiet murmur of people is calming, and the cushioned seats provide the perfect amount of leg room. This combination always creates an ideal environment to do homework, read, doze off, or just sit in peace with your thoughts. When time is not a serious constraint, might as well choose a method of transportation that makes the journey just as enjoyable as the destination. Additionally, trains are amazingly convenient in their free Wifi and easy ticket purchase. Traveling can be stressful enough as it is, so why not make the voyage as painless as possible?
  2. Call me a romantic, but something about a train is beautifully nostalgic. Looking out the window at the quickly passing scenery often leaves me thinking about the early 20th century, a time when the train was somewhere between luxurious and adventurous. While some trains served the saltiest caviar and finest wine like the infamous Orient Express, many carried brave souls traveling for work, to run away, or to simply start a new life. When I’m on the train, I just can’t help but think about those who rode the tracks before me and what adventure I’ll find when I arrive at the destination.
  3. Finally, trains have specialized cars – the quiet car and, of course, the café car. If you are the type of person who relishes in silence, find your paradise by sitting in the train’s quiet car, where cell phones and talking louder than a whisper is prohibited. If you’ve worked up an appetite after all that serious relaxing, you’re in luck because most trains even have a café car that serves coffee, pasties, sandwiches, and other tasty items. Trains, you rock.

Image: Unsplash

EducationTravel

It’s August. The carefree summer is slowly, painfully, even bitterly on the distant horizon. No! There are a few more weeks! For a freshman entering college, there is the buzz of excitement and anticipation. For those of you who are coming to New York City for college, welcome! As celebration of your soon­to­be­arrival, here are some things you should consider before packing up and moving in.

Dorming in NYC is nothing like dorming in a university with a campus. Many schools in suburban towns have their own little communities, enclosed with lawns, parking lots, and even buses to get from one part of campus to another. NYC is not like that at all. If you’re going to school in Manhattan, chances are you’re going to be in, well, Manhattan. Your buildings are probably integrated into the city. Parsons and NYU, for example, have their buildings and resources blocks from each other, and students tend to walk or take the subway. Some schools are more closed off than others, but if you’re in NYC, why not use this chance to explore?

Exploring isn’t hard in NYC, but it takes practice. Actually, getting anywhere in NYC takes practice. The city is a grid for the most part, but some sections, such as the West Village or Chinatown, can get a bit muddled. Remember: short blocks are streets. Long blocks are avenues. Learn to read the MTA map. Use Google Maps but keep in mind that walking, not driving, is the go­to method, so learn to live without your car.

While travelling, dress properly. The weather in NYC can range from 75 degrees to 50 degrees in a week. Autumn is great because it’s a chance to layer clothes, but check for rain, wind, or hurricanes (you can’t miss the last one). Hurricanes do affect us, as with Hurricane Sandy, so keep that in mind.

Grocery shop in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. Weekends and after work hours are packed with people getting off from work. My out­of­state friends think Trader Joe’s is a good option, and there are always corner stores that you can run to if you need laundry detergent or instant noodles in a hurry. Those corner stores (or delis) are everywhere, so no matter where you dorm, they should be there. If you have a day where you don’t have classes and you want to stretch your legs a bit, go stock up on Nutella. You’ll appreciate it.

Remember, NYC is like no other city in the world. Always ask questions, keep an open mind, and be prepared for anything. Welcome and good luck!

Image: Unsplash