For travellers, the internet has become the major source to organize trips around the globe. Booking hotels, meeting people and finding appropriate accommodation can be done within seconds. But is this really improving our experience?
The Internet brought a lot of improvements for travelling. It is easy to research the places we want to go. What is there to see and what is there to do? We can book an AirBnB Apartment, find hotels and hostels or even get connected to couchsurfing hosts. The internet allows us to get into contact with other travellers and communicate with tourist guides or locals. Just as most other developments, the internet also involves some dangers. I am not talking about frauds and other crimes. They can also happen on the street in real life. I am talking about the danger which we carry in ourselves. The danger of getting lazy.
Getting to places
Most people, and especially locals, rely on mobile Apps like Uber. In Pakistan, people also use Careem and in India, Uber is challenged by Ola. Even though I generally do not like Uber (was I the only one who assumed it was supposed to be a contribution to the ideas of the share economy?), I have to admit that it is quite handy for locals. You do not have to negotiate for a reasonable price, and you find the right driver within a few minutes. Yet, I never used it for my own.
If I want to get somewhere, I will often use Google Maps to find major routes to where I want to go. This is where the internet supports me in understanding what is going on. Instead of calling a driver to bring me to the destination, I would just open up my mind and get into my adventurous mode. I go to the next main-road and see whatever transportation I find. I tell the driver a landmark, where I want to go and even if he does not go there, he will take me to the next stop, where I will get another opportunity to reach my final destination. Just be spontaneous. Even though some people might tell that they have been conciously misleaded by drivers, I never made this experience. Not everyone wants to take advantage of you. Have a little trust, try to explain yourself. It also works without the local language, as long as you know how to pronounce the landmark properly.
Many bad experiences are good experiences
Okay, especially in South Asia, there is a limitation to this approach: Gender. It can be riskier for women to use public transport. But Uber also has a bad reputation concerning rapes and harassment. A rule of thumb is: The more women are on your transportation, the safer it is to join. In Pakistan and India, you will often find different spaces for males and females in some vehicle, but you can also share a ride on a Rickshaw with others without fear. Just be aware of local habits and dress-code.
While I am driving new routes, I will frequently check on Google Maps where I am. I always make sure to download an offline map, as I do not have a Pakistani SIM-card and thus no internet-connection, when I leave the house. Checking the map also helps me to understand the city and roads better. On my first trips to Lahore, I never knew where I was, because I always sat in a car of a friend. Nowadays, after I travelled by public transport more often, I completely know the most important streets, places and routes between them by heart. I know how to get everywhere in the city, even though it means I have to switch the transportation three times. I can independently get where I want, now.
Even if I end up somewhere unexpected because I made a mistake, I do not see it as a problem. When I travel, I find it most deliberating to just go out without a clue and take things as they come. Problems are solved on the way and getting lost somewhere does not kill you (most of the time). What would you do if you got lost in your own city? You’d just ask for help. This often gives you the opportunity to meet locals. How much tea did I drink after I asked people for the right bus or where to find the next stop for the Tuk-Tuks (yes they started calling them like this in South-Asia, too)? Don’t fear getting out of your comfort zone, start to embrace the opportunity.
Meet new people
Traveling on Uber is usually a lonesome activity. If the driver does not speak English, you just sit and see life passing by outside the window. Joining public transportation can be very narrow, loud and sometimes smelly. On the other hand, you can also have a good laugh about the situation. Crazy rides on Indian busses might scare you, but they are a damn good story to tell.
My favourite encounter was in a little car, whose trunk has been reconstructed to transport six more people. I went through Kashmir. My couchsurfing host recommended me to take private transportation in a car to go to where I wanted, but I decided to take the local bus, a local train and then see how to get to the little town called Pahalgam. Somehow I ended up in the trunk of the car, with five other people. Sitting there somehow broke the laws of physics, as the six of us where already bigger than the whole trunk. Squeezing worked and we could even stuff our luggage between us. Only Allah knows how this was possible. I was still able to breathe and move the muscles of my face, so I got into a conversation with another man. It was small-talk. After ten minutes drive, he asked me: “I have to get off soon. Do you want to drink a cup of tea at my home?” My brain had to process and decide between planned destination and spontaneous adventure.
If you know me, it is easy to guess what happened: I stayed in a Kashmiri village with an unknown family for a night, slept under a ton of blankets in a hut with poor isolation and had great food and tea. I did not really know where I was (I forgot to download offline maps for Kashmir), but I knew it was beautiful. The surrounding hills and green mountains where not as picture-perfect as my original destination was, but the experience was worth more than 100 pictures. The next day, the family helped to find the way to my destination and public transport did not waste my time, but actually made it more valuable.
There is an exception
If you really have to make sure that you are punctual or you have a tough schedule, it might be better to not get into wild, spontaneous adventures. Whenever I am going to an interview, talk or photoshoot, I make sure that I will be on time. Sometimes I rely on friends of whom I know that they are reliable. Sometimes I will take scheduled transportation. But most of the time, I travelled the route a day before and knew how long it would take. Then I will add a little time to that, in case I am unlucky with traffic or finding a transportation. If everything goes right, I will just get off earlier and walk a part of the route and maybe have a little chit-chat with people on the road. This way, what might seem like a waste of time is actually a good use of time. After all, I am roaming around to get to know more about culture and people. And you can always spend time waiting by drinking a cup of tea. Enjoy your trip!
My Top 3 modes of transport in Pakistan*
Chingchi is a form of hop-on, hop-off Auto-Rickshaw. It looks like a crossing of a motorbike and a carriage. In Pakistan, they mostly ride a fixed root and you can jump off and hop on, wherever you want. They also connect you to bigger bus or metro-stops. Most special about it is, that you can sit on it, faceing backwards and see the traffic behind you. It is both scaring and interesting. A ride in Lahore cost you between 10 (short trip) to 30 (15 minutes ride) Pakistani Rupees. It’s cheap and a good adventure. Hence, my transportation to go.
2. Auto (Tuc Tuc)
The Auto is the vehicle to choose, if you need to go to a precise place without any detours. If you are a bad bargainer like me, it can be a little expensive, but it is nothing compared to a taxi in Germany. I use the Auto, when I realize that I am a bit in a hurry.
The Metrobus is somehow not recognized as much as it should be. Most Lahoris have never used it. While you sometimes take one hour to get to the Walled City from the Canal Road by any other transportation, the Metrobus brings you there in about 10 minutes. It is easy, fast and environmental friendlier than the rest. For going to certain sights in Lahore, I will always go by Metro-bus (getting there by using the Chingchi, btw.)
Other modes of transportation
Plane, train, local buses, local privat buses (vans), Private intercity buses (Daewoo)
My Top 3 modes of transport in India*
1. Public Bus (preferably Haryana Roadways)
Crazy drivers, a lot of stuff going on, really reasonable prices and you do not need to prebook. What more can I say? Who would not choose a free rollercoaster ride? I just hate to enter with a lot of luggage, but still I would always prefer it for journeys up to 6 hours. After that, it gets a bit annoying and my back starts to hurt.
You have not travelled India, if you haven’t travelled by train. There are different classes and I love travelling in sleeper-class. It’s cheap, still you can sleep and I never had a bad experience. I mostly love the fact that you can simply open the windows or even the doors and let the warm Indian wind blow in your face, while the countries landscapes are passing by. If you want it to be a little calmer, you can also check 2AC and 3AC, but there you can’t open the windows. The trains vary in quantity and some of them travel more than two days to cross the whole country. Be prepared for delays in the North during winter, as many trains have to go slow due to the massive fog.
Just stop and go. They will charge a lot, especially from foreigners, but if you are in a hurry: Take it, negotiate and don’t be angry if you think you paid too much. It’s probably less than you would be willing to pay, anyways. Don’t let a few rupees destroy your mood. Rather get into a conversation with your driver. Some of them speak English and love to talk. Especially at tourist places, they can tell you a lot about the area. But also be careful: They often try to guide you to hotels, where they will get a commission. Needless to say that theese places will overcharge you as they already see you are a nice victim for getting some good business.
Other modes of transportation
Bycylce rickshaw, local city buses, private (Volvo)-buses, sleeper buses, plane, white mini-buses, Metro, Local train
*excluding my own feet, which is always my favourite way to travel along a reasonable distance (for travels up to 30-45 minutes, I mostly choose to walk by feet)