When it comes to travel wayfinding I’m old school—I use paper, as in maps and notes, and I talk to people. It’s not that I’m opposed to technology (although I am possibly the last non-grandmother alive still using a flip-phone), it’s just that technology can and will fail just when you need it most. How’s that fancy app working out for you when you climb out of an airplane with a dead phone and no WiFi? At any rate, I’m writing for you budget travelers who are more inclined to use public transportation than rent a car with GPS.
Here’s how to roll your travel connections with confidence:
- Carry a small notebook and write down all your airport connections, including the terminal, gate and flight number. If you’re able to get this information for your connecting flights in advance, do it. Sure, you may have a two hour layover, but plan as if a flight delay could reduced that leisurely layover down to a 20 minute sprint.
- Write down all the steps you’ll need to get from the airport to your hotel. Don’t forget to include where to catch your bus/train into town, the price of the ticket, where to buy the ticket, and walking directions from the bus/train stop to your room. If you’re traveling with someone else, review these steps together prior to departure and again before landing.
- Use Google Maps to print out walking instructions mapping the journey from wherever your bus/train stops to your hotel. If possible, cross reference the google map with a commercially printed map so you can see major landmarks. Again, it’s important to study this in advance, before you hit the pavement.
- Prior to departure, look at your hotel in Street View on Google Maps. If you’re slightly lost, it can really helpful to know what the building looks like.
- For early morning departures, locate your bus or train stop in advance. For example, on our last trip one of our buses departed at 5:45 am. We walked to the bus station the night before, found the level and departure gate for the bus, and then timed our walk back to the room so we’d know how early to leave in the morning. This is a good plan for large train stations too.
- Beware of bus connections in rural areas. Twice in the past year we’ve been waiting for a local bus at the right place and time, only to watch helplessly while the bus sped by…on the other side of the street. The best way to avoid this situation is to ask your bus driver in advance. Let’s say you catch a bus from a train station and are departing at Tiny Village. Before getting off the bus in Tiny Village, ask the driver, “We need to take this bus to the station tomorrow morning. Where is the stop?”
- Allow extra time for all transportation connections. Avoid tight layovers whenever possible.
- Carry the location and phone number of your hotel with you at all times, and don’t forget to write down your room number when you check in. I make a small printout of our itinerary, complete with hotel addresses and phone numbers, and we each keep a copy of it in our moneybelts.
- Have a backup plan. In case you miss your train, write down the time of the next train to your destination. And oh yeah, if you’re in a rural area and you’ve missed the only bus out, you’ll be really glad to have the phone number of a local taxi company on hand.
- Talk to people. A couple of years ago we we traveling in France and our train was delayed. As we approached our connection, we despaired that we would most certainly miss our next train. We struck up a conversation with a French man from the area and he kindly located a conductor and had him look up our next train’s track number. Armed with the track number, we were able to dash out at the station and catch our connecting train with 30 seconds to spare.
I know, you’re thinking all this is a bit OCD. Trust me: even the most straightforward travel connection can become overwhelming when you factor in jet lag, stress, bad weather, language barriers and the disorientation that comes with being in a foreign country. Another important consideration is safety. Regardless of your destination, transportation hubs are ground zero for scam artists and pickpockets. You don’t want to stand around looking confused and vulnerable. Do your homework in advance and you’ll stay safe, save money, and maximize your valuable vacation time.
What are your favorite old school wayfinding tips?
When you’re en-route from one destination to the next, review your walking directions and get oriented with a town map. Or……scratch that, just take a nap.