Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

There’s a bit of glamour in solo backpacking, but it’s mostly a grind.

One of the most common struggles is figuring out how to get to your living accommodations when arriving in a new city. I did this at least a couple dozen times over the course of seven months backpacking in South America. Here’s how:

  • When I was lazy and it was available, I’d just take an Uber.
  • When it was less than three miles away, I’d walk.
  • When I was feeling adventurous or it was relatively straightforward, I’d gladly take public transportation.
  • When I was short on money and there was no Uber, I’d reluctantly take public transportation.

I chose each option about a quarter of the time.

Bogota was by far the most stressful experience of them all. I mapped out my entire journey over multiple days.. and still got lost.

In Bogota, the primary public transportation system is the TransMilenio, a bus rapid transit (BRT) system. It effectively serves as a train, subway, and bus all at the same time. In the middle of every highway, there’s even a dedicated “mini-highway” for the buses.

Source: WUVM

When I walked into the bus stop to start the journey from the airport to my hostel, the first thing I noticed was the multiple platforms packed with buses. And each platform was lined with dozens of signs and huge crowds of riders to match. As I soaked in the scene, I realized what a long journey I was in for.

It was the first and only bus ride I’ve ever taken in which I changed buses in the middle of a highway. Three bus changes, two hours, and one short walk later, I rolled up at the hostel and promptly took a nap.

My afternoon crossing Bogota

Bogota was the extreme example. But whether it was language (everything in Spanish), safety (don’t travel through certain areas or use transport options), signage (no directions), ticketing (if it’s cash-only, you need to have or exchange currency), timing (rush hour crowds), road conditions, or even the weather, every first trip in a new city presented some combination of these challenges.

So ride-sharing becomes the default option for international travel because the barriers to using public transportation can be high. I hope it’s another opportunity for transportation super apps to rise up and knock down those barriers, or it may be yet another reason for cars to continue dominating the market.

Endlessly curious, always optimizing. Startup and product enthusiast. vincenttsao.com