On transit apps and international travel

I’ve done quite a bit of travel over the past 7 years; 30+ countries at this point. One of the things that’s dramatically changed my experience traveling to a new country is the availability of transit apps, both ride sharing (Uber/Lyft/Bolt/Careem), and local bus/train apps (Trafi).

Before I had a phone with a local SIM card, the ‘get from unknown airport to unknown city to unknown hotel/AirBnb’ required a fair amount of research. Are taxis reliable? Will they attempt to overcharge tourists? Is there a bus/train option that’s reasonable? Etc. And once that has been figured out, there’s still the language barriers and complexity involved in communicating with someone who may or may not understand English.

We were in Jordan over the Christmas holiday, which is an Arabic-speaking country; neither of us speak Arabic. Getting a random taxi on the street would have been difficult outside of the tourist areas. But Uber or Careem? Very easy. We can’t get ripped off, as the rate is set by Uber/Careem; we get to see the GPS of the trip; we get the interface in English so we can see the same thing as the driver in a comfortable language and interface. It made car travel much easier.

Historically, we’ve avoided taxis most of the time, unless it was unavoidable – they tend to be more expensive and language barriers and the risk of being taken advantage of made them high risk. However, ride sharing apps remove a lot of that hesitation. (They’re also cheaper, too, which is helpful.)

Local transit apps, like Trafi, are also hugely helpful. On our way back, we stopped in Vilnius, and discovered that not only did Trafi have the local bus routes built-in, but we could buy tickets directly in the Trafi app. They were cheaper than buying them from the bus driver, and we didn’t need cash.

Overall, both of these kinds of apps make travel in an unknown country much less complex. The benefits of known systems that will just work in a new environment are huge. If you’ve avoided visiting a new country because of the complexity or risks around travel, see if they have these apps and local SIM cards – they make it much easier.

They’re not solving all of our problems – language is still an issue elsewhere, like restaurants out-of-tourist-land, or attempting to communicate about other topics – but they greatly simplify the getting-around part of international travel.