- I took public transportation in Berlin and Vienna during my first backpacking trip to Europe.
- Although I take subways at home in NYC, I was nervous about using public transit abroad.
- But taking subways and trams in each city gave me more confidence as a solo traveler.
Public transit has been a large part of my life for the last decade.
Unlike my high school peers, I never got my driver’s license. So in college, I took city buses to and from my campus in Austin, Texas. Once I graduated, I moved to NYC, where the subway is my car. After four years in New York, I’m very comfortable taking public transportation around my city.
Commuters on the subway in Berlin in October 2022.
But when I went backpacking through Europe by myself for the first time last October, I’ll admit I was scared to try out public transit in Berlin and Vienna — cities where English is not the primary language. I thought it might be daunting and tough to navigate these transportation systems since I didn’t have a good sense of the areas like I do in New York.
I was nervous as I first stepped into the underground world of Berlin’s public transit system. But once I looked around, my anxieties were eased when I realized it was no different from my home city.
The platform looked the same, with signage identifying the upcoming trains. In fact, the largest difference I noticed was how much cleaner it seemed to be than the stations back home.
Inside a subway station in Berlin in October of 2022.
My first subway ride in Europe took me from Berlin’s central train station to the neighborhood of Kreuzberg in 17 minutes. As I walked up the underground steps to my destination, I felt almost like a local myself. The ride reminded me of home and gave me more confidence as a solo traveler.
My positive experience in Berlin motivated me to take public transit around my next destination, Vienna. I took subways and trams between my accommodations in the Schönbrunn neighborhood and other neighborhoods and districts including Landstrasse, Alsergrund, and Innere Stadt.
Inside a subway car in Vienna in October of 2022.
In my opinion, both Berlin and Vienna had clean public transportation systems that got me everywhere I needed, and using them helped me have a better sense of each place.
I also thought public transit apps made it easier to navigate each system. The routes were easy for me to learn after downloading the apps because there were maps and trip planners, as well as tickets.
When I was riddled with self-doubt about being able to navigate these foreign cities, taking public transit gave me a real sense of competence as I stood among local commuters.