I’m 16 and Unready to Take a Bus on My Own

Hey Readers — I got this very honest note today:

Hey there. My name is J. and I am currently 16 so I’m a bit biased. I briefly skimmed the comments and would like to say that I love the Free-Range concept. All I know is that there is something wrong with the idea of a 16 year old (myself) not knowing how to take a bus. Forget the subway. I was never taught this and can’t bring myself to risk getting lost.

To which I responded:

Actually, it will be GREAT if you get lost. Then you’ll get yourself UN-lost one way or another, and then — poof — you’ll realize it’s not that big deal. I am going to post your note on my site and you will get lots of encouragement! I hope you will write us back after you’ve taken a trip — even a really short one — on your own! – L

I should have added that it also makes sense to just ask someone to teach him how the bus system works, and to not feel bad he doesn’t know it yet. Anyway, readers — encourage away!

 

Hop on!

Time to hop on!

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77 Responses to I’m 16 and Unready to Take a Bus on My Own

  1. Jessi October 25, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    Some of the very best experiences and adventures come from getting lost!!
    ~Still getting lost at 31

  2. lihtox October 25, 2013 at 6:45 pm #

    Nothing wrong with not knowing how to do things, so long as you’re willing to learn! There are probably millions of American adults who have never taken a bus before and have no idea how it works.

  3. Remy October 25, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

    After college, when I moved to an urban area with much better public transit (we still complain about it, but it exists), I regularly got lost the first time I took a new bus. It was kind of an in-joke that I’d SOMEHOW manage to get the bus going in the wrong direction (for at least a few stops). I have to say that, although I was inconvenienced, and occasionally kept others waiting while I sorted out my travels, nothing really bad ever happened to me. Several years later, I am an old hand at the ins and outs of trains and buses around here. Bus drivers are generally very helpful and able to answer questions like “Can you tell me when we get to the Ballard Street stop?” and “Does this bus go downtown to the courthouse?” Google Maps and our local service’s online trip planner have also helped me decide where and when to catch the bus, how long the trip should take, where to get off, and how to get from the bus stop to my destination. Depending on where you are, there may also be a website like NextBus.com that covers your transit agency. The biggest trouble I’ve had is paying unknown fares with exact change — so unless you have a pass like a MetroCard, just make sure you have cash on you! Dollar bills and coins are probably best.

  4. Emily October 25, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

    When my mom was 25 or 26, she got lost on the metro in DC. She had me (aged 2-3) and my sister (5-6 at the time) and while I have no memory of it, my sister claims that we were supposed to go from The Mall to a hotel and meet my uncle. My mom took the wrong train and it wound up taking us several hours longer than it was supposed to. My sister remembers it as one of the best days of her childhood. Anyway – this is to say that it’s never too late. And you will find yourself in a situation (hopefully) at some point where you’ll be looking at a train table and have no idea (I was 28, in Dusseldorf, with my husband and no kids) and then you’ll make a decision and – even if it’s not the right one – it’ll be an adventure and you’ll ultimately end up where you want to be. Put some emergency dough in your pocket, make sure the battery on your phone is charged, and don’t be afraid to rely on the kindness of strangers for directions. Have fun!

  5. Heidi October 25, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    I used Google Maps on a recent trip to Boston and it worked great to show bus/subway routes and times.

  6. Angie October 25, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

    J — hop online and find the web site for you local (city, county, whichever) transit company, the people who run the busses in your area. If they have a system-wide map, figure out how to get one. You might be able to order one in the mail, or download and print one, or you might have to pick one up at a major stop, a cooperative store in the area, or the transit center if there is one. A bus ride to the transit center to get yourself a map could be your first trip.

    A map will give you a general idea of what numbered lines go where. With a good bus map, you can get anywhere within walking distance of a bus line. Getting there quickly and efficiently takes more planning.

    Some bus systems have one fat pamphlet that gives schedule info for all their bus lines, and some have a separate pamphlet for each line. You should get ahold of these — either the fat pamphlet if they have one, or the separate pamplets for the bus lines that go near your house, your school, your favorite mall, and anywhere else you might want to go. You can usually pick up route pamphlets on the busses themselves, or a transit center might have all of them, if your system does the each-line-separate thing.

    In the schedule, it’ll show all the major bus stops for a given bus line, and when the bus gets to each one. If you’ll be getting on at a stop in between two major stops, make sure you get there by the time the bus is due to arrive at the closest previous stop; that way you won’t miss the bus, even if you have to wait a few minutes.

    If all you have is the map, you can still ride around and explore. Start early in the day, so you don’t run out of buses. (Different buses will stop running at different times; some run only during commute hours, some stop running around eight or ten pm, or midnight. Occasionally there’ll be a major route or two that runs all night, but those are rare.)

    So, say you want to go to the mall. Look on your map and figure out what line or lines you have to take to get there. Maybe the 14 runs by your house, and crosses the route of the 65, which runs to the mall. Find a bus 14 stop, make sure you’re on the right side of the street (that is, make sure you’re getting on the bus in the right direction) then catch the next 14 that goes by. When you get on, you can tell the driver you want to transfer to the 65. He/she will often call out that stop, so you’ll know when to get off. (You might also be able to get a transfer, which is cheaper than paying two fares.) Keep an eye out yourself for the 65, though, because some drivers won’t help you out, or forget. (Like any large group of people, some drivers are jerks, although most are cool.) Look on your map and see what street the 65 is on, when it crosses the 14 route. Watch for that street. When you get to it, ring the bell to get off the bus.

    If you see the stop or street you want a little late, the bus might pass the stop you wanted. That’s okay — so long as you rang the bell, it’ll stop at the next stop, and you can just walk back.

    Find the stop for the 65, and make sure you’re on the right side, etc. Take the next one that comes by, and get off at the mall. Tah-dah! Do it in reverse when you’re ready to come home.

    Try not to press your luck in the evening until you’re comfortable with navigating the routes, or have ridden a certain bus often enough that you’re sure you know exactly when it comes by the stops you want. Missing the last bus and getting stranded sucks; I’ve walked home a few miles more than once, after missing a last bus. Make sure you know when the last bus is going to go by when you’re away from home, and plan on taking the one before that, at the latest. That way, if you miss it, or if the bus doesn’t come (sometimes they break down), you still have another shot.

    Bring a book or something; you’ll get used to waiting at bus stops. And once you’re familiar with a route, and know by heart when to get off — when you know about how long you’ll be riding, so you can look out the window and recognize a landmark half a block or so from the stop you want, so you can ring the bell — you can read on the bus, too.

    This sounds like a lot, but you get used to it fast. I’ve been riding buses since I was younger than you — I’ve never learned to drive, so any getting around I want to do near home is on the bus — and once you’re used to it, it’s not hard at all. :)

    Have fun!

    Angie

  7. Suzanne October 25, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

    Do you have a cellphone? *In my day* (I say sounding like a geezer) we had to learn how to ride the bus –without– a cellphone, so that if you did get lost, you were stuck. You had to find your own way home.

    I would aim to take an easy route to some safe bus stop that has a lot of foot and vehicle traffic. That way, if you lose your way returning home, you can ask strangers.

    Strangers are happy to help people find their way. So are bus drivers. “Will this bus take me to x?” They’ll let you know.

    And if worse comes to worse– bring a lot of money and take a taxi, and try again next.

    The bus is no big deal.

  8. Joseph October 25, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    Why should this surprise anyone?

    We have people who still want to be on their parents’ health insurance until they’re 26. And we wonder why they are afraid to take a bus or subway when they’re 16?

    I’m honestly not trying to politicize this, but ye Gods! You have to get them ready for the apron strings to be cut at some point, and our society keeps making it harder and harder to do that.

  9. nancey October 25, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

    J- Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers! Most people will be helpful if they are local and know their way around. The hardest part may be figuring out how to pay. In Boston, you have to buy a Charlie card with enough funds to cover your ride, sounds like other places still take cash. Make sure you have plenty of quarters as well as extra dollar bills on hand. My kids loved riding the subway; they would be happy to go to Boston just to ride on the trains and then go home again.

    Have fun!

  10. Suzanne October 25, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

    I grew up in an area without public transportation and had never been on a bus before either. When I was 17 I went to a prospective students weekend in Chicago. I bought my own plane ticket, planned how to take a subway and bus to the university. But when I got out of the subway, I couldn’t find the bus stop. I was lost, but I had a backup plan, which was simply to take a taxi, and everything was fine. My parents were pretty uninvolved in this trip, which was before cell phones. I can’t remember if I even called them while I was away, or if they just picked me up at the airport at the scheduled time. in any case, everything was fine. you can do it!

  11. Leslie October 25, 2013 at 8:46 pm #

    When I was a Junior in college, I spent a semester abroad in Seville, Spain. I had no problem traveling half way across the world by plane, taxi, subway and train. However, I lived in Seville for 6 months and only in the last month did I get brave enough to take the bus around town. I had used all the other methods of transportation before so they didn’t scare me but I had never used a public bus system before and it completely intimidated me. I finally had to go somewhere in Seville about month before I left that I had to take a bus to get to and so I was forced to figure it out. And you know what…it ended up being no big deal. I ended up wishing that I had figured it out before then. I LOVED Seville – everything about it. That city really got under my skin. But, I realized late in my stay that I had missed a huge portion of it by limiting myself to walking primarily and taking a taxi when I had to (no subway system where I was). It is one of my few regrets about that trip. So…go take the bus…at the very least it will end up being no big deal and it will probably open up something entirely new for you.

  12. marie October 25, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    When you get on the bus, make sure to look around at the other riders. You will see that there is nothing extraordinary about them. You might see someone who looks absolutely, frighteningly brilliant…but probably not. Look at them again and then tell yourself, “If THEY can figure out the bus system, so can I.”

    This advice is useful in any number of situations.

  13. Wendy October 25, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

    We live in a small town about 1/2 an hour from a major city. None of us had ever used a public bus. Then my son (age 19) started attending a college on the opposite side of the city. He has a carpool most days, but the other person travels for work so is not always available, and my son does not have his own car. The city bus to the rescue! It doesn’t come all the way to our town, but does come to the edge of the city (25min from home instead of 60). My son really balked at using it. It was totally out of his realm of experience, and he is one who does NOT like doing unfamiliar things. He had a few mistakes, and one time I had to drive all the way in to pick him up as a result, but now he LOVES the bus. He can easily navigate the website, and enjoys using a long layover between buses to explore the downtown area. A metro-card for bus fare can give you a LOT of freedom, without the cost of a tank of gas and parking fees. Just jump in with both feet, and I bet in a week you’ll be an expert!

  14. Kate October 25, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    Lenore is right; if you just do it you’ll soon discover that it’s no big deal.

    The summer I was 14 I went to Europe with my mom and my 12 year old sister. My mom has a terrible sense of direction so I was the navigator: car, bus, train, metro – whatever way we were traveling that day. After a few days in Paris I was moving through the metro stations so quickly that I had to slow down or risk losing my mom and sister. The confidence I gained on the trip stayed with me and has proven very useful. When I was 20 and on a college trip to Mexico I was the only student who felt comfortable taking the bus (20 cents) instead of a taxi ($2). Once I did miss my stop but the thing about buses (and subways) is that if you just stay on them you’ll eventually wind up back where you started (and as a bonus I got a really cheap tour of the city ;).

  15. James October 25, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    The key is to just not worry about it, and feel free to ask for help. I’m 30 years old, take public transit a lot, and I’m still a little confused when I get to a new city and try to take the bus, since every city is a little different.

    A few tips:

    -Google Maps is your friend, both in terms of telling you which bus to take and, if you have a smartphone, in terms of telling you where you are.

    -The first time I take a particular route, I try to spend the whole time either looking out the window or looking at a map (i.e. I’m not reading my book or phone). This helps me piece together where I am.

    -If possible, sit close to the front of the bus. That way you can see what’s ahead of you, and (hopefully) see your stop coming. You can also ask the driver if you think you might have missed your stop (happens to the best of us!)

  16. Sara October 25, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

    Take some snacks and a water. My sister learne to stock her car with snacks because she moved to a new town for a short period of time (as an adult) and kept getting lost on her way home from work. She would take a different route each day to avoid traffic but ended up learning her way around her new town. The only problem was she was always hungry!

  17. Sarah October 25, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

    Go for it! I didn’t ride a bus until college! Of course, I didn’t know what a city block was until 7th grade (grew up in the country). The first time I took my 3 year old daughter on the subway into DC was awesome!

  18. Donna October 25, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

    Don’t beat yourself up. I’m 43 and have never ridden the city bus in my hometown and I’ve lived here on and off since I was 17 (I do occasionally use the university buses). I have no idea how to do it. I’m sure I could figure it out if I had to but it isn’t something I have any interest in doing just to do.

    I have, however, taken public transportation – buses, trains and subways – in several major US cities and foreign countries. The worst that ever happened was I got stuck spending the night in the Pisa train station because I misread a sign and missed my train (although my 7 year old leaving her backpack on the bus in Auckland sucked too).

    If you want to do it, just go for it. You seem like a smart guy who can figure it out.

  19. Kerry October 25, 2013 at 10:02 pm #

    Having grown up in the exurbs, I don’t think I ever took a bus by myself till I was 17 and in college. Honestly, at 37 I’m still nervous when trying to find my way around a new city’s system (I just hate being lost), but I have managed it in many places here and abroad. Don’t let your fear stop you – one thing I do remember when I was a teen was how exhilarating it was to have the freedom to go places by myself finally.

  20. Really Bad Mum October 25, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    Start by going with a friend or someone around your age. Prepare and have a backup plan.

  21. pentamom October 25, 2013 at 10:06 pm #

    Depending where you live, being 16 and never having ridden the bus is no big deal, nothing to feel bad about. I lived in a small town that had bus service in and out of the nearby larger city, but I never really had need for it until I started full time summer work while in college. So at that point I learned — but like everyone says, it wasn’t a big deal. Just study the schedule, keep a copy of it with you the first few times (on paper or on your smartphone if you’re that high-tech), and have your exact change ready with some extra.

  22. Meagan October 25, 2013 at 10:26 pm #

    I was 15 when my mom let me take the bus by myself, in safe, friendly Eugene, Oregon. I’m 32 now. I totally got lost.

    I was supposed to be meeting my boyfriend downtown, at a store called the Caddy Corner, which I thought was random, but whatever. Possibly everyone else already sees where this is going.

    Naturally I couldn’t find the golf shop, because there wasn’t one. We were supposed to be meeting at a game shop catty-corner to something else.

    I don’t remember how I got unlost… But I remember one big difference between childhood/adolescence then and now. I was worried about a lot of things: where my boyfriend was, my mom freaking out, what the hell I was supposed to do next and how embarrassing it was not to know my way around downtown Eugene after living there my whole life.

    I was NOT worried about being kidnapped, murdered, raped etc in broad daylight the way my overprotective mom worried would happen if she let me take the bus. In spite of the fact that any of those things were more likely then, in the mid 90’s than they are today, they were STILL incredibly unlikely, and worrying about that sort of thing was just not normal.

  23. Warren October 25, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

    J,
    My great grandma always said, “You will never be lost, as long as you have a tongue in your head.”. If you are not sure on where you are to get off, there is a busload of people that will help. Most of whom know the route better than the driver.

    Make your first trip someplace with a huge building. One that you can definitely see from the bus. Might be easier.
    Good luck.

  24. SKL October 25, 2013 at 11:31 pm #

    I agree, what’s the worst thing that can happen? When I was a kid, I had to take the bus to my optometrist while my parents were at work. I missed my stop a couple of times – only to find that the next stop was a shopping mall, yippee! Then I handled my business (and a little fun) and came back on another bus – the express – that didn’t stop at the place I was supposed to get off. No problem – all buses go to the “bus barn” at the end of the night, and I knew my way home from there on foot. ;) And that was long before the days of cell phones. Go for it!

  25. baby-paramedic October 26, 2013 at 12:43 am #

    I had never caught a bus either and was from a rural area, and suddenly I found myself living in the city.
    I ended up in all sorts of places I wasn’t trying to get to. Mostly the bus drivers were very helpful, but I had one put me off at the wrong stop. And not even a little bit wrong – I was travelling from zone 1 to zone 1 and ended up in zone 4.
    The worst thing was I only had a zone 1 ticket and no cash to get a new ticket (back then it was cash only in the suburbs) and not enough money for a taxi, but added to that it was now 10pm at night, and I had no idea where I was. I presumed I hadn’t left Brisbane, but even that was only a guess!
    I called a friend who told me where to find the nearest busstop heading back towards zone 1. (Generally it will be across the road and down a block or two). The bus driver not only let me on the bus with just a zone 1 ticket, but dropped me off at a busstop along the way that wasn’t on his list of stops, so I could walk safely home.

    And that was the worst that happened. In an unfamiliar city, with next to no money and having no concept of how busses even “worked”. Sure, I got lost a fair few times, but always found the way in the end.

  26. Kim Robson October 26, 2013 at 12:46 am #

    Whenever I move to a new area, I take an afternoon to get lost. It’s the absolute best way to get your bearings in a new neighborhood. Do it on foot, even. Trust me, you’ll find your way home. Give yourself a few hours so there’s no stress for time. You’ll find out which are the major thoroughfares and the best cross-streets. You’ll spot the closest laundromats, grocery stores, liquor stores, gas stations, banks, dry cleaners, tiny produce shops, “Cheers”-like bars, ethnic eateries, coffee houses, and dog groomers. You may even meet some of your neighbors out on their porches. Smile at strangers you pass.

  27. Julie October 26, 2013 at 1:17 am #

    Can you get a friend to go with you? Sometimes a companion and a cell phone can make a world of difference for your first excursion.

    That said, I very rarely use mass transportation, except on the very few vacations where I had to. Given that and my INCREDIBLY BAD sense of direction–seriously, you will meet very few people that can get lost as well as I can–I have a healthy fear of travelling alone or with just my kids, who could offer little help and would probably add stress to the situation. However, last year I went to Istanbul (flying from the US) and ended up having to navigate my way to my hotel and then explore the city ALONE for the first day because my travelling partner got delayed out of Chicago. My biggest fear was getting lost in a huge foreign city where I didn’t speak a word of the language. But I went out and wandered about, and it was one of the most freeing experiences of my adult life. I was practically on a high when I got back to the hotel. Without meaning to, I came across the grounds to Topkapi, Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, and Million Stone. Because I was brave enough to leave the hotel alone. DON’T wait until your as old as I was (38) to do this. There is so much to see out there, but you’ll miss it if you let your fears get in the way. GET ON THE BUS! GO EXPLORE!

  28. Ben October 26, 2013 at 5:32 am #

    Hi J. I can imagine how it seems like a scary thing when you haven’t done it before. I took buses with my mom all the time when I was a kid, so when I got to middle school, my parents had no problem letting me bike and bus all over town.

    Still, I did get nervous when I had to travel on the metro in Rome and the waterbuses in Venice, because when I started, I had no clue how the system there worked. But that resolved itself after a couple of days of travel.

    You’ll never learn if you don’t try. Maybe try a bus route you’ve driven with your parents in the car, so you know the buildings and street names?

  29. Suzanne October 26, 2013 at 6:32 am #

    Why not ask a friend to go with you. I learned to use transit by going on adventures with my friends. At 12 or 13 we’d head out together. By the time I was 14 or 15 I was happy to go by myself. A few trips with friends will give you confidence as you may get lost together.

  30. Bostonian October 26, 2013 at 6:56 am #

    Man up, J. It’s not that hard. You just have to do it. The one piece of advice I’ll give is not to take the bus the first time in order to get to a job interview on time. Heh. Getting lost a few times is part and parcel of it. So block off enough time. Remember two things: it’s well within your abilities; and most people will be happy to help you.

    Think of it as a game. I’ve gotten lost on buses before, and getting unlost is kinda fun actually. You get to see places you didn’t expect, and putting together how you got there and how to get back is more fun than the puzzles you can do on your floor.

    Seriously, getting lost is just ending up somewhere you didn’t expect. There will probably be people there, going about their lives, you just won’t know them. Asking people for directions is well within the list of things that most folks don’t get bothered by, especially if it’s a cheerful young person asking.

    I remember one day long ago (cue the mists of time) when I was 18 and in my junior year of college. My high-school girlfriend was a senior and going on a class trip to Rome. I was at college in Wales so I took the train down there from Amsterdam to see her. One day I met her at Ostia Antica and we managed to peel off for a private conversation. After a little while, a few of the other kids got separated from the group as well, and they were hysterical and crying by the time they ran into us.

    I told them don’t worry so much and they said “That’s easy for you to say!” Yes, yes it was. Though they were actually the exact same age as I, it was very easy for me to say. I got there on my own in the first place.

    Here V and I were trying to get lost, in possibly the coolest, most romantic place on earth to get lost, and here they were not appreciating how fabulous this was. I tried to explain how wonderful this was for them, and how their experience of antiquity could now be unmediated and mysterious, but they weren’t buying it at all.

    I had to help those pampered kids find their way back to the bus. My cover was blown. Ruined my afternoon.

    Don’t be those kids.

  31. Maggie October 26, 2013 at 8:30 am #

    The daycare my daughter attended was downtown so we rode the bus every day from the time she was 3. The bus was usually full by the time it picked us up and there wasn’t always an empty seat, but then someone would offer to let her sit on their lap, which I always accepted. She loved it!

    Her daycare took the kids on field trips by city bus to museums and parks. One afternoon they were returning downtown and got on the right bus, but going in the wrong direction. It wasn’t until my daughter pointed out that they had just ridden past our apartment building that they realized their mistake. She was probably about 4 at the time.

  32. EricS October 26, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    Everyone started off scared and apprehensive at one point. But a soon as they take those first crucial steps, we all realized it was not such a big deal after all. And we found courage, and even excitement to experience it again. Many of us here grew up in the 70s and 80s. A time where it was very normal to see 6,7,8 year olds out and about playing with one another. Back then other parents or adults (strangers) kept an eye out for other children, not just there own. So we knew that if we got lost, we could ask an adult for help. Of course we also learned to know who was bad and who wasn’t. (ie. getting us to go off with them, rather than just telling us). I was 5 years old when I first started taking public transit with my parents (didn’t own a car at that time). So my parents taught us the system. I memorized the routes. And having been walking to school and back on my own from the age of 6, I gained more confidence in traveling on my own or with friends. So by the time I was 10, I was already taking public transit on my own. It doesn’t matter how old you are. What’s important is that you learn. Once you learn, a whole new world opens up to you. Including finding your own self, and what you are very capable of doing, despite what you are told. Sometimes, just because their your parents, doesn’t make them always right. When parents become overly protective of their children, they tend to steer them in the wrong direction. Not because they don’t love them, just that fear over powers their better judgement.

    My suggestion, find someone you know who’s taken public transit and is familiar and comfortable with it. It doesn’t have to be an adult, it could be a friend or an older brother or sister. Travel with them a couple of times. Ask them questions (don’t ever feel stupid asking questions you don’t know the answers to…that’s why we ask questions…to learn). In those trips, grab a map/bus route to look over when you get home. And when you feel brave enough (its ok to be a little nervous, you get over it), take a trip on your own. Pick a destination where you want to go (the Library, the Museum, the Mall), then map out a route to that destination and go. I found it fun taking public transit when I was a kid. Not so much now as an adult. Which you will learn about Rush Hour as you get older. lol But for now, enjoy.

  33. Luschka October 26, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    One of my favourite things about going to a new country would be taking the subway map and spending the day ‘getting lost’ and finding sights, restaurants and activities not on the tourist maps. I even loved doing it in my own city! If you are really scared start on circular route so you know that you will end up where you started off!

  34. SnarkyMomma October 26, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    The sense of pride and accomplishment you’ll feel after getting yourself “unlost” will be awesome! Go for it!

    With all the technology available to help you find your way you’ll probably either make it to your destination just as planned, or find your way there very quickly after getting lost.

    Don’t be afraid to ask for help either – people are way more friendly and helpful than you’d imagine them to be.

    Good luck, and HAVE FUN!

  35. CLamb October 26, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    Isn’t map reading and navigating public transit one of the fundamental skills which should be taught to all children in school?

  36. Chihiro October 26, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    A month or so after I first got my license, I had to drive myself to a choir rehearsal on some college campus I wasn’t completely familiar with. I knew how to get there from the few other times I had driven there, but to my surprise, the main highway near the campus was closed for road construction. My GPS wasn’t helping me, so I called my mom and asked her to give me directions. I got there, a bit late, but in one piece. After the rehearsal, I got in my car and went back home. When I got there, my mom flipped a lid because I hadn’t called her on my way back, and she was just positive that I had gotten hopelessly lost again and was never getting home. My dad actually had to yell at her and tell her it was a *good* thing I had gotten lost-I had come out of it okay, didn’t I?

  37. Emily Guy Birken October 26, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    Plan on getting lost. It’s actually a great deal of fun. When I was 21, I did a semester abroad in Paris. While I spoke French (I majored in it), I was still very shy about my listening and speaking skills when it came to talking to rapid-fire real Parisians.

    My first day there, before I had bought a map of the city, I got hopelessly lost when I went for a walk to explore the neighborhood. I ended up finding my way back to my host family’s house by studying a map in a realtor’s office window and memorizing the route back. I still feel warm fuzzies about that first solo exploration of the city, and I was even more excited to recognize places from my “lost” day later on in my time there once I had gotten to know the city better.

  38. JP October 26, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    Actually, it’s pretty simple, kiddo.
    Just find someone your own age who actually does, (or knows how to) take the bus.
    That way it’s cool. No fuss. No adults. No embarrassment.

  39. bmommyx2 October 26, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    I think part of the problem is that kids shouldn’t be afraid of trying something unfamiliar out of fear of making a mistake or doing it wrong. I run into this with my seven year old doing homework. He would rather not do than get it wrong. Mistakes are how we learn. Depending on where you live Buses can be confusing. Depending on where you live you might not have much occasion to use one. I never really used them as a kid, but when I was in High School I went to school Downtown & there was not much nearby for lunch. We were sick of the school cafeteria, the Catering truck parked outside the school & the Mexican take out down the block. Some friends & I got the idea from some other kids to take the bus to McDonald’s we did this several times, but then once we somehow missed out stop or got on the wrong bus & got lost. Needless to say we got in trouble for getting back to school late from lunch, but we had fun & we always met interesting people on the bus. When I was in my 30’s my hubby & I were supposed to go with a group to San Francisco, but he couldn’t go so I went without him. There were times when we had free time alone without the group & I went exploring the city taking the buses everywhere. I found them confusing & since I didn’t really plan out my trip I relied on the bus drivers for direction. Some were very helpful & some not so much. I did get lost here & there but it was a fun adventure. We now have a shuttle bus that runs up & down the main road & I have taken it with my boys. My plan is that eventually my son will be comfortable enough to walk to the stop alone & take the bus to & from school alone. He is only seven & a bit fearful so I will wait till I think he’s comfortable.

  40. hineata October 26, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    @Julie – you should have met my grandfather -he sounds like your type :-) . Amazingly poor sense of direction too -he once walked into the bush near his farm for a few hours of hunting and wound up walking out seven days later a hundred km away! And he was famous for driving the wrong way up one way streets. Great fun to travel with….:-)

    @J, like everyone is saying, no shame in needing to learn something new. I came from a one-horse town and didn’t learn to use ‘real’ buses -as opposed to the school ones – until I moved to the city as a 16 year old. Didn’t actually learn how to cross a busy road until then either, and gotta say I found that much scarier, so I bet you’re one-up on me!

    And getting lost really is fun – it’s the best way to find little places in your own backyard that you never knew existed. So go and have a great time, and please let us know how it went :-)

  41. Oelsen October 26, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    Huh? What is there even to learn? You look on the map, figure out the schedule and wait…

  42. KB October 26, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    To the commenter who complained that some people “want to be on their parent’s insurance until age 26″. This may not be a choice issue.

    I earned my MS and PhD over 8 years, age 23-31. During none of that time was there a school-related policy available to me. I earned a whopping 10K/year as a research or teaching assistant and private insurance would have cost me more than half of my salary. I went uninsured through graduate school – and was lucky to not have gotten in a car accident. That was eight years that I spent one medical event away from bankruptcy.

  43. Renee Anne October 26, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    I grew up in an area where there wasn’t public transportation. I went to college in a similar situation. My first delve into public transportation was when I was 27 years old and going back to college.

    I had my bus pass, I hopped on the bus, looked at the driver and said, “okay, what do I do?” She told me to swipe my card and when we got to the stop where I wanted to get off, yank the cord.

    Now that I live in San Francisco, I had kind of an idea what to do and it kind of worked…I still don’t use the public transportation like I could but I can ask and all will be well.

  44. tdr October 27, 2013 at 7:28 am #

    It is amazing what KIDS (people really) can do when they need to be resourceful.

    I am reminded of the a friend’s Mom’s story during WWII. Through one thing and another she was forced to make her way alone, at the age of 8, from one Czech town to another. When she arrived home in the 2nd town, she found it was unsafe for her to stay there and she made her way, again alone, to Budapest to a sibling where she spent the war as a “mute” housemaid to hide her accent. I’m sure she got lost many many times before she landed safely in Budapest.

    At the age of 8!! There are many more stories like this about the bravery and resourcefulness of children in the face of adversity.

    I love Lenore’s comment — don’t worry if you get lost! You will get unlost one way or another.

  45. Rose October 27, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    Whenever I move into a new city I take a couple of days to hop on a bus and get lost and find my way back again. Here’s why that’s safe:

    1. If a bus goes somewhere, it or another bus goes back from there!

    2. One in three people walking down the sidewalk will know exactly what you need to do to get back home, if you just tell them where you want to go.

    3. If I’m truly stumped, a friend would love to laugh at/rescue me, and that’s what cell phones are for, right?

    Bring a friend, go out early in the morning, bring some pocket cash so you can pick up food out, and make a day of it! It’s a cheap way to have a little adventure.

  46. Steve October 27, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    Not all who wander are lost.

    Try it and see where you go.

  47. Andrea Shindeldecker October 27, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    My mother is mentally ill and as a consequence, I wasn’t really allowed out of my house as a teenager. I was terrified of getting lost. And then I did. I got lost. ALL THE TIME. I freaked out about it too. I even cried in the car and panicked about it. But. BUT! I didn’t let it stop me. I traveled. I went. I found my way. I moved to a big city. I learned to take a bus. I screwed that up too. The train as well. And it’s OK. I’m and I STILL get a little nervous trying to take a new route and a detour but DON’T let that stop you. Please! It’s worth it and you are capable!

  48. Eileen October 27, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    Hey there…my 14 year old started using the bus at 11 and what we learned was a) start with short predictable trips b) spend plenty of time exploring your local bus company’s website c)don’t be afraid to ask the driver if you need help or are unsure and d) just always have extra money for an additional fare if you do get lost (or just buy a pass).

    My kids started young, I however didn’t take my first bus until I was 23 (I grew up in a rural area without public transit – and I was terrified!), so don’t feel alone. How wonderful that you are ready for some responsible independence. Have fun exploring.

  49. Jodie October 27, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    J, I know it’s scary and frustrating to get lost, but As L said, it will be good for you because you can get unlost one way or another. I’ve been blind since birth and have been lost plenty of times. Either with the help of other people, my own resources or my guidedog, I’ve always found my way back. Good luck and please keep us posted when you’re ready to take, and have taken, a short bus trip on your own. *hugs* You can do it.

  50. Nona October 27, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    Being from LA I’d never ridden a bus, and was terrified. But when I moved to DC it became clear that riding the bus was the best way to get around the city. I studied the route, memorized where to get off and bravely stepped on. But, my stop never came. Turns out, the bus driver had gotten lost. I eventually made it to where I needed to go and don’t think I was even late. Now I ride all over NYC by subway and bus with my three kids.

  51. Rich Wilson October 27, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    If you don’t have a bus pass (for school or something) and the bus system offers a ‘day pass’, get one.

    I started riding city buses at 9, and just the bus to and from school, 10 cents each way. But on Sunday I could buy an all day pass for a quarter, which I did, and I just rode random buses. I knew every bus would get me back downtown if I stayed on it long enough. It wasn’t long before I had adults asking me for bus route advice because I knew where every route went. And of course all the drivers got to know me as well :-)

  52. LaShonda October 27, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    J-don’t be afraid. i started riding the bus alone in my city (Gary, IN) when I was 13 to go back and forth from my grandmother’s house home. The best thing you can do is to get the bus schedule, as much change as you need, and take different routes to different end points to see where and how to navigate the system. Take a Saturday-see if the bus system where you live has a day pass or free transfers. As other poster have mentioned, it will build your confidence if you are aware of different paths the bus can take you, and it will open up your world. Good luck!

  53. forsythia October 27, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    There’s google maps that often has a “transit” option to give you transit directions. Also, many systems have a navigation option on their website that gives you different routes and transfers. It isn’t like Dublin, where you couldn’t even get a MAP in 2009! With a cel phone for backup, it can be a fun time. Just make sure that you don’t have to be any particular place at any particular time at first.

    I was 17 when I went to college in a far away city with a subway system – and I got lost alot because the signage really totally sucked (inbound and outbound are meaningless when you are in the center of the city and underground!) and, when underground, I didn’t know which way I was going! I did figure it out.

  54. Hels October 27, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    I have been taking public transportation by myself since I was nine. That doesn’t mean that I have never been lost… once, well into my 20s, I was in Italy and taking a bus back to the train station in another town when I saw the bus making a wrong turn and screamed for the driver to stop. He stopped and he explained that this bus route has two options – once an hour it goes to the train station, and once an hour it does not. This was not the train station bus. It just hasn’t occurred to me to ask my hosts about this, since I (wrongly) assumed all buses go to the train station. My options were to either go back to the previous stop and wait some 40 minutes for the next bus or just walk over to the train station, about a mile and a half away. I opted to walk and made it there way before the next bus would. :)

    Being 16, I assume you are getting ready to drive? Aren’t you afraid of getting lost when driving? Happens to the best of us. I have great sense of direction, yet once I got distracted and missed my exit in an area where I have just moved to and wasn’t familiar with. I did make it back to where I needed to be – but it took me extra 40 minutes and 20 miles of going around because I stuck with major roadways only. There is no such “lost” that can’t be un-lost.

    The only important thing is not to make your first trip be a really, really important trip. Being an hour late to a job interview, for example, would go beyond embarrassing and into “blew my chances” territory – so better take a bus for the first time now, when you have plenty of time to spare and not going anywhere important so you CAN get lost and get unlost. Good luck!

  55. Veronica October 27, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    Over time, I’ve gotten to know my city pretty well. I like to take a street map, a compass & a few bucks and get on a bus to a wholly unknown (to me) neighborhood. I just get on a bus I have never taken, ride it until it gets to a place that looks fun & interesting, get off & explore. When I am ready to go home, I take the same bus back, double checking my compass that I am headed the right way. Ihave yet to be disappointed on one of these adventures, and it’s made me a more knowledgeable & self-reliant person. I would highly recommend other folks try iy.

  56. Erica October 27, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    As a former Tranist bus driver, as well as Mom to 2 young girls (aged 6 and 11), I find it so important to teach kids how to get around their town town, how to look for land marks and most important how to talk to people and how ask correct questions. It is so important that we all know (no matter of age or experience)how to get lost and found, how to ask for help and how to try to do something on our own. I say go for it. Take a friend, do some homework, make it an adventure :)

  57. Papilio October 27, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    The advantage of getting lost by public transport instead of by foot/bike/car is that whereever you get off that bus (or whatever), you are at one of those stops on the PT map.

    For appointments in places I don’t know I always look everything up in advance and write down where (which platform/stop) I need to be at what time (in case of transfers also when and where I arrive, so I know if I should hurry up).
    When I pick a busline from the information at the stop itself, I memorize the stop I need to get out, but also the one or two stops before that, to know when I’m almost there.
    Of course Google Streetview is also handy to figure out what the right street looks like (also handy when you need to walk the last part of the trip).

    And yes, everybody makes mistakes. I was always convinced trams would stop at every stop, just like trains and subways do – but no, I had to raise my hand to show the driver I wanted to get on his tram. Apparently there had always been other people with the same destination, but that time there weren’t…

  58. Gina D October 27, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    I went from a small, sheltered life to Rutgers University, where the only way of getting around is their inter-campus bus system. It terrified me, but one day I climbed on. Student groups post all their fliers on the roof of the bus, and I saw one for RAZI the Rutgers Association For Zionism in Israel. I didn’t even know what that was. I realized there is a whole world out there, and by taking small risks outside of my comfort zone, I was opening up that whole world to me. The busses became my best friend.

  59. LRothman October 27, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

    My sister-in-law was babysitting my niece (who was about 4) when she was a teenager and they took the Metro into DC from my sister’s house. While they were there, my sister-in-law lost the list of addresses & phone numbers, as well as directions back to the house. After several attempts to get where they were going (including a tour of George Mason University), my niece remembered that she had a phone number pinned to the inside of her coat and they found their way home. If they hadn’t, eventually they would have found a police station and it would have been figured out.

  60. Dano October 27, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    Started taking the bus to grandma’s house at age 4. Yes 4. 40 minutes, in Los Angeles (through LAX no less) Loved the bus. Sat in the front seat with all my vital info in a note pinned to my shirt. My parents told the driver where I was getting off. Grandma was waiting at the stop. When I was 6, my then 4 year old sister started riding with me. Was fascinated with the fare box.

  61. Snow October 27, 2013 at 6:41 pm #

    Just smile and ask the driver for help if need be. I had a car in college and lived off campus, but on the many occasions my car broke down I took the bus. One day I took the bus from school to the local mall where I had to transfer, but there was a massive blizzard coming in and all the buses were being pulled. It looked like I was going to spend the night at the mall. I found a pay phone (this was pre-cell phones, I’m old) and I called the bus company. They actually re-routed the bus that was nearest to the mall and had them come and pick me up. It was a nice experience. Just smile and talk to people and although sometimes you’ll run into idiots, most of the time you’ll find good people. :) Good luck!

  62. QuicoT October 27, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

    Go kid! You can do this!

    The key is realizing that it’s really ok to ask strangers for directions. It’ll be awkward at first. There’s a chance people won’t know or won’t want to tell you. But take the time to look around, search for a friendly, reassuring face – and just ask politely how to get where you want to go.

    Do this just for practice a few times, to get comfortable with it. It’s a key life skill, and there’s no way to learn it other than to just do it!

    Little by little, you’ll start to realize “hey wait, most people are really willing to help!” It changes the whole way you look at strangers.

    You can do it!

  63. Bob Davis October 27, 2013 at 11:48 pm #

    I’ve probably told this one before, but back when my daughters were in middle school (grades 7-8) the younger one and one of her friends took the bus over to a mall about 25 miles and five towns away. Fortunately, there was a bus route that covered the whole distance, but it went through a questionable neighborhood at one point. I’ve forgotten whether she asked me for a timetable or looked one up on her own (this was back around 1973, in the Los Angeles area), and I know she wouldn’t have asked her mom (my first wife) because mom had absolutely no use for buses after a bad experience during her teen years. When I came home from work and she told me about this adventure, I was so proud. I should add that this was during her days of delivering newspapers on her bicycle, splitting a route with her sister, which gave her a source of “spending money”.

  64. H Reagan October 28, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    Still getting lost at 41! In cities where I live or which I’m visiting and in other countries! It’s the best way to get to know the place to which you moved IMO. Awesome way to find new and incredible places, too!
    Just watch, look around, and ask some friendly-looking people to help you get to where you want to go!
    Grab some dollar bills, hop on the first bus you see and go across town and back. (Don’t forget your cellphone though so you can call someone in case of real trouble. Free-range does not mean you should ignore common sense.)

  65. Warren October 28, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    “Isn’t map reading and navigating public transit one of the fundamental skills which should be taught to all children in school?”

    Map reading I can go with, yes. Navigating public transit, heck no. This fundamental skill you call it, is something that parents, and family teach. That would be like having the school teach your kid how to shower, fold clothes, walk the dog and so on.

  66. Joanne October 28, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    I grew up in a small town without public buses. I moved to Alaska and we had limited bus public bus service so I learned the basics but there were only 2 lines and it was really hard to get lost on it. Then I lived in a bunch of states without public transportation and finally moved to Seattle when I was in my late 20s. That’s where I first learned to embrace public transportation and since then I’ve used it successfully when travelling including in Ireland. You’re never too old to learn to use public transportation! And once you have it is a great tool!

  67. Rebecca October 28, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    I hope it went/goes well for you. :)

  68. Valerie October 28, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    I didn’t read all the comments, so apologies if someone already said this.

    I’m curious as to the writer’s location. I grew up in a small town with absolutely no public transportation (unless you count those big yellow school buses! LOL), and I was “free range” before free range was a thing (one of those kids who left on my bike in the morning, came home for lunch, and went out again until dinner). But when I moved to the big city for college at 18, I had absolutely no idea how to ride a city bus. This was because there had never been any reason for me to, and honestly my parents probably never had to ride a city bus, and their parents probably didn’t either.

  69. Sara A. October 28, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    I’m gonna tell you what I told one of my neighbors who was concerned about her kids going to high school across the city. When I was in high school I had a two hour commute across NYC involving multiple transfers across multiple forms of transport in the days before cellphones. I had a few times of falling asleep on the train and waking up several neighborhoods away from where I needed to be. I was always able to ask someone for directions or find a payphone and call my mom for help. Nothing bad ever happened to me and some of my best memories are from being able to wander around Manhattan on my own after school and discover the flower district and the garment district and the many little clusters of niche stores each like their own Narnia. My mother taught me that if I am scared or lost and I need help, step inside any of the following kind of buildings:
    -A fire station, the firemen will help you
    -A police station, the police will help you
    -A building with a doorman, the doorman will help you
    -A store, the person at the register will help you
    -An office building, the receptionist or the security desk will help you
    -A restaurant, the hostess will help you
    -A hospital, the receptionist will help you
    -A salon, the receptionist will help you
    -A hotel, the bellmen or reception will help you

    Every day, everywhere people are waiting to be helpful. You have to give them the chance to do so. Trust your gut. If you are straying into a bad area, it will tell you.

  70. Tsu Dho Nimh October 28, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    Forget the subway. I was never taught this and can’t bring myself to risk getting lost.

    OK … don’t risk getting lost. Systematically explore the system at a time when you don’t need to be anywhere specific. You aren’t “lost” you are just at a “new and surprising location”. OK?

    I used to take my nephews onto the BART (San Francisco area subways) and we would ride one or more lines from end to end, then get off at the station close to their house. Cheap thrills.

    I used the Seoul Korea subway system despite not knowing any Korean. They had labels in English on most things. And the mexico city system, which is HUGE.

    http://www.korea-hotel-reservations.com/seoul_subway_map.html

    There are a few tricks:
    Remember the name of the station closest to your home by the stop name and the line name and the color if they use color coding. My hotel in Seoul was on the orange line and the closest stop was a University … really easy. My usual hotel in Mexico City was near the subway stop for the Cathedral (and anyone in DF could find the cathedral for me)

    Buy a daily or weekend pass for this exploring (if they have them) so you don’t have to worry about exact change. Or one of those electronic tickets you can add money to. I managed to buy a pass in Seoul from a man who spoke no English, just using pointing.

    Then set yourself a task with an easy to find goal: Assuming you are in New York, find Wall street. Find the Met Opera house.

    It’s easy, it’s just a different kind of navigation.

  71. SD October 29, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

    I have a terrible sense of direction, but my husband and I put a positive spin on it: when we make a wrong turn or end up somewhere unexpected we don’t say “I’m lost” we shout “Adventure!” Going adventuring eases the immediate stress and it’s really true – you can find great new stores, parks, neighborhoods, etc. when you’re adventuring, and you’ll learn the area because you’re really forced to pay attention. Good luck!

  72. Bramblyspam October 29, 2013 at 5:22 pm #

    From age 11 until I graduated from high school, I took the bus – meaning public transportation, not a school bus – to school and back. Alone. Every day. Most of the kids in my school did likewise (this was in Finland, school buses don’t exist there). I truly fail to see why this would be a big deal. This was in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, so we couldn’t just call mom for help, cell phones didn’t exist yet.

    Taking the bus is easy. If you miss your stop, you can either walk a few blocks or just grab another bus headed in the opposite direction. If you feel unsure of yourself, just tell the driver where you want to get off the bus, and they’ll announce your stop when you get to it. They get requests like that all the time and they’re very used to it. If you somehow get well and truly lost, just ask the driver how to get back home, they’ll almost certainly be able to give you good directions.

    Before age 11, we lived closer to school, so I walked to school and back every day. Alone. For 1-2 miles. Through the snow, during winter months. But not uphill both ways, that was for earlier generations than mine!

    Getting lost is annoying but no big deal. It won’t kill you, so you can rest assured that you’ll muddle through somehow, even if you don’t know exactly how. :-)

  73. Cassie October 29, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    It’s ok to be nervous! The only thing that’s NOT ok is to let that stop you. I took the bus for the first time when I was 18 (had no need to do it before) and I was a little nervous, but it was no problem, and it’s really, really easy. Don’t overthink or overcomplicate this.

    Don’t be afraid to make mistakes either. Mistakes aren’t bad. just go on a day when you have lots of time so if you get lost it won’t be a problem.

    You can also let the driver know this is your first time taking the bus, (taking a particular bus line is a first for many so don’t worry about feeling awkward) and let him/her know if you have any questions.
    My very first stop wasn’t clear on the bus route map,(which you can find online or in the bus) so I asked the driver to stop at the bus stop closest to my destination.

    Anyway, don’t worry. This is an adventure! You’ll be a pro in no time!

  74. Cassie October 29, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

    SD! I love your comment! I do that too, and it makes all my traveling and journeys more exciting and interesting! Who doesn’t love adventure?? ;)

  75. Claire October 30, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    I used to take the bus with friends every weekend to the local mall starting when I was 11-12 years old. After a while we started getting adventurous and going on other buses just to see where they would take us. Just remember that the bus driver in there to help you (so you can ask them to tell you things like when your stop is coming up) and that if you get on the same bus, it’ll eventually go in a circle back to where you started. :-)

  76. Amanda Matthews October 30, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    If you get lost, all you have to do is ask someone for directions. You won’t get lost forever. But I can see how that can be paralyzing if you have been taught the whole “stranger danger” spiel.

    “Isn’t map reading and navigating public transit one of the fundamental skills which should be taught to all children in school?”

    It certainly SHOULD be. But I guess they’re too busy teaching kids things like “Don’t ever draw a picture of a bomb.”

    I learned to read maps from video games. I learned to navigate public transit by just doing it.

  77. blaziecat1103 October 30, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

    Getting lost is the best way to know an area, in my opinion. I remember getting lost a couple of times before I knew my way around my town’s bus system. Also, getting un-lost is very easy. Ask someone. Anyone. They’ll help you.