Embrace U.S. Transportation Options as an International Student

April 18, 2014
Embrace U.S. Transportation Options as an International Student

America is a large place, and getting around the country may seem like a challenge for international students. With public transportation varying dramatically depending on what state and city you end up in, incoming international students will find that most, if not a majority, of Americans drive – and are often quite surprised to meet people who don’t.

Getting around the U.S. may seem like a tricky endeavor without a car, but becoming comfortable with American transportation isn’t all that bad. 

The first transportation tip is to get to know your local area. Depending on where you attend college, you may find a variety of public transportation systems.

The San Francisco Bay Area has an extensive bus network, with free bus passes for University of California—Berkeley students, and the Bay Area Rapid Transit system runs between several area cities. New York City has another extensive metro system, New Orleans offers streetcars and many other cities have buses and trains. Fares can occasionally be a little steep, but there’s no reason to be afraid of using your local options.

When traveling locally or around your college campus, it’s likely students will create hundreds of tricks for getting from place to place quickly. At UC—Berkeley I had a classmate who kept a scooter in his dorm room and used it to get to class. While walking to a lecture one day I saw a man in a three-piece suit zipping down the road on a skateboard, adjusting his tie as he went.

Depending on how your college campus and surrounding town is laid out, it might be worth purchasing a bike. Websites like Craigslist and Amazon make it easy to buy an affordable secondhand bike for your time in America, and sell it again when you have to return home. Just brush up on the rules of the road and invest in a strong bike lock to keep it secure.

Whether you’re studying at a U.S. college for your full degree or just spending a semester or a year on an exchange, buying a car is a serious financial investment. But for any international students thinking of taking a road trip during vacation time, vehicle rentals can be surprisingly affordable.

During my time abroad, a popular choice for many international students was to pool together and rent a recreational vehicle – known as an RV – for a couple of weeks, which they could drive at their leisure and park in a wealth of campsites, instead of spending extra for hotels or other accommodations.

Many car companies are happy to rent vehicles to international students as long as they carry an appropriate drivers license. If you’re planning some long-haul drives it’s best to make sure that you have more than one qualified licensed driver in the car and that you invest in proper insurance.

Plenty of college students also run carpools for getting around for the holidays, often only charging a fee to cover the cost of gas. This makes it easy for you to get a cheap ride with people going to the same place as you. Students should always be cautious and mindful of their safety when accepting lifts from someone they don’t know well or when using websites or apps that arrange carpools.

If you want to travel but can’t get a place in a car, don’t despair. Though many people dislike buses and international students may find themselves being advised to avoid them, I am one of their biggest advocates.

Buses are one of the cheapest and most useful ways of getting around America without a driver's license, and the major companies travel to an extensive number of cities.

As two foreign students without a driving license between them, my boyfriend and I spent a month traveling around California using Greyhound and Megabus. We got from San Francisco to Los Angeles for just $5 each.

Considering the prices of car rentals, insurance and gas money, bus services can be very hard to turn down. You might run into the occasional oddball passenger in the back seats, but buses are a very reliable way to travel.

No international student should feel trapped if they arrive in America without a driver’s license. Some people may act as if lacking a car is equivalent to the absence of a vital organ, but don’t let this slow you down. Travel is one of the greatest parts of studying abroad, and international students should allow themselves to enjoy it. 

Tagged: International Students, transportation

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