Jesus travels… and so can you!
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise… there is always another way to get there.
In October, I visited my parents in Shanghai (their home base at the moment). Day two of my trip, I took an afternoon to explore on my own, wandering the tiny alleys of Tianze Feng, in and out of stores selling tins of tea and other adorably packaged goods.
I have a “taxi card” to return—a business card with the name and address of my parents’ residence written in Mandarin and English. Taxis are cheap. Simple.
But then, naturally, there’s a catch: I cannot, for the life of me, catch a cab. I stand first on one street corner of the main road by Tianze Feng, then on the divider between lanes, next on another corner. 
Most of the passing cars already carry passengers, while other drivers seem to be intentionally avoiding my gaze. The afternoon shadows grow longer as I watch one Chinese shopper after another run to intercept an incoming car. There are people crowded on all sides; traffic moves at around 60 km/hour; I am never fast enough.
Finally, someone does stop, but when he looks at my card he shakes his head and drives off. Does he not feel like going there, or can he not read the card? I will never know.
Meanwhile, I have seen at least 20 public buses pass me by. I know I need to go *that way.* New plan…
I think it really is possible to take the bus nearly anywhere and everywhere—if you want to. Here’s how:
Step 1: Learn the word for “bus” and/or the proper pronunciation of the place you wish to go.
In Shanghai, it took showing my taxi card to several people to learn to say the name of my parents’ road: Nanjing Shu-Lu.
In Kenya, buses are “matatus,” and knowing that makes them a lot easier to ask for.

Sometimes there might be a boat involved… even better!!
Step 2: Find the bus stop.
In many places, there will be a physical structure, replete with maps, schedules and names. In many others, there will be nothing but a small sign bearing the image of a bus—or nothing but a crowd of people standing at the side of the road.
Ask people for the *bus* to [fill in the blank] until you find your stop. In my experience, other bus drivers and shop keepers are the best people to ask, and most likely to know the buses in the area, while taxi drivers are the worst, since they have ulterior motives.
In Shanghai, I was lucky enough to find an old woman who understood my question, and knew that the 42 bus would take me to the right place.

Or you can do this.

Step 3: Catch your bus.
It might stop automatically, or it might barrel past if you don’t flag it down. A sign bearing a name or number may tell you it is the right bus, or it might be a skinny man hanging from the window, calling out the destination.
I usually like to confirm at least a couple times that it is indeed the right bus, as I have ended up on the wrong bus far too often.
Step 4: Revel, and ignore the funny looks.
Depending on where you are, you might well be the only obvious foreigner on the bus. People will stare. It will get old. Just do your thing and try not to do anything egregious—appropriate dress and conduct is always a good call.
Revel in being on your way to where you’re trying to go! There is truly no better feeling than the surprise of success after a stressful search!

If your bus looks like this, wait for the next one.

Step 5: Pay.
Often, fare will be collected at some point along your journey—or upfront, or upon arrival. Try to pay attention to how much other passengers are paying to avoid a high “tourist tax.” But if you do end up paying a few cents—or dollars—more, well, the tourist tax is real. I’m sorry.
Step 6: Arrive.
Chaos, confusion and disorientation may accompany your arrival… sweat, frustration and elation, too. One thing I can almost guarantee: you will arrive having spent less money. A second thing: it gets easier with practice.
I love taking the bus. Despite the dust. Despite the confusion, often frustrating and hectic. Despite everything. Because the bus is always an adventure. Always. And that’s kind of the point.
Need to make a connection? Repeat steps 1-5. Chances are, someone on your first bus will be able to point you to your next one, or even lead you there.
“Trunk-seat” heading out of Mbita, Kenya a few days ago.

Enjoy the adventure!