Travel Tip Tuesday: The subway diagram as a springboard for adventure

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The subway diagram is a modest leaflet, distributed by the hundreds free of charge in station kiosks and just as regularly crumpled, relegated to the back pockets of trousers, and all too often tossed in with the next load of wash. Think about it… when was the last time you gave the metro map more than a passing glance?

Aside from serving a tremendous function, transit diagrams are triumphs of graphic design — magical documents that simplify veritable piles of steel spaghetti into digestible urban compasses that help hundreds of thousands (and in some cities’ cases, millions) of passengers navigate from A to B. (If you think this sounds flowery and overstated, humor me and conduct a quick Amazon search regarding the topic. The results are voluminous.)

For this edition of the Tuesday Travel Tip, we will explore lesser-known functions of the transit diagram, ideas the BlinkPack traveler with an hour or two to pass will find especially handy.

The transfer station tip
If you are BlinkPacking and hope to find a city’s epicenter of attractions, dining, and public parks, look no further than your handy metro guide. Locate the transfer station where the most lines intersect and hop the train to that stop. Done.

Utility naming and the BlinkPacker
Subway stations are named using a few words or less — a deliberate choice to assist passengers in quickly reading signs and maintaining their bearings. As a visitor, station names can be especially useful for unearthing the treasures of a city. Feel like a highbrow afternoon at the museum? Hunt down an aptly named stop on the subway guide. Want to head for some nightlife? Look for a station with ‘university’ in the name. Need to catch a few mid-afternoon zzz’s? You are bound to find a bench with a view if you travel to a station called ‘Something-Something Pier’ or ‘So-And-So Park’.

Using instinct to find the good stuff
The final tip is the subway rider’s version of judging a book by its cover. Every word has a sound, a flavor — and trusting the inner aesthete often yields a desired result. Disembarking at stations named Clarendon, Park Street, Broad, Aquarium, Brookhaven, Forest Hills, or Peachtree Center will likely land the BlinkPacker in decent neighborhoods with plenty to see and good options for filling the belly. Assuming you have no idea otherwise, stay away from station names that give you the heebyjeebs like Mott Haven, Ruggles, Alewife, Flushing, Clinton, Pulaski, or Cicero.

NOTE: This method of city touring is a lot of fun but does not guarantee perfect results, and it is not for the timid traveler. If in doubt, just ask a subway official for neighborhood advice.

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