Bus Trip Tips

<drafted Dec.11 2010>

Preamble: A lot of people I know categorically refuse to even entertain the idea of travelling places by bus. As though it’s a trip to Purgatory or something. Shoot – I ride buses quite a bit, & it’s no big deal at all. In fact, I get quite a kick out of long bus trips!

Obviously, we all have reasons for our views, hmm? Fortunately for me, I don’t suffer from carsickness & am not a really big person (admittedly there is not a ton of room between the seats). I’m not a big snob, either, & have no fanciful notions about being “too good” for bus travel…as it appears some folks do.

I might add that, as a person who doesn’t have gobs of money, flying here, there & everywhere is simply not an option for me. It’s also true that, after doing a carbon footprint calculation a couple of years ago & observing how much carbon air travel adds to it, I made a commitment to pretty much eliminate air travel from my life. So far, it’s worked out fine…

Now, having taken my fair share of bus trips in this life – some of them short, some of them very long indeed (one all the way from Deep River, Ontario to Vancouver, B.C. - & then, the return trip back to Deep River), here are a few words of … wisdom?? about travelling by bus.

  • I don’t know about all bus companies, but I do know from much experience that, in Canada, with Greyhound, if you book your ticket ahead (a week, 2 weeks, or 3 weeks), you can save a serious bucketload of money. You can also save by travelling with a buddy (it’s called a “companion fare”). Be sure to check this out!! (It seems the company doesn’t really want you to know about this, mind you…you have to ask!! On the Web site, keep digging…)
  • In Canada & the U.S., a person might conclude that bus travel sucks, really. The service is often not very good, & passengers are sometimes treated more or less like inconvenient peasants (in all fairness, it was in Washington, D.C. that I had that feeling). But this is apparently not true in all countries. In some parts of the world it’s very different – decent routes & levels of service & so on. Thank goodness for that! (It is also true that there are some very friendly & helpful drivers even here in Canada & the U.S. Thank goodness for that too!!)
  • Each city (or bus station) has its own way of operating. Some are easy to navigate, with decent signage everywhere & easy-to-spot-&-read screens with arrival/departure times. Some…not so much. Sometimes you have to get bus staff to give you a tag for your luggage; sometimes you fill one out for yourself. Sad to say, there is vast inconsistency in this regard. Be prepared to ask questions & be assertive!
  • Before you depart, be sure you have your itinerary printed up, as you will very likely want to consult it frequently. (I’ve always printed mine from the Greyhound Web site.) It’s mighty handy to know ahead of time when you’re expected to arrive at each stop, when your next departure is, how long the stopover time will be, & how frequently you need to change buses. I once failed to follow my own advice & really regretted it (long-ish story; details not important).
  • It’s important to know that, not only do buses often leave late, they sometimes leave early!! I’ve seen this happen – & more than once. You really kind of need to get to the bus terminal half an hour early, or to whatever stop you’re starting from out in the boonies at least a little bit early too. You just never know…
  • My brother, who used to drive a bus, advised me for (as I recall, unspecified) safety reasons to sit relatively near the front, & I always do. I like to be within easy talking distance of the driver (one just never knows what may come up, hmmm?). In one memorable case, I wound up having to give the driver directions, because he kept taking wrong turns on what was clearly his maiden voyage between Pembroke & Toronto. As a fellow passenger on my really long trip pointed out, if there are people on the bus who are inclined to misbehave (smoke, do drugs), they are liable to do it back toward the rear. I’m happy to let them do their misbehavin’ well away from me, thanks! (If the driver catches them at such activities, they will be thrown off the bus. I’ve seen that happen too.)
  • Buses usually have a washroom on board, & maybe they are fine, but I, for one, never use ‘em. I make sure to use the facilities at all stops along the way. A word to the wise: bus stations in Cda/U.S. are often located in, shall we say, not the nicest parts of town, & sometimes the washrooms are equally un-nice. If you have a long enough layover, you can go for a walk & find a decent washroom in, say, a nearby hotel or coffee shop. Hotels very conveniently usually have a public washroom (& pay phones) on their main level.
  • If you’re heading out for a long bus ride, dress for comfort! I once took a ride involving several thousands of miles & 3 nights sleeping on the bus. That was quite the ride!! I had bought myself some cheap, ugly (secondhand) loose black pants to wear. They were perfect.
  • I also had in my knapsack (thanks to the helpful advice of dear friend Anne) some changes of socks & underwear.
  • And a damp washcloth in a plastic bag. It’s amazing how good it feels to give your face & hands a quick wash!
  • Bus temperatures vary widely. Best to be prepared for both too-warm & too-cool riding conditions!! On a long trip you will very likely encounter both.
  • It’s best to be mindful of the fact that, every time your bus makes a stop, the whole character or dynamic on the bus is liable to change (Anne warned me about this too!) You might have been very comfortable hogging two seats to yourself, then all of a sudden a big new crowd of people comes on board & you have to share your seat – maybe even with someone a bit obnoxious. It happens! I spent many, many hours travelling across Canada in considerable peace, privacy & personal space – but every once in a while the bus would fill up & things would be a little on the “cheek by jowl” side. Completely unpredictable. It’s a crapshoot…hmmm?
  • Food!! Friend Anne recommended those cute little serving-size wax-wrapped cheeses (I’d never even seen them before my long bus trip) – although probably any cheese would keep fine for a few days anyway. Fruit is good. Buses routinely make pit stops around mealtime, so you can count on frequent enough breaks … But you have to know that not all bus terminals have much to offer in the way of food. In some, there are only vending machines. Come prepared!
  • Sometimes, you forget what a fun adventure a long bus ride can be! I’m on a very long ride out of Chicago as I scrawl these notes, & just saw the sun coming up brilliantly in a lovely blue sky. This kind of pleasant little moment happens quite a bit on bus rides. When you’re not driving the vehicle yourself & can let go of worries about your speed & time of arrival & the insane stress of dealing with the other drivers on the road, you are free to relax…to sit back & enjoy the ride. I do!
  • Key point: as an environmental activist (yet also a car owner), I use public transportation when possible. What became clear to me many years ago now is that the chief, unexpected bonus of using public transportation (e.g. buses, the GO train/bus system in southern Ontario) is how much more pleasant a trip is when I don’t have to be “in charge.” Sooo much less stress…
  • Brilliant British writer Margaret Drabble once said, “When nothing is sure, everything is possible.” I LOVE this thought. It always makes me feel as though I’m expanding – filling up with possibility. Who knows what adventures this bus ride may bring? What unexpected moments of beauty? Travelling always brings home to me (yes; funny mixed metaphor) what a big, big BIG world this is – & how filled with possibility & potential it is… & we are! So much is possible… & yes, I just came from 4 days of learning a lot more about an environmental issue (lead) than I really entirely want(ed) to know – & I’ll get feeling very down about it at times, undoubtedly – but right here & right now, all seems possible. Even the possibility of a decent cup of coffee at the end of this trip is a wonderful prospect!
  • Travelling on a bus, one occasionally winds up overhearing some of the most amazing conversations between one’s fellow passengers! On this trip I’ve been hearing two women chat, & it’s been both fascinating & heartwarming. Another unexpected bonus of bus travel. (Of course, it can & sometimes does go the other way, too.)
  • I’ve done most of my bus trips by myself, & given how much I enjoy solitude & time on my own to read, write & just plain gaze contentedly out the window, this has been quite lovely. On this most recent trip, I have a travelling companion – & that is a lovely bonus as well!

All this stuff I’m advising, if you add it all up, is probably a decent enough metaphor for life, hmmm?

It’s a grand, wildly unpredictable adventure. There are many many wholly unexpected moments – both “good” & “bad.” It’s best if we can learn to sit back & enjoy the “ride” – really let go & learn to be “in the moment.” Enjoy both time on our own, & time with loved ones.

And hooey – what a fun trip!!!

And oh yes...remember to bring along some good snacks…& good books to read!


P.S. I’ve just been told about a new bus company that apparently operates both in Canada & the U.S. – called MegaBus. Gonna check it out!

P.P.S. Gotta apologize for the formatting of this post!! There are some curious things about formatting blog posts. I can never seem to get the numbering to work properly! Once it gets past 10, it reverts back to 1. So I'm using bulleting instead - & I don't like it quite as much...