Travelling by bus is a great option for the indie traveller — in fact, it will often be your only option, short of car hire or self propulsion.
And while long-distance buses vary wildly in terms of price, comfort, safety, and ease of ticket purchase, in general they’re a pleasant way to get from A to B.
Choose your bus
Start by doing some research to find your options. Services like Rome2Rio and Busbud can be handy to get an idea of the different forms of transport and the companies that run services, but they don’t cover everywhere. Wikitravel can be a handy resource too, for distances, length and sometimes an idea of prices. Choose the city you’ll be leaving from and check out the “get in” section.
Once you’ve established that a bus is your best option (and to be honest, I’d go with a train or ride sharing service over a bus most of the time), you’ll need to consider a few more things.
Choose your company
Price is a big factor, but it’s certainly not the only one. The cheapest bus available may well be a local bus, which might not be as comfortable as other options as well as taking a lot longer to reach the destination.
Some things to consider:
- Local vs long-distance: is the price difference worth the inconvenience?
- Can you buy tickets online? If not, where can you buy them, and how far in advance should you get them?
- What’s the safety record of the company you’re considering?
- Is a toilet available? If not, how often does the bus stop for rest breaks?
- Can you choose your seat? If so, go with one away from the toilet!
- Which company offers the best departure and arrival time? Getting up early to catch a bus, or arriving in the dark, are not ideal situations. Being able to avoid them is worth an extra dollar or two.
- Overnight buses might seem like a good idea, but they aren’t. At least in my opinion! You might be saving on accommodation costs, but if you uncomfortable all night and grumpy in the morning, you’ve lost more than you’ve gained.
- If you do decide to travel by overnight bus, I recommend you find a travel buddy.
- What other amenities are included? Some luxury buses, Especially in South America, offer food, liquor, coffee and tea, and a waitress service! Also, bingo.
We start preparing for long bus trips the day before the journey. A short trip of a couple of hours doesn’t require much preparation, but if you’ll be on the bus for five or six hours (or more), you want to be prepared.
Think about how you will spend time on the bus. Talking to a travelling companion or seat mate may fill some of the time, but it’s also good to have some entertainment prepared. Personally, I love to podcasts and audiobooks while watching the scenery go past. So the night before, I check that I have an adequate supply of both, and download more if necessary.
You might also like to make sure you have reading material (if you can read on buses) and load up your phone with maps of the area you’ll be travelling through if you don’t have data on your phone. Speaking of which, charge your phone and spare battery pack if you have one. If you’ve already purchased your tickets, check them — print if necessary, double-check the date and time, put them somewhere safe.
Pack your bus bag
I highly recommend packing a bag to take with you on the bus, even if you travel with a carry-on-sized bag and can keep it with you. (Also recommended). Keep your valuables within reach, preferably under your seat with the zip towards you, rather than above. You might feel safer with your passport and money in a money belt on your person..
Some items to consider:
- Valuables from your main bag
- A sweater (air-conditioning can be extreme)
- Book or Kindle
- Other entertainment
- Snacks (preferably not crumbly ones!)
- Tissues or toilet paper
For overnight buses, add:
- Eye mask
- Neck pillow
Arrive and go!
On the day of travel, make sure to check your ticket for departure date and time, as well as the location where you’ll catch the bus. Arrive there early. Some bus stations are enormous and finding your gate may take some time. When getting on the bus, you may have to check your bag, even if you think it’s small enough to fit under your seat — and it’s not really worth having a fight over. That said, you may have to pay extra to check said bag. Take your valuables with you rather than leaving them in your luggage under the bus.
Once onboard, make yourself comfortable and enjoy the journey!
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