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8 tips for surviving long-distance discount bus travel
Travel by plane, despite its many aggravations and expenses, is generally quick - in a matter of hours you can be across the country or on the other side of an ocean. Train travel, while slower, has an element of romance to it. But bus travel. . . bus travel is generally the last resort. Thanks to new low-cost bus services like Megabus and BoltBus, bus travel is cheap, but it can also be slow and unreliable, and there's no dining car where you can while away the time drinking wine and watching the world go by. Bus travel is getting better, but it can still be a difficult way to get around. Here are eight tips for making the experience more pleasant.
Book in advance
If you don't know by now, Megabus offers seats for as low as $1 each way between select cites. But these elusive $1 fares go quickly, and the price goes up as demand increases. Don't wait until the cost of your bus fare is nearly as much as a plane ticket - the appeal of the bus is that it's cheap! Book as far in advance as you can to get the best rate.
Know before you go
Get the scoop on what your bus offers in terms of power outlets and wi-fi so that you can plan your in-bus diversions accordingly. On some buses, only certain seats have power outlets, so if you'll need to juice up your electronics, you'll want to know where to sit. On the new site BusJunction.com, you can check routes, prices and schedules from multiple bus companies, plus see what amenities are offered on your bus. You can also read Yelp reviews to see what kind of experience others have had.
With no restrictions or extra fees for luggage, it's easy to go crazy and pack way more than you need. But remember there is still limited space on the bus, and everyone's luggage needs to fit in the cargo hold. Plus the more everyone brings, the longer it takes to load and unload all the bags. If you'll be in a hurry to grab your luggage and go once you arrive at your destination, be sure to put your luggage in last so that it is the first out. If you are bringing a smaller bag, just stow it underneath your seat.
Snag the good seats
If you don't need to be close to a power outlet, you may think one seat is as good as another. Not so. A few seats on most buses have more leg room than others. On double-decker buses, the seats just after the stairwells, and the two seats in the very front by the window have the most room. But, if you are partial to motion sickness, steer clear of the front seats - the unobstructed view may make you queasy. Avoid sitting by the trash or by the bathrooms for obvious reasons.
Try to get on first so you have more time to pick your seat. If you are traveling with someone else, have them handle the luggage while you get seats, or just stow your stuff under your seat so you can get on before the rush. Check to make sure that your seat reclines and move if it doesn't. If your seatmate has an odor issue, doesn't understand the concept of personal space, or has his or her headphones on so loud you can hear the music clearly, get up and move to another seat to save yourself the inevitable hassle later.
Watch your valuables
Petty theft seems to happen more in and around buses than other forms of transportation. Use common sense and keep an eye on your valuables at all time. Keep your purse or bag at your feet rather than putting it above your head, especially if you plan on dozing off, and avoid showing off your valuables at any time. If you get up to go to the bathroom or get off the bus, make sure to bring anything of value with you.
Bring a snack for emergencies
Buses on most log-haul routes (generally of 5-6 hours or more) will stop for a short break at a rest stop so that passengers can get something to eat. Usually this will happen half-way through the ride, but buses sometimes break down or get stuck in traffic. If you get cranky when you don't eat on a regular schedule, bring a snack that travels well, like some almonds or a granola bar. The dining options available are often limited, so consider that if you are on a special diet. Bring water, but go easy on the liquids. As the ride goes on, the condition of the bathroom deteriorates, and you don't want to be forced to use it when you are almost to your destination.
Bring distractions, but be polite
Just as you would for a long plane or train ride, bring an arsenal of things to keep you busy. If reading in a moving vehicle makes you nauseous, bring a portable DVD player or laptop and watch movies, listen to an iPod, or plan to take a nap. But keep your entertainment to yourself. Use your headphones and keep the volume low, and keep your phone calls to a minimum. No one wants to listen to your 3-hour long conversation.
Know that you get what you pay for
Bus travel is cheap, but it can try your patience. Remember that the service is often cheap for a reason, and that by saving money, you do run the risk of being bored, stuck in traffic, listening to someone's obnoxious music blasting from their headphones, with your only option for dinner the $1.99 steak and eggs special at the roadside truck-stop diner (okay, I've never had it that bad!). Consider what your time is worth and you may opt to pay a little extra to fly next time. If you do decide to take the bus, just remember to pack the most important thing of all - your patience.