You might be asking yourself, “Why would anyone need survival tips for long bus trips?” Aren’t long distance bus trips inherently exciting for the solo traveler? Getting all the way from Point A to Point B at a fraction of the cost of flying. Being at eye level with the landscape. Kicking back and soaking up the warm sun on your face as someone else chauffeurs you to your destination. Why wouldn’t you want to travel by bus?
The short answer is something called “reality.” Long-distance bus travel can be utterly exhausting, drool-inducingly boring, and literally and figuratively a pain in the ass. To help make your trip safer and more comfortable, here are 10 survival tips for long bus trips.
Keep Your Valuables On You, At All Times
Always carry your ID, credit and debit cards, and cash on you at all times. Keep them in a money belt around your waist or hanging around your neck inside your clothing. A lost camera or mobile phone is a major inconvenience. A stolen wallet or passport is a logistical roadblock, guaranteed to bring your trip to a screeching halt indefinitely. You can get passports or credit cards rushed to you, but while you’re waiting, you’re stuck in travel limbo.
Don’t Travel At Night
The whole point of traveling is to see things. Traveling at night often means you leave the center of one town and wake up in the center of another town. You completely miss out on all of the sights in between. Taking an overnight bus from San Francisco to Salt Lake City, for example, would mean you’d miss seeing the Sacramento river delta, the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Nevada deserts, and the Bonneville Salt Flats. On a more practical level, traveling at night as a solo traveler leaves you vulnerable. The darkness makes it harder to keep track of your personal items and to see what other passengers are doing. And if you fall asleep, as is likely, you’ve literally got no one to watch your back.
Pick A Window Seat On the Passenger Side Of The Bus
Yes, I realize that there are passengers on both sides of a bus. I’m talking about the side the driver is not sitting on. Sitting on the passenger side allows you to quickly and easily read mile markers, roadside signs, and exit names. That means you always have a general idea of where you are and how far it is to your destination. Because buses travel in the slow lane, the views out the passenger side windows are rarely obstructed by other vehicles.
Sit In The Middle Of The Bus, Above The Luggage Compartment
Sitting above the luggage compartment allows you to keep an eye out at intermediate stops along the way to make sure no one removes your bag. Equally importantly, if there’s a bathroom on the bus, it’s most likely going to be at the very back of the bus. Each time someone opens the door, the increasingly pungent smells will waft over those seated nearby. An added bonus of sitting in the middle is that it helps you avoid a lot of the bumpiness you get from riding directly above one of the axles. In countries where the roads are not in particularly good condition, this can make a huge difference in your overall comfort.
Bring Water And Snacks
Depending on the length of the journey, you could be stuck on the bus for hours without a break. You might also find your rest stops are at tiny wayside cafes with little variety or unappetizing food. Even if meals are provided on board, they’re not likely to be gourmet, so it’s better to be in control of what and when you eat. A bag of snacks can also be a simple and pleasant way to strike up a conversation with a fellow traveler.
Bring Your Own Toiletries And Some Small Coins
No matter what country you’re traveling in, it’s always a good idea to carry toilet paper with you. Sanitary wipes are also useful for disinfecting toilet seats, cleaning off sticky tray tables, and freshening yourself. As wonderfully utilitarian as they are, I don’t recommend using the same wipe for all three tasks. Most countries charge for the use of public toilets, so having pocket change available can prevent you from having to dig through your bags at rest stops.
Think Outside The Bag
Small plastic bags, preferrably ones with zip locks, are useful for helping keep your seating area tidy. They’re also great for storing partially eaten snacks and smelly clothes, preferrably using a separate bag for each. Inflated medium-sized bags with sturdy zip locks also make excellent lightweight cushions when propped against the armrest or window.
Bring A Pen and Notebook
Sitting for hours on end with little to do, you might be surprised where your thoughts lead you. A pen and notebook can help you remember the more interesting ideas and questions you come up with. The pen is also great for marking up the map you decided to bring with you after reading the next tip.
Know When You’re Approaching Your Final Destination
If you know generally where you are, you’re less likely to have to scramble to get off the bus. That means you’re less likely to forget something valuable in, on, or around your seat. If you know the names of towns or landmarks that are roughly 20 miles, 10 miles, and 5 miles from your destination, you’ll be able to gauge when it’s time to start getting yourself organized. A better alternative is to bring a detailed map so you can follow your progress throughout the day. Maps are awkward in tight spaces, but the ability to trace your route in real time is a great diversion.
Wear Your Seatbelt
If there’s a seatbelt, put it on, even loosely. If you asked 100 people involved in bus accidents if they were expecting it, 99 would say “No.” (The one outlier in this hypothetical group is the self-professed psychic who “just knew” something was going to happen.) Buses are big and they look invincible, but accidents are called “accidents,” not “on purposes” for a reason.
So that’s it. Lots of ways to make your long distance bus trip more comfortable. If you’ve got your own additions to this list, let me know.
Travel safe, travel smart
P.S. If you enjoyed this article, you might also like our recent post, Planning a Solo Trip Step-By-Step. It provides valuable information on how to go from day-dreaming about a life-changing trip to actually doing it.