Long-distance travel tips around the internet tend to focus on flights, but not everyone can – or needs to – hop on a plane to see their S.O.
Whilst a flight is probably ideal for comfort and time spent travelling, the fact remains that budget bus and coach trips are an easy way to save a LOT of money on long-distance travel. In the USA, Greyhound buses can save you $$$s, and in the UK I took plenty of 14 hour 500 mile journeys on Megabus for less than £10 (cheapest ever was £1.50, about $1.88 in US dollars).
The only problem? They’re SUPER uncomfortable. Cramped, smelly, noisy, horrible bathrooms, the list goes on.
But hey – it was 500 MILES for the price of a sandwich. And if you’re on a tight budget, you might (like me) decide it’s worth it.
If you do need to take a long-distance bus trip, here’s how to survive it.
1. Check these 4 things before you book
The most I ever paid for Megabus was £28.50, and the least was £1.50. The former was booked the day before I needed to travel and the latter was booked a few months in advance.
Depending on where you’re going and when you book, it might actually be cheaper to get a train or even a flight (I’ve seen flights from the UK to Europe for under £30 before). Check every option before booking.
2. WiFi – is it available, is it free and what does it cover?
Some bus and coach companies offer free WiFi, but check before you go – and also check what it covers. Companies like Megabus, whilst they give you WiFi, don’t allow for streaming movies or videos from Netflix and YouTube, so download what you want to watch.
3. Will there be comfort stops?
When I was using the Megabus, we didn’t stop at any time along the way, even on a 14 hour trip.
On the other hand, some long-distance bus and coach companies do make these stops. Before you plan around this, do your research or call the company first to find out what the schedule is.
4. What are the luggage allowances and are there overhead racks?
You don’t want to receive an extra fee for luggage (or worse, be unable to travel at all), so don’t make any assumptions – check first.
Most coaches won’t have overhead luggage racks, so bring a hard case for checking and a smaller bag for the seat. Also, bringing a money belt where you can stash valuables like your passport, phone and money is a good idea – so that you can bring them with you when you need to visit the bathroom.
2. Bring these 10 essential items
1. Tissues and flushable wet wipes
This is an absolute MUST. If you literally only bring one thing with you, make sure it’s tissues. Why? Because sometimes the toilet paper in the bathroom won’t last the whole journey.
2. Hand sanitizer
Often the soap gets used up too, so bring hand sanitizer.
3. A face mask
Right now, these are mandatory on a lot of coaches, but even when they aren’t it’s a good idea to have one. You’re in an enclosed space with a lot of other people, for hours and hours – chances are good that if one of them is sick, you might catch it.
4. Paracetamol or ibuprofen, and any medications you normally take
Hopefully you won’t need it, but having some over-the-counter pain medication means you’ll be prepared if you get a migraine, stomach ache or period pain.
Don’t forget about other medications. If you’re on a birth control pill, for example, it’s easy to forget to pack these into your hand luggage, and very easy to forget to take it because your sense of time is distorted by the journey. Double-check you’ve packed them and set a reminder on your phone.
5. Snacks, and more water than you think you’ll need
Always a good idea. Think about the weather and avoid anything that can melt if you know it’ll be hot. Nuts, dried fruit, or even just some sandwiches you’ve made at home are great ideas for easy travel meals.
Also, bring at least a litre of water. Better to have too much with you than not to have brought enough.
6. Spare underwear and feminine hygiene products, if necessary
Even if you don’t think you’ll be on your period, you never know. Best to be prepared. Also, it helps to bring a small tin or plastic box where you can place used products until you can dispose of them, if there’s no bin in the bathroom (hopefully there will be, but again, you never know).
7. A small blanket and neck pillow
If you’re going overnight on a sleeper bus, you can skip this step. But if not, a neck pillow can make all the difference (here’s the one I own). A small thermal blanket (if it’s cold) can also be a great idea, or you could bring a large scarf or shawl that can double up as a blanket.
8. Noise-cancelling headphones (or at least good headphones) and a spare set
It’ll be noisy, so make sure you’re prepared with plenty of things to listen to and a way to listen to them. If you have a spare set of earphones or headphones, bring these – the worst thing is when your earphones break and you have nothing to listen to for the next 10 hours.
9. A phone charger (mains or portable)
I’ve been on too many journeys where I didn’t realise I had no charger until my phone was almost dead. Don’t let that be you!
10. Go for well-worn, comfy shoes you can take off easily
This isn’t the time for new shoes.
3. Stay hydrated, even if it means more bathroom trips
On very long coach trips, it’s super tempting to avoid visiting the bathroom by drinking less than you normally would, but don’t do this. It’s really important to stay hydrated, otherwise you could risk health problems as a result.
4. Sleep as much as possible (but remember your stop)
Avoid coffee if you can and try to organise the trip for a time when you’ll naturally be tired. If you go at night, you’ll have a better chance that the bus will be quieter.
This doesn’t always work out, of course, so don’t count on being able to sleep. And definitely make sure the driver knows your stop and that you know the approximate time you’ll get there – you don’t want to sleep through it.
5. Plan tons of digital entertainment
If you have Netflix, download some movies or a good series. Make a playlist on Spotify (or, better yet, get your partner to make one for you).