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Bus Travel Tips

A Guide To Cross-Country Bussing
by M.S. Beltran

There's something "zen" about long bus trips; being an anonymous face in the sea of travelers, being away from all the stresses and distractions of your every day life, losing yourself in a good book or allowing yourself to kick back and "zone out" as mile after mile rolls by you-- sometimes for days-- demanding patience and affording leisure time that you will rarely find elsewhere. Bus travel is inexpensive, flexible, and widely available throughout the continental US, parts of Canada and Mexico. With a bit of knowledge aforehand, your itch to wander can be satisfied on a motor coach.

Before purchasing a ticket, look into all possible options for the best deal. Students, seniors, persons in the military and children can usually ride at discounts. Companion fares offer a discount on one fare with the purchase of a full fare ticket. Advanced purchase tickets are usually cheaper than last minute. For the more free-spirited adventurer, Greyhound Discovery Passes can be purchase for virtually unlimited traveling freedom within your chosen region for anywhere from four to sixty days.

Be sure to inquire about limited time specials that might be running; even if you are making a round trip, sometimes taking advantage of sale prices on two one-way tickets can save you money. Keep in mind, however, that tickets purchased for limited sales usually have traveling limitations, such as blackout dates during which the ticket will not be honored.

Rules regarding baggage are very strict, so it is to your benefit to make certain that the amount, size and weight of your luggage are within required limits to avoid hold ups at the terminal or additional fees (contact the bus company before departure to ensure your luggage is within restrictions and get details on insurance and reimbursement policies). Carry on bags must fit in the overhead rack or under your seat. Special rules apply to such items as skis and bicycles; contact the bus company for specifications before your trip. Remember that, when transferring buses, your bags are not handled for you by employees. You are responsible for claiming your baggage when you leave one bus, keeping it with you and checking it when you board another bus.

Greyhound suggests arriving at the terminal at least an hour before departure; get there even earlier, especially when traveling during busy seasons. Seats are not assigned, and boarding is usually on a first-come-first-serve basis. The earlier you arrive, the more choice the seating options will likely be.

When choosing a seat, remember for your own comfort: the back row does not recline, and, if you plan to read while traveling at night, the very front seats do not have working overhead lights. If you like to get up and down a lot, you might want to choose an isle seat to avoid bothering any passenger that might sit next to you. If you don't like to get up and down a lot, you might prefer a window seat to avoid being bothered. In my experience, if you want to try to get two seats all to yourself so you can really stretch out, sitting on the isle seat seems to discourage others from squeezing into the window seat next to you (unless the bus fills up and they have no other options). Also remember that in coaches equipped with lavatories, the bathrooms can sometimes get-- well, rank!-- and getting stuck sitting near them can be unpleasant, to say the least.

I have always found it beneficial to befriend the bus drivers. While you're not supposed to talk to them when they are operating the coach, take a moment to chat with them before departure or during brief stops-- that way, if unexpected layovers occur, or if there is any confusion, you will find it easier to get their help or, at the very least, get information from them.

During maintenance stops, when the bus is cleaned and serviced, everyone is required to exit. You can leave your carry on bags, jackets, etc., on the coach; keep in mind though that the bus company is not responsible for anything you might find missing. At the very least, make sure everything is off the floor, as the clean up crew will mop without much concern about your personal belongings.

Any time the bus stops, know that it will depart without you if you are not back before the scheduled time. Make no mistake-- the driver will not wait for you, nor will any belongings you leave in your seat or on the overhead racks be removed. If the bus makes a stop to pick up new passengers, those already on that coach will get to reboard ahead of new people (make sure you get a reboarding ticket from your driver before exiting the coach during the stop). If you miss the reboarding call, someone just may end up in your seat, leaving you stuck at the terminal to wait for the next bus.

With unrestricted fares, you can make stopovers at any point on your route, should you decide you want to spend the day sight seeing in an interesting town, or get a room for a good night's sleep before continuing your journey. Be sure to have the driver or ticket agent make the proper notation on your ticket when doing so. Remember when re-boarding that seats are still on a first-come-first-serve basis.

If you travel with children, read our Bus Travel with Children tips.

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