Summer Travel Tips: Taking the Bus

I’ll admit I was warned. Still, I couldn’t beat the price, and I really needed to get to Fort Worth. So, I paid for round- trip tickets on a national bus line, the Greyhound.

No amount of warning could have prepared me. Of course, if people had given me more advice and less “Well, (snort) have fun with that,” I think I would have been much better off. I got few useful suggestions, but most people I talked to hadn’t been on the bus for years. “Don’t use the bathroom on the bus!” my friend Karin told me. “It’s not as bad as peeing your pants, but just as traumatic.” That was the best advice I got.

When I first left, it seemed as if all the horrible rumors I’d heard were untrue. There were no creepy people on the bus leaving Provo, nothing smelled funny and the bus driver was rather amiable. There were no real issues at all – until we hit traffic outside of Denver, Colorado.

I had heard about the delays. I’d thought that meant the bus could be a couple of hours late and, as a result, I might be equally late to my destination. I could not have known that being stuck in traffic for 15 minutes could delay my arrival by 12 hours. This dramatically skewed my plans for my stay for the week. You see, the bus to which you’re transferring can wait for a bus running slightly behind schedule – if the driver feels like it. If not, they have no qualms about stranding people in a terminal for hours on end.

As far as drivers go, it was pretty much split down the middle between outgoing, helpful drivers and arrogant, cruel drivers. Our kindly driver from Denver to Amarillo was replaced with an angry woman who yelled at people for not keeping their kids quiet and threatened to throw them off the bus in the middle of nowhere. Another driver promised to leave anyone who wasn’t back in 15 minutes at a hole-in-the-wall place. I just stayed on the bus.

I was stuck at the Denver terminal for almost five hours. During that time, without any warning, we were told to line up so our bags could be searched. I had not known they could do this, nor did I know that they could confiscate my Swiss Army knife and charge me to send it to my destination terminal – then charge me for storing it when I arrived to pick it up.

While it was a horrendous stay, there were a couple of things about the Denver terminal that differed in a good way from the others. The security guard was so on top of things that I actually felt safe, and the two women at the information booth were knowledgeable and helpful, as was the man at the Fort Worth terminal. Unfortunately, that’s where the good stuff ends. For the most part, the customer service was absolutely deplorable – especially after they lost my luggage, which was bright red and weighed over 100 lbs, and cost $88.40 just to have it shipped with me. They still have not found it and have not even hinted at apologizing – in fact, they seem to get a kick out of it and enjoy toying with people.

So if you absolutely must take the Greyhound or any other national bus line, here are a few tips I figured out on the way:

1. If at all possible, don’t take the bus outside the state. If you absolutely have to…

2. … travel with someone. Another student happened to be going the same way as me on the way down, and it was nice to not only have someone to talk to but we could also watch each other’s stuff and sit next to each other in case of creepy weirdo people. I really missed her on the way back.

3. Bring your MP3 player. If I hadn’t had my music, I’m sure I would have gone nuts. Complicated music works well as distraction. For me, this included music like Rush, Skinny Puppy, Tori Amos, old school NIN, Tripping Daisy, Megadeth and classical. Whatever your taste, interesting music or music that just plain makes you happy is a life saver.

4. Travel as lightly as humanly possible. Keep all valuables with you and, as much as you can, concealed. Don’t flash money or jewelry, and for God’s sake, try not to have to check anything; you may never see it again.

5. Do your very best to avoid the bus terminal in Amarillo, Texas. The bathroom there was a thing of nightmares. At most stops along the way, the bathrooms were in a condition unlike anything I could have imagined. When I finally got to my destination, I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to see a clean, functional toilet. I’m still recovering. Remember your hand sanitizer and Febreeze – the sinks are often not much better than the array of toilets in various states of disrepair. It also couldn’t hurt to wear a dust mask in some places, as many people I encountered seem to not have been informed that covering one’s mouth is more sanitary than sneezing, coughing and hacking on other people.

6. If you are female, try not to sit next to a male. I made the mistake of allowing some guy who looked harmless enough to sit next to me, but soon kept making excuses to try to touch me. I ended up curled up in the fetal position smashed against the window for twelve hours.

7. Bring snacks. Try not to order anything at the terminals if you don’t have to. I ordered toast on one occasion, and it took them almost 20 minutes to get it to me – cold. On the way back, the same deal happened with a corn dog.

8. This is more a public service announcement than a tip. In some places (particularly Amarillo), there seem to be no rules other than the first one there wins. People will smash into you, cut in front of you – anything to get a better seat on the bus. And if you think for one second there is any kind of authority there to help you, you are mistaken. I hate to say it, but there seemed to be no authority at all outside of the tenuous control of the bus drivers – and most of them were pretty cold.

All in all, even though I researched and asked questions and thought I had prepared myself adequately, I should have spent twice as much money and taken the train. Taking the bus cost me a lot of valuable time, caused a lot of unnecessary stress, and in some cases was actually traumatizing. The worst thing was the way I was treated as a customer – basically it was like paying to be humiliated and mistreated. I know other people have had decent experiences, but as for me, you couldn’t pay me to ever take the bus anywhere again.

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