Traveling on a cheap bus line can be an exciting, relaxing experience if you are well prepared for what you will encounter. As a frequent patron of Chinatown buses, Megabuses, Bolt Buses, and the like, I would like to pass on some helpful tips that I wish I would have known before starting my journeys.
1. Just because you have a “ticket” does not mean you have a seat on the bus. Many buses, particularly Chinatown buses, oversell tickets. Arrive early, 20 minutes or more, to ensure your spot in line. If there is a line. Be warned that there may be a rowdy mob pushing to get into the bus doors. Do not worry, this only lasts a few minutes and then you will be safely aboard the bus. Bottom line: you do not have a spot on the bus until your butt is in the seat, period.
2. Don’t be concerned with seat numbers. The only people who care about these are overly stressed first time riders. Everyone else sits wherever the hell they please. Unless of course the driver yells at you in Mandarin that you cannot sit in the front two seats.
3. Always come prepared to combat weird smells: piss, puke, crotch rot, untraceable smells, what have you. A few creative ideas I’ve learned from other passengers to keep bad smells at bay: squeeze a bottle of shower gel gently under your nose. The puffs of air release pleasant aromas that can overtake the nasties. Bring a bottle of Febreze and spray the surrounding seats and air. Flowers also work. I was never more appreciative of the flowers my dad gives me each birthday as I was last year when the drunk man beside me peed himself five minutes into my four hour journey back to NYC. Those flowers stayed pressed to my nose the entire trip. Overwhelming piss smell? Never even noticed it!
4. Do not be alarmed by strange noises (get your mind out of the gutter!). You may hear the flick of a lighter, an overbearing snore, a woman talking excitedly in high pitched tones. Do not let these bother you. They are normal sounds aboard a cheap bus line. If you let them get to you, you might just blow up and end up cursing someone out. This makes you look like a fool. Or a hero. There is a thin line between the two.
5. Close your eyes. While you are hurtling down the highway at record speeds, your large tour bus flying by every car and truck in sight, simply close your eyes. No, it is not likely that you will die on this trip, although it may feel like you will. The Chinatown bus is just doing its duty to get you to your destination on time. And trust me, it will. (Note: Chinatown buses are the only ones that get you to your location on time. Megabus and Bolt Bus are always 30 minutes to 3 hours late).
6. Bring snacks and water. No need to explain.
7. If possible keep your bag with you at all times. Putting your bag underneath the bus makes it susceptible to strange liquids being spilled on it or 50 pound suitcases being thrown on it. I always keep my bag on my lap, no matter how uncomfortable it is.
8. DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT, under any circumstances, use the bus bathroom.
9. Bring layers. It never fails on these buses that the temperatures will take you from the Arctic to the Florida Keys and back again. With your layers you can strip down to as close to naked as possible without breaking any laws or slap on sweater after sweater til your heart’s content. Socks are always a must because your feet will freeze.
10. Have fun and enjoy your trip! Smile because while your friends and family are spending an arm and a leg on gas to fill their cars or are spending three times the cost of your bus ticked by taking the train, you, my friend, are on a cheap bus line, the standard of the world! And you will get to your destination on time. Mostly in one piece. Congratulations!