Monday, November 22, 2010

Greyhound Bussing America (Pt.5)

Image: Greyhound’s iconic racing dog image adorns Mobile, AL, terminal building

If you are still with me after my four previous extended road trip reports, and you are contemplating your own road trip using the Greyhound Bus company or a similar carrier, an important question you might consider asking me is, Would you do it all again?

The answer, based on my personal experience is, Yes. I will write more about this in a forthcoming entry, but for now suffice to say that I am already considering making another overland trip across America using Greyhound either next year or in 2012. If I do so, I plan to use a 60 day Greyhound Discovery Pass to try and complete a full circuit of the United States. I’ve got plenty of time to research and plan that trip, and the prospect of that journey is already firing my imagination.

The other option I have is to purchase a cheap car and drive myself. While more expensive, I does give me the option to follow my whims and explore out of the way locations. As I wrote in Part 3 of this trip report: For me, a great road trip should involve lots of stops and diversions. It should allow time to follow interesting back roads, and minor highways. It should get me off the beaten track, exploring quiet corners and grand vistas. It should be challenging and relaxing by turn.

And so it should. But all that is way down the track. The purpose of this entry is to provide some sage advice to other travelers – so let’s get on with it.

According to Greyhound’s own statistics, the Top 10 busiest Greyhound Bus terminals based on passenger volume in 2008 by Rank and Terminal were:

1. New York, New York

2. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

3. Los Angeles, California

4. Atlantic City, New Jersey

5. Richmond, Virginia

6. Washington, D.C.

7. Dallas, Texas

8. Atlanta, Georgia

9. Nashville, Tennessee

10. Chicago, Illinois

So bearing that in mind, here as a community service to potential long distance bus travelers everywhere, is a comprehensive collection of the best travel tips and advice gleaned from my own experiences, and collected from numerous sources across the internet.

Image: Greyhound Bus schedule. Buy online and early to save money.

Purchasing Tickets

  • Buy online as early as possible – Web Only fares are great money savers
  • Check Greyhound’s website to see if you qualify for discounts. Children, Students, Seniors, Military Personnel and Veterans all qualify for money saving discounts
  • Buying tickets well in advance of your trip saves up to 50%
  • Buying one full-price fare gets you up to three companion fares at 50% off
  • WARNING! Buying a ticket does not guarantee you a seat on the bus. Get to the station early and line up to maximize your chances of securing a seat! The First Come – First Served rule applies here
  • If you are departing from a limited number of cities (Boston, MA; Framington, MA; Newton, MA; Springfield, MA; Hartfoed, CT: New York, NY; Philadelphia, PA; and Washington, DC), you can purchase Reserved Seating* for an additional $5.00
  • Want to make sure you get a good seat? Pay an extra $5.00 for Priority Boarding*. If you plan to use Greyhound Buses regularly, sign up for the Road Rewards program
  • Planning the ultimate road trip? Then purchase a 30 day or 60 day Discovery Pass
  • On busy routes, buses that travel between the same two destinations may take different routes which can result in marked differences in trip lengths, so make sure you are travelling on the fastest, most direct route – if that is what you want

*What’s the difference between Priority Boarding and Reserved Seating you ask? To be honest I don’t know. They seem to offer the same thing – sort of. Priority Boarding lets you board before the general rabble, but doesn’t let you reserve a seat, while Reserved Seating lets you claim a favourite position, but doesn’t necessarily let you board before the impatient mob! At least that is my reading of the information on the Greyhound website.

If a Greyhound Bus company representative reads this, maybe they can confirm or deny or clarify my reading of the company website.

NOTE: I never made use of either service, so I have no idea how they work in practice. For example, if you are boarding an already crowded bus, does your Reserved Seating ticket give you the right to ask a passenger who has taken your seat to give it up? Probably, but are you prepared to risk the ire of that person to stake your claim?

Image: Greyhound Bus station Nashville, Tennessee [Source: Internet]

Greyhound Stations and Terminals

  • Arrive at least an hour before departure if you need to pick up or buy a ticket.
  • If you are departing from one of the ten busiest stations (see above) arrive even earlier in case you end up at the back of a very long queue.
  • Once you have your ticket line up! The first 20-25 people to board get the pick of the seating. However there are exceptions to this rule. See notes below…
  • This is especially important if you are travelling with a companion. On crowded buses the chances of you sitting together is virtually nil if you are at the back of a long queue!
  • It is acceptable to leave your luggage in the queue to claim your position in the line, at which point you can find a seat and relax – while at all times keeping a close eye on your bags of course.
  • Drivers do not check to see if passengers have returned to the vehicle before setting off on the next stage or the journey. Nor do they check to see if new passengers have boarded the bus. Therefore…
  • The onus is on you to pay attention to driver announcements about the length of brief stops to pick up and discharge other travellers along the route, and the length of any rest stops. As long as you do that, you do not have to worry about missing the bus. Also…
  • Pay attention to station announcements as well, especially during layovers. Sometimes the departure gate/door number changes, and you could be left standing in front of the wrong door watching your ride disappear down the highway in a cloud of dust!
  • If in doubt – ask. I you are still unsure – ask again.

Notes: I wrote above: “The first 20-25 people to board get the pick of the seating”. This only applies to coaches at the very start of their journeys. If a coach is already in transit, previous passengers obviously get to board first so they can return to their seats. Only then are new passengers allowed to board. It follows then, that if a coach is already crowded, new passengers may have to share a seat with existing passengers.

  • WARNING! Buying a ticket does not guarantee you a seat on the bus.

Sometimes a worst case scenario occurs: a long queue waiting to board an already crowded bus. If you are at the back of that long queue you may not be able to board the bus! If you are lucky, Greyhound will add another bus to the route, but only if the number of passengers warrants it. Otherwise you have no choice but to wait for the next available bus. It’s worth repeating again, and again – get to the station early and line up to maximize your chances of securing a seat!

Onboard Coaches

  • Don’t take up two seats when you have only paid for one!
  • Keep your trash to yourself
  • Pack tissues and/or toilet paper! On long trips the paper supply may run out
  • Pack Wet Ones or similar and wipe the toilet seat down before use. Wet Ones are good for personal cleanliness as well
  • Some people love the long back seat at the very rear of the bus. I prefer to leave it alone as it is right next to the toilet and I did not want to put up with the constant coming and going of fellow passengers – or the odors they might leave behind.

Image: Greyhound Bus station Recharge Bench

Safety & Security

  • If you see something – say something!
  • They don’t happen often, but assaults on drivers and fellow passengers have taken place on Greyhound coaches and those of other carriers. If you see signs of a weapon onboard the bus (a federal offence by the way), say something. The same applies to drug taking or alcohol consumption.
  • According to the Greyhound website, “Greyhound uses approximately 90 company-operated bus terminals and 850 agency-operated terminals or sales agencies. Including all stops, Greyhound serves more than 1,700 destinations in the United States.” That’s the good news. However…
  • Some travelers report being dropped off late at night at isolated stops from where they must make their way home. Other travelers report stations/agencies closed when their coach arrives.
  • Clearly the onus is on you to arrange for someone to pick you up if your arrive at your destination late at night or after a station/agency has closed for the night.
  • If you have a cell/mobile phone (and who doesn’t nowadays) you can keep it charged at the Recharge Bench (see image above) now found in most Greyhound Bus stations, so pack your cable in your carry-on luggage.
  • Print a copy of your travel schedule, keep it close and refer to it often.
  • Because many bus stations are open 24 hours, they tend to attract homeless people (handy for bathrooms, air conditioning, panhandling, etc). This doesn’t mean stations are unsafe, but stay alert and watch your belongings.

Note: I have been unable to find out how many stations/agencies operate 24 hours and how many close at say, midnight. If a Greyhound representative or someone else is able to provide that information, I and my readers would be very grateful.

Image: Greyhound Bus station en route to New Orleans

Missed Connections

  • If your journey involves transfers, be aware that the bus on the next leg of your trip will not wait for you if the bus you are travelling on is delayed due to heavy traffic, road accidents or breakdowns. Just as airlines and train operators don’t hold up flights or train departures, so don’t expect Greyhound or other bus companies to delay scheduled departures for you.
  • If you are lucky, the next scheduled bus might only be an hour or two away. If you are not – be prepared for a long wait.
  • If you do miss your connection and you have to wait more than 10-12 hours for the next bus, consider getting a room in a nearby hotel – especially if you face an overnight wait. At least you can get some sleep and freshen up before continuing your trip.

Luggage & Carry On Bags

  • Unless you pack very lightly, your main luggage will go under the bus. Keep a close eye on your luggage and make sure it goes in the luggage compartment, and doesn’t come out before it is meant to
  • Keep carry-on luggage to a minimum. Storage compartments above the seat are quite narrow, so don’t expect to be able to store large items there.

Traveling With Children

  • Pack a mini-DVD player with a couple of their favourite movies, a Game Boy or other portable games, or an MP3 player with their favourite music.
  • Don’t forget to pack headphones or ear buds!

Bathrooms and Rest Stops

  • No-one, but no-one has anything nice to say about restrooms on Greyhound buses, and in my experience, station restrooms are only marginally better – but not by much. It is worth repeating …
  • Pack tissues and/or toilet paper! On long trips the paper supply on buses (and in restrooms) may run out
  • Pack Wet Ones or similar and wipe toilet seats down before use. Wet Ones are good for personal cleanliness as well
  • Take advantage of station rest stops. You may only have one or two before you get to your destination, and in some cases there may be no stops.

What Have I Forgotten?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and I encourage other long distance bus travelers to add their own gems of advice and insight to this entry.

You will have to create an account if you haven’t already done so, but that will only take a couple of minutes. If you already have a Google account: Gmail, Panoramio; or some other, you may be able to add a comment without creating a Blogger account, but don’t quote me on that.

I look forward to your contributions.

Read The Full Greyhound Bussing America Trip Report:
[Part 1]
New York City to Philadelphia, PA…
[Part 2] Philadelphia, PA to Raleigh, NC…
[Part 3] Raleigh, NC to Mobile, AL…
[Part 4] Mobile, AL to New Orleans…
[Part 5] Tips and Advice…
[Part 6] A Final Word…

1 comment:

  1. For me dealing with all these sources makes sense because i am sue east coast bus tours would be there which has that much of understanding and things can be experienced properly.


Your Comments, Thoughts and Feedback is encouraged.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...