What to Expect on a Greyhound Bus Trip
When it comes to traveling, there's many reasons why a person would choose to take a bus for long distances instead of flying. For one, bus tickets can be extremely cheap when compared to airline tickets, as the rates can sometimes be half as cheap as what it costs to fly. If someone has a fear of getting on an airplane, then there's even more incentive for that person to take a bus. But if you don't travel very often or have never taken a greyhound bus on a long trip, it can be a confusing experience if you don't know what to expect. In the past, I've normally taken airplane flights to my destinations, but in recent years I've developed a fear of flying that seems to have grounded me for the time being. So not too long ago, I needed to get from Florida to California, and I chose to take greyhound buses for majority of the trip. It was an exhausting and aggravating 3 and a half day cross country trip that involved getting on different busses and many unforeseeable things along the way. Now I'm not that picky of a person, and I even like to "rough it" sometimes and stay in hostels or tents when I'm backpacking in other countries. So it takes a lot for me to not enjoy myself on a road trip such as this. But after this particular experience, I have to say that it was a very negative one and I would never use Greyhound again if it were not for my extreme fears when it comes to flying. In fact, I would only go through them again after I've checked the internet first to make sure there aren't any other bus companies that could do the same trip for a similar price. So in this personal review, I'd like to give you a heads up on what to expect if you take one of Greyhound's buses for a long journey or coast to coast trip. Hopefully this guide will shed some light on any questions you may have about your upcoming trip and you'll find some of these tips helpful.
While most buses I took were able to keep their schedule, there was a few that were late for different reasons. The biggest problem in the schedule that I encountered was a few unplanned stops that involved law enforcement. What many may not realize, and what I did not realize, is that Greyhound busses now make random stops in order to let Border Patrol agents board the bus and check everybody's legal status. Between my trip from Florida to California, our bus was boarded by these agents a total of three times. Once in Lousiana, once in Texas, and again in New Mexico. It irritates me that Greyhound would allow people to ride, and take their money, without warning them about this beforehand. If there was a suspected serial killer on board, or somebody trying to kidnap a child, then I may feel differently about the stops. I don't view random illegal immigrants as much of a threat, so I don't feel that it's worth it for them to interrogate everybody on the bus just to catch a few. In addition to feeling uncomfortable when they stepped on to the bus each time, they also made the entire trip uncomfortable because it caused the entire bus to be delayed and we were late getting to the next stops. This backed everything up, because now after riding a bus for 3 or 4 straight hours, we had to jump on another bus as soon as we got to the stop. You can imagine how irritating this was, because you're waiting hours and hours to stretch your legs and get some food, and you don't even have time once you get to the next stop and have to transfer to the next bus. Another problem was that there was one bus in El Paso, Texas that was completely overbooked. I was standing in line with other people from my last bus, waiting to transfer on to this next one, and then they cut the line in half and said that the rest of the people at the back of the line (including me), would have to wait for another bus to show up. So it doesn't seem like Greyhound cares too much about their customers when it comes to service, because they oversold the bus by at least 15 people. Because of this, many of us who paid to ride the first bus that left, had to wait 2 hours for a second bus to arrive, and our entire schedule was once again screwed up. When I finally reached my final destination in San Jose, California, I had arrived 7 hours later than the original schedule stated I would arrive. So if you do decide to go on a similar journey with Greyhound, you should definitely allow yourself at least 1 extra day to arrive, just in case. Also, make sure that whenever you get off the bus at rest stops and bathroom breaks, that you get back on the bus in time or the bus driver will leave you there. A few bus drivers said that they would allow us 15 minutes at some stops, but left at 12 minutes. So even a small difference of a few minutes can screw up your entire trip and become stranded somewhere.
Along your way, you'll stop at many rest areas that have different amenities and services available. Most of them have bathrooms that you can use, but food can be a problem. On my trip, there were a few places that didn't have food, after we had been travelling many hours and had expected to eat at the next stop. Needless to say, this was very disappointing and I was really wishing that I had packed some more snacks for myself before the trip. There was also many times that we simply didn't have enough time to buy any food after we reached a rest stop, mainly due to the schedule delays I mentioned before. I can remember a few times where they gave us 10 minutes, and it wasn't enough time to use the bathroom and eat because of the lines, so we had to choose one or the other. So regardless of what your schedule says, you shouldn't plan to eat at any one specific stop. There will be at least one or two times during the day when you will have time to get some food, but you may never know when that actual time will be, so you should be prepared. Before your trip, you should stock up on filling snacks that can pass as meals, in case you don't have time here and there. I would pack things that are good for a few days that can give you energy and are nutritious, like bananas, hard boiled eggs, and granola bars. From what I saw, none of the bus drivers had a problem with people eating on the bus, and there were a few drivers who allowed us to buy food such as pizza at the stops and bring it on the buses.
The seats aren't typically assigned to you, but the buses are definitely packed to the full capacity most of the time and all the seats are taken once the the bus starts rolling. So once you board the bus, you should probably make sure that you're sitting in a seat that you're comfortable with and can enjoy sitting in for a long period of time. After about halfway through my trip, there was one guy who was going to the same destination as me who was sitting next to me. So we were friendly and chatted a bit, and we both ended up sitting next to each other for the rest of the trip. I asked him if he wanted to switch seats every few stops, so he could have the window half the time and the aisle the other half. He agreed, and this worked out well for both of us, since it's easier to sleep by leaning your head against the window. So if you talk with anybody next to you who is going along the same routes as you, then you may want to ask them if they'd like to switch seats every now and then, so you both get a change in pace every few hours or so. Also, from what I noticed, the very back of the bus seems to be where the loud and wild people tend to sit. So if you're a real social person and want to be a part of the party on board, the very back of the bus is where you'll probably want to sit. If you're not very social, then I'd avoid that area and sit in the front or the middle section. When I sat in the back a few times, there were people passing around a bottle of liquor and mixing it with their coffee, and it was much louder, like as if it were a party. However, there were a few busses that I were on where the back was quieter, so I guess it all depends on the circumstances and what type of a crowd you have on each bus.
During your trip, you have two options when it comes to using the restroom: the bathroom at the back of the bus and the bathrooms at the bus stations. All Greyhound buses have bathrooms in the back, because Federal law states that they must. The only problem with using this bathroom, is that there's only one toilet in there, so if somebody has vandalized it or it's somehow broken or obstructed for any reason, you may have to wait until the next step. Also, it's a very small restroom as you would expect, so you can't use it for much other than for the toilet that's in there. As fas the restrooms at the stations, every Greyhound bus station has restrooms available and from what I've seen, most are kept very clean and in good shape. There were large mirrors in every restroom I used, so if you need to do your makeup (or apply moisturizer to your face constantly like I have to), that would be the place to do it.
If you're taking a long journey like I did, you'll probably have to sleep sometime during the trip. You should try to do this on the bus itself, because you may encounter problems at the stops, depending on which stop you are at. One of the most common sights that I saw along my trip, was people sleeping on benches at the rest stops, and even some people camped out on the floor in the corner of the room. Most of the Greyhound or rest stop staff didn't seem to care about this and left the people alone. However, at one stop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, there was some type of law enforcement woman, most likely a regular sheriff's deputy, who wasn't allowing people to sleep on the benches. Most of the benches were empty, as there wasn't many people at this stop when I arrived. But I witnessed her waking up a man who was sleeping on a bench, and telling him that he couldn't sleep there and would have to sit up. Seemed like she was just on a power trip and was looking for something to do while patrolling the empty rest stop, just so she could feel like a big shot. I didn't see anything like this at any of the other stops along the way, but just in case, you shouldn't make plans to sleep at any of the stops in between bus transfers unless you want to be rudely awakened by a person with a badge and an aggressive attitude.
When it comes to bringing bags on greyhound, you can bring small bags onboard the bus, and place them either under your seat or in the overhead compartment. Just be aware that the overhead compartment is very small and there isn't much room if other people have boarded the bus before you. I wouldn't bring anything on the bus that is larger than the size of a laptop. If you have a suitcase or a large backpack, then it's probably better to have them placed under the bus with the larger sized luggage. To place bags under the bus, you will have to first check them in with the customer service desk so you can get them tagged and id'd. After that, you can just hand them to the Greyhound employees that are standing next to the bus as you board it. Once you get off the bus at each stop, you are responsible for picking up your baggage from the employees standing by the side of the bus again, and holding on to it until you get on your next connecting bus. Just keep in mind that Greyhound only checks 1 bag for free with each ticket, so if you have more than 1 large bag or suitcase, you'll have to pay extra for that. You can find the current rate prices on the official Greyhound website. You should also be aware of the fact that Greyhound only insures the bags for around $250 (for adult tickets, it's about half that price for child tickets). So if you are bringing something that is more valuable than $250 and don't want to risk the chances of something happening to your possessions, then it may be better if you just ship it using USPS, UPS, FedEx, or DHL, and insure it for whatever amount you think it's worth.
Greyhound buses do not have electrical outlets on them, so if you plan to bring any electronic devices that need to be charged, you can charge them at some of the rest stops. I'd estimate that about 70% of the stops had places where you chould charge your electronics. They have hubs that are specifically for the passengers to use, but some of them may be full already if there are lots of people at that stop. Two places where the hubs were completely full and where I would have had to wait to charge my laptop and cell phone, were in Phoenix, Arizona and Houston, Texas. So if you do have any cell phones or things that need charging, you probably shouldn't expect to do it at any of the major cities unless you have a big layover there and have time to wait for an outlet to be available. As far as charging your devices in the regular outlets on the walls, I would imagine that Greyhound employees frown on that sort of thing, which is why they probably put hubs in some of the stops just for travelers. I did it anyway at a few stops that didn't have hubs, but I was very discreet about it.
When it comes to connecting to the internet, there aren't many options when you're traveling with Greyhound. I had my laptop with me and looked for spots at the rest areas where I could connect to the internet with it. Some of the rest stops have Mcdonalds restaurants and Starbucks shops either inside the rest areas or next to them on the outside. If you're lucky enough to come across one of these particular stops, then you can always use the wi-fi that they offer in Mcdonalds or Starbucks. As far as wifi on the actual bus, Greyhound busses do not offer this service. The one exception to this would be their more recent BoltBus company, which operates primarily in only a few areas of the Northeastern states, which would be New York, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., and New Jersey. Unfortunately, there are no southern, midwest, or western states that offer this service yet. Boltbuses have free wifi internet connections onboard the buses themselves, though I can't say how good the connection actually is since I was only on regular Greyhound buses.
As you would expect, there's no smoking on Greyhound busses. I saw a few rest areas that had designated smoking areas, but not all. I'm not familiar with the laws in each state when it comes to smoking near the entrances or exits of these places, so you'll probably want to be discreet about it or ask the employees at the rest areas where you can go. But honestly, if I were a smoker still, I'd either quit or I'd just try to muster up the courage or the cash and fly instead or get a car through a car rental company. With all the delays and short time at some of the layovers, I'd probably go crazy if I was a smoker and had to go 5 or 6 hours without one. You should also probably make sure you have enough cigarettes for your journey as well. Some of the rest areas have convenience stores inside where they sell things like cigarettes, but some don't have anything inside other than a few vending machines with snacks and drinks.
One thing you have to keep in mind about Greyhound, is that it's a cheap alternative to flying and taking the train for many people. Because of this, you're not exactly going to be surrounded by the upper-class members of society. This isn't to say that everybody who rides Greyhound is a criminal or a low-class person. From what I experienced, majority of the people on the busses and at the stations were normal everyday average people just like me. But the chances of you running across a few bad apples are probably more likely than they would be on an airplane or on a train. You may recall an incident in the news a few years ago where a man killed and beheaded another man on a Greyhound bus in Canada without any motive or provocation. That was one isolated incident that is probably the rarest of all bad scenarios that could occur while riding Greyhoud. However, there are other types of situations that may you find yourself in that you should be aware of. In my personal experience, I only had one incident where I encountered someone who was less than savory. While waiting at the El Paso, Texas bus station, I was approached by a young man who asked if I wanted to buy any cocaine. Now it's not that I have something against people who use drugs, as I definitely used my fair share as a teen, but it was the man's approach that was alarming. He seemed to be high out of his minds, as his eyes were glazed over and he looked like he had been snorting lines all night, and it gave me the feeling that the station was not very safe, despite the fact that there were a few police outside the station sitting in squad cars. I would have assumed that he was an undercover police officer, but I'm a pretty good judge of his character and this man was definitely not a 9 to 5 worker type or any form of law enforcement if you know what I mean. So be careful who you associate with while waiting at the Greyhound bus stations or while riding the bus. If you do attempt to sleep while on the bus or on the benches in any of the stations, make sure that whatever is in your pockets is secure and that you are sleeping on top of your bags to where nobody can reach their hands inside them or take anything from you.
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