Wanderu’s Site Lets You Research And Book Bus And Rail Travel

chicken busIf you’re a traveler, then you’re a Kayaker. Not a paddler, but a devotee of Kayak.com, the airline (and hotel and rental car) search engine that makes booking the lowest fares a breeze. If you’re a traveler, then you’ve also probably cursed the fact that a similar site doesn’t exist for bus and rail travel.

We can now count our blessings, thanks to Wanderu. According to Thrillist, this ingenious domestic search engine offers “hundreds of routes, operators, and schedules into a free, trip-aggregating database.” You can even make bookings, which is like a giant gift from the Travel Gods.

As soon as Wanderu or a competitor makes this info available for international travel, budget travelers won’t have anything left to complain about – except maybe the quality of their guesthouse banana pancakes.

[Photo credit: Flickr user DavidDennisPhotos.com]

Woman claims Greyhound denied her travel because of burqa

Jacqueline Pasha attempted to travel by Greyhound to Arkansas in December, but she didn’t succeed. And Greyhound acknowledges this. The story becomes fuzzy, however, in the details.

Pasha was wearing her burqa when she tried to board the bus. According to Pasha, a staff member at the terminal said she looked scary. Pasha then proceeded to request that she be checked in a room separate from the main area, but the employee (the one who allegedly used the word ‘scary’ to describe her appearance) wouldn’t do it, citing security concerns.

Although Greyhound denies any form of discrimination in this case, Pasha is steadfastly seeking justice. She’s lodged a complaint with the Department of Human Rights by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“I am shocked that this happened in Chicago,” Pasha said. “I am not the only Muslim woman wearing a burqa out here.”

I realize that this kind of discrimation is much more widespread than I’d like to believe, but Chicago? Greyhound? Come on! Lets hope this one was a giant miscommunication rather than yet another reason to believe we’re not as openminded, as a whole, as we advertise.

[Thanks, Northwestern.edu]

[photo by Vanessa Brown]

Holiday trip? Consider rail travel

rail travelUnlike Europe and Japan, the United States isn’t known for its high-tech, efficient rail travel. Which is a shame because, as I recently discovered, taking Amtrak is sometimes a better way to travel this big country of ours, and generally speaking, it has a lower carbon footprint per passenger than driving or flying.

You definitely need to have time to spare for long distance trips, although with the epic waits at some airport security checks, you may well come out ahead on shorter routes. Amtrak offers a lot of promotions and deals on its website, and children two to 15 ride half-price. The train can also be more fun for kids, and help save the sanity of parents who dread the airport schlep and subsequent whine-fest.

When I lived in the Bay Area, I’d sometimes take the train from Berkeley to my brother’s place in Truckee, in North Lake Tahoe. Given that it’s a three-and-a-half hour drive in perfect weather, assuming you leave at the crack of dawn to avoid traffic, the five-hour rail journey isn’t a bad idea for a winter trip. Note: Depending upon route, make sure your trip doesn’t have a connection by bus, which can considerably lengthen your trip and detract from your comfort. That said, I’ve ridden Amtrak’s motorcoaches in the past and found them pretty nice. They’re a far cry from the filthy, stinking, hell-on-wheels that is Greyhound, and at least there are increasingly excellent options on the East Coast for short-distance bus travel.

rail travelStill, I’d never done an overnight on Amtrak, mainly because I hate to take 17 hours to travel somewhere that’s a two-hour flight away. But on a recent trip from Chicago to Washington DC, the train was running $85/o/w for a coach seat. At the time, even with the additional cost of a sleeper, it was cheaper than airfare, so I went for it.

The only part of the Midwest I’d visited prior to Chicago was Wisconsin, so the train also provided a great way for me to see a new part of the country. And it would be relaxing…a mini-vacation, if you will, where I could escape traffic and the electronic leashes of Blackberry and computer (Amtrak’s AcelaExpress commuter trains are currently the only ones equipped with Wifi).

The Capitol Limited route took me from Chicago’s bustling downtown Union Station, through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. Getting a ticket is as simple as booking online, which I recommend doing in advance if possible, although you can also purchase them at the station from an agent or kiosk, and over the phone or your mobile device. Long distance routes have various sleeping options, ranging from one-to-two person roomettes to bedroom suites that accomodate four adults. For future reference, I suggest you book at least a month ahead on the more popular routes, to ensure you get a sleeper. I selected a 3’x6″ x 6’x6″ “Superliner Roomette ($128 additional fee, including meals).” The Superliner is a double-decker; the roomette a private cabin with sliding doors and curtains, windows spanning the length of the compartment, climate control, a garment rack, fold-down table, and two very comfortable reclining seats that fold into upper and lower berths. Unlike the single-level Viewliner car roomettes, there is no sink or toilet.

Compared to the airport, the train is a stress-free snap. Arrive at station, print out ticket, go to private waiting room, check bag, read, eat free snacks. When it’s time to board, you’re led to the correct platform, and you climb aboard. Tip: If you’ve gotrail travel a lot of luggage or a really heavy bag, get some assistance. Trains are a lot longer than you’d think, and my back was giving me the metaphorical finger by the time I staggered to my car, lugging my corpse-size duffel.

The friendly conductor showed me to my cozy roomette on the second floor. There was a clean bathroom just steps away, as well as a coffee/water/juice station (included with fare). The shower was downstairs; I was expecting the worst, but it was clean, the water hot and plentiful.

The sightseer lounge cars have huge windows and tables, so I spent the first couple of hours watching the sun set over Indiana. FYI, some routes, like the West’s Coast’s Pacific Surfliner, Coast Starlight, and Amtrak Cascades, and the California Zephyr in the Rockies, are justly famous for their scenery. Amtrak also provides a stop-by-stop guide for its routes, so you can learn the historical and cultural significance of each.

As for dinner, I’m pretty sure I harbor a repressed childhood trauma from an airline chicken breast, because while I think nothing of eating dog, goat testicles, or witchetty grubs (or, probably, human flesh), I can’t deal with meals produced for mass transit. So I bypassed the dining car, because it just smelled unappetizing, and the plates of food didn’t look much better. Instead, I brought my own travel picnic with me. To do otherwise in a city with dining and grocery options as fantastic as Chicago’s would be a shame..

What I really love about Amtrak is the fact that it lets me enjoy transit for transit’s sake, which is something I don’t often experience domestically (probably because I’m always flying or driving). Like riding the bus in foreign countries (my favorite wayrail travel to travel, and inevitably a fascinating cultural immersion), the train allowed me to just zone out. I had the time and privacy to read, doze, think, daydream, and watch the world go by. At 9pm, the conductor came to turn down my bed. I slid between the sheets, and watched the starry Midwestern night slip by. The rhythm of the rails lulled me to sleep.

In the morning, I sipped my coffee and marveled at the brilliant fall foliage in Maryland and West Virginia. I arrived at DC’s centrally-located Union Station feeling far more relaxed (and free of neck-kinks) than any flight has ever left me. Thanks, Amtrak. rriving

Turkish buses versus Greyhound

Planes are fast and popular. Trains are often cheaper and romanticized. Buses, however, get a bad rap. In the States, that’s probably deserved. With the exception of some modern, swanky buses servicing the Northeast Corridor and the Midwest, the bus options throughout the United States are pretty shoddy. Yet, bus travel doesn’t have to be all about steerage class, sweat boxy hellholes. Sadly, you just have to leave the United States to find the Shangri-La of bus service. One place to do so is in Turkey.

Yes, Turkey has amazing long-haul bus service. How is it better than the typical Greyhound service that you find in the States? Let’s break it down.

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For the sake of this comparison, we’ll be looking at Greyhound and the Turkish bus line Kamil Koç (pronounced Camel Coach), which I rode from Bursa to Selçuk.

Sure, this is far from scientific. And Greyhound is introducing some new, modern buses to their fleet. But only in certain pockets of North America. The vast majority of Americans have limited bus options, most of which make overpaying for regional flights and dealing with the hassles of airports actually seem like good ideas.

Turkey has wi-fi enabled, tea-serving buses with personal televisions zipping all over the country! Why can’t we have buses that would encourage people to view ground transportation as a viable (and comfortable) option for travel?

Have you ridden a particularly luxurious bus outside of the United States? Have a funny story about Greyhound? Share your bus experiences in the comments.

Mike Barish’s trip to Turkey was sponsored by Intrepid Travel. While everyone should agree that İskender kebab is amazing, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are strictly his own. You can read more about his trip to Turkey here.

Greyhound driver tips off cops to half million in coke

When’s the last time a Greyhound passenger had half a million dollars’ worth of anything? Usually it’s a tattered duffle bag and maybe an iPod. Well, police in Sherman, Texas, acting on a tip from a Greyhound driver, discovered $500,000 in cocaine in a passenger’s unmarked suitcase. The police officer was waiting at the bus stop, thanks to the info. After sniffing around, so to speak, he found 12 pounds of coke in the lining of an Austin, Texas man’s suitcase. And, the guy’s day got even worse: in addition to the powder, he’s being held for immigration reasons.%Gallery-14657%

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