While public transportation can be a godsend while traveling, losing your public transportation pass or ticket is not. We’ve all misplaced our bus or metro pass at least a few times in life, and no matter where you are in the world the feeling is always the same.
That changes now.
Thanks to some very intelligent engineering students at MIT, there’s a new device that may forever solve the problem of misplaced transit cards: the Sesame Ring. Built with an embedded RFID tag, it allows you to simply tap to an RFID-based fare reader and get on board. Genius.
The ring currently works with the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority in the Boston area, but with the technology that the group has developed there’s no limit to how it could potentially be used. Just imagine a ring that you could re-program for any transit system wherever you are. Now that is smart.
It may be a cliche, but it’s true: if you want to get off the beaten path when you travel, at some point you’re going to have to take a long-distance bus ride. Even if you’re not a backpacker, some destinations are accessible only by the most inconvenient of methods. I’ve traveled by bus, Land Rover, bush plane, horseback and canoe, and while not always comfortable, I take great delight in using alternative forms of transit.
If the idea of taking the bus gives you the heebie-jeebies, be aware that it’s primarily bus travel in the U.S. that sucks. I’ve yet to have an experience on Greyhound (it’s called the “Dirty Dog” for a reason) that wasn’t totally jacked up. There’s always a toilet overflowing, an addict nodding out and drooling on your shoulder (true story) and a guy who can’t stop screaming into his cellphone or having a conversation with himself. But I love long-haul trips in developing nations, no matter how janky the ride. It’s the best way I know of to see and experience a country. It’s cultural immersion at both its most infuriating and its best, but I’ve yet to have a bad experience with regard to fellow passengers.
There are, however, some key items you’ll want to bring with you. I speak from painful/mortifying experience. Read on for what you’ll need for any bus journey lasting more than a couple of hours (bear in mind that in many parts of the world, you can’t rely upon bus timetables; I recently took a four-hour trip in Paraguay that turned into 11 due to monsoonal flooding. And there was no bathroom on board). Bringing snacks and extra water is crucial; usually vendors will come on board during stops, but you should never rely on this.
1. A blanket or ultra/microlight sleeping bag
You’d be surprised how many clapped-out buses crank the AC. If you get cold easily, 14 hours of that might render you nearly hypothermic. Conversely, if you’re sensitive to heat and in a tropical country, bring along a packet of Emergen-C or electrolyte chews (I love Honey Stingers and coconut water) and something to protect you from the sun.
Trust me, if you’ve ever suffered from gastrointestinal issues while on a long bus trip, you’ll do anything, anything, to ensure it never happens again. That said, don’t let fear deter you from trying all those great street foods. I’ve learned, however, to dial down the gluttony before a lengthy journey. Ladies, I’ve also had to deal with a UTI on a bumpy 14-hour ride through rural Mexico. Pack your first-aid kit accordingly.
3. Toilet paper
See above; if you’re lucky enough to even be on a bus with a toilet, don’t count on it being well equipped. Also be prepared for pit stops on the road, whether by your necessity or someone else’s. TP is also great to use as a tissue, as an impromptu washcloth, or to wipe that weird goo off of your shoe from the aforementioned pit stop. Hey, I’m just reporting the facts.
4. Sleep aid
Even if you don’t suffer from insomnia, you may want to bring along something to help your slumber on overnight trips. Rutted-out roads, blaring DVD players, blasting radio, crying children – sometimes all at once will make you glad you have an ace in the hole. If nothing else, bring ear plugs.
5. Baby wipes and/or antibacterial gel
You’ll be grateful for these on sweltering rides, especially when the windows are jammed open and you’re dealing with noxious clouds of carbon monoxide or dust. Also useful after aforementioned bathroom runs, and before snacking.
There’s a moment when every frequent budget bus rider tells him or herself, “you get what you pay for.” This morning that thought was likely running through riders’ minds when a MegaBus hit an overpass at New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal. The double-decker bus was too tall for the entrance clearance, causing the bus to get wedged into the space. Two people suffered minor injuries, and the driver got a ticket and is being investigated.
Budget bus companies like MegaBus ply the Northeast Corridor and other parts of the country, offering rates as low as $1 (if you get lucky and book really far in advance) between cities like New York, Boston, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. The more usual one-way fares of $25-$30 are a steal when compared to Amtrak‘s prices for the same routes, and if all goes smoothly many of the bus trips take about the same amount of time as the train.
That’s if all goes smoothly.While no means of transportation is incident-free, some of the things budget bus travelers have to contend with include:
Buses that show up late
Buses that show up hours late
Buses that break down
Buses that are overbooked
Buses with no working bathroom/air conditioning/lights/outlets/Wi-Fi
Buses whose drivers get lost
Buses whose drivers need to pull over on the side of the road for a smoke
Buses whose drivers flag down another driver on the road to switch buses
Passengers who eat smelly food/get really drunk/sleep on their seat mates/talk loudly on the phone/pass out in awkward places on the bus
Public art can take many forms: a mural, a street performer, even a tank as “sculpture.” Then there is the many forms of graffiti. How do you differentiate between art and vandalism? This photo of a broken down Muni bus was taken by Flickr user JRodmanJr in San Francisco‘s Dogpatch neighborhood, presumably in the junkyard. It’s hard to say when the bus acquired all of its “artwork,” perhaps some of it while in service and the rest after it reached the end of the line. Do you think it’s art, or just some spray paint?
The proposed route is the brainchild of Tahir Khokher, transport chief for the Mirpur region of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. The route starts in the northern English city of Birmingham, where many Pakistanis from the Mirpur region live, and runs 4,000 miles through Europe, Turkey, and Iran before reaching northeastern Pakistan and ending at Mirpur.
The problem, of course, is the route itself. It runs straight through Iran and continues on to Quetta in Pakistan, which is a popular hangout for Al-Qaeda. The Kashmir region, which has been the scene of conflict between Pakistan and India since those nations were formed, isn’t exactly the safest place in the world either. A recent survey found Pakistan the seventh unfriendliest country in the world, right after Iran.
On the other hand, a trip will only cost £130 ($200), making it an awesome budget travel option for the adventurous.
The Daily Mail quotes a Birmingham Minister of Parliament expressing concerns that the route could be dangerous. There is also the question of whether it would be used as a low-cost conduit for terrorists.
Khokher says the problems with permits should be ironed out within a month. Stay tuned for more news about the 12-day bus ride through one of the toughest regions in the world.
[Photo Pakistani bus courtesy Flickr user ix4svs. One hopes the new service uses better buses than this.]