8 tips for surviving long-distance discount bus travel

Travel by plane, despite its many aggravations and expenses, is generally quick – in a matter of hours you can be across the country or on the other side of an ocean. Train travel, while slower, has an element of romance to it. But bus travel. . . bus travel is generally the last resort. Thanks to new low-cost bus services like Megabus and BoltBus, bus travel is cheap, but it can also be slow and unreliable, and there’s no dining car where you can while away the time drinking wine and watching the world go by. Bus travel is getting better, but it can still be a difficult way to get around. Here are eight tips for making the experience more pleasant.

Book in advance
If you don’t know by now, Megabus offers seats for as low as $1 each way between select cites. But these elusive $1 fares go quickly, and the price goes up as demand increases. Don’t wait until the cost of your bus fare is nearly as much as a plane ticket – the appeal of the bus is that it’s cheap! Book as far in advance as you can to get the best rate.

Know before you go
Get the scoop on what your bus offers in terms of power outlets and wi-fi so that you can plan your in-bus diversions accordingly. On some buses, only certain seats have power outlets, so if you’ll need to juice up your electronics, you’ll want to know where to sit. On the new site BusJunction.com, you can check routes, prices and schedules from multiple bus companies, plus see what amenities are offered on your bus. You can also read Yelp reviews to see what kind of experience others have had.

Pack light and put your luggage in last
With no restrictions or extra fees for luggage, it’s easy to go crazy and pack way more than you need. But remember there is still limited space on the bus, and everyone’s luggage needs to fit in the cargo hold. Plus the more everyone brings, the longer it takes to load and unload all the bags. If you’ll be in a hurry to grab your luggage and go once you arrive at your destination, be sure to put your luggage in last so that it is the first out. If you are bringing a smaller bag, just stow it underneath your seat.

Snag the good seats
If you don’t need to be close to a power outlet, you may think one seat is as good as another. Not so. A few seats on most buses have more leg room than others. On double-decker buses, the seats just after the stairwells, and the two seats in the very front by the window have the most room. But, if you are partial to motion sickness, steer clear of the front seats – the unobstructed view may make you queasy. Avoid sitting by the trash or by the bathrooms for obvious reasons.

Try to get on first so you have more time to pick your seat. If you are traveling with someone else, have them handle the luggage while you get seats, or just stow your stuff under your seat so you can get on before the rush. Check to make sure that your seat reclines and move if it doesn’t. If your seatmate has an odor issue, doesn’t understand the concept of personal space, or has his or her headphones on so loud you can hear the music clearly, get up and move to another seat to save yourself the inevitable hassle later.

Watch your valuables
Petty theft seems to happen more in and around buses than other forms of transportation. Use common sense and keep an eye on your valuables at all time. Keep your purse or bag at your feet rather than putting it above your head, especially if you plan on dozing off, and avoid showing off your valuables at any time. If you get up to go to the bathroom or get off the bus, make sure to bring anything of value with you.

Bring a snack for emergencies
Buses on most log-haul routes (generally of 5-6 hours or more) will stop for a short break at a rest stop so that passengers can get something to eat. Usually this will happen half-way through the ride, but buses sometimes break down or get stuck in traffic. If you get cranky when you don’t eat on a regular schedule, bring a snack that travels well, like some almonds or a granola bar. The dining options available are often limited, so consider that if you are on a special diet. Bring water, but go easy on the liquids. As the ride goes on, the condition of the bathroom deteriorates, and you don’t want to be forced to use it when you are almost to your destination.

Bring distractions, but be polite
Just as you would for a long plane or train ride, bring an arsenal of things to keep you busy. If reading in a moving vehicle makes you nauseous, bring a portable DVD player or laptop and watch movies, listen to an iPod, or plan to take a nap. But keep your entertainment to yourself. Use your headphones and keep the volume low, and keep your phone calls to a minimum. No one wants to listen to your 3-hour long conversation.

Know that you get what you pay for
Bus travel is cheap, but it can try your patience. Remember that the service is often cheap for a reason, and that by saving money, you do run the risk of being bored, stuck in traffic, listening to someone’s obnoxious music blasting from their headphones, with your only option for dinner the $1.99 steak and eggs special at the roadside truck-stop diner (okay, I’ve never had it that bad!). Consider what your time is worth and you may opt to pay a little extra to fly next time. If you do decide to take the bus, just remember to pack the most important thing of all – your patience.


Six ways to keep a long distance relationship alive

So, you met the love of your life when you were on the road? He or she is the one, and you are already thinking about the color you’ll be painting the baby room? This is obviously pretty damn awesome if you can just drive to see him or her, but what do you do if you met when your homes are thousands of miles apart?

Here are six ways you can keep the fire burning, and get a chance at making a long distance relationship survive.

Technology is your friend

Ten years ago, calling your loved one meant racking up a massive phone bill. I remember paying over $900 for one month of daily calls when I was phone-dating my (now) wife. Thankfully things have changed, and a call abroad doesn’t need to cost you a penny. Services like Skype allow you to make good quality phone calls, no matter where either of you are.

Of course, don’t stop at phone calls – Skype and many other online services allow for video calls, and lets be honest – seeing each other is always going to be more fun than just chatting on the phone. With social networks like Facebook and Twitter, you can both be more connected than ever. Just remember to keep the really kinky stuff to phone calls.

Start keeping an eye on your mileage account

The day you leave each other, you’ll need to start planning your next trip back to spend some time together. This means spending every single frequent flier mile you ever collected, and raiding the accounts of family members (in exchange for some modest payments of course).

Keep a close eye on fare sales, or mileage award promotions. If your dates are flexible, try and book saver awards instead of full fare awards. Sometimes it makes more sense to pay for a cheap ticket and save your miles for any emergency last minute trips.

Compromise is a two way street

If being with your new love means flying half way around the world, you are going to need to make some pretty tough decisions – who will fly when, and where? Do you both want to meet somewhere in the middle (which will usually involve a hotel), or are you going to alternate who flies out?

As early as it may be, spend your time visiting each other wisely – this is the time you start deciding how the future will look. If you live in Europe and your girlfriend or boyfriend is in the U.S., you’ll need to start thinking whether you’ll ever fit in, the same situation obviously also applies the other way around. The last thing you want is for the two of you to become inseparable, but neither wants to relocate.

There is more to life than each other

Yes – it’ll be pretty obvious that the two of you are in love. But remember that your life is more than just yourself and your new love life. Friends, family members and even coworkers will have to get used to the idea of you moving away.

If you managed to convince your loved one that he or she is the one that needs to move, introduce them to your friends and family before they start packing up. Do you really want to have someone pack up their life to be with you, only to realize that all your friends think he or she is a douchebag?

Brush up on your immigration rules

If there is one entity that will do its best to keep you both apart, it is the government. Especially if you want to bring your lover to the United States, you’ll need to be very, very careful how you handle things. Simply flying to the country on a visa waiver and telling the agent you are here to spend some time with your girlfriend or boyfriend could result in being pulled aside and sent for a long interrogation. Immigration officials are always on the lookout for people who say they’ll come here for 90 days, and never leave.

Don’t carry papers about immigration, don’t print anything that could give the officer the idea you are here to stay. All this also extends to your emails (they have the right to check your computer). So, if you happened to quit your job before you got on the plane, you’d better make sure you don’t have those emails on your laptop.

Be prepared to defend yourself, up to the point where you may need to have the immigration official call your employer back home so they can verify you have a job to go back to.

This all sounds scary, but too many people think a trip to spend time with their new love will be treated the same as a casual vacation to the country.

If you do come here on a visa (waiver) and decide you never want to be separated, get yourself an immigration attorney. Don’t rely on information from bulletin boards or untrained friends – the next steps you take will determine your future together. Screwing things up when you are on a visa (waiver) could mean deportation and being banned from entering the country for many years. A good immigration attorney will start around $1000 for the basics, though in most cases, your initial appointment will be free.

Be realistic

This one is bound to hurt, as the end result may mean you both come to the conclusion that it’ll never work. I know a lot of people who got into a long distance relationship, and they did everything they could to keep things going, but eventually had to accept reality. Long distance relationships suck – they miss the one thing a relationship need to stay alive. No matter how often you can call or video chat, sooner or later you’ll want to be together again when things like a job get in the way.

I’m by no means telling you to quit – I think anyone in a long distance relationship needs to do everything in their power to make it work, but accept the concept that it may not work, just like any budding relationship.

Have you ever been in a long distance relationship? How did it work out for you?


Classic Treks: The Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail has been mentioned in the news quite a bit in the past week or so, thanks to a certain governor who managed to hike it all the way to Argentina. While “Hiking the AT” may yet become a sexual euphemism due to this recent scandal, for years the trail has been one of the best long distance treks in North America, if not the entire world.

The Appalachian Trail was first conceived back in 1921, with construction being completed in 1937. In 1968 it was designated as the United States’ first national scenic trail, cementing its status as the top trail in the country. Stretching more than 2,175 miles in length, the trail crosses 14 states, running from Maine to Georgia, and while it does pass through six national parks, it doesn’t wander anywhere close to Argentina.

According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website, more than 10,000 people have taken the estimated 5 million footsteps it takes to hike the entire length of the trail. Many of them have done it over the course of a number of years, breaking it into sections, and tackling various lengths as their time allows. A few have thru-hiked the entire trail however, going non-stop across its vast length, stopping in towns along the way to resupply before heading out to the backcountry once again. Typically it takes about six months to finish the entire length of the AT, with some starting in the spring in Georgia and heading north, and others getting underway in the summer in Maine, and moving south.

The Appalchian Trail falls within a days ride of 2/3rds of the American population, and 4 million of us head out on the “foot path” every year. The AT offers everything from great day hikes to months long adventures, serving up spectacular views and stunning vistas across its length. Hikers will also encounter plenty of wildlife as well, with moose, dear, elk, and even black bear making regular appearances through out its length.

With its rich diversity, ease of access, and amazing length, the Appalachian Trail has something to offer just about everyone. Whether you are a bird watcher looking to kill a few hours in the woods or a hardcore backpacker with the desire to add your name to the list of those who have conqured all 2000+ miles, this classic trek has something for you. Even armchair adventurers can can get in on the fun by picking up Bill Bryson’s classic book A Walk in the Woods. America’s first scenic trail, remains its greatest, even if it has gained a bit of noteriety.