Five ways to make bus travel bearable

I’ve been spending a lot of time on buses lately – and not the kind that trace an east-west route across Manhattan. For the trips I’ve been taking, it’s been the best way to go, but rolling by bus is still far from exciting. From having to smoke outside with the homeless people in front of Port Authority to being stuck next to or in front of a loud cell phone talker, it’s hard to find a less appealing way to travel. Some bus lines are better than others, and I’ve been fairly impressed by the one I’m taking these days. Nonetheless, it’s still a drag.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make your bus ride much easier.

There are obvious tactics, from music to reading materials, but anyone who travels (or has merely waited in a long line somewhere) can figure them out. Instead of the basics, which you should be able to figure out on your own, let’s take a look at five tricks that only come from painful experience.1. Get in line (or on the bus) early
This may seem obvious, but the reasons come with some subtlety. You want to claim your space as soon as possible. Wait too long, and you could wind up having to set next to someone who is already on board. Step onto the bus early, and you’ll be putting someone else in that position. The odds of having your own seat for the ride increase profoundly.

2. Look undesirable
As people get on, especially when there are no empty pairs left, they have to make some tough choices on where to sit. Your goal is to make them pass you without even considering an invasion of your personal space. Eat some smelly food, wear torn or dirty clothing or cough and sneeze. This will help you win the opportunity to stretch out later.

3. Spread out
If there are multiple stops before your destination, more passengers may get on. This only happens when you’re headed toward the “big place,” though. When I leave New York, for example, I don’t worry about losing space to passengers who get on later – the net flow is outward. Yet, when I’m headed back home, it’s hard to rest easy until we’ve left the last stop before the city. To further discourage people from sitting next to me, which is harder than in (2) above, I tend to spread out a bit, pluck away at my laptop and generally make it look time-consuming and annoying to clear space for another passenger. Nobody wants to wait in the aisle, especially for someone who is not really interested in helping.

4. Enlist your friends
While you don’t want to be among the degenerates who talk on the phone during the entire bus trip, you will need to be entertained. Texts, communication via BlackBerry Messenger and even traditional email will amuse you without annoying those around you. Make sure you have a few people on board to help you out, case someone gets bored or busy … or just doesn’t care about your plight.

5. Engage the world
I think the number of tweets I send while riding the bus skyrockets relative to my already elevated volume. If you aren’t a Twitter addict already, become one if you’re going to be spending a lot of time on a bus. It’s quiet, and it will keep you busy. Follow the right people, and it will also keep you laughing. To start, may I suggest @Gadling?

[tweetphoto via @tjohansmeyer]

The Port Authority hot dog

I don’t think anybody enters a bus station looking for an unforgettable culinary experience – at least not a good one. But, when you’re in transit, you need to eat, especially if you’re staring down several hours on what is quite possibly the most unpleasant form of transportation. So, before dashing down to see the in-laws on Christmas Eve, I stopped at Villa Pizza, in the southern part of the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, to grab a bite. I saw hot dogs wrapped in pizza dough and knew my problem had been solved.

I didn’t have high hopes for the dog – c’mon, I picked it up at a bus station. And, because there was dough instead of a traditional bun, I realized I’d have to eat it sans ketchup and mustard. As I rode the escalator down to my gate, I started to wonder if I’d made a mistake. I was about to chomp into a nude Port Authority hotdog. There were no condiments behind which to hide. I’m committed to my unique brand of hot dog blogging, though, so I had no choice but to follow through.Once I got settled into my seat at the back of the bus, I finally took a look at my meal. The hot dog from Villa Pizza was thicker than most, and it was still hot (lukewarm dogs suck).

The hot dog lacked the snap characteristic of the fare of New York’s better hot dog shops (such as Gray’s Papaya), but it was decent on flavor. Like most dishes in a pizza place, it was a tad too greasy, but I was able to live with that. The pizza dough in which the dog was shrouded added a dimension – a texture not normally found in a hot dog experience.

I wouldn’t rush back to Villa Pizza for a hot dog. In all fairness, it isn’t the joint’s focus, and there are many dogs in the city that are far superior. When you have a bus to catch, though, your range of choices shrinks drastically, and you could do worse than to pick up a dog from Villa Pizza.

Taking Greyhound: a Gadling bloggers experience in the Twighlight Zone

As much as I liked being on a Greyhound bus riding the open highway with my son, who stretched and balled up Silly Putty between new York City and Columbus, Ohio, finding out how to actually take the bus was not the easiest.
Mind you, I’m a seriously traveled traveler. The process that led to our bus ride almost did me in.

Here’s how you play the game, “Getting on a Greyhound, and Welcome to the Twighlight Zone.”

Round One: Who is On First and What your Ticket Says Doesn’t Matter: At the Adirondack Trailways bus station in Kingston, New York after searching out bus schedules online.

Me: “I’d like to buy one adult one way bus ticket and one child’s ticket from New Paltz, New York to Columbus, Ohio. I think there is a bus that leaves New Paltz at 8:20 a.m. It arrives in Columbus about 11:30 p.m.”

Ticket Person, clicking away with her snazzy polished fake nails at the computer keyboard. Cheerful: “Sure. But, I’d take a later bus so you’re not in New York City as long.

Me, happy that she’s on the ball: “That sounds fine.”

Ticket Person, handing me tickets-still perky: “You’ll go through Cleveland and get to Columbus at 3:00 a.m.” (This is a paraphrase.)

Me, now, a bit irate: “Three in the morning?! No. I don’t want to go through Cleveland. I want to go through Pittsburgh. There’s a direct bus that leaves New York City at 11:30 a.m. I saw the schedule online.”

Ticket Person: “The online schedule is wrong.”

Me, attempting to hand back the tickets: “But, I don’t want this schedule. I want a direct route. I don’t want to go through Cleveland.”

Ticket Person, clicking away again: “There’s a 5:50 a.m. bus from New Paltz that gets you to the city in time to take a bus to Pittsburgh.”

Me: “But, I don’t want to leave that early. And what do I do now that our tickets say we are going through Cleveland and not Pittsburgh?”

Ticket Person, off-handedly.: “What the ticket says doesn’t really matter. Your ticket is from New Paltz to Columbus, so you can take any bus there. You don’t have to go through Cleveland.”

I leave the bus station, tickets in hand, confused, not sure at all which bus to take.

Round Two: Someone Knows What’s What.

Later at my dad’s standing in his kitchen. I call Adirondack Trailways to see what’s what. I don’t trust the ticket person in Kingston at all.

Me: “I’m calling to check on a bus schedule between New Paltz, New York and Columbus, Ohio. I just bought tickets in Kingston and they are not what I wanted. Is there a bus that leaves New Paltz at 8:20 in the morning with a change in NYC and a direct route to Columbus that stops in Pittsburgh for an hour? We would get to Columbus about 11:30 at night.”

Phone Ticket Person, after checking the schedule: “Yes, there is.”

Me: “The person in Kingston told me that bus didn’t exist and the online schedule is wrong. She said it’s often wrong.”

Phone Ticket Person: “The schedule is updated regularly.”

Me: “Here’s the problem. The tickets I have say we’re going through Cleveland and leaving New Paltz after 9 a.m. Plus, I have Trailways tickets. What about the switch to Greyhound?”

Phone Ticket Person: “That doesn’t matter. The tickets are good for any time and Trailways is the same company as Greyhound. The bus driver will let you on the bus to Pittsburgh. Ignore the Cleveland portion.”

Me: “Great!” Not one hundred percent confident, but willing to go with it.

We took the 8:00 a.m. bus out of New Paltz without a hitch. Problems not over yet. New Paltz busses to the city are frequent in the morning.

Round Three: At the Port Authority information booth you get misinformation.

Me, after snaking around through throngs of people and a stop to two separate bathrooms on two different floors. That’s another story:

“Where is the gate for the bus to Columbus, Ohio?”

Information Person: “Which city are you going through?”

Me: “My ticket says Cleveland, but I want to go through Pittsburgh.”

Information Person: “You need to change your ticket, otherwise you need to go through Cleveland.” (She directs me to the Greyhound ticket office.)

Round Four: When You Eventually Get Ahead

Me, trying not to get frustrated: “I have a ticket to Columbus that goes through Cleveland but I want the bus that goes through Pittsburgh. I was told I need to change tickets.

Counter Ticket Person: “No. That ticket is fine.”

Me, relieved, but not confident: “Great! Where do I catch the bus?”

Counter Ticket Person: Gate 70

Me: “Great! I want to purchase preboarding passes.” (Preboarding passes allow you to get on a bus before others.)

Counter Ticket Person: “I don’t sell those. I just give information. You need to stand in the next line. “(She is sitting next to the person who can sell me the preboarding passes.)

I move over two steps to the next line.

Me, showing my tickets: “I’d like to buy two preboarding passes for the bus to Columbus.”

Other Counter Person: “I can’t sell you preboarding for Trailways tickets. Those aren’t our tickets.”

The first Counter Person, leaning over: “Yes, you can. Trailways is Greyhound.”

Other Counter Person: “Oh. It is?” She’s stumped and really doesn’t know how to sell the prebarding passes so the other person shows her what to do and then hands me two of them.

Round Five: When Signage is Clear as Mud
The sign above the door to Gate 70 doesn’t list Columbus as a destination. Cleveland is on the sign, but Pittsburgh is not. None of the other signs say Columbus either.

Panicked, thinking that we are destined for travel hell after all, I quiz passengers waiting in line to find out the scoop. After deductive reasoning, and after chatting with a woman standing in line who works for Greyhound, I decided that the bus would be going through Pittsburgh and the people going to Cleveland would change buses in Pittsburgh. Why the sign didn’t say Columbus since that was where the bus was heading, I have no idea.

Also, there isn’t a special place to stand for passengers with preboarding passes. We hang near the front, but not in line. When the driver opens the gate doors to take our tickets, I tell him about the preboarding passes and we cut to the front. There is only one other woman with children in line with preboarding passes.

Because there isn’t a designated spot for preboarders, I feel as if we look like we are cutting in line, but once we are on the bus with our pick of seats, I don’t care. I earned them.

*Sure enough, the Cleveland portion of the ticket was ignored. We were allowed to go to Pittsburgh and arrived in Columbus at 11:40, about 20 minutes late. (see post on how the trip went.)

Jebb’s shot is of the Trailways bus to New Paltz.

Greyhound in a pinch: It’s cheaper and it gets you there

This past Sunday I put my mother on a Greyhound bus. She agreed to get on. I didn’t make her. This was a last minute trip. Last minute on an airplane would have cost $600 plus for round trip between Columbus, Ohio and New York City. Greyhound was $208, tax included. Planning ahead would have made this cheaper than that, but this was last minute.

After considering the price of airfare, the hassle of going through airport procedure nonsense, the chance that a flight would be delayed or canceled, and the added cost of getting from the airport into Manhattan made a plane ticket seem totally not worth it. Without a direct flight available, the trip could have taken several hours anyway.

Driving was nixed because she would be driving by herself which would require many stops and possibly a hotel stay somewhere. At the time we found out she needed to go, it was late afternoon. Plus, there is paying for parking in New York City and the cost of gas. So, Greyhound, in its convenience and thrift, won out.

Here are the pros and cons of the decision to hop on Greyhound in retrospect.


  1. Putting her on the bus was easy. She had bought her ticket the day before thinking that she needed to go on Saturday, but it seemed like she didn’t need to go after all after she paid for the ticket. Since the ticket is good for a year, she held onto it.
  2. Once we found out she did need to go, she was packed and at the bus station two hours later ready to take the 7:00 p.m. bus. Although, her ticket was for the day before, she didn’t need to change her ticket or pay an extra fee. She didn’t need to pay for baggage either. She had a carry-on size, a purse and another small bag. All went on the bus with her. If she had checked her bag there would have been no charge.
  3. There was no stress. I got her to the bus station at 6:20 PM in a quick 15 minute drive from where she lives. There was parking right out front, and since it was Sunday, the meter is free.
  4. There was not a TSA experience to deal with or a long trek to a gate. She could keep her shoes on. She had a full water bottle and regular sized tooth paste. She didn’t have a snow globe, but no one would have stopped her if she had.
  5. The bus goes right to Port Authority Bus Station near Times Square so there’s not an extra cost or hassle getting into Manhattan. From Port Authority there are plenty of ways to get to where you need to go. She took a cab.


  1. Sleeping on the bus was not easy or restful. My mom said it made five stops and each time, they had to get off.
  2. Although she doesn’t need a car in Manhattan, if she goes to upstate New York like she is planning to, she’ll need a car once she’s there. Plus, there’s the bus trip back.

Solutions to the Cons

  1. She’s planning on taking the bus back during the day since not being able to sleep at night is something she doesn’t care to repeat.
  2. I may drive her car to New York the beginning of next week and use her bus ticket to come back if that’s possible. If not, I’ll get my own one-way bus ticket. I was planning on going to New York later this summer, but I could go now. That way, she has her car and I can take the things she was planning to take if she drove. Otherwise, she’s driving to New York again later on.
  3. She rents a car after she takes a bus to Kingston, takes the Greyhound back here, and then she and I can drive to New York in August when I was planning to go any way. Hmmmm. Now, that’s an idea.

The reason why it is still good my mom didn’t take the plane.

Her return bus ticket is for June 4. She can’t come back June 4 so she would have needed to change her ticket. The bus ticket change costs $15. The plane ticket change would have been at least $100, and probably more as Grant has pointed out.