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How to survive travelling the USA via Greyhound bus

25th September 2016

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Sometimes, when travelling in the USA, unexpected things will happen. Sometimes, Amtrak will take their lovely, roomy, air-conditioned, snack-filled trains away for essential maintenance, locking them up in some sort of secret train hospital far north of where you need to be. Sometimes, you will have no choice but to accept their refund graciously and book yourself onto an incoming Greyhound bus. Sometimes, needs must.

A Greyhound bus beginning its cross-country journey

“It’s not the people on the bus you need to worry about,” we are told cheerfully by a North Carolinian tourist, over gin and Olympics in a hotel bar in Washington DC, before we embark on our Greyhound experience. “They’re going somewhere. It’s the other people.”

Naturally, this leaves me with a few thoughts. Thoughts like, should we have bought padlocks for our rucksacks? Maybe we should’ve got money belts to hide our Caxton cards and passports. And most pressingly of all – are we going to survive this?

Obviously, we did survive our Greyhound experience – if we hadn’t you wouldn’t be reading this article.

No Greyhound adventure is without its trials, though - so here are a few things that we wished we’d known before we set out on our many, many dubious journeys.

Greyhound Survival Tip 1

GET SNACKS. This is of the upmost importance. Get snacks before you arrive at the Greyhound station, lest you suffer eight hours on a bus with nothing but Reese’s Pieces and a Slim Jim (a kind of foot-long, reconstituted Pepperami, which holds the dubious promise of “mechanically separated chicken” within) for company.

Side note: If you’re getting on the bus in Charleston, South Carolina, you can purchase a single dill pickle, in a plastic pouch, for your journey. You’ll find them next to the Slim Jims.

Greyhound Survival Tip 2

Don’t go hungover. Don’t stay up drinking cheap wine with a 19-year-old called Dereck (who can’t believe he’s met a real British person) in Carolina Beach until 4am when you have an eight-hour bus ride leaving at 8am the next day.

Just don’t do it. Send Dereck home. If you don’t, you might find yourself projectile vomiting in a Greyhound toilet and then crying because you had to clean it up with tissues and now you can’t find your hand sanitiser.

Greyhound Survival Tip 3

Somewhere in the USA, the Greyhound stops right outside… a prison. We were informed of this before our departure by a friend who had witnessed the newly released felons trooping onto his bus (and presumably, the seats around him) first-hand. We can’t tell you where it is, but the fact that we avoided it might have something to do with how we did, in fact, manage to survive.

Greyhound Survival Tip 4

Be prepared for all kinds of people to join you on your bus. Our first journey (Richmond, Virginia, to Wilmington, North Carolina; eight hours of Reeses’s Pieces and thirst) featured a real life Brony (look THAT up if you missed the documentary) and a man with literally no limbs who spent the majority of this time yelling expletives at the driver.

Greyhound Survival Tip 5

Don’t expect any sign that your bus is on its way, is delayed, is boarding, is cancelled, or is turning up at all. All Greyhound stations we had the pleasure of visiting had a TV; not a single one had thought to hook it up to a departures board. Raleigh, North Carolina, has two TVs – both were showing the same match of Olympic tennis. Nice and diverting, but hardly a great use of telecommunications when you’ve got a connection to make in the middle of bible-belt-nowheresville.

Side note two: Greyhound does provide a helpful bus tracker, so once you're actually on the bus you can keep up to speed with which anonymous stretch of US highway you're on. Thanks, Greyhound! 

Greyhound Survival Tip 6

Someone employed by the gods of Greyhound will probably appear and yell a seemingly random number when your bus arrives. It’s likely to be the only bus leaving in that entire afternoon, which makes missing it a task in itself.

Greyhound Survival Tip 7

Speaking of the infrequency of buses and the seemingly haphazard way their arrival is announced… your bus is likely to be the only one that day. Miss your bus at 8pm and there probably won’t be another until 6.15am. There is literally nothing (aside from begging you driver to speed up so that you can make your connection, as we were advised was our best option) that you can do about this.

Greyhound Survival Tip 8

They might not provide you with a sandwich or any information about where your errant bus is, but Greyhound stations – and the buses themselves – are equipped with WiFi. Which is a bloody god-send, because once you’ve disembarked in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of town that doesn’t yet look much like the one you envisaged, you don’t want to be hanging around. Uber!

Greyhound Survival Tip 9

You’ll need to weigh your bags, because apparently Greyhound buses think they’re planes. They can weigh up to 50 pounds. Be militant. This is the RyanAir of road travel.

Also, you’ll need to pay $15 extra if you want to take more than one suitcase. Forget this at your peril, lest you end up like the Brony that we shared a bus with in Virginia, who later had to explain why he had a trolley loaded with six labelled boxes of “plush, toys, costumes” and why he had been allowed to store it under the bus without paying the surcharge. He had no answer. There are no answers. Hire a car if you’re moving state or attending a convention that requires multiple costume changes.

Greyhound Survival Tip 10

Don’t be surprised if you hit the south and the bus driver suddenly starts blessing you over the tannoy. Apparently, this happens. Embrace it.

Greyhound Survival Tip 11

My last slice of Greyhound survival advice? Well, that it’s not as bad as people will tell you… at least, in our experience. Travel in daylight. Watch your stuff. Do everything you can not to miss your bus. Take sandwiches, observe your surroundings, and do your very best not to go via the prison. God speed.


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