Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Travel Tip Tuesdays: How to Ride the Greyhound

I want to ride the Greyhound because it’s cheap, but I’ve heard it’s really awful. What should I do?
"But won't I die the instant I step onboard?"
As I’ve said before, practically every person who’s ridden the Greyhound has a horror story. My cousin Alison said that she felt safer on the buses in the poorest districts in Guatemala. My friend Tyler felt like his life was in danger because of his seat-mate. No matter who you ask about Greyhound, they will usually get a panicked look and blurt out some terrifying tale about the bus system.
After that, who in the world would want to ride Greyhound? Well, me. (Guess how I’m getting to Chicago from St. Louis.)
The pros of Greyhound are this: It’s often really cheap, especially if you can buy two or three weeks in advance. It runs frequently to most destinations, allowing you more flexibility. And despite the horror stories, I’ve had a lot of really good experiences with it. The snobby isolation of an airplane is replaced with a kind of camaraderie between the people on the bus. People often share food, music, stories, and kind words. I remember seeing a man offer a granola bar to a woman with a fussy little girl. My seat-mate shared his music with me once. A man on a Greyhound prayed for me once. I offered my flashlight to a girl trying to read at night, and when she saw how tired I looked, she asked, with genuine concern, if I was all right. Despite the inconvenience and the rawness, I like the Greyhound.
If you decide to give this bus system a try, here are some tips to get you through.
Book a ride during the day, and leave yourself gobs of extra time. Being stranded at a bus stop at 4:30 in the morning sure gives you trust issues. I should have tried to catch the 3:40 bus instead (which was what I ended up doing). Greyhounds have a nasty habit of skipping smaller towns at the wee hours, so be sure you’re traveling at the peak time of the day. Have backup plans if the Greyhound doesn’t come, and assume that it will always be running about an hour late.
Greyhound doesn't have to be traumatic!
Dress for success. Wear comfy and well-worn clothes, forget the jewelry, and give up on trying to keep your hair and makeup looking good. Put all your valuables in a money belt or deep in your pockets. If you look like an ordinary Greyhound traveler, you will not have a target painted on your forehead… or your pockets. Bring earplugs, a sleeping mask, an inflatable pillow, an mp3 player with headphones, a really good book, or any combination of these to help you go to your happy place.
Come in expecting a “miserable” ride. More than likely, the bus will smell like urine, the people will smell even worse, you’ll be stuck with a fat seat-mate, and there will be multiple babies crying. That way, when you show up and the bus is practically empty, smells like air freshener, and has comfy leather seats with cup-holders and free wifi (they have new buses that feature all these amenities!), you’ll be pleasantly surprised. One way or the other, be at peace about your surroundings. Instead of recoiling in disgust, think about the people around you, or return to your aforementioned happy place.
Sit near the front. Although this is a noisier place to be, it’s also a lot safer. Greyhound drivers are tough and don’t take any nonsense, so if there’s going to be trouble, it will happen in the back of the bus. Put on your creeper-alert senses and try to sit next to someone wholesome.
Be confident. Put on your best “I totally do this every day” face. Learn the stops and layovers so you can be confident when they drop you off at a seemingly random station.  Be polite to the people around you, and very blunt if you need to be. Talk to the people around you to try to get a feel for their personalities. The less you isolate yourself, the safer you’ll be.
Be determined to enjoy the ride. Appreciating the Greyhound is all about attitude. My worst experiences have been awesome blog material, and my best experiences live in my memory with a kind of gritty magic. Be cautious but kind, look for ways to help the people around you, and live the adventure. You may be glad you did.
Have a travel question? Leave a comment and I’ll answer!


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  2. I ride the Greyhound for the great prices and the experience. It is always different from trip to trip. I find that you get used to the glitches the more you ride. I always expect the worse, but somehow end up with that "gritty magic" feeling. I love waiting in the bus station, but not on the street. I usually smoke as a way to experience more reward in the trip, but now I am trying to quit and basically have to rely on my book. I don't mind having conversations with "God" on the road. It is really a good way to get to the truth about who you really are.

  3. My wife shakes her head when I tell her about my first Greyhound experience. I lived on Vandenberg AFB and wanted to go get a motorcycle up in San Francisco. Rather than dragging the family round trip for an old Triumph that had a 50/50 chance of breaking down, I chose the cheap route and rode the bus. From Lompoc. It didn’t occur to me that Lompoc is home to the Lompoc Federal Correctional Facility until 5am when I was waiting on the bus with 5 other guys. They all looked a little rough but had on matching white pants, white shirts, and white shoes. For the most part, it was a nice relaxing ride up until I hit Fresno. That’s where I saw Charles Manson’s twin brother. Or at least that’s who he looked like. I instantly grabbed my camera because I knew noone would believe me and right as I’m about to take his pictures he turns and stares at me. Like a freakin crazy man look. So, camera down quick and I look away. 20 other busses this man could have gotten on and guess which one he picked? Yep. Not a lot of seats left so I slid to the outside seat, put my headphones on and my big bag in the window seat. If you already saw this coming, yes, he sat next to me. Turns out the guy was pretty nice and made good conversation (still a little scary looking). Anyway, I got to my destination, bought my bike and rode it mostly trouble free back home. Eventually wound up selling it when I left the United Kingdom about 8 years later. But that’s another story… Anyway, I’m writing this because I’m riding the bus to go get a Jaguar and was looking for Greyhound bus info. My first experience was interesting but I’m always laughing when I talk about it. Hoping my trip tomorrow brings good, but safe, entertainment as well.

    1. What a great story! I'm glad you got through it safe and sound. ;)

  4. TRAVELER BEWARE. The Dallas TX. Location is famous for baggage theft(as are all large city). The baggage handlers are instructed by law enforcement to remove any bag they think should be inspected. You will never see your bag again.If you lose your tag you lose your bag. It is immediately seized by law enforcement,that is if the baggage handlers don't steal it first. One method I observed is the luggage is placed onto the bus but is pushed through and out the other side of the bus 'to the accomplice. Many time at the Dallas and Huston locations passengers and their luggage are forced to go through police dog checkpoints. Nashville station should be avoided, at all cost. I suggest the Tornado Bus. More expensive but much less hassle. That is with the exception of Atlanta, where Tornado also runs the baggage scam and Laredo where they are very anti-gringo. Several different police units use these Greyhound stations for police training exercises. Between the many state police, the local police, the homeland security police, the detectives and plenty more special drug task force police. Forget robbers and rogues. Nearly all these law enforcement are subject to detain you for interrogation at any time, all the while looking to seize any cash they can find. Also gangs of thugs dressed up as security guards are out right assaulting passengers. All are abusive,aggressive and intimidating to passengers. Greyhound also also; has a very lucrative baggage scam. I went to them with two large travel bags and they attempted to charge me three hundred and fifty dollars in addition to my eighty nine dollar advance purchase. The last time I rode Greyhound it was twelve hours late. Some passengers were left stranded and forced to purchase an additional ticket. The excuse was that their old ticket had expired.

    1. I'm sorry you've had such bad experiences! I've been to Dallas once and Nashville twice, with no problems. Riding the Greyhound is always an adventure! :)