Modes of Transport – the Ups and Downs of taking … the BUS

Howdy all wherever and whoever you may be! Last month I gave my thoughts about the fun of travelling by plane. The best bits, the worst bits. This month I’m going to talk to you about travelling by BUS. Whatever your destination is, as long as there isn’t an ocean between you and it, odds are you can get there by taking a bus, or a series of buses. So let’s see what’s good and what’s bad about taking the bus.

For those who have been following me for some time, you probably know that my favourite mode of transport is the train. This doesn’t, however, mean I hate the bus. Bus has certain advantages over the train, primarily being that it can often go where a train cannot, all it requires is a road there. Train tracks are not as common, broadly speaking as roads. Not every town has a train station. Some countries don’t even have train as a passenger transport option so all in all, the bus can prove very handy as a form of public transportation that can a fair number of passengers.

Buses, as with aeroplanes, leave a lot of scope and possibility to the kind of bus you can travel. Many countries differentiate the kind of large bus you find from the local to the VIP. Then there is the mini-bus, which frankly is best avoided if you can because for some reason it seems easier to get motion sickness on one and there is often very limited space for the individual.

Buses are set out in different ways depending on classes and types of buses. You can get buses that actually have bunks beds. Seemed like a great way to me to help you sleep. The only one really I’ve ever taken though was in Vietnam and the beds were narrow, short and rock hard. I preferred the ones in South America to be honest – in Peru I travelled on a couple which had just the three seats across which reclined a lot and were better than most business class SEATS (not flatbeds) you get when flying. There was even a meal service! I had a similar experience on an overnight bus in Myanmar.

The bus that took me from Atocha to Tupiza, Bolivia

This then compares to buses which are not intended I guess for long trips. In Ethiopia I travelled on a couple up in the mountains where everyone piled on, animals as well and people were standing everywhere. This kind of experience is very basic I guess and not for comfort. I think these were four hour trips which really pushes the limits of how much I could take. But then this is standard for the people who live in those parts.

So perhaps the biggest positive for taking the bus is simply this – it more often than not turns out to be the cheapest way between two cities. Years ago that was pretty much ALWAYS, but these days you probably won’t be surprised to find out that sometimes FLYING is cheaper than buses or trains, for example REX flights here Melbourne to Adelaide starting at $59AUD or less. Of course, you need to factor transport in and out of the city, so this often ends up not being a fair reflection on what it really costs. Your bus station, like your train station, is often must closer to the centre of town than any airport. In some countries, for example Benin, the train can be cheaper than the bus but this is the exception not the rule.

So basically the positives are – take you to the centre of town, cheap, go more places than trains. Oh and they can go on ferries to cross waters if need be!

On the negative side though, well there’s motion sickness as I’ve mentioned before. In general not as comfortable as a train and not as steady, going around sharper corners, dealing with other traffic etc. Buses are on the whole the slowest mode of transport over longer distances, but that depends on the country. Obviously in Japan the train is a LOT faster than a bus.

Also one thing that can affect speed which doesn’t affect planes and trains is TRAFFIC (okay, it CAN affect trains. And planes if you think about it. But not to same extent). Traffic, or accidents on the road, can seriously hamper your trip and I find nothing more frustrating than being on a bus waiting for it to move out of a city through traffic. Stop-start, go-stop, to be comfortable I like a consistent speed and motion.

But the worst thing is buses BREAK DOWN. I’ve been on a few buses that have, and the two experiences that come to mind right now are firstly Laos – where the mini-bus from Luang Prabang to Phonsovan broke down and we had to wait a couple of hours on the side of the road for a replacement, and secondly in Mali travelling to the capital Bamako. The old dusty bus had been having troubles since we left Segou. It finally gave up the ghost a few kilometres from the Malian capital. Everyone just piled out and got there own transportation – ended up hitching in a big truck in the end. But nobody really wants this sort of episode, as interesting as it is I guess, to interrupt their journey. Of course, a breakdown on a bus journey isn’t as worrying as a breakdown when flying I guess!

Also buses don’t always make me confident. Looking out of the window on the road from Delhi to Jaipur – a hilly path for sure – I would look down the cliff and see the wreckage of other buses and trucks 100 metres or more below. One tends to get a little uneasy.

Buses, I find, are hard to sleep on but not impossible. Easier in the luxury ones in South America, for sure. I would say I probably sleep better on a bus than in economy when flying. Buses require stops for toilets too. Even when the bus has a toilet, it’s very hard to use with all the movement and is rarely kept in good condition.

A lot has been done to make long-distance bus travel more comfortable these days, and I think on the whole they have succeeded. I’d really rather not on an overnight trip have to take the bus, but I discovered in South America it can be a lot easier on you than my memories from many years ago. Always helps if you have two seats to yourself of course.

What do you think the pluses and minuses are with long-distance bus travel? Please do comment! Thanks for reading today, take care and… May the Journey Never End!


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