It's cheap but is it the best way to get from here to there?
Should You 'Go Greyhound'?
by Anne Clay Cernyar
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I'm well-acquainted with Greyhound Bus Lines, but we aren't best friends. I've spent more days on those lumbering buses than I care to count, crossing the continent more than once as I shuttled between home and college, graduations and weddings. Yet, I must admit, Greyhound always got me where I was going.
Should you go Greyhound? Here are a few pros and cons.
- You can't beat the price! This, of course, is the main reason that I've relied on this method of transportation. More than once, I've purchased a one-way ticket from Virginia to Montana for less than $70. That's right-seventy dollars to cross the continent. You can't drive for that price. Since rates change, I won't try to quote the going prices, but purchase your ticket three weeks in advance for the best deal. Other discounts are also usually available.
- It will get you where you need to go. Greyhound has a wonderful transportation system that can take you to almost any town in the US-even to places not serviced by airlines or Amtrak. However, it does not always offer service directly to tourist destinations such as Carlsbad Caverns.
- The drivers are good. I've rarely encountered a bad driver while traveling Greyhound, and I've never been in a bus accident. (Accidents do happen, but their track record is better than my own, I'm afraid!) On top of that, most drivers are remarkable people. Day after day they handle amazing stresses-unruly passengers, people who think they're lost, crying babies, runaways, heavy traffic, fog and rain, mixed-up schedules, and long hours. Despite the stress, most of the drivers that I've met are remarkably composed, nice to their passengers, and even maintain a sense of humor.
- Tickets are available over the phone. Other transportation systems offer this service, too, and it is very convenient. Greyhound will take your order and mail your ticket to your home. I've had good success with speedy turnaround.
In spite of all these positive factors, there are horror stories.
- It's tough to get the right information. In spite of computers, ticket prices/special deals/refund policies sometimes change from agent to agent. I once called the toll-free number three times in a row, asked the same question, and got a different answer each time. The system is very fluid. Your ticket arrangements are really dependent on the individual that you actually buy it from either over the phone or in person. If you need to exchange it, you're at the mercy of the station attendant or the bus driver.
Your schedule is likely to change en route and your arrival time may, too. On a one trip, I arrived at my destination a few hours early because I managed to catch connections sooner than expected. This only happened once, however!
On another occasion, I traveled across the continent in weather so cold that Amtrak wasn't running and northwestern airports were closed down. Greyhound was the only major transportation system still running in that part of the country. My schedule got changed numerous times and I spent hours huddled in a tiny bus station someplace in Wyoming-I arrived twelve or more hours later than I expected. (Hey, I got there, though!)
Even on less dramatic occasions, bus schedules have a fluidity that can be unsettling to an organized person. It's entirely possible that you'll end up unexpectedly changing buses, stopping for unanticipated layovers, etc. Again, the bus drivers are usually very helpful.
- It's not the most comfortable way to travel. The seats are small and you may have to share your space with a stranger. It's tough to sleep (HINT: Take a pillow.)-especially if you're wakened at 4:00 a.m. and taken off the bus for an hour so that it can be cleaned. The bus restrooms are cramped and may be dirty, and the station restrooms aren't always clean either. You risk losing your luggage or having it stolen by another passenger. (HINT: Travel lightly and personally make sure your bags are transferred to the next bus.) The station food is expensive. (HINT: Pack your own.)
- It's not always the most direct or the fastest route. For example, I know of passengers traveling from Montana to Arkansas who were routed through Texas and then north again. However, traveling by bus from Alabama to Virginia is quicker than going by train, but longer than traveling by car. An east coast to west coast trip takes about four days, which isn't bad. It really depends on the route and the distance. The long-distance express busses tend to make much better time than the "locals" with their frequent station stops.
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So, Should you Go Greyhound?
Yes, if you want to save money and don't mind the long, tiring trip. Just keep in mind that your route may change and you'll have to be patient with frequent stops and less-than-ideal sleeping conditions.
Women traveling alone should take reasonable precautions-dress inconspicuously, don't flash expensive jewelry or luggage, don't walk alone outside the stations, don't confide personal information to strangers, be sure that someone reliable will be meeting you . . . You get the idea! (HINT: Being absorbed in a book or listening to music on headphones is a useful way to avoid unwanted conversation.) I would never, however, send an unaccompanied child on a cross-country bus trip.
If you don't mind these inconveniences, Greyhound can get you where you want to go in a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable price.
Anne Clay Cernyar has taken Greyhound more times than she cares to count, but admits that she'll probably do it again. Comments can be addressed to Anne at upWrite@juno.com.
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