The Long And Winding Road… of Long Distance Bus Travel
If you’re on a budget or just want to indulge in a bit of thinking time, travelling across Europe by bus could be the thing for you. With numerous companies offering fantastic prices, it’s a wonder that more people haven’t partaken in this not-so-secret method of transport.
Based on two particular routes*, here are some ‘dos and don’ts’ from our own personal experience.
If you are travelling from the UK, Victoria Coach Station insist on you being available to check in at least one hour before departure. From other countries it is usually around half an hour maximum.
Check in normally involves only showing your ticket or reference number, however in some places there will also be an additional check of your ID card or passport.
If you want to guarantee a window seat or that your luggage is on first, face the fact that you will have to queue. Embrace it. Or at least prepare some good music to dance to whilst waiting.
Whilst coach companies are very generous and often overlook oversized luggage, don’t get too greedy. Luggage limits are usually around 25kg and it’s mostly okay to go over that – although not with your entire house. On a very recent trip one single traveller was furious that her guitar, record player, large holdall, large backpack, and two very large suitcases were deemed too much. Shocking.
On The Bus
Thankfully coach seats do not recline as much as plane seats might, but there will always be someone who believes they alone need all the body space and legroom that is/isn’t available.
Mind where you sit. If you’re someone who needs the toilet regularly then you have to weigh up the pros of being close to the toilet with the cons of constantly hearing the door slam and the toilet flush – amongst other things.
Also. Take tissue with you. The one solitary toilet roll that is often installed in coach toilets pretty quickly disappears, so if you need to use the facilities more than two hours into the journey, take your own supply.
Trips to the toilet in the middle of the night can either be a human assault course or a foot fetishist’s idea of heaven: those lucky enough to not have to share a seat will sprawl out as best they can, with feet both socked and bare blocking your way. Do what you will.
Take headphones or earplugs. You are guaranteed to have either one token unhappy child or one potentially unstable adult who feels the need to tell everyone their life story. Look busy. At all times.
A small blanket is a very good idea for the coach, no matter the season you travel in. There’s nothing worse than attempting to sleep as a contortionist might, when there’s a breeze coming in on your back or you are shivering.
If you board a bus that originates from the UK, and you happen to have a UK adapter/plug, guard it with your life. For once other unprepared passengers are aware of this little treasure, everyone will suddenly want to befriend you and ‘borrow’ it.
When there is a stop, use the toilet. Whether you feel the urge or not. If nothing else it is an opportunity to wash your hands thoroughly as the sinks in coach toilets always seem to have the smallest trickle of water and very little soap.
Take plenty of change with you for the vending machines at service stations. Not only will this work out cheaper than buying a ‘proper’ coffee at every stop, you will also be pleasantly surprised by the range and quality of hot beverages available. Especially in France. May we recommend the vanilla cappuccino.
Crossing The Channel
Depending on the time of day, you will either face the claustrophobic challenge that is the Channel Tunnel, or walk around a ferry at your leisure for around an hour before trying to find your coach again at the last minute. The ferry feels much more civilised as you can lounge on sofas or pace up and down the deck, but the Tunnel is much faster.
Be prepared for long delays at the border. It can either take under half an hour to go through the two separate controls for France and England, or it can take two hours. It depends on if they feel like checking your luggage as well as your passports, if they want their sniffer dogs to check you over, and if your fellow passengers who need visas have filled in or need help with filling in their paperwork.
Pet Peeves And Pluses
The main pet peeve of long distance coach travel, it has to be said, are Those People. You know the ones. Those who feel that every single stop, be it to refuel or for the driver to change, is their own personal cigarette break. Those that when the driver says there is a 45 minute break, decide to casually stroll into the service station five minutes before departure and delay the coach with their hot drinks that the driver has clearly said are not allowed onboard. Those that are veterans of the journey and will not leave the driver alone for a moment, or will give the entire coach a loud, running commentary the entire route.
A big plus is the long stops when changing buses. Stopping in Paris for 3 hours gives you ample time to wander to the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe as well as popping into a patisserie for a cheeky pastry for your petit dejeuner.
It does have to be said though, at least in our experience, that the drivers make the journey. They are jolly, they tell bad jokes, and they cheer you on with gusto to encourage you to get through the border control quicker than their previous coach passengers. Definitely an added bonus that will make you smile.
Bus travel. It isn’t for everyone. But perhaps it is for you.
One more plus from us: you’ll meet loads of interesting people on your bus journey. Why not download uTalk for iOS, so you’ll always know how to say hello, even if you’re from different countries?
*Budapest to London, via Eurolines, with a travel time of 26 hours and 45 minutes. Calling at: Győr, Vienna, Linz, Liege, Brussels, Ghent, Lille and Dover before terminating at Victoria Coach Station, London.
Barcelona to London, via Megabus, travelling for approximately 26 hours. Calling at: Toulouse, Brive, Paris and Amiens and terminating at Victoria Coach Station.