The Ultimate Survival Guide to Long Bus Rides

Let’s face it… long bus ride suck.

Sitting in an undersized, 30 year old bus seat with a broken recliner, bags tucked under your legs for over 20 hours is not an ideal way to get around.

And if you love to travel, you’re bound to find yourself on a long, painful, boring bus ride at some point.

Whether you’ve taken a long bus ride before or this is your first, this ultimate survival guide will help you get through it successfully and hopefully, without embarrassment.

Before the Ride

Whatever you do, don’t drink alcohol the day before or day of the bus ride.  This is a big no-no and I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.  Why you ask?  Generally, when you drink alcohol… at a later point, you’ll want to drink water and copious amounts of it.  It might not seem like that big of a deal until you realize you’ve been guzzling water and the bus doesn’t appear to be stopping for a toilet break.  Fast forward three hours and you’re about ready to turn your empty water bottle into a makeshift bathroom.  Not fun.

Also, if you’re hung-over on the bus ride, you’re chances of headache and motion sickness will increase significantly.  Not only will the bumps in the road make your head feel like a pinball machine, but the constant acceleration and deceleration from the lunatic bus driver will have you enjoying the ride with you head out the window.

Trust me on this one… don’t drink before the ride and try to over hydrate the day before… more on that later.

Bags & Packing

You’re bags will either be under the bus, on top of the bus or in the bus so you’ll need to plan and pack accordingly.

Essential items to bring on the bus with you:

  • Money, passport, and valuables.  If you’d be upset if your entire backpack or something in it is missing after the bus ride, keep it with you on the bus… no matter how uncomfortable.  Generally, I don’t worry about cloths and books (as those are easily replaceable), but money, passports, electronics or other valuables should be kept with you on the bus at all times.
  • Toilet paper. While this is not as important for the men (in most cases) it’s always a good idea to keep a little wad of toilet paper with you as some rest stops offer little more than a hole in the ground.
  • Bacterial wipes (or liquid). Let’s face it.  Most buses look like they get probably get sanitized once a year.  The wipes are great to keep your hands and face clean throughout the ride, especially in the morning if you took an overnight bus.
  • Water and snacks.  Definitely bring a small bottle of water and a snack in case you get hungry or thirsty.  However, be cautious about how much water you drink if the bus is not scheduled to make many (or any) stops.
  • Motion sickness pills. If you’re prone to motion sickness, be sure to take your pills at least 30 minutes before the bus leaves.  Read the instructions for exact directions.
  • Sun glasses. Great for long day rides.

Items for overnight bus rides:

  • Ear plugs.  On some buses, the driver and attendant play blaring music and/or videos to keep themselves awake.  Hey, its better they’re awake, than you asleep, right?
  • Tylenol PM or sleeping pills.  If you really want to zonk out, consider taking Tylenol PM or sleeping pills.  However, be sure to let the bus attendant or someone know to wake you at your stop.

Clothing do’s and don’t’s:

  • Do wear a long-sleeved shirt.  If you get a bad seat, you might be sitting in the sun for the entire ride.  A long-sleeved shirt will protect your body from sun exposure.
  • Do wear warm clothes for overnighters.  Even if you’re in Thailand, bring long legged/sleeved and warm clothes.  The air conditioner can drop temperatures to freezing conditions and it will protect you from the sun if you’re in an exposed seat.
  • Don’t wear super long pants. Toilets on the bus or at stops are disgusting and it’s not uncommon to have a lot of “water” on the floor around them.  Avoid wearing long pants (or least roll them up before using the toilet), unless you like to rock the “water” ring look at the bottom of your pants.  Gross.

In most cases, you won’t know where your bags will be stowed until you get to the bus.  As a precautionary measure, be sure to wrap any items within your bag in water proof garbage bags in case your bag ends up on the roof of the bus on a rainy day.

Bus Stops & Toilets

In some countries, buses will stop at restaurants (as they usually get a percentage split of sales), toilet shacks as I like to call them, or not at all.

Be sure to ask the bus attendant how long the stop is for, before wandering off and ordering a three course meal.

Always us the toilet before the beginning of any long bus rides and as a precautionary measure, I recommend using the toilet at all stops even if you don’t have to go.

Some buses come equipped with toilets.  However, just because there’s a toilet on the bus, doesn’t mean it’s usable.  Again, ask the bus attended what to expect.


Before heading out on a long bus ride:

  • Ask the attendant duration of the bus ride and number of stops (if any) to plan for the toilet.
  • Consider your seat location.  The best seats are located towards the front of the bus as the back of the bus is generally a rougher ride.  Also, if you’re riding during the day, consider the best seats for scenery viewing and minimal sun exposure.  Most buses have sun shades, but what’s the fun in taking a day bus if you can’t checkout the scenery.

If you have any other long bus ride tips, please leave a comment below for other readers.

Burt Kramer is the agency director for KHM Travel group, which trains individuals on how to become a travel agent.

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