Welcome to Part 2 of my take on marathon bus journeys. This post is designed as a companion to ‘How I Barely Survived a 23-Hour Bus Ride to England.’ Think of it as the more practical sister of the two: the one that says ‘Enough complaining, you big baby; here’s what you’re gonna do about it.’
Before we get to the hot tips, I’d like to emphasize that you don’t have to experience a crazy amount of a time on a bus – like 23 hours for example (because who would be desperate enough to do that? … ) to find this useful. I’d say anything from 8 hours+ can be classed as a coach marathon. Or perhaps even less. It all depends on how much you can handle (no judgment: I may be able to do a day on a bus, but I can barely make it an hour in a doctor’s waiting room – just let me get my tonsils checked alreadyyyyy.)
Here are 10 essential items you should consider taking with you on long-haul bus rides/train journeys/ pick your poison:
1.) Water – #StayHydrated
And plenty of it. This may seem obvious, but there have been too many times when I’ve taken a regular, say, 750ml reusable water bottle with me on a long bus journey, my War-On-Waste attitude going strong, before later regretting not having packed extra. You might opt for a small bottle that fits nicely into a tote or a rucksack because, understandably, you didn’t sign up for a weights class. You might assume that the bus will be making frequent stops at service stations along the way where you’ll have ample opportunity to regularly refill and stay #hydrated, #chocolated, etc.
INCORRECT. Never assume. You may end up stranded in a carpark in Belgium in the rain at 1 am, simultaneously needing to pee and wishing you had more water to drink, just to give you something to do other than think about how you wished you were in your bed at home. I also wished I’d had more water foresight during those long hours at British Border Control… when my mouth was extremely dry from the incessant and unnecessary flow of air conditioning, accompanied with a completely empty water bottle. I didn’t want to ask one of the scary British men for a refill because a.) they were shouting at everyone and b.) I’m pretty sure people don’t drink water in the UK – only tea (joking, joking; don’t come for me.)
2.) Neck pillow
If you’re one of those superhumans who can sleep anywhere at any time in any position, good for you… here’s a medal. But, most of us who aren’t will need one of these. Even on the more comfortable buses where the seats recline and come with that good-good padding, once the hours start stacking up, your back, butt, and neck are going to start reminding you that doing absolutely nothing can be just as painful as exercising (☹).
As you may remember from Part 1, these are essential. If I’m unable to listen to music on long (or short, or medium-sized, for that matter) journeys, I’ll start to lose it. I’ll grow convinced that anyone who engages in a single sniff, burp, or loud phone call within a 20-metre radius has a personal vendetta against me. An additional tip here is to invest in the non-earbud style headphones, to spare yourself the ear pain I experienced from France to England. My ears needed, like, an Epsom salt bath after that mess. Some physio. They may never be the same…
4.) Eye mask
Eye masks are ideal! Or if not, at least a spare sweater or some such to prepare you for the times when you’re sitting in the aisle seat next to a stranger who, at 5 am, decides to fully open the curtain and let in the blinding sunrise. A spare sweater is also handy to use as a blanket when the AC is up too high and you don’t have a magical Mary Poppins bag you can pull blankets, robes and ski jackets out of.
This is one of my favourite words in the English language, falling just short of “meals,” and “buffets.” For the on-board snack strategy, there are two options. #1: You can pre-pack a bunch of healthy snacks – fruit, nuts, wholegrain crackers, energy bars, etc., to last you either the whole trip (if yours is 23 hours, good luck with that) or at least until you stop at a service station to stock up. These roadside complexes will usually offer overpriced trail mixes and salads to keep you going.
Option #2 is to quit while you’re ahead: pack maybe one banana so it looks like you tried, then a couple of chip packets, candies, and chocolate bars. Then use all service station stops to join the communal activity of purchasing heat-up pasta meals to throw into the on-site microwaves, cheap cake-like “baguettes,” 2-for-1 cardboard sandwich deals and coffee out of a vending machine. I personally prefer the latter option, because it’s always felt like an experience. I’ve discovered some great regional candies thanks to this method, and I’m of the opinion that no matter how well you eat on a bus trip – no matter how many leafy greens pass through your system – if you’re on there for more than 8 hours, you’re going to feel gross anyway. Might as well embrace it. Long live Europe’s gas station stores with overpriced junk food and toilets you have to pay to use!!!
6.) Spare socks
These are a must for when you jump out of a bus and straight into an enormous puddle because you’re too scared of loud border control officers yelling at you to remember to watch where you’re going. This might seem oddly specific but It. Could. Happen. To. You.
7.) Spare tissues
For when there’s no toilet paper left in the charming little cubicle halfway up the aisle that you’ll probably fall over trying to get to when the bus runs over a pothole. Or when there’s no toilet paper to begin with.
8.) Plastic bag
For all your rubbish. Don’t expect every bus to come fully equipped with a garbage bag tied to each armrest (you’ve really won the lottery when you find yourself on one of those bad boys.) Sometimes there’s nothing and nobody willing to take your smelly banana skin off you.
9.) Portable phone/laptop chargers
Most coach companies these days operate buses that come with power outlets a-plenty, but, take it from me, they do not always work. I’ve had way too many time when my phone has died mid-journey. Honestly, just get yourself a backup charger. LOL.
And just FYI, this is also the case for on-board Wi-Fi. Most of the big companies now include free Wi-Fi in your ticket, but if you’re counting on a steady and reliable signal throughout your journey, you will nine times out of ten be disappointed. Give up now, I tell you. Give. Up. Now. Which leads me to my next and final essential item…
10.) Some form of entertainment
You might optimistically expect your bus trip to be a perfect opportunity to ~zEn OuT~, wistfully watch the rolling hills go by etc., but chances are the person you end up seated next to will chew gum with their mouth open, or a baby will be crying as you begin to smell the signal that it’s time for a nappy change. Or, worse still, someone immediately takes the whole eat-junk-food-on-a-bus-ride-because-why-not thing too far and the results quickly end up in the on-board toilet within the first half an hour. One time, I had been sitting on a bus from Bordeaux to Montpellier for ten minutes when a tall, burly man made a beeline for the loo. A wise-cracking Frenchman seated behind me proclaimed, “La gastro! Ça commence!” (Gastro begins!)
If you don’t have music or movies or a book or at the very least Sudoku exercises torn out of the local paper to distract yourself from all the above, you may not make it out with your sanity intact.
That’s a wrap on my tips and tricks for long bus journeys. While my experience is specifically Europe and USA-based, most of these items are across-the-board essential. If there’s a bus, and it’s not stopping for a long time, and you’re on it, you’ll need this list.
Bon voyage & bon courage, from one survivor to the next.
What are your bus/train/road trip must-haves?