For those of you who don’t like flying but are itching to break out of your local bubble, I have good news: you don’t have to board a plane to travel.
Nor to suffer.
It’s 2018. The celebrities we grew up crushing on are getting married, children don’t know who Britney Spears is (I know – it hurts), and there are plenty of patience-testing transport options out there for every kind of traveler. If planes just aren’t for you, there’s no need to feel FOMO for being unable to relate to “jet lag,” or wonder if you’ve skipped some important, rite-of-passage suffering by eschewing the life of an airline passenger.
The solidarity-building transport struggles of all travellers are accessible in so many different eye-roll-inducing forms. You’ve just gotta pick your poison.
It’s true that “The Airplane” is the football captain among the list. In terms of assessing comfort and general happiness, it’s generally accepted that flying takes the cake for being the worst. Insufficient leg room, long security lines, those people seated at the back of the aircraft who aggressively stand up as soon as the wheels hit the tarmac (por qué tho?????) And don’t forget those jump-scare moments caused by the impossibly loud sucky sound the toilet makes when it flushes. You’d be forgiven for thinking this package was, overall and unequivocally, the worst it can get. But you are wrong.
Personally, when I dance with the devil, their name is Bus. Bus should get more attention, in my opinion, both for being a viable option to get from A to B as well as a common source of traveler’s torment. If you ask me, Bus is an unsung anti-hero of the globe-trotting game.
I once took a bus journey that lasted 23 hours. Yes, you read that correctly. It was from Bretagne in the north of France to London. Technically, it was made up of three separate journeys, but I only got off each bus to hop onto the next, so the 23-hours-straight thing still applies. I wasn’t on the Forbes 30 under 30 list at the time (I’m still not; what a surprise), so neither catching a flight nor taking the Eurostar were workable options.
The price was right at 22 euros, so I booked the ticket and approached the event feeling like a bad B, travel-hacking her way to the top.
Would I do it again? Hopefully not. Would I recommend it? Only if you’re interested in inhabiting a space between life and death. Will it be amusing for you to read about some of the things that occurred within this bizarre, seemingly inter-dimensional world made up of two decks on four wheels? I hope so.
Here is an hour-by-hour account of the journey. I thank you in advance for your deepest sympathies.
I detected the smell of petrol, heard the clunking engines, felt the sticky heat of the morning start to build, and knew that I had made it to my first meeting point: Hell. Sorry, I meant to write “bus depot.” I presented my crumpled-up email receipt to the driver, who responded by throwing my bag into the luggage compartment with as much grace as an elephant ballet dancing. Then I took my seat and whipped out my laptop. My plan for the first hour was to do a bit of research, get some study done… I knew the freshness of the morning wouldn’t last long. We drove off.
The wifi didn’t work.
The man next to me pulled a plastic container out of his bag and opened it to reveal some pieces of smelly deli meats. He asked if I would like one. I said “c’est quoi, ça? Du saucisson?” (“What is that? Saucisson?”) and he said “non, non, non,” without elaborating.
I declined the offer.
I started to feel carsick from reading with my head down as we sped along uneven country roads. I longed for a successful wifi connection, to no fruition. I went to the bathroom. Already there was no toilet paper.
The wifi began to work. I retrieved my laptop and opened Youtube, to allow myself to unwind for a little while. Youtube was blocked.
Having given up on pursuing any of the activities I had actually planned on doing on the bus, I decided to partake in a session of gratitude. I reflected on the beautiful destination I had just spent three days in – Camaret Sur Mer, and spent a little time holidaying in my memories. Stop and smell the roses, I told myself. So I looked out the window to feel grateful for the pretty paysages rolling by, before realising I, in fact, couldn’t look out the window because my neighbour had pulled the curtain across. Perhaps he’d thought the sun would dry out the smelly deli meats.
I tried to feel grateful for the curtain.
I went back to holidaying in my memories.
Pit-stop at a service station in the middle of nowhere. I bought a packet of Haribos for probably 10 euros, paid fifty cents to use the bathroom, then sought shade next to dumpsters in the parking lot with my fellow passengers, who crunched on Lays and sipped cans of coke.
I listened to some music with my eyes closed. The Sandman didn’t manage to make a visit, but the songs took my mind off the severity of my bus bum (pain from sitting down for too long), and made me feel emotional and transported – ty Lana!
We arrived at the outskirts of Paris. I got off the bus, walked about twenty metres to another bus, presented a different crumpled-up email receipt and watched a different driver chuck my suitcase into the compartment like he was competing in a game of aggressive, long-distance ring toss.
This second bus was a giant double-decker one. It made me think of the double-decker red buses I’d seen in photos of London, so I started to feel excited about my approaching time there. Big Ben! Baked beans for breakfast! Queen Lizzie! Voldemort!
I began googling itineraries, read posts here on SUAG, etc. London was to be a jolly good time!
Cue a dramatic drop in my mood. I discovered that the charging socket at my seat was broken, so my dead laptop would be staying dead for the remainder of the journey. I went back to listening to music. The insides of my ears started to hurt (if you’re going to be on a long bus journey, do what I didn’t do and invest in some non-earbud style headphones.)
I tried to do some writing in my journal, but by this point I was so tired that all I wrote was “I am in a booth seat. Like in a restaurant. I didn’t know buses could have booth seats. Pretty cool I guess.” *Accepts Pulitzer prize*
We stopped in Brussels. Everyone had to get off and board a different bus to complete our trip to England. We dragged ourselves down the stairs and the bus drove off. The one we were to change onto had not yet arrived, and it was after midnight, and we were in an abandoned parking lot. It began to rain.
We collectively huddled inside an open garage as the downpour pattered on the roof. Nobody spoke; there was nothing to say.
I put my headphones back in and listened to “I Will Survive.”
The bus finally arrived, another double-decker that was already half full.
The driver appeared to only speak German. I assume he also threw my suitcase under the bus without a care, but I no longer remember, because this hour marked the start of The Zombie Period. I’m not sure if what I experienced was closer to meditation or death; all I know is my mind got lost somewhere. I stared straight ahead and felt nothing, and time just passed like that.
Eventually, I fell asleep to the sound of a German couple bickering (or perhaps they were sharing declarations of love; I can never tell.)
Something woke me up and when I looked out the window it seemed as if I were inside a giant yellowish fridge. The bus had driven onto the train to take us across the channel in the euro tunnel. I found the situation amusing – being on a bus on a train, but I didn’t laugh or smile, because my face was no longer capable of moving.
I woke with a fright. The door to the bus was open and a large British man was yelling at us to get out. His voice was so loud – way too loud for 4 am. It appeared also to be storming outside. I wondered if I was being arrested, or if perhaps the world was just ending (seems likely), before it clicked that we were at border control. I scurried off the vehicle to make the shouting stop, and I stepped straight into a giant puddle in the pouring rain. Freezing cold water shot into my socks.
I felt like crying, but honestly couldn’t be bothered to.
I had gotten through customs okay; they’d asked me about my plans for London and upon sighting my Aussie passport inquired as to whether I ate vegemite (but of course)! Unfortunately, some other passengers weren’t so lucky, which means I sat in a stationary bus at the border for two hours, wondering what the hell I was doing with my life.
This was by far the best hour, because a fight broke out among the passengers. One British family had spread out across both booth sections, and another British family sitting in standard aisle seats asked if they could have a turn. The Booth family refused rather rudely, the non-Booths responded in turn. Then it was on. They began shouting ridiculous insults at each other, like “Ya kids are ugly!” and “Ya breff stinks!” (translation: your breath stinks.)
I felt like I was in an episode of a trashy UK reality TV show. The bus driver tried to tell the families to shut up; they then began abusing him instead.
It was so entertaining.
The 22nd hour was one of restlessness – I knew we had almost reached our destination but that I had to wait just a
I began to reflect on the journey I had undertaken and all the little moments I knew I would one day laugh (and write) about.
I could just about smell the scones, taste the tea.
I glanced at google maps and saw that we were mere minutes away from Victoria bus station. I put my headphones back into my bruised ears to blast one final song: “London Bridge” by Fergie. I had made it, I had won. I had survived.
There you have it. For everyone who has made it this far, congratulations and thank you.
And for anyone who has a long bus journey on the horizon, I extend a hand of solidarity to you. To paraphrase Tyra Banks, I’m rooting for you. WE ARE ALL ROOTING FOR YOU!
Stay tuned for Part 2, which will cover every practical tip I learned from this … interesting experience.
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