Bus travel can be the easiest thing in the world but quickly can become hell ride on Earth. We share some basic rules and pro tips to help you make the most out of your bus ride. In the end of this article you’ll find our extended list of reliable bus companies from all around the world.
How to prepare for a long distance bus travel
If you have ever taken a long distance bus you know exactly that traveling by bus can be a lot more exhausting than it seems at the first glance. Spending long hours squeezed in your seat, having annoying people sitting next to you, a full bus or being stuck in a traffic jam are all things that can turn your journey into a nightmare. While these things are usually out of your control, you can still prepare to make your ride more enjoyable.
Here a few ideas:
- Pack light – you never know if there will be enough space in the storage of the bus and in worst case the won’t take you. If you travel between countries, booking or checking your luggage in is required (depending on the provider extra fees may apply)
- Be prepared for either hot or cold temperatures on board. There is generally just two types of buses. The first type is without proper AC when the bus gets hot and smelly in short time. The second type is when the air conditioning is turned on at all times and you start freezing after a while. If you travel longer distances by bus or take the night ride, bring an lightweight sleeping bag or a travel blanket on board. It’s a good idea to wear layers of clothes to stay comfortable in all conditions.
- Avoid traveling across borders. Waiting time at checkpoints can often be minimized, by just hopping off before the border taking a little walk to the other side and hopping on the next bus once you are there.
- Plan your bus travel in advance. Always take the time to do some research in advance about the local bus operators. Read customer reviews. Pro tip: Talk with locals or fellow travellers about their experiences and listen to their recommendations. If it’s possible you get information at a local tourism office. Or go to the bus station and ask at the information (my personal experience is, that information office is rather unhelpful if you need to know more than the bus schedule or platform number).
- Schedule your trip in advance. In most countries bus routes are operated by multiple companies, with various destinations, time schedules and fares. Be prepared to spend some time with checking several websites run by the bus companies to find the options that fit the best with your plans. Good news is, that there are more and more bus search engines that are essential tools if you are planning to cross multiple countries. You’ll find a few relevant links below this section.
- Learn to navigate through domestic bus operators’ websites. While the situation has got better over the last years, yet, these websites aren’t very user friendly and sometimes it’s quite challenging to find the right information about prices and routes and time tables (especially if you don’t speak a local language and the information available in English is scarce). If it’s feasible try personally go to the bus station and ask. Pro tip: use google translate and show a translated version of your request to the person in the information booth. Enable speech to text, so you can translate their answer. (don’t forget to ask permission first)
- Make a plan-B. Especially, when you travel to remote areas it can often happen that your arrival will be delayed and you’d miss the connection and would be stuck somewhere away from your original destination for a few hours, in extreme cases even for a full day. Check for emergency accommodation options in the transition town or village (in case you have to stay overnight) or plan a short sightseeing trip during your layover and have fun while you are waiting. Unfortunately, bus stations are usually closed
Bus search engines
Booking bus travel trips can be overwhelming and sometimes chaotic. Luckily there is a growing number of websites trying to make searching for buses (and many cases for trains) a lot easier. Some of these platforms even enable you to purchase your tickets right away which can save you a lot of time.
Bus search engines around the world:
- CheckMyBus (International)
- BusBud (International)
- Omio (International)
- Google Transit (International)
- GotoBus (USA & bigger EU cities)
- Busradar (Europe)
- Comparabus (Europe)
- Trainline (Europe)
- Kombo (UK & EU)
- China Bus Guide (China)
- Andestransit (Latin America
- 12Go (Southeast Asia)
- Busticket (South Africa)
Keep in mind that bus service is usually less frequent on holidays and weekends. Night buses are generally cheaper and you also save the cost of the accommodation.
Bus stations and tickets
Big cities usually have a number of smaller bus stations, rather than one big central terminal. Different bus operators serve different regions. In smaller towns or villages there isn’t a bus station. You are going to have to go to a bus stop and you either buy your ticket directly from the bus driver or sometimes at the grocery store or bar nearby (if in doubt, ask somebody around). While big stations have their own information desk installed, in smaller bus stations check schedules posted on the ticket office walls. People working at the bus station are less likely to speak English, so it’s always help if you are able to buy your ticket in the local language. As I mentioned earlier in this article, don’t be shy to use a translator app if you need a specific information.
Book bus tickets online whenever you can
If it’s applicable book your tickets online because it’s the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to get them hassle free. If you can’t get your tickets online, try to buy them (ideally a couple of days or hours) before your departure. The earlier you buy your ticket the better seat you’ll get. Obviously, this applies to long distance travels. For short, domestic bus rides, you can almost always buy your ticket on the bus or at the ticket office.
The bus ride
Sometimes you’ll need to change buses. In case you do, make sure you won’t miss the change. If in doubt, ask the driver.
Choosing your seat wisely you can prevent yourself from a bad trip. On most buses there are some seats with more room for your legs than others. The seats just after the stairwells, the middle seat in the last row and occasionally the seats above the wheels have the most room. On long distance routes you might be assigned to a seat. Some companies let you choose, in other cases it’s totally random. Book early to get the better seats!
Bring some entertainment or work on board when you are looking to travel for extended hours. Books, tablets, music can prevent you from getting too bored and help you enjoy the ride better.
If the bus is lacking toilet on board, drivers usually stop in every 2-3 hours for a short (10-15 min) break. Make sure you know how long the bus is stopping for, if in doubt ask the driver.
Traveling by bus is one of the most environmentally friendly way of transportation. In his research, Sustainable Transport And Public Policy, noted sustainability researcher David Banister measures how energy-efficient a particular vehicle is as it carries a person a particular distance. While cycling and walking are the absolute winners in energy efficiency with consumption of 0.06 and 0.16 megajoules per passenger kilometer travelled respectively. Tram light rail is the next most efficient (0.91), with the bus coming in just behind (0.92)! It outplays heavy rail (1.69), and rail electric and diesel (1.65) or airplane (2.42). This means bus travels, especially with the growing number of electric buses on the road, can be a very cost-effective and green way of transportation. And for slow travel advocates (just like the authors of this blog) it has extra benefits. There is time to get immersed by the scenery you’re passing, visit places otherwise not reachable by public transport. I personally have traveled a ton by bus around Europe and more times than not, it was a very pleasurable experience.
Discover remote areas by bus
There is a countless number of bus operators in the world and our list on the bottom of this article is by far not complete. Although, I tried to look up and select the best and cheapest options for each bigger regions.
Meanwhile the bus search engines are able to find routes all around the world they might not have smaller bus companies listed or sometimes the data and prices they show is inaccurate. If you want to travel to more remote areas, look out for the signs of the local operators at the bus stops. There is usually a website where schedules and routes are updated.
Challenges of bus travel in countries with bad infrastructure
While many countries are taking big steps towards a better infrastructure, bus travel in remote places or developing countries can still be an adventure. Schedules are often unreliable or even not existent and sometimes the best option is to simply be at the right bus stop and wait for the next bus to arrive. The best advice I can give is to stay flexible with your plans. There is a good chance an “unscheduled” bus or a nice car driver will come your way and take you to your destination quicker and easier than the bus you wanted to take. Be aware that in regions with only basic infrastructure traveling by bus is often the only way of public transport. The good thing is, once you are at the right place it is only a matter of time until you will find a ride.
Pro tip: register for the newsletter of bus companies you are about to use (you can unsubscribe later). Often times they will send you weekly offers and vouchers.
Domestic bus travel operators around the world
This list of bus tour operators is intended to help you find bus connections and local bus companies worldwide:
- Citylink (UK & Ireland)
- DeinBus (Germany)
- Rede Expressos & Rodoviaria de Oeste (Portugal)
- ALSA (Spain)
- Wanderio (Italy)
- Oibus (France)
- PKS (Poland)
- Idos (Czech)
- Balkanviator (Balkan)
- Matkahuolto (Finland)
- Connexxion (Netherlands)
- Menetrendek (Hungary)
- Straeto (Iceland)
- Egged (Israel)
- STB (Romania)
- ZET (Croatia)
- De Lijn (Belgium)
- Nor-Way (Norway)
- Nobina (Nordic region)
- Postbus (Austria)
- Postbus CH (Switzerland)
- Luxexpress (Estonia)
Latin & South America
Australia & NZ
- BOT (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam)
- KD (South Korea)
- ExpressBusMalaysia (Malaysia)
- Ceres Bus (Philippines)
- Japanbuslines (Japan)
- VRL (India)
- Citybus (Hong Kong)
- BRTC (Bangladesh)
- SLTB (Sri Lanka)
- SBSTransit (Singapore)
*This list will be updated regularly.
Do you know any other local operators? Let us know! Please share your best bus travel advice in the comments!