How to Survive a Long Bus Ride

When we visited New Orleans in May, we opted to take the Greyhound bus there from Virginia rather than flying. The choice was easy for us, because we ended up saving nearly $1000. However, many people thought we were crazy because the bus journey was 24 hours each way.

However, sitting on a bus for 24 hours is not as bad as it sounds and was certainly worth the savings. When you are travelling around the world, you might find that taking the long way somewhere will cost you considerably less. If you can learn how to make the most of lengthy journeys, you can get a lot farther for less.

We have taken many epic journeys on buses, as well as trains, boats and more, so here are the tips that we have learned for surviving a long trip.

Marching band in the French Quarter - New Orleans was absolutely worth sitting through a 24 hour bus ride!
Marching band in the French Quarter – New Orleans was absolutely worth sitting through a 24 hour bus ride!

Stock Up on Supplies

When you are taking a long bus journey, it is a good idea to stock up on snacks and drinks in advance. Yes, you will get chances to stop along the way but most of the time your only choices for sustenance will be fast food or overpriced convenience store snacks. Eating nothing but junk food for 24 hours will make you even more cranky and tired when you arrive at your destination.

Make a few sandwiches before you leave or buy some healthy to-go meals at the supermarket. You can also bring some fruit to snack on as well as nuts, crackers and other healthy treats. Don’t forget water, as you will want to avoid getting too dehydrated.

Use Your Time Productively

If you are a digital nomad who works on the road, long bus rides can be the best times to get some work done. You will have uninterrupted peace for a full day and you have nothing else to do but sit there and look out the window, so why not get some work done? If you do your work on the bus before you get there, you will have less work to do in your destination so that you can have fun and enjoy when you get there.

You will need to prepare in advance, as not all buses will have WiFi and places to plug in your laptop. If I am planning to get some work done on a bus trip, I will download everything that I need in advance. Set your laptop on the lowest battery-conserving setting and keep as few programs running as possible. You might even consider investing in a second battery to extend your working time.

Even if you are not a digital nomad and don’t have any freelance work to do, why not use this transit time to do something productive that you have been meaning to get to? Work on your novel, listen to a language learning program or write letters to your family and friends about your travels. You will be amazed by how much you will have accomplished by the time you arrive.

Okay, we are on a train in this photo but the same advice applies!
Okay, we are on a train in this photo but the same advice applies!

Have Multiple Forms of Entertainment

If you don’t have anything productive to do, it can be nice to sit back and relax for a while and enjoy yourself on the bus. When you do, make sure that you have multiple forms of entertainment to enjoy. You might be really into playing Angry Birds on your phone or reading that novel, but after three or four hours of it you will start to get bored and you will still have 20 hours of travel left!

You could bring an iPod with music, a couple of books or a Kindle, a magazine, a laptop with a few films or TV shows on it or anything which can entertain you. When you get bored with one, you can switch to the other.

I tend to always read my book first when on a long journey. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, sometimes buses don’t have reading lights and when evening comes it will become too dark to read. You don’t want to use up all of the battery power on your devices first and then find that it is too dark to read. Second of all, as the long journey progresses you will become more tired and less able to focus on reading anything deep and complicated. You will want to switch your brain off and enjoy something mindless like your favorite TV show or film.

Having a Kindle is great for long bus trips, just don't forget to charge it fully
Having a Kindle is great for long bus trips, just don’t forget to charge it fully

Getting to Sleep

Falling asleep on a bus seat can be difficult and no matter how much of a seasoned traveler you are it will never be as comfortable as a real bed. However, there are a few things that you can do to help yourself get a better sleep.

• Wear comfortable clothes. Avoid anything tight or restricting. You don’t have to travel in sweatpants or pajamas, just wear some loose fitting jeans or khakis which give you room to breathe.

• Bring a sweater. Sometimes when you are in a hot climate such as Southeast Asia the air conditioning on the buses is absolutely freezing. You can also use a sweater or a jacket as a pillow.

• Ear plugs or headphones can help you to block out outside noises and get into a more relaxed state. Choose some calm music, or download a really boring podcast!

• Don’t stress out about falling asleep too much, just get comfortable and enjoy the journey. If your body is tired, you will naturally drift off.

Lee has gotten really good at falling asleep on buses
Lee has gotten really good at falling asleep on buses

Taking a 24 hour bus journey is not the end of the world and if it can save you a large chunk of money you might find that the time spent is absolutely worth it. With a little bit of preparation, you can make the journey as enjoyable as possible.

What is the longest you have ever been in transit? What do you do on long bus journeys to keep yourself occupied?

(featured image by Posi66)

Kelly Dunning

A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word.

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  1. Great tips! I’ve done so many long bus trips through developing countries – it’s really not as bad as people might think. I mean, it *can* be awful if you’re stuck on a “chicken bus” or something, but in general, I’ve found buses to be more comfortable than planes (comfier seats, more legroom, better recline and sometimes even free wifi). I love your tip about reading your book first, before it gets dark – that’s brilliant.

    1. Haha thanks! It makes sense to read the book first while it’s still daylight, but I only learned that the hard way by using up the battery on my devices and struggling to read in the dim light of the bus. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the tips. We agree when it comes to ground transportation, we try to pay for 1st or 2nd class. Most of the time it isn’t that much more expensive by Western Standards, but the difference is unbelievable.

  3. Long bus journeys are pretty interesting, like a step back in time. I’ve taken Greyhound trips between Toronto and Florida a couple of times. The Knoxville Greyhound station is interesting at 2 AM! I also did a round trip from Toronto to Vancouver, 72 hours each way. On the outbound journey by the middle of day 2 we weren’t even out of Ontario and I thought I was going to lose it.

    1. So how did the bus trip turn out? I am going in March from Central Florida to New York city with our high school band as well! Any tips are very much appreciated!

  4. I’m going on a youth group trip from Michigan to Colorado in June – July for 8 days and I am 95% sure we are taking a tour coach bus, I used the directions on my phone and it said that its gonna take a few minutes short of 18 hours, and I talked to my youth pastor and they said that it usually takes them 22 hours to get there. I am really looking forward to the trip and being in colorado but I’m really dreading the bus ride even though there are only 13 kids and at least 4 leaders signed up right now and sign ups end in like less then a month because thats when we start fundraising. but anyway Im really not looking forward to the long long bus ride. I plan to pack in my backpack, my really slow and old iPad with games, my phone with music and books cd on it or play-away boxes for books. my charging stick that can fully charge my phone again once, the game CatchPhrase, cards, notebook and pencils, headphones, blanket, gum, water, food(i don’t exactly know what yet), a sleep mask and my wallet. ANYTHING ELES?!? In my main bag, clothes for each day ( appropriate shirts and shorts), toiletries, tennis shoes, swimsuits, towels, ANYTHING ELES?!?

    1. Hi Libby,

      It sounds like you have really got it covered! You might want to take along an actual book or a magazine as well as an electronic one, so that if your phone runs out of battery you will still have something to read. The great thing is that you will have other kids and leaders to talk to on the journey so that will also help you to pass the time. I hope you have a fantastic trip and if you have any more questions just let me know!


  5. This is some really good information about bus rides that are long. I like that you pointed out that you should bring a sweater because it can get cold. It might be smart to try to know what type of bus you are going to be on.

  6. Thanks for the tips on how to survive a long charter bus ride. I like that you pointed out that multiple forms of entertainment are important because while you may think planning on your phone or reading a novel will tide you over after a couple of hours you might be tired of that. I am thinking about taking a 12-hour bus ride to the coast to see the ocean, and I think these tips will definitely make me better prepared to survive it. I also think that buses can just generally be a better form of transportation that we may not consider as much.

  7. Hi Kelly!

    I am taking a 22 hour bus ride from Medellin Colombia to the Ecuador boarder, followed by a 5 hour bus ride to Quito. My problem is always not bringing enough food, well satisfying food. Like you say, spending a day on a bus and saving a lot of money is well worth it, but being miserable for so many hours isn’t so much. I’m vegan so have very limited options when buses stop, so it’s important for me to bring plenty of food. I am thinking… Nuts, avocado sandwiches, a loaf of whole wheat bread, apples, and a lot of liquids because as you say, the rest stop price are ridiculous. any other suggest I’d really appreciate!!

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