Timothy travels the U.S. full-time with only a small backpack and a suitcase. He spends his evenings writing and filming Youtube videos.
I've taken a decent number of Greyhound bus trips over the years, and I have to admit that when I first started traveling on Greyhound, I had no clue what to expect or how the massive bus line worked.
I made quite a few mistakes on those first few trips. Fortunately, I never had any really bad experiences and I always arrived at my destination safely.
But the issues I did have made me realize that there was a serious need for truthful information about traveling via Greyhound. Before my first trip, I looked extensively online for info on the Greyhound bus and there was little or nothing for me to find.
So I decided to start sharing my experiences on the Greyhound bus with others so that they don't make the same mistakes that I did. In this article, I list some of the most common mistakes novice Greyhound bus travelers make and how you can avoid them. I hope you find it useful.
1. Don't Buy Your Ticket From the Station
It's not 1987! You don't need to go to the Greyhound bus station to buy your ticket anymore. There was this little invention that came out in the '90s called the internet that has made it so much easier to buy your Greyhound tickets.
Instead of wasting time buying your ticket from the station, hop online at Greyhound.com or use the free mobile app. It's way faster to purchase your ticket this way and it might even save you money!
You read that right! It's actually cheaper to purchase your ticket via the internet. Greyhound offers discounts of up to 30% off when you buy online.
The logic behind this is simple: More people booking online means fewer people at Greyhound's already congested stations. They will gladly give you a break on your ticket price if it means they don't have to deal with you in person until your trip actually starts.
2. Always Get to the Bus Station Early
This is one of the most important tips I can share with you about the Greyhound bus. Always make sure you get to the station you are departing from at least 1 hour before your bus is scheduled to leave.
I know it's a pain to sit at a Greyhound station for that long, but trust me—it's worth the hassle. You want to get to the station and have enough time to find out which gate/door your bus is loading from, check any bags you have going under the bus, and get in the boarding line ASAP.
You will also want to have enough time to grab something to eat, fill up your water bottle, and use the bathroom before you board the bus.
Every time I take a trip on Greyhound, I see people who get to the station a few minutes before their bus leaves and end up scrambling to get everything done so they don't get left behind. Greyhound bus drivers have a schedule to keep, and they won't always wait on you!
So get to the station at least an hour in advance and avoid having to rush, or worse, getting left behind and having to wait hours for the next bus.
3. Keep an Eye on Your Luggage at All Times!
Throughout your Greyhound bus trip, there will be times when you are tempted to leave your bags unattended. Resist this urge! There are people who frequent Greyhound stations just to steal unsuspecting passengers' bags. Trust me on this one; I've seen them lurking and scoping at a number of different stations.
One of the reasons I recommend traveling with a backpack instead of standard luggage is because a backpack is so much easier to keep with you. Throw it on your back and you are good to go.
If you do decide to go with more traditional luggage, I recommend getting bags with wheels. It's a lot easier to take your bags with you wherever you go when they roll.
I even take my carry-on bag with me when the bus stops for meal breaks. I've seen other passengers leave their carry-on bags on the bus and have no issues, but I don't risk it. After you've seen one person lose their bags, it kind of makes you super cautious from that moment on.
That Means Checked Bags Too!
Theft isn't the only reason you want to keep a close eye on your bags. Your checked bags can come up missing too if you aren't careful.
You will be instructed to put your checked bags in a certain location so they can be placed in the luggage compartment under the bus. Even after you have done this and are boarding the bus, you need to still keep an eye on your bags, if possible, and make sure they actually make it on the bus.
I have seen people put their bags in the appropriate area for loading but when they arrive at their final destination their bags are nowhere to be found. And it was a huge ordeal for them to hunt down their luggage; in some cases, they never found it.
You can save yourself the stress, worry, and hassle by keeping your eye on your bags at all times.
4. You WILL Need A Blanket or Jacket
The buses your ride during your Greyhound trip will either be too hot, too cold, or both. There is really nothing you can do if the bus gets too hot, but for the cold buses, you should bring along a jacket or blanket.
You can also use your blanket to help you sleep and as a barrier between you and the person sitting next to you. You will sit next to some characters ("characters" was the nicest word I could think of) during your trip and, trust me, you will be happy to have some kind of protection between you and them.
A jacket can act as a blanket in a pinch and it can also be rolled up and used as a pillow when the bus isn't too cold.
5. Get Back to the Bus on Time After Breaks
Greyhound buses typically stop every 2 to 4 hours so that passengers can get something to eat, drink, and use the bathroom. Your driver will announce how long the bus will wait at each stop. If you are not back on the bus when the break is over, you run a very high risk of getting left behind. I'd say like there is a 97% chance the bus driver will leave you.
It's not Greyhound's responsibility to make sure that everyone is back on the bus after breaks. There are too many people coming and going for the driver to keep up with a passenger list. So if you don't want to spend hours at a Mcdonald's in the middle of nowhere waiting for the next bus to come and pick you up, be sure you know when to be back on the bus.
6. Avoid the Bus Bathroom, If Possible
When you gotta go, you gotta go. But just pray Nature doesn't call while you are on the Greyhound bus. Greyhound bus bathrooms are basically Port-a-Pottys on wheels. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize what can happen when you have a Port-a-Potty traveling down the highway at 65 miles per hour.
Even though Greyhound tries to keep the bathrooms on their buses clean, it's a near-impossible task. Some passengers are just nasty people and they can turn a clean bathroom into a disaster area in a matter of seconds. And then it might be hours before the bathroom is scheduled to be cleaned again.
So avoid the bus bathrooms whenever possible. The best places to use the bathroom will be at the places the bus stops at for meal breaks. Your next best bet will be the Greyhound bus stations, but just keep in mind that they can get pretty messy too.
7. Stay Inside the Bus Station in Rough Areas
You will probably stop at a number of stations during your Greyhound bus trip. The best advice I can give you in this regard is to stay inside these stations, especially at night.
Greyhound bus stations can be in some pretty rough parts of the city. And even the ones that are in decent areas can get unsafe real quick when the sun goes down. There are people that come up to Greyhound stations just to hang out and see if they can find some naive passenger wandering around nearby.
I know people who have been robbed at knife-point a block over from a Greyhound bus station. It's hard enough to ride Greyhound under normal circumstances; you definitely don't want to have to complete your trip without any money or valuables.
And robbery isn't all you have to worry about. When you are in an unfamiliar area, you don't know what sickos might be lurking in the shadows. So stay in the station, where there is usually security, and avoid having any safety issues.
8. Know Your Layovers, Connections, and Transfers
You will get access to the itinerary of your Greyhound bus trip before you buy your ticket and then either on the mobile app or on your printed paper ticket once you've purchased your fare.
Familiarize yourself with your itinerary so that you know where all your transfers and layovers are scheduled to take place. And be sure to pay attention to when your bus is scheduled to arrive at your final destination station.
The bus driver will usually call out the stations and stops the bus is arriving at, but they do not instruct individual passengers about their specific stops. If you are supposed to change buses at a certain station, it is your obligation to get off the bus and find your next bus.
Every time I take the Greyhound bus, I see countless people run into issues because they are clueless about their transfers. They end up either staying on the wrong bus or missing their connecting bus. This leads to a much longer trip, as well as the hassle—and fees—associated with reprinting their ticket for the next available bus.
So do yourself a favor and pay attention to your itinerary as well as your bus's current location at all times.
9. Don't Expect Your Bus to Be on Time
Greyhound buses are late on a pretty regular basis. And when they are late, they can be really late. Like hours behind schedule. It's just something you have to deal with when you ride the Greyhound bus.
If you go into your trip expecting delays, then you won't get as frustrated as some of your fellow passengers. There is always some guy who is super irate because his bus is an hour late and no one can tell him when it will arrive. Don't be that guy. It's not like him throwing a fit makes the bus come any quicker.
Expecting delays will also help you when making your plans. If you are taking the Greyhound bus to attend an important event that is taking place at a certain time, then you might want to schedule a trip that gets you to your destination a day or two in advance. This will ensure that even if your bus is delayed by several hours—or even a full day—you can still make your appointment.
Enjoy Your Trip!
The Greyhound bus is an excellent way to travel across North America without breaking the bank. And while there are definitely some cons to traveling on the bus, hopefully you can avoid most of them by following the tips listed in the article.
And when you arrive safely at your final destination station, there's one thing I want you do for me: Throw away your travel blanket! Do you know the germs that are probably on that thing?!? Just thought I would throw in one last tip free of charge. Safe travels!
© 2020 Timothy Ward
Liz Westwood from UK on January 31, 2020:
This is a really useful guide for anyone new to Greyhound buses. Thanks for sharing from your experiences.