The truth about public transport in North America

One of the questions I was always sure to hear when talking about travelling through the states was ‘You’re hiring a car, right?’

Wrong. I have taken a few Megabuses, three or four journeys via Amtrak, one lift from a Couchsurfing friend, and many, many Greyhounds.

There’s a lot I want to say about the entrenched cultural significance of the car in the states, but I think I will talk about that at another time. A two – part series, if you will.

So, public transport. For all those who were horrified on my behalf, it was fun. Sure it was unreliable (although less than everyone assured me it would be) and full of wierdos, but what better way to get to know a place?

Taking the bus was cheap and only slow when I forgot about the vast distances involved (the entire state of New Mexico slipped my mind at one point). Sometimes the departure times were inconvenient, but there was only one occasion where I was waiting in the middle of the night.

You have to be willing to be flexible when travelling this way, and of course to be prepared for the aggressive air conditioning.

But there is usually wifi,  a toilet, multiple stops for breaks and food. Some of the stations are exceptionally well designed and stocked, and there were only a few which were closer to a cupboard with benches in style. There are even plugs to charge your devices, in stations and on board.

I loved looking out at the view, often lined with trees (or cacti). Given my short stature, I was able to curl up and sleep quite comfortably.

A note for anyone deciding between the two bus companies: Megabus is almost always cheaper and has a nice upper level with lots of light, but is far less comfortable,  has fewer destinations and no stations (sometimes it shares other transport hubs, often it’s just a designated spot on the side of the road). Go with Greyhound.

While I took the train for my longer stretches of journey (I think my record was 25 hours, with a couple of hours delay), and it was nice to walk around, stretch out etc, I genuinely prefer the bus. Amtrak staff were markedly rude and the service poor. If I could read on Greyhound that would have been perfect.

But I’m glad I got to try such iconic modes of transport, and am thankful that I made it all the way with only minor mishaps. The hours on the road were wonderful opportunities to think, and I even grew to look forward to my bus trips.

I wouldn’t say no to a more traditional roadtrip in the future, especially to visit more of the countryside, but as a solo budget traveller, this was perfect.

Understanding America (or my attempt at explaining the US as a travel destination)

My amateur anthropology skills are just buzzing, being here. Americans are so fascinating! For many, the idea of coming to the states is more of a fun-filled, fairly meaningless holiday. But I’ve wanted to come here for years, and the people are a huge part of that.

To me, it’s that contrast of similarity and canyon – esque differences. A lot of elements in character and culture are exactly the same as back home in England; but this only makes the things which do differ, those delightful little details, all the more strange.

From language to food, religion to temperament, these observations fill me with glee.

If anyone ever wants to write a novel but is struggling for inspiration, all you need to do is get on a Greyhound. I swear I have seen more crazy on these buses than anywhere else in the whole of south and central America. And I saw some really strange stuff on my way up here.

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It’s why I feel kind of ‘done’ with hostels. I’ve had a brilliant time backpacking through them and meeting hundreds of Europeans and Australians. Now I want to meet and stay with locals, who can show me what this place is really all about.

The other thing that really appeals to me about the United States is the vast range of differences in the country. Laid back surfers from the West Coast, all the people trying to make it ‘with a dream’ in Hollywood, rugged campers in the national parks and city slickers never five steps away from Starbucks and their office email. And that’s just the South West.

I am so excited to visit the music capital of the world, to experience a melting pot of culture in New Orleans, to see who travels on Amtrak, and gorge myself on country and blues.

I am so happy to be here.

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