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.