5 Things to Know for International Bus Travel

Things to Know for International Bus Travel

Bus Colombo Sri Lanka


5 Things to Know for Long Haul Bus Travels in Foreign Lands


I had to add “in foreign lands.”


Taking New Jersey Transit into New York City ain’t like taking the 24 hour bus from Luang Prubang, Laos to Chiang Mai, Thailand.


New Jersey to NYC is 38 minutes of comfort. Northern Laos to Northern Thailand involved some intense moments, big time discomfort at times and the experience took a few days to recover from.


Things to Know for International Bus Travel


The folks did a fabulous job getting us from Point A to Point B during the Laos-Thailand trip but international bus travel is a different animal than hopping the local in your home town.


Keep these 5 things in mind before you take the bus in foreign lands.


1: Prep for Motion Sickness (Dramamine)


I do not suffer from motion sickness.


Kelli cannot make the same claim.


We prefer travel in exotic areas, meaning curvy roads, big mountains and sometimes less than maintained streets.


Kelli has her dramamine handy. A few times she forget to pack it. She regretted it. Even if no towering mountains or nightmarish road scenarios awaited us (see….Laos) the slight rocking motion of the bus set off her sickness.


Prep for motion sickness. Do your stomach and head a favor.


2: Get there Really Early (But Be Prepared to Wait)


I recall sitting in a Yangon bus station for a long time earlier this year.


I have replayed the scene all over the world; even if you have your tickets you better get there early, because buses can – and do – leave before the scheduled departure time. If the bus is filled – or close to filled – drivers sometimes leave 5, 10 or 15 minutes early. I have experienced this in person.


But I also recall sitting in a bus station for 1 hour before our bus ride in Vietnam then for 1 hour after our scheduled departure time. I wondered why the driver chowed down on pho while we waited for an hour.


Either the driver wanted a few more passengers to make the trip worth their while, or they really liked pho.


3: The Ride May Get Wild


Most bus drivers in foreign lands drive safely enough. Some are slow pokes. Some; not many.


Some bus drivers are outright reckless. Maybe not for the entirety of the trip. But for certain legs.


I recall driving into oncoming traffic in:


  • Laos
  • Cambodia
  • India
  • Costa Rica


among other places.


Thai bus drivers were not too bad. At least going from Chiang Mai to the border crossing in Myanmar.


The ride may be wild, even without curves and mountains. Be at peace with the fact that cheap international travel involves certain dues to be paid, namely, observing your bus driver circle a hairpin curve blindly, driving into oncoming traffic, without a care in the world, beside a mountain cliff in a remote section of Laos.


4: Bathroom Breaks?


Limit fluid consumption pre bus-ride.


You do not want to be peeing like a race horse if the driver takes few bathroom breaks.


Some long haul buses have bathrooms. These are practical, often vile rooms of hellish proportions. Denizens of the Dumping Dark may drop Dastardly Deuces with ease in some cramped spots but some folks skip the bathroom all together.


Drink some water the night before your long haul bus trip. Cut fluids about 8-12 hours pre-trip. Avoid highly uncomfortable situations involving a full bladder and few bathroom breaks.


On the average, my long haul bus rides allow for 1 bathroom break every 3-4 hours. Do you really want to push it with your huge mug of grana de oro coffee in Costa Rica?


5: Order Tickets Ahead of Time


As buses in foreign lands are about the cheapest way to travel these suckers fill up quickly.


Kelli and I buy our tickets early to ensure we have a seat.


Since bus services tend not to have websites or online ordering this means walking to the ticket office a few days – or even a week  – early to grab your tickets.


Do it guys. Believe you me; I have seen folks get burned for long haul trips by making silly assumptions and waiting until the last minute to buy their tix, only to find the bus sold out.


Before our ride from Granada, Nicaragua to San Jose, Costa Rica we bought tickets online. This is a rarity. Most purchases involve schlepping your way to the bus station and plunking down cash (not cards) to secure your seat on the bus.