Bus travel is a unique experience. The first rule is that there is no yelling on the bus!
Reasons to Travel by BusEdit
There are several questions to consider when deciding to take a long trip by bus. While bus travel is inexpensive, it is certainly not the fastest way to get around. If you like to be in control or have routines when traveling (think of Rain Man), bus travel is probably not for you. If you are the type of person who likes to stop and smell the roses, you probably will not enjoy bus travel (you may get to have a little fun during layovers, but that depends on the location, time, and duration of the layover). You will save money not just because bus travel is cheap, but mostly because you won't be stopping and spending $50 at every casino, jerky store, etc.
If you don't like to (or can't) drive, bus travel is a good option. In general, buses depart more often than trains. Unlike air travel, you won't have to strip down and get your junk touched by one of the Thousand Standing Around.
Greyhound buses say something about society. They have air brakes and hold over 200 gallons of diesel fuel. These buses have automatic transmissions and usually get fuel at the terminal. Although the transponder cannot always be seen, they do use E-Z Pass. The other electronic toll collection tags are apparently hidden as well. They like the Elkhart Service Plaza on the Indiana Toll Road. If your bus goes by it, you will spend half an hour there. It would be nice if they got off the toll road and used a truck stop instead as Pilot/Flying J has good pizza. You may get to do that as some of the bus stops (such as the one in Effingham) are PIlot truck stops. The buses also stop for a break at the Pilot truck stop in Decatur, Illinois.
While Greyhound does not show movies on its buses, that does not necessarily mean you will be bored on the ride. Newer Greyhound buses (which are blue) have power outlets and wifi. While the wifi is not practical for downloading music, it will suffice if you want to check email, Facebook, etc.
I honestly wish I had my iPod for when I rode the bus. Listening to music on it sure would be easier than with a laptop. This is especially true of when the bus was crowded and I did not have the seat next to me open.
Another suggestion for entertainment is to talk to fellow passengers. This is what people did back in the day. To paraphrase the politician from Taxi Driver you will learn more about America by riding in Greyhound buses than in limousines. For example, you can learn a lot about the trucking industry as there are many truckers who take the bus to start their jobs.
Greyhound buses have bathrooms on board. While they are fine for number 1, number 2 is not as fun. I now understand why Sheldon Cooper hates Will Wheaton because he had to violate his rules about going to the bathroom on a moving bus all for nothing since Wheaton did not show up.
The drivers are friendly and professional. However, most of them could do a better job of keeping their heads shiny. One of them even said something about Steven Seagal and a train.
Other Bus CompaniesEdit
While Greyhound is the largest bus company in the US, they do not serve every city. They do have affiliated carriers such as Lakefront Lines, Trailways, Jefferson Lines, etc.
If Greyhound does not serve a certain city you may have a longer layover. You may also have to backtrack when riding on one of these affiliated buses. An example of this is going from Indianapolis to Richmond, Indiana. Since Greyhound does not stop at Richmond, Indiana, you will have to take the bus to the Dayton Trotwood station and then wait for Lakefront Lines to take you back west.
There are discount carriers such as a Megabus. While these can be cheaper than Greyhound, they have their disadvantages. For example, Megabus does not have bus stations. The pickups and drop offs are often on street corners or parking lots. Tickets also must be purchased in advanced.
When heading eastbound on I90 in New York in my 4 wheeler I passed a Megabus. It had two levels. The logo made it really say something about society.
Be careful about discount bus lines. Some of these have less than stellar safety reputations. However, you should have confidence in your driver. After all, getting a CDL is harder than graduate school.
There is usually some wiggle room built into the schedules. Likewise, a 5-minute break could extend into 8 minutes. This tends to happen when the driver is a smoker. Even if there are no amenities, you can usually step out of the bus if you need to get fresh air. Longer breaks are printed on the ticket.
Even if they aren't smokers some bus drivers may take longer with breaks than expected. Understand that driving a commercial motor vehicle is not the easiest thing to do (although once you are in 10th gear on the highway things are relatively easy). If the driver takes a while to get something at the convenice store or donut shop, he is less likely to steal 30 bagged lunches.
The amenities vary from station to station. Greyhound stations offer free wifi. They also have bathrooms and outlets for charging your electronic devices. While many stations have improved over the years, some (such as Wichita) have little more than a TV and a few vending machines. Others may have a snack bar and a small store. These prices make a convenience store look like Wal-Mart. I would only suggest getting a snack from a bus station as a last resort. This happened to me in Kansas City (there was no fast food or convenience store nearby). You can also find several payphones (jobs) at a Greyhound station. These are easy to find as they reek of Chocolate Rain.
It is worth noting that not all stations are open 24 hours. In general, bigger cities (those with at least 100,000 people) tend to have nicer stations. An exception to this is Topeka, For some reason, the bus station is a BP.
Sometimes stations are part of other transportation facilities. For example, the bus station in Saint Louis is in the same building as the Amtrak station.
Although there are lockers in Chicago, most stations do not have them. As one bus driver said, an unattended bag is more likely to be confiscated by security than to be stolen. If you have a laptop in your bag, you should probably take it with you.
Suggestions for LayoversEdit
Occasionally drivers will point out that there is a convenience store near the bus station. This happened in Toledo. At the Dayton -Trotwood station, the drivers have said not to go into the Speedway gas station (it's right next to the bus stop). If you don't dilly dally you can make it back in plenty of time (even if the break doesn't go longer than scheduled). Sadly, it is not open 24 hours.
Most of the time, the drivers will not mention anything about nearby amenities. However, the driver will announce that the bus is near the stop and how long the bus will be stopped for. It helps to do a little research ahead of time. If you did not look on Google maps beforehand, you can keep your eyes peeled for gas stations and restaurants near the bus station. You could also ask other passengers for suggestions.
An example of this is Columbus, Ohio. If you walk south (in the opposite direction of traffic) on South Fourth Street for a couple blocks you will find several local restaurants. I recommend Dirty Frank's because you can get a hotdog with a variety of toppings. These restaurants have bars, and are open late. This made the 2 hour+ layover more enjoyable.
While alcohol (and digital cameras) makes travel more enjoyable, you should not get wasted before boarding the bus. They won't let anyone on the bus who appears to be intoxicated. Although it is illegal to bring alcohol on the bus, security does not check your bags the same way they do at airports. However, you should use common sense. Walking on the bus with a 6 pack of locally brewed beer is a bad idea. Putting the beer in your backpack is a good idea as long as there is not a huge bulge.
If you must have alcohol on the bus, you should pour it into a plastic mug. I would recommend the type you buy at gas stations. Most will cost under $5 and will inlcude the first fill for free. Depending on the state, a cold beer from a convenience store can be a couple blocks away from the bus station.