Having bussed from the bottom of South America to the top I would say I actually have too much knowledge on busses. No one ever needs to know as much as I do about them, so I'm hoping sharing my bus tips with you will eradicate my memory and give me closure to some of the worst journeys of my life.
Firstly let's talk about my good bus journeys....
Nope, can't remember any.
Bad ones..How long have you got?
Instead of solemnly listing all my bad journeys here I will instead provide you some fail safe tips to not get uriane thrown on you during a bus ride (yes that really happened too me)
1. The ultimate question: Too upgrade or not to upgrade?
My advice: Do it!! Most of the time the difference between the bottom class and the middle is no more than what the local shop keeper is asking for a cola outside the bus station. I'm not talking about going first class.. that will set you back maybe a month's supply of cola. But if it's in your budget DO IT.
Why? A long bus journey is one of the most uncomfortable parts of travelling. You are either stuck under pounding air condition or none at all with all the windows glued shut. The person in front of you reclines their chair before you have time to sit down, and there's always someone determined to not let you sleep with music blarring from the crackling speakers of their mobile. And all this for 10+ hours.
Howevvveerr, there is usually an option upstairs or down for a few extra dollas where not only does the person's in front seat decline, but so does yours!! Your legs will thank you for it when you get off and have to trek up hills with your backpack to find a hostel. You may even get to fall asleep with the comfort of a free blanket and a pillow.
For me upgrading to middle class on long bus journeys are one of the luxuries of a travellers lifestyle that shouldn't be turned down.
2. Bring a packed lunch. (Or check whether the company provides food)
The bus will either not stop at all, or stop at an expensive gas station. It will also get you there later than you expected, therefore leaving you hungry tired and fed up. In all cases at least bring a snack, you can never rely on there being food to buy. I met a guy travelling over the Peruvian- Ecuadorian boarder with not a crumb in his bag, as he said he thought the bus company would give him lunch. Any one that has travelled in Peru on a budget bus would know this was naive. Make sure you always ask..And if the answer is no, as it most likely will be,bring some food.
3. Be prepared for all temperatures.
Bring a blanket, bring a coat, bring some shorts.
I once travelled from a warm Sucre in Bolivia while the bus climbed up to the highest capital in the world, La Paz, just with a t-shirt on. And with all my clothes in my backpack in storage I literally had to curl up in a ball for the whole 14 hour ride to deal with the sudden cold. What I would of done for ANYTHING in my day bag that could have warmed me up. Pack as much as you can in your day bag for busses, after all your not going to be carrying them anywhere.
4. Ask if they have a toilet on board.
Sounds simple, but trust me, for some countries it just isn't a necessity. An overnight bus with no toilets or stops (yes this also happened to me) is going to be a feeling your never forget.
5. Do try to get to know the people next too you!
Bus stories usually make the funniest stories.
My friend and I got moved from our comfy mid bus seat, too the back row seats in between a love struck couple who thought it was acceptable to practise making babies right next to us.
Rather than finding it uncomfortable we tried to make conversation with them and miserably failed, so instead tried to talk to an indigenous lady in front of us who we had nicknamed Stacey. The bus journey was a serious of grunts from the couple next to us, smiles from Stacey in front and spurts of laughter from us.
And all of the above points meant nothing as we were having too much fun.