Bus travel can be comfortable too…
Are you as intimidated by bus travel as I am?
I used to be scared at the thought of bus travel. I have not done any long bus journeys in the beginning of my travels. Living in London meant that there is no need to do so. I was not interested in travelling within the UK and when I wanted to, I took the trains or a flight. And I travelled by plane to most places when I wanted to go outside the UK.
The thought of bus travel came to me only when I started slow travelling about a few years ago and when I heard from other travellers staying at my hostel or other long-term travellers. I was surprised to learn about the cheap ticket prices as compared to other means of transport.
I quickly learned actually how convenient and comfortable it can be. Of course, I am not going to exaggerate by saying that a 7-hour bus ride is more comfortable than a 55 minutes flight journey. Of course not. But the point is that depending on priorities when you travel bus travel is worth considering. It is becoming increasingly popular as a mode of international transport within Europe.
Benefits of Bus Travel
You save a ton of money
Bus travel is cheap. A Flixbus today from Gdansk(Poland) to Warsaw(Poland) costs 7 Euros, whereas the intercity train costs 35 Euros. A bus from Warsaw to Tallinn (Estonia) costs about 100 Euros whereas by bus it is 40 Euros.
It is not as bad as you would think
Most buses are comfortable, have toilets and even have WiFi. The seats are more comfortable than the ones they have in budget airlines like Ryanair, Easyjet or Wizzair.
They also tend to have Free WiFi which is handy if you want to work, very useful when you are a digital nomad.
Some have onscreen entertainment (Movies, Games, TV) fitted to every seat. Power outlets for your laptop and/or phone (USB) and air conditioning are also available with popular bus lines.
It is perfect for slow travel
If you are a slow traveller like me, whatever the reasons may be (backpacking trip, taking a gap year for travel, travelling through your midlife crisis thinking travelling will solve all of your problems) bus travel can be really perfect.
I don’t normally take the 7-hour buses, I tend to stick with the 3- or 4-hour ones max. I go to a smaller town, that is untouched by tourists and stay there and take the next bus.
You see interesting landscapes
Another thing I love about bus travel is that, you get to see some good landscapes. For long journeys this view is usually from the freeways/motorways. But still beats the clouds or the nothingness through a flight window.
Make sure you sit by a full window and that the separation for the windows is not right by your face.
One of my favourite things is that there are short breaks here and there during the course of the journey when we stop by some random country side, and they have these small restaurants, you spend a few minutes there, sipping coffee.
You don’t pay for your luggage
Unlike air travel, you don’t pay for your large bags. Some budget airlines will charge you to take even your carry-on bag on board these days (Ryanair, Wizzair). That can be a pain when you have things like laptop and cameras. You don’t want to put that in the hold. Also, most budget prices don’t include the check in bag, so you will have to pay around 25 Euros to for your check in bags.
In buses, there is no restriction on how much luggage you can carry.
You save on accommodation on overnight buses
If you are travelling by longer overnight buses you save on accommodation for the night as you will be sleeping in the bus. That is something to consider if you are on a budget.
Bus can get caught in traffic jams
Buses can get caught up in traffic jams especially when entering and exiting cities. Personally, I have not been stuck in any long queues or anything so far – touch wood.
Slower than trains or flights
They are way slower, unless you are in a country like Ukraine – where the local trains take forever to get from point A to point B. These trains stop at every damn stop and take a while. Of course, there are some intercity trains connecting places like Kiev and Lviv and Odessa.
Can be difficult if you have short vacation – a lot of exploring time wasted
Longer journey times mean that if you are on a tight schedule, this will rob you off all the exploring time. But if time is not your prime concern, it is good to go with buses.
When you are travelling international especially to countries that are not in the Schengen zone – there will be border checks. You will have to get off the bus, go through the passport control and re-board the bus on the other side. If there is a queue at the border, this will delay your journey. It is better to take a train or flight if you are crossing borders.
Not all borders are the same though. For example, I spent 10 minutes at the border to Slovenia to Croatia, whereas some of my friends spent 10 hours, during summer season at the border to Poland from Ukraine.
How to find bus tickets
Use these search engines for bus travel to find your ride.
Search engines have partnerships with various operators. They are like the Skyscanner or Kayak for bus travel.
- Rome2Rio – This is a multimodal transport search engine which means it will search for trains, flights and buses between two points. You can see how to get somewhere. It will show you how to travel using a combination of flights, trains, bus, carshares and ferries.
- GoEuro – A very useful search engine for finding bus connections. They have a beta version for ferries as well here.
- Busradar – Another good search engine for long bus connections.
- ComparaBus – Another comparison search engine where you can compare between several bus, train, car-pooling options.
- Checkmybus – Another multimodal transport search engine where you can compare between buses, car-pooling etc. This is a worldwide search engine covering more than Europe and can search for buses in the US, Mexico and Canada. But I have found this has less listings within Europe. Worth checking though.
Popular bus lines in Europe
Here are some bus lines that are popular across Europe. There are so many of them, I am going to list a few popular ones.
- FlixBus – I like to call flixbus as the uber for buses. They use subcontractors for all their operations meaning their services are carried out by local bus operators.
The ticket prices are cheap, and they have good quality bus line partnerships. It is super convenient to search for and to book through their mobile app. The tickets are saved to your phone and you just have to show the bar code when you board.
I travelled from Krakow to Wroclaw for about 7 pounds and Vienna to Zagreb for 14 pounds. Used them for the my trip through Wroclaw-Prague-Vienna-Zagreb-Zadar-Split.
They are also the largest operator in Germany. Their network includes 120000 daily connections to 1700 destinations in 28 countries.
- Megabus – Megabus is a popular bus company and is now part of the Flixbus after their acquisition. Fares start from £1. All their operations are sold to Flixbus and they act as subcontractors to them.
- National Express – These guys have services throughout Great Britain. Most services are contracted to local coach operators.
- EcoLines – A good company to use to get to the Baltics and around. They have services all around, though it is worth noting that they have services to Ukraine, Belarus and Russia from Schengen countries. They are more focused on Eastern Europe and serves 170 destinations.
- OUIBus – A subsidiary of French state railways SNCF. They operate in Western Europe. London to Paris costs as low as 15 Euros. They operate in 10 countries and 300 destinations.
- GetByBus – Use this along with Flixbus if you are travelling the Balkans. Croatia mostly has Flixbus, though I have noticed Getbybus has lower fares. If you want to cross the border to countries like Bosnia, Montenegro this one is useful. Some tickets need to be printed whereas for some you can download the barcode. Zagreb to Sarajevo is 24 Euros and the fastest bus takes around 6 hours.
- Polskibus – Provides bus connections in Poland. Use their network through Flixbus.
- Regiojet – Operates in Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria. It is part of Student agency and students get a massive 70% discount when they use their services in Czech Republic.
My go-to for bus travel is Rome2Rio, GoEuro and Flixbus. They cover pretty much all the good bus lines across Europe.