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What to Pack on a 7-hour Bus Ride

July 2, 2013

packingTaking the bus is never my first choice of transportation. But since buses are cheap and go pretty much everywhere, I find myself on them quite often. The ride between Manhattan and Boston’s South Station is practically my second home. Last week, I made a late-night journey from New York to Portland, Maine. While packing, I had been thinking about all my past 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9-hour rides and decided to share my tips. Here’s how to make an epic, long-haul bus ride bearable:

Food and Drink: Once in college, I got stuck on a delayed bus with my best friend and our only remaining snack was a bag of banana granola. I will never eat banana granola again.

The key with bus snacks is to focus on the three major food groups: sweet, salty, savory. Clementines, sliced apples, M&Ms, and Fig Newtons, or a baked goods like chocolate chip cookies are my favorite sweet snacks. Carrot sticks, pretzels, nuts, cheese, and peanut butter crackers are good standbys for salty. Savory is tough because cold leftover tofu and broccoli in soy sauce eaten from a Tupperware container just isn’t that appealing on the bus. Usually I’ll save my savory treat for a dollar-menu item from the obligatory roadside rest stop. Gum and hard candies are always good for passing the time.

Don’t forget a water bottle, too. I usually avoid bringing onboard any beverage without a screw-on cap, because unless I am motivated to stumble around the bus looking for a trash bag when I finish my drink (which I never am) the remaining liquid in my to-go cup is definitely going to end up on my shirt or  on the inside of my carry-on.

If you’re super-organized you’ll remember to bring a few napkins and a plastic bag that can be used for trash.

Clothing: There is only one rule of bus-ride attire, and it’s mandatory: bring a sweatshirt. Even if it’s 95 and sunny, bring a sweatshirt. Drivers tend to blast the A/C to keep people from getting car sick, so you’ll probably need it, but even if your bus isn’t so chilly, a sweatshirt is the perfect makeshift pillow.

Entertainment: Let’s start with the built-in entertainment: the friends you bring or make on the bus (here’s my opening line for potential bus friends: “so, what are you doing in ___ this weekend?”) and the big ol’ window at your side. Obviously, most of your trip will probably have just boring highway, but I love seeing New York City from the bus when I’m driving in or out of Manhattan. I’ve also seen deer and a double rainbow on recent trips.

Now, for the supplies you need to bring. A notepad and pen will always come in handy for list-making, hangman-playing, and–if your trip gets really delayed–a travel journal with all of the hilarious and/or upsetting shenanigans that occur on an absurdly long bus ride.

If I’m traveling alone, I may invest in a trashy magazine, but if I’m with a friend a good catalog (like J.Crew or Anthropologie) is preferable. Then we can play the game where we choose our favorite items on each page.

Obviously the iPod is a life-saver for lulling yourself into a music-induced haze, but when I’m feeling productive, I also like to take the opportunity to catch up on texts and organize my smartphone (app updates/deleting dumb pictures/clearing out text messages/rearranging home screen.)

It does take a little time to properly prepare for an epic bus ride, but remember that the best way to sleep on a bus is to stay up all night packing the night before!


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