Bus and Motorcoach Travel 101

Bus tours are still quite popular with mature travelers.
••• Tour Bus in Switzerland. Tim Graham / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Many travelers don’t want to drive in a downtown rush hour or get lost on a tiny country road. Consider taking a bus or motorcoach tour if you don’t relish the idea of driving in a new place.

One-Day Tours

You can take a one-day bus tour to an event or popular sightseeing destination, such as a show at New York’s Radio City Music Hall or through Rome at night. Traveling by bus relieves you of the need to plan routes and find parking garages.

Hop-on, hop-off city bus tours help you visit the top attractions on your list and find your bearings in a new city. Once you learn the locations of the major roads and landmarks, you’ll be able to use public transportation more confidently if you wish. 

Themed bus tours, such as movie and television locations tours of New York City or ghost tours of London, are becoming more popular, too.

Overnight Tours

Many tour operators conduct one- or two-week motorcoach tours. You can visit American and Canadian national parks, see colorful fall foliage, or explore other countries, all without worrying about renting cars, buying gas or dealing with mechanics. You’ll usually have a tour director on the bus with you. Your tour director will solve problems, keep everyone on schedule and tell you about each place you visit unless you have a local guide on the bus as well.

Choosing a Bus or Motorcoach Tour

If you’re thinking about booking a bus tour, the best way to find one that meets your needs and expectations is to ask around.

Talk with a travel agent and ask for recommendations. Ask family members and friends if they have taken bus tours or know someone who has.

Here are some questions to ask before you book a bus or motorcoach tour.

  • How long will I be on the bus each day?
  • Will I have to change seats every day?
  • Will we be able to explore when we stop, or will we only have a “photo opportunity” at each stop?
  • What is the average age of the people who take this tour?
  • Are children allowed?
  • Will we have any free days or afternoons?
  • Will we change buses, or can I safely leave personal items on the bus while we sightsee?
  • How many people will be on the tour?
  • May I bring a wheelchair? Where will it be stored?

Bear in mind that you’ll only be able to bring one carry-on item onto the bus; the rest of your luggage will be stored in the baggage compartments. You may be asked to change seats every day (“seat rotation”) in order to meet more of your fellow travelers. Expect to be discouraged from using the restroom on your bus; it’s meant for emergencies only on many tours.

Bus Tour Accessibility Issues

If you use a wheelchair or walker, you’ll need to find out where it’s stowed and how quickly the driver can get it out at each stop. In many countries, motorcoaches and tour buses do not have wheelchair lifts, although this situation is changing. Some tour operators flatly state that they will not provide assistance for people with disabilities. They advise disabled travelers to bring along able-bodied companions who can lift or otherwise help them. 

You should also ask how long you will stop at each destination, sight or museum.

Many travelers head for the restrooms as soon as they leave the bus. If you have to wait for your wheelchair or if you walk slowly, you may spend all your sightseeing time getting to and from the restrooms unless your itinerary includes a reasonable amount of time for comfort stops.

The Fine Print

Carefully read every word of your trip brochure and tour contract before you pay for your tour. Overbooking, travel insurance, accessibility assistance and cancellation policies should be spelled out in detail. Insist on getting information about these topics in writing.

If possible, pay for your bus tour with a credit card; you may be able to dispute the charges later if your tour operator fails to deliver what the brochure promises. Consider purchasing travel insurance to protect your investment if insurance is not included in the price of your tour.