Bus and Motor Coach Travel 101

White bus crossing the Alps
Grafissimo / Getty Images

Many travelers do not want to drive in a downtown rush hour or get lost on a tiny country road. If driving in a new place does not appeal to you, consider taking a bus or motorcoach tour instead. Here are some of the most popular options.

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 a trip 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 will be able to use public transportation more confidently if you wish. Once available mainly in large cities, you can now find hop-on, hop-off bus tours in smaller cities, too, such as St. Augustine, Florida, and Stratford-upon-Avon, England.
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 will 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. You may also have a local guide on the bus for part of your tour.

How to Choose

If you are 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 request 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 my tour director help me decide what to do during those times?
  • 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?
  • Will I actually be allowed to use the bathroom on the bus, or will I have to wait until we stop to find a restroom? How long are the restroom stops?


Bear in mind that you will 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 is meant for emergencies only on many tours.

Accessibility Issues

If you use a wheelchair or walker, you will need to find out where it will be stowed and how quickly the driver can get it out for you 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 assist 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. If you do, 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.

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