Long-Distance Bus Travel in the US and Canada

Greyhound bus in Los Angeles
pfsullivan_1056/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

Some senior travelers swear by long-distance bus travel. Others shudder at the thought. For long-distance travelers in the US and Canada, Greyhound Lines, which connects major cities from coast to coast, offers the largest choice of destinations and departures.

There are several advantages to bus travel. You don’t have to rent a car or pay big-city parking fees. You avoid the stress of driving in unfamiliar places. Best of all, you often pay less to take a bus than you will to fly or take the train.

For example, a one-way Amtrak ticket between Baltimore and New York City costs anywhere from $49 to $276, depending on how far in advance you reserve your ticket and whether or not you qualify for a senior discount or another type of discount. Greyhound’s fare between Baltimore and New York City ranges from $11 to $55 one way. (Airfares start at $100 to Long Island/Islip - that's a Southwest Airlines "Wanna Get Away" fare - and go up from there.)

Greyhound Bus Travel Facts

  • Some buses stop only once or twice between the departure and destination cities. Other routes include several intermediate stops.
  • Buses usually have a restroom on board, but the restroom is meant for emergency use only.
  • All types of people travel by bus. This could include parents with small children, passengers who listen to loud music, or people who are ill.
  • Your route may include layovers, which can last anywhere from five minutes to an hour or longer.
  • Greyhound and several regional bus operators have pooled some of their routes. Your fare won’t be affected, and you can easily see which carrier operates on each route by looking at the Greyhound website.

    If you’re considering a Greyhound bus trip, here are some things you’ll need to know.

    Pros

    • You can request a 5% senior discount on regular fares (20% on Greyhound Canada). This discount cannot be combined with other discounts.
    • Greyhound offers 15% to 40% off one-way midweek fares with 14-day advance purchase.
    • You can reserve your tickets ahead or purchase them up to one hour before the bus departs.
    • Greyhound will provide assistance to disabled passengers with 48 hours’ advance notice.
    • Fares between New York and other large East coast cities are comparable to those offered by discount buses if you buy advance tickets online.

      Cons

      • Greyhound stations tend to be in less-than-savory downtown locations. If you need to change buses, try to schedule your layovers during daylight hours.
      • Even if you reserve a ticket in advance, you are not guaranteed a seat. Greyhound operates on a first-come, first served basis.
      • Holiday weekends are especially busy.
      • Stations may not have any food available, or may only offer vending machines.
      • You may need to transfer between buses. If so, you will have to carry your own luggage.
      • Greyhound buses typically have only two spaces with wheelchair tie downs. If you use a wheelchair or scooter, buy your ticket as far in advance as possible and tell Greyhound you use a wheeled mobility device.
      • If your bus is late, Greyhound will not give you a refund.

      Alternatives

      Discount bus lines such as BoltBus and Megabus offer alternatives to traditional Greyhound service. BoltBus routes concentrate on the eastern and western seaboards of the US and Canada, connecting travelers in Virginia with Philadelphia, New York City, and New England and offering West Coast bus service from Vancouver and British Columbia to Seattle, Portland, and cities in California and Nevada. Megabus offers service in the eastern, Midwestern and southern US in addition to service in California and Nevada.

      Both bus lines offer deeply discounted fares for travelers who are able to buy advance sale tickets online. Because these bus lines focus on heavily-traveled routes, they are able to offer low-cost fares as well as free WiFi, free onboard entertainment (via a smartphone app or locally-available WiFi), charging outlets, and other amenities that make long-distance bus travel more bearable.

      Limitations of BoltBus and Megabus include destination and schedule restrictions. Low-cost bus companies tend to focus on high-demand routes, although they do expand to more cities if they believe they can sell enough tickets to make a profit.