The Trials and Tribulations of Traveling via Megabus…
This experience of journeying throughout Europe brings me to my main form of travel — the MegaBus. For economic reasons, I have become far too familiar with the budget-transportation line. Having taken the bus-line a number of times over the years, I was somewhat familiar. Budget being the name of the game, I held true to the Jewish stereotype, traveling cheaply. From New York down to New Jersey and up and down the California coastline hardly makes me a maven. But after four plus months of navigating Europe via MegaBus, it’s a different story.
Prior to my arrival across the pond, I never intended to travel this way. Flights from one country to the next are comparable to bus fare within the Tri-State area. I had booked my first MegaBus journey from London to Paris at the start of my adventure. Thinking it would be quite scenic, I went more for the experience. Being that this was my first trip to Europe, scenery was key. Little did I know how little there would be to see.
By the time my first European bus tour began, I was in a very different place than today. I had spent barely a month in Europe, only having experienced London by this point. Everything was new to me. I was like a Mormon kid on my gap year; realizing there was a life out there that didn’t require magic underpants. All I kept thinking is: “Am I really here?! Is this Europe?!” As we pulled out of the Victoria Coach Station, I couldn’t help but get excited.
The bus service promised high speed WiFi internet access, electrical sockets, a toilet, and luxurious seats. Well, the WiFi burned out within a half-hour. I used up its welcome. The electrical sockets worked, when the bus was in motion, but considering its location below the window, it obstructed any possibility of a comfortable position for me to sit. With the seats being stiffer than a drink served by Bill Cosby, I had already moved on from the need for comfort. And the toilet was one step above a public park’s port-a-potty. But I was gearing up for an eight hour journey and I was high on the adrenaline.
Lucky for me, everything was coming up roses, so I don’t think the negative attributes had much effect on my journey. I had two seats to myself — a true luxury, I would discover later in time — and a window for viewing. Snapping as many pictures as possible, my iPhone was on high alert. Most every picture looked just like the last, but I didn’t care. I was in Europe. Our eight hour bus ride quickly [or not so quickly] turned into ten. My neck grew as stiff as the seats, but I was only on the first leg of my journey, so I didn’t care. Following a night in Paris, I would be getting on an airplane, so this was the longest bus ride I would be on. (I couldn’t have been more wrong.)
Arriving in Paris two hours later than expected, I left the bus with a positive outlook. It had been a cheap ride through Europe. What was there to complain about? My Parisian friend who hosted me for the evening couldn’t understand my eagerness to travel this way. The ride was under £7, so I wasn’t complaining. If anything, I was doing my Jewish mother proud, having been frugal enough to travel across the English Channel for roughly 10 dollars.
A month-and-a-half later, I was scouring the budget airlines for a last minute birthday flight somewhere. I had no clue where to go, but I had close to no budget. This was an unplanned trip and my budget was tight, so cheap was the name of the game. Given that I was searching for a flight within a week’s time, nothing was really fitting the bill. That’s when I approached MegaBus once again. I hadn’t given it much thought as it was a British budget service and I was not planning to go back to the U.K. just yet. Exploring the site, I discovered how inexpensive and accessible the service could be. There were round-trip tickets from where I was residing in the South of France to Barcelona for under 20 pounds. I had always dreamed of being in a sea of Spanish men, outside Southern California, so I thought: “Here’s my chance.” The journey was roughly 5 hours and the journey promised much more picturesque a view.
As I scoured the website, I became curious of other destinations. This is when I stumbled upon Amsterdam. Round-trip, I was looking at about 30 pounds. For the difference of 10 pounds, I could travel quadruple the distance. I wasn’t so hard up for a 20-hour journey, but the price was right. After chatting with a few friends back in the states, I made the decision to travel to the city of canals and marijuana. This was a trip for my birthday and I had nowhere to be. “Why not?” I remember thinking.
The cross-Channel journey from London to Paris had prepared me for anything. But I had just come off a month-and-a-half of hard labor, farmhand abuse, and lacking privacy, so perhaps I should have thought it out better. The first leg of the journey was an 8-hour ride from Toulouse to Paris, followed by a 10-hour ride from Paris to Amsterdam a few hours after. “I can do this.” Naivety and lacking experience was the name of the game here. I arrived at the bus station in Toulouse over an hour ahead of time. This promised me optimal seat-choice. During the course of that hour, very few people showed up to the line. This was during the Euro games and there were a lot of out-of-towners in Toulouse. A few minutes prior to the departure time, a staggering collection of seemingly drunk Welshmen donning their team jerseys plowed through. They were tailgating the games and you could smell the beer and bourbon radiating from their bodies in the summer heat. “Lovely”, I thought.
A few minutes later, the bus approached. Pulling into a non-designated spot, the bus reversed the last hour of my waiting time. Considering you don’t choose your seat ahead of time, it was a first-come first-serve basis. I had lost that entire hour to this drunken group of fraternity men. By the time I boarded the bus, there were very few seats available. There was a sign upon boarding that the WiFi was out of order. [Lovely] I was able to procure a seat to myself, next to a window, where of course no power outlet sat. [Lovely, once more.] This bus had no WiFi, no power outlets, and clearly no vents as I could smell all of the fellow riders.
As the bus seemed close to full, I began to fill with glee, seeing as I had two seats to myself once again. Then, a young French girl approached me, speaking erratically in her language. “Pardon?” I asked. She translated to English, asking me to move so that she and her friend could sit together. Looking around the bus, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of seats. Should I have moved, I would be giving up the possibility of a window. Politely, I offered they split up and one sit next to me. She didn’t take well to this and called me an “asshole”. Racked with guilt, I was about to get up when two drunk Welshmen behind me piped up: “Crack down, you twat! He waited his turn. You should have been on time!” And with that, I sunk into my stiff seat, wondering how quickly my electronics would die.
Within an hour’s time, I realized the air conditioning had given out. This was not due to the obvious stench of alcohol, gas, and stale air or the insane level of heat. It was due to the crying screams of my fellow riders who were drunk and unhappy with this state of circumstance. Multiple times over the next 10-hours (because the bus ran well-over), the bus driver announced the air problem, apologizing, but offering no solution. It was about 85 degrees [Fahrenheit] outside, but at least 90 on the bus. For 10-hours, I stomached my own sweat, the discomfort of the heat, and the cries of drunk Welshman. “Was it really worth the cheap ticket?!” I kept thinking. “Well, you have nowhere to be. This will have to do.” (I talk a lot to myself.)
Once we arrived in Paris, I let out a huge sigh of relief. All these loud, sweaty, and smelly drunk men were headed elsewhere from me. Phew. I had two hours to relax in Paris before my bus to Amsterdam. By the time I had to board my connecting bus, I had relaxed for two hours and de-stressed from all the difficulties associated with my first trip. I was chanting Buddhist yoga mantras to myself and preparing for a lovely night’s journey. The 10-hour trip was going to be overnight and I prayed to Ganesh, Oprah, and anything else listening, that I would get two seats to myself once again. Lucky for me, the night ride from Paris to Amsterdam was a light crew. I found a window seat with an outlet (HALLELUJAH!) and carved my evening out. By the time the bus left the station, there were only about 10 or 12 passengers. Everyone seemed to have their own aisle. People were laying out across the aisles. The WiFi was on, working for approximately ten full minutes! Our air conditioning was on and working, which now seemed rather unnecessary as it had turned cold in the air. But there were no loud drunk Welshmen or crabby French girls asking me to move.
Following my ten minutes of internet access, I laid down and went to sleep. With my head half-cocked in the aisle, I was awoken an hour into my slumber by something touching my head. As my nostrils were awakened, I discovered it was a stranger’s foot. I politely handed him his foot back and resumed my position. For the next 10-odd hours, we played this game. No matter what my position and as much ample space as he had, I kept finding his foot on me in some capacity. “This afternoon was worse”, I kept thinking as I attempted to sleep.
Arriving in Amsterdam, I knew I had at least 8-days before I had to get back on a bus. I let go of the experience, chalking it up to one bad day.
The journey back seemed to follow the theme. I arrived at the bus well-ahead of its departure time and even secured a coveted window seat. Shortly after getting comfortable, the driver declared a state of emergency, asking everyone to check their bags and empty any marijuana related materials. Naturally, everyone exited the bus, scouring through carry-ons. Fearing a problem at borders, we all said goodbye to any and all weed we were harboring. Returning to the bus, my seat was taken. I pointed to my backpack, which sat beside the girl who had assumed my position. “Get the fuck out of my face”, she said eloquently. I saw no good outcome from this and moved myself into another seat.
Sitting on the aisle with the tiniest little Asian girl — who took up more room than John Goodman — I was resolved to arriving in Paris. Attempting to sleep, I was awoken by the nagging scent of spaghetti with fish sauce. I was sitting next to an Asian supermarket, by the smell of it. No judgement there, but I am no fan of fish. We sat side by side — her bags spilling over into my small quarter of a seat — for 4 hours, until we hit Belgium. There, half the bus got off, and I secured a window seat. Excited to find an outlet, I discovered the socket to be broken by my new seat. “At least I don’t smell that godawful spaghetti!” Within a few minutes of being docked, the bus loaded back up with new passengers. A tall, gangly man sat next to me, only occupying his space. “This could work”, I thought. That was until he pulled out a foot-long baguette filled with egg-salad. “I can’t win.” The entire ride back to Paris seemed to smell like egg. Considering it took him nearly the entire ride to finish that foot-long, I shouldn’t be surprised. “This is what you pay for, I guess.”
We arrived to Paris, three hours late, escaping any gap between connecting rides. I had to haul ass to the Toulouse-bound bus with no promise they would wait for me. Luckily, I got on, but there was only one seat left. I sat down next to an obese young girl with the stank eye for me. Uncomfortably, I sat down as she stared me down with malice. This overnight journey was nothing like the last. It was a full bus and I began craving the nudge of a stranger’s dirty sock in my face. You never know how bad it can be, until it gets there, I guess.
I spent the better part of a 10-hour overnight ride with a strange fat girl rolling her eyes at me, while the entire bus lay silent with the lights off. Still, I could feel her heavy breathing and it was pointed at me.
Finally arriving back in Toulouse, I remember thinking: “Never again.”
But then my circumstances changed. Money grew tighter, my budget collapsed, and cheap travel became a necessity. Since then, I have traveled via MegaBus several times. I have spent 20-plus hours round-trip back to Amsterdam, traveled over a day from France to Manchester, and journeyed over 9-hours from Manchester to Aberdeen, in Northern Scotland. The irony of it all is that I have many more charter-bus trips planned in the upcoming months. Because, why? They are very cheap. And I am a very cheap little Jew-boy at the moment.
Much like the current democratic voting system in the US of A, it seems to be a necessary evil — to vote that is, not the system.
Speaking of evil…