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Greyhound Buses: Hacked

Greyhound Buses don’t have the best reputation. They’re often late (even by an hour or more), they’re sometimes dirty (forgoing cleaning because they’re late) and the fleet used for shorter distances is usually quite uncomfortable.

But, they’re not all bad. Apart from anything else, they service a lot of popular and obscure destinations in Australia, Canada, the USA, Mexico and parts of the UK. I am writing this from a Greyhound bus travelling from Lake Louise, Alberta to Toronto, Ontario in Canada. The trip cost me CA$150 (approx. £90) and by the time I arrive, I will have been on board for 64 hours.

I also will have saved on three nights’ accommodation, received unlimited power usage and WiFi and travelled 2,226 miles. Value to money ratio equals “ker-ching!”

I’ve made a few mistakes since being on this journey, but I think I finally have it sussed; the perfect way to prepare for and enjoy your three days on a bus. Allow me to explain a few things…

Food & Drink

Don’t underestimate the power of boredom on these journeys. You may think, “Oh, how lovely it will be to look out the window for three days straight and be totally at one with nature…” Trust me, there are only so many mountains and fields you can look at before you get totally fed up of nature altogether.

Buy lots of food and drink. Start with $30’s worth. Yes, it sounds a lot, but you will end up buying more at a rest stop, I promise. Be sure to buy some sugary stuff to help with drowsiness in the mornings, too.

Onboard Facilities

There are people who are squeamish about using public restrooms. I understand that, but I’m not one of them. However, the Trans-Canada Highway is full of potholes, and after being thrown around like a rag doll whilst sitting on the john and emerging with an arse not only tinged blue, but chemically deodorised, potentially forever, I’m going to make a suggestion.

Stops are frequent and timed. They may be anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes. There will always be a lavatory. Use that one, not the one taken straight out of the ’70s’ fun house used in Grease’s penultimate number.

Carry-Ons

This section is personal preference, as I travel with a large 80 litre backpack and a smaller day pack. Anything bigger or heavier than a day pack will be stored underneath the bus for the entirety of the journey. Even if you transfer, magical gloved hands will whisk your bag to the next bus without you ever seeing it.

Here are a few things you may want to add to your carry-on:

  • Food and drink.
  • A warm jacket or blanket – it does get cold at night.
  • Some form of entertainment – iPad, iPhone, iPod, Kindle etc..
  • One (and only one) travel adaptor and plug – there are two North American style outlets per pair of seats, but they are close together and you will only fit one of those horrid bulky adaptors in at once.
  • Charging leads – I brought a 30-pin old-style Apple cable and a Lightning new-style Apple cable; these will charge my iPhone, iPad and iPod.
  • Change of underwear/socks/T-shirt – especially if the bus is longer than 2 days.
  • Money – you will run out of food and drink.
  • Photo ID – if you chose to print your tickets at home, you’ll need your passport/driver’s license for every new bus you take.
  • Tickets for all journeys – you won’t see your stowed luggage until you arrive at your destination, remember?
  • Camera – you may see a moose. Or 5,000.
  • Earplugs – screaming children do happen. It’s an inevitability.
  • Cigarettes/recreational drugs, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Seating Position

This is, without question, the most important factor on any long journey. It will determine whether you sit next to a baby, a druggie, a hottie or, my personal favourite, no-one at all. Before I tell you how, though, here are a few tips:

  • Be keen. This stuff only works if you are one of the first on the bus. Try and be waiting at the security table before anyone else, then hover at the boarding gate. Easy.
  • Don’t sit in the back seats. Whether you haven’t gotten over that high school feeling of being the king of the bus if you sat at the back (you weren’t, by the way, you were a tit) or whether you just don’t want someone kicking the back of your seat the whole way to your destination, avoid the back seats at all costs. Simple explanation: they recline about 30% as much as all other seats on board, which will drive you nuts on a long journey.
  • Don’t sit in the aisle. Lots of reasons for this one: you won’t have access to charging points, you’ll only have one arm rest (a lot of the aisle rests don’t stay put), you’ll have either drunkards or people losing their balance falling into you as they make their way to the lav and you won’t ever get a chance to smash that massive window with that impossibly tiny red hammer.
    Also, you’ll get a nicer view in the window seat. Aww.
  • Sit 5+ rows from the front. Whilst driving at night, there mustn’t be any reflections off the windscreen of any kind that may distract the driver. Ergo, no reading lights or electronic devices allowed in the first five rows. Understandable, I suppose.
  • Pick your side. This may seem daft, but there’re good reasons to think about this one. Vehicles drive on the right in North America, so if you decide to sit on the left, you will have bright headlights zipping across your vision from oncoming traffic. This can be avoided by sitting on the right, but at the cost of having the sun glaring at you at some ungodly hour when it rises. This is especially severe when driving across the flats of Saskatchewan and Manitoba where there are no clouds to soften the blow. Obviously, this is only a tough decision if you’re travelling West to East.
    I decided that I didn’t fancy developing epilepsy on this trip, so I picked the right. The sunrise is actually quite spectacular.
  • Reserve a seat. Sounds obvious, huh? Well, think again. For only CA$5.25, it’s more than possible to cheat the system, especially seeing as the buses are never normally full:
    1. Reserve your seat at the ticket counter. For instance, 40W (4 seats to a row = 10 rows back. W = window.)
    2. When you board (hopefully first – this is why it helps to be keen), walk to your reserved seat. There should be a napkin or piece of paper with the word “Reserved” clearly marked. Now sit in the seat behind it.
    3. You will notice that all the seats are in the upright position. Recline the seat you are in and the aisle seat next to you as far as they will go.
    4. Place your carry-on luggage on the seat next to you.
    5. Feign sleep (optional).

Et voilà! No-one will sit in the seat in front of you because it’s reserved. No-one will sit next to the reserved seat because they’d have to get up again when the person (me – already seated) boards. No-one will wake up the adorable sleeping young man to ask him to move his carry-on luggage. And lastly, no-one will sit in the two seats behind me because they wouldn’t have a lot of legroom, due to my seats being fully reclined.

All that allows me, as I have at this very moment, ample legroom, two reclined seats to stretch out over and no-one kicking the small of my back for the next 28 hours. Simple!

Good Fortune Taken for Granted

There are three things you need to know before you read any further:

  1. I have been travelling solo for nearly four months at this point.
  2. I’m not poor, but I’m not loaded either. I’m on a budget.
  3. Today has been a shit day.

1

Now, I wasn’t expecting rainbows without rain and I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be sunny for my entire time abroad. There are always going to be latitudes the sun doesn’t grace with its presence as often as others. I see myself (as I think others do) as quite an outgoing and optimistic person; I don’t know too many people who would up and leave home on a month’s notice.

I try not to complain.

However, I am currently on a Greyhound Bus from Whistler to Calgary with a short stopover in Vancouver. I’m deathly cold because the bus was an hour and a half late and I had to wait in the foggy drizzle at the bus station. My right shoe decided that today was a great day to get a puncture from a particularly sharp stone, so the inside is filled with water; it’s drying on the floor in front of me. For the same reason, I’m also only wearing my left sock. The right one is clamped between the footrest and the seat in front.

My feet are wrapped in my gilet. I hope some of the feeling comes back soon.

These long journeys (this one is 21 hours – my next, Lake Louise to Toronto, will be 64 hours straight) can get particularly lonely. It’s great travelling solo, honest. Being completely independent and generally choosing my own route without hinderance is great fun. I’ve combatted loneliness by means of CouchSurfing or staying in hostels – meeting people – but these long journeys do get a bit tiresome when the most interesting thing sitting next to me is my backpack.

Although, I suppose I have met people less interesting than my backpack, so it could be worse.

2

I am on a budget. I have to remind myself of that sometimes. Especially when I see a sushi restaurant. So, will I buy a new pair of shoes? No. I’ll buy some duct tape and try and make them a bit more waterproof. That’ll save me 40 bucks. Will I write to Greyhound and try and get compensation for the tardiness of its service? Already have. Awaiting response. That might get me 20 bucks back.

Money-wise, there is only one thing I dread: having to sleep outdoors because I haven’t been able to find a host on CouchSurfing and can’t afford a local hotel. This, annoyingly, is looking like the outcome at Lake Louise, a popular tourist destination that hotels take advantage of. I’ll keep looking and hopefully it won’t come to that.

3

See above.

“You said ‘I try not to complain’, yet that’s all you’ve done…”

True, but there is a reason. Sometimes, it’s necessary for me to look at the negative aspects, so that when I look at the positive aspects, I can see how much of a twoffy knob I’m being.

There is a saying that has become popular in the last couple of years: “first world problems”. This couldn’t be truer, because, yes I’m cold, I’m pretty tired and all I have to tide me over until tomorrow at midday is a half-bottle of Coca Cola and a packet of honey roasted peanuts, but I’m also in good health. And, here’s the kicker: I’m writing this post on my iPad using the free on-board WiFi, whilst listening to Jools Holland and Ruby Turner on my iPod and getting the occasional WhatsApp message on my iPhone. In Canada. Where I’m spending two months. Without working.

When I think about it like that, I couldn’t give a flying fuck if the sun doesn’t come out for the next six months and my foot turns blue.

Perspective is important sometimes.

Footnote

I can now feel my toes.

Macro Travel Interlude

Three days from now I will be a month into my two year adventure. It’s gone very quickly; however, I’m not too worried – I have a huge amount more to see in the near and distant future. A good friend has suggested that over the last month I’ve been writing in a constant micro-style, focussing always on a span of a few days. And they are correct. It is very easy for one to lose sight and sense of time whilst travelling for such a lengthy period, so the aim of this post is to focus more on the macro aspect of my trip:

  • What’s coming up in the next month?
  • What does the end of 2013 hold in store?
  • Will 2014 continue in the same fashion?

Short answers: lots, lots and yes/no. Not detailed enough? Allow me to explain…

I have spent nearly a month in Portland, Oregon with some of the most kind-hearted people one can ever hope to meet; especially Joaquin, who is giving over use of his home and car to me for free. Such altruism is rarely found, and I’m very lucky to have stumbled across it in droves whilst touring Southeast Asia.

I have been introduced to a friend of Joaquin’s, Marina, an Argentinian who has worked in Portland for the past year. She will soon be leaving her job at Nike and moving to Europe, but understandably wants to use up her holiday first. That’s where I come in. We have planned a road trip that will take us through eight states in around twelve days. The route is circular, 3,100 miles long and will pass through some of the most incredible scenery and natural beauty that the USA has to offer.

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Road trip!

The graphic above shows the route, with each pin marking a destination that we wish to visit. Thus, in order:

  • A: (Hidden behind F) The start: Portland
  • B: Glacier National Park Conservancy, Montana
  • C: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
  • D: Las Vegas, Nevada
    • Before heading South West, we’ll make a quick detour to the Hoover Dam
  • E: Los Angeles, California
    • We’ll make a stop in Sacramento on the home stretch
  • F: the end – Portland

And that’s that. Petrol, being as cheap as it is over here, will cost no more than $300 in total, and using tents and the car as sleeping vessels, expenditure should be kept to a minimum.

Macro, Zulu, macro…

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The 1,681 miles of travelling between mid-August and mid-September

When I eventually leave Portland (A) sometime in the second week of August, I will be spending between a week and ten days in San Francisco (B), Las Vegas (D) and Los Angeles (F), with shorter stopovers in Yosemite National Park (C) and San Diego (E).

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A rather roundabout flight…

This will bring me to mid-September, when I catch a 1,601 mile flight to Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada via Phoenix Sky Harbour Airport in Arizona. I would have ideally liked to have stayed in the USA for longer and take in some of the more longitudinally central states: Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas etc., but due to strict tourist entry rules allowing me to stay for only 90 days, my flight on day 89 is already cutting it a bit fine.

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The 3,356 mile journey across Canada

Once in Canada, I will stay a while in Vancouver (A) before heading to Whistler (at point B). The gruelling part of the journey comes in mid-October with a three-day coach journey along the Trans-Canada Highway from Vancouver to Toronto (F) with short stops in Calgary (C), Winnipeg (D) and Kapuskasing (E).

From here I’ll take approximately two weeks to explore Ottawa (G), Montreal (H) and Quebec City (I) before returning to Toronto in time for November 1st, when Vicki, a friend of mine for over nine years, will fly from London via Reykjavik to join me. Her brother, Dave, lives in Toronto and has been kind enough to offer us accommodation until we leave on the 12th.

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1,770 miles down the East coast

From here, everything is pretty much planned to a T. We will take a coach to New York (marker B on the above map) on the 12th November, where my brother Sterling, his wife Jesslyn and my gorgeous niece Clover (who I’ll meet for the first time!) are kindly accommodating us. We stay with them for just under a week, leaving on the 18th for Washington, D.C. (C).

Three days later and we head to Miami (D) (on a 24 hour coach) for a couple of days on the beach after the inevitable cold of the north. I’ve been advised that it is near impossible to get anything done in Miami without the use of a car, and seeing as neither Vicki or I are old enough to hire one (the legal age is 25 in the USA), a taxi to the beach will have to suffice. Oh well. We’ll live.

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The route to the sunny Bahamas and the not-so-sunny UK

On November 24th we will fly to Grand Bahama, where my Mum and her husband Russell live during the winter months. Two and a half weeks of good food and every affordable luxury later, we will be back on a plane to undertake the 5,350 mile journey to London via Lisbon, landing on the morning of the 13th December.

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Back to the Bahamas for December festivities

That, however, is not the end. Nowhere near. December 21st sees me fly back to the Bahamas from Birmingham Airport (this time via Charles de Gaulle and Miami – incidentally, a total mileage of exactly 5,000 miles) for Christmas and New Year celebrations, returning to the UK on January 5th 2014.

From then on out, I am 95% sure of what is happening, but will write more when our plans are cemented. Between July 21st 2013 and January 5th (168 days), I will cover no fewer than 37,539 miles. 2014 will more than triple that…

The Beginning

First things first; I’ve always loved travelling. For as long as I can remember I’ve had itchy feet. It’s not so much a desire to leave where I’m based, but a need to experience other cultures, put myself out of my comfort zone and see what the world has to offer.

I currently live in the Midlands; Birmingham to be exact. Weather-wise, crime-wise, most things-wise, it’s not the greatest place on Earth. But it’s where I decided to do my degree nearly four years ago, and it’s become home. Friends I’ve made and events I’ve experienced make for some pretty interesting stories (The riots in 2011 is one delightful example).

Before Birmingham came private school in Essex. I think I emerged from that irony quite well – neither a Childs-esque “Oh shut uuup” or a Fry-like “Oh Goodness Gracious my Nelly”; instead, an adolescent with an open mind and a passion for classical music and books, neither of which my eyes would have been opened to otherwise, I’m sure.

School allowed me the opportunity to travel: music tours to Catalonia, Portugal and Boston, a World Challenge Expedition to Namibia, and a few ‘simply-for-pleasure’ trips to France, Germany and Belgium. I should mention that, on top of this, I am half Swiss, and all of my father’s side of the family are still sprawled over the hills, valleys and cities of rural and urban Switzerland.

Sunrise from Dune 45, Sossusvlei

Sunrise from Dune 45, Sossusvlei

One of my half-brothers, Sterling, and his (now) wife, Jesslyn, lived in Hong Kong for over 6 years, and I was lucky enough to visit them three times, experiencing all the island has to offer: wakeboarding, food that I’d never thought edible, schizophrenic weather, and on a personal note, an internship at Morgan Stanley, please GCSE results and disappointing A-Level results. Hong Kong is and always will be one of my favourite places. The buzzing atmosphere, sweltering humidity/Arctic air con dependent on which side of a shop door you’re on and impeccably clean MTR (underground system), to name a few, are traits that make Hong Kong a very interesting place. But more about that later…

“So why have you started this blog?” I hear you clamouring to ask. Well, a couple of months ago I made the choice to move away from the three-day-summer and innumerable murders Birmingham has to offer, and move to the USA. I met a friend whilst travelling through Southeast Asia last November/December who has very graciously offered me a place to sleep at his house in Portland, Oregon. The plan is to stay with him whilst I get myself settled, then travel down the west coast, taking in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Las Vegas and anywhere in between.

First leg of my journey - all 6,278 miles of it.

First leg of my journey – all 6,278 miles of it.

From there, who knows what will happen? It’s something I’ll make up as I go along. But for now, my flights to Portland are booked for the 21st June, when the adventure really begins. If you want to know how it turns out for me, all you have to do is follow!

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