For the Royally Broke, Megabus is like Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage. It may not be glamorous, but it will get you to a promising destination for cheap. In place of a fairy godmother will probably be a scowling overweight bus driver, and, rather than a prince, passengers will most likely be seated next to a smelly college student or a snoring woman with emphysema.
But the Megabus offers numerous Midwest destinations out of Cleveland and connects with other routes that extend all the way though Canada and the Southern United States. Take these tips to ride like a mega boss, and a summer road trip on the Megabus can be affordable and, maybe to the indefatigable optimist, enjoyable.
Snagging a (really) cheap ticket
Megabus tickets usually do not exceed $50, which is a steal considering it amounts to the cost of about one tank of gas. But for the thriftiest of passengers, frequently checking the Megabus website as if it is a part-time job may be worth it, as only the first few buyers can access the elusive $1 tickets. Bus schedules are released three months at a time. Ticket prices depend on how in-demand seats are, so the earlier you buy, the cheaper tickets will be.
Following Megabus on social media is one way to be notified when a new schedule of tickets comes out. Making a ritual of checking the website every single day is even more foolproof. Those who are serious about getting $1 tickets can remind themselves by making Megabus.com their computer’s homepage.
Comfort is the obvious inclination. But students should consider the possibility of seeing their peers who are headed in the same direction for university breaks. I learned this the hard way, when I thought it best to go braless and ended up running toward the Megabus that was about to depart while my classmates looked down on me—literally—from the top deck of the bus.
Unlike the airport, passengers who look threatening are not investigated; they are rewarded. Everyone wants to sit next to a cute 20-something or a warm looking mom. Shamelessly rocking a dirty or crazed look may score you a set of seats to yourself. If having elbow room sounds appealing, try wearing an offensive T-shirt or growing a few dreadlocks before riding.
A hat is helpful to cover your eyes when sleeping, and uncontrollable temperatures call for layers to pile on and peel off.
Paying customers DO get left on the curb if their luggage is over 50 lbs. or larger than 62 inches when length, width, and height measurements are combined. To take extra luggage, buy an extra ticket.
The one small carry-on policy is not strictly enforced. However, the larger the carry on, the less room there will be to stretch out, as there are no overhead bins on Megabus.
Business people are a rare species on Megabus. This is because people who believe “time is money” are not suited for the laissez-faire lifestyle that Megabus requires.
At best, riding the bus will add two hours to normal drive time. At worst, you will receive a full refund after spending the night at the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Transit Center. (Yes, this has happened to me. I recommend staking out a bench early on because it may end up being your bed. The current issue of Scene can double as a pillow.)
A seasoned Megabus rider will accept delays gracefully. If transferring to a different bus, always leave a few hours—preferably in the daytime—between arrival and departure times to explore the area or get a nice meal at a restaurant. This eliminates the risk of missing the connection if the first bus is behind schedule.
Choosing a seat
Seats are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis. Line jumping and shoving are fair game, so hold your place in line firmly. If traveling with another person, one passenger should board to secure seats while the other loads the luggage.
Know where you belong. The universal rule of goody two-shoes in the front and rule-breakers in the back applies for Megabus, although the seating options become more complex.
Claim the table seat on the lower deck with caution, as the four passengers who occupy it tend to be intense. I have seen maps spread out on the table like they were Nicolas Cage in National Treasure, a family with an organized smorgasbord of snacks and a clan of hooded men rolling joints after dark.
The four individual seats at the front of the upper deck have slightly more room and a big window to gaze out. Select this seat for the sensation of being in a spaceship.
The long bench seat in the rear of the upper deck seems private and spacious but can become crammed if all the seats fill up since there is no aisle in-between. Traveling couples may also be found canoodling back here.
Another measure to take to avoid getting a seatmate — besides looking unclean — is to appear to be sleeping while others are still boarding the bus. Fling yourself over your carry on bag so that the whole seat is taken up. Ideally, other passengers will hesitate to wake someone sleeping for a seat. Snore very loudly.
Megabus boasts free Wi-Fi and power outlets. Think of the word “free” in the sense that the Wi-Fi and electricity is free to wander on and off the bus throughout the ride; it will come and go. There is no streaming through the bus’s Wi-Fi.
For optimized productivity during travel time, fully charge all devices beforehand and plan to work on projects that don’t require Internet.
Tragically, Hardee’s and Red Burrito are Megabus staples. While the nutrition ramifications are obvious, worse yet is the smell of the bus when re-boarding.
If there is one item that may be worth your money at a rest stop, it’s mints or gum to offer to your seatmate, who is sure to return smelling like a cringe-worthy blend of institutional foam soap and Frito breath.
Rest stops transform the Megabus into an accurate depiction of the obesity epidemic in America. Stops are usually mid-way through the ride. At this point, passengers are hungry and shameless. They will pass out with French fries still in hand, indulge in gas station gluttony, and fluctuate at their own leisure for the finale.
Post-rest stop smells will likely be the low point of the ride. It is crucial to remember that the stench will fade and the trip would have been quadruple the cost by airplane.