A few weeks ago, I needed to be in Atlanta for business, and I’m entirely too impatient a personality to enjoy the drive there. It’s one thing to be a passenger and still be able to work. Traveling with a work buddy and discussing all those work-related details we never have enough time to fully flesh out makes a midweek car trip bearable. Or to take the day off and be with a friend or two and chat all the way to Atlanta? Bliss. But to take four hours out of my workday to drive to Atlanta, solo? It makes my blood pressure rise. I hate it. I wish there was a passenger train, but alas, there is not. Then it dawned on me. Why not take the Megabus? The thought of sitting on a WiFi-enabled bus, in a front-row seat, on a double-decker bus, typing away the whole time, was both intriguing and appealing. The $57 round-trip fare satisfied my deal-loving heart as well. (This was for the best-reserved seat on the bus and booked last minute, so this rate was actually high!)
Okay, I’ll be honest. I was a bit anxious. I’ve never been on a bus except for a city bus, school bus or a rented group bus. Surely it couldn’t be that different, right?
Taking the bus wasn’t as romantic as I’d hoped, but I quickly learned some ways to navigate the Megabus, and I’m passing my tips along to you today, in case you ever have the hankering to not drive and truly get a bargain mode of transportation to Atlanta, or Chattanooga, or Louisville or any number of destinations.
Note: These photos are taken on the sly on the bus, so they are not the best quality. People get a little tense when you start snapping lots of photos!
First of all, for true bargain hunters, know that fares start at just $1 (yes, the lucky person who books the first ticket on any route gets it for just $1). Also, from my new-found experience, you need to be able to roll with whatever comes your way. For example, sitting next to someone who smells. It just takes one person, you know? And, unfortunately, I was across the aisle from her on my trip down to Atlanta. I thought it was the enormous guy right next to me who smelled. We’ll call him Shaq, but he was pale white with red hair (who also made a slight snoring sound with each exhale. Yes, each and every exhale.), so an Irish Shaq … but the same size. His jeans were in dire need of washing, which led me to think he was the source of the offensive odor. But no. The gal across the aisle from me, with perfect clothing, perfect nails and perfect makeup … when she got hot and took her jacket off, oh my gosh, oh wow, it was quickly apparent that she was ground zero for the BO. (Thus, a reminder not to judge a book by its cover. Got it.) I kept telling myself “breathe short breaths in and out of your nose. Don’t mouth breathe. You may throw up.”
As I was being serenaded by Shaq’s exhales and trying hard not to succumb to my weak stomach with BO girl, I realized my mistake. This is your Tip #1 for taking the Megabus: Book two seats. Double your spend to $114 round trip and guarantee that you have room to stretch out and the ability to at least move 24 inches further away from any offensive odor. It’s still cheaper than renting a car and likely cheaper than your round-trip gas bill. I whipped out my laptop, which I could barely type on, as my seat companion was so big (there is no way he was not 7 feet tall and over 30 inches broad), which left me with precious little room to even have the laptop on my lap. But I typed away, elbows tucked into my lap, and checked on my reservations for the way back. DAMN. The seat next to me was already booked, but the two seats across the aisle were empty. For $2.50, I changed my seat assignment and then I booked the seat next to it. Done! I folded up my laptop and smiled. I knew the trip back would be a different experience. I had just booked the luxury way to do the Megabus. Two seats, one person.
But back to my situation at hand. I could have gotten more done on my laptop but the sun was shining through the front windows with such intensity that it was hard to see my screen. Between that and the squeezed space, I retreated to my phone and made all the updates and such that I never take time to do. So Tip #2: Be prepared for sunny days, especially with the harsh angles of winter and spring sun, and if you have to work, maybe a cotton blanket over your head and computer? If you have the whole row booked, this might work. Usually there is a sun guard that you can pull down to block the sun on the front windshield. Ours was broken, so no such luck. This brings me to Tip #3: Be prepared to go with whatever comes your way. Just know that whatever you expect, it’s likely going to be different and you need to be okay with it.
If getting work done is a must, there is the option to book a seat at one of the tables on the lower level. Four seats share the same table and you don’t have the same bright sun (as you aren’t on the front row) and you do have the table. Ideally, you would be with three friends or co-workers and you could book the whole table. Know that the lower level seats are on the same level as the bathroom, so it may smell worse down there at times … just an FYI that I picked up from a fellow passenger.
As a novice bus rider, I had thought it would be just like being on a plane, but I had forgotten about cell phones. People are on their phones and for the most part they are very respectful. In fact, the bus driver reminds everyone to talk in quiet voices on their phone and to keep their music low. But you are still sitting right next to someone who may be having an intense, if hushed, conversation. BO gal did this. She had a lovely accent that was so pleasant to listen to … almost musical. So when she found out that her boyfriend was cheating on her, she quietly interrogated him for five minutes before calmly saying, “Foock off and good luck to you both.” She hung up and browsed her phone without so much as an eye roll. I couldn’t help but be impressed, but I was also thinking “What am I doing?! Maybe I should have driven …” When my friend called me, I didn’t pick up. The bus is quiet and when you talk on the phone, everyone is listening.
For the trip to Atlanta, you stop for about 40 minutes (depending on traffic) in Chattanooga’s Southside neighborhood. Tip #4: Take advantage at longer stops and stretch your legs. I was desperate to use the bathroom, but I didn’t want to wait in the bus restroom line, so I walked to a local brewery, CraftWorks, used their bathroom and sat at the bar and had a quick drink before walking back. It was a gorgeous day and I needed the walk.
Back on the bus, it was only 90 minutes to Atlanta and BO gal was gone, replaced by a lady going to see her grandkids. We arrived in Atlanta and something happened that I was not expecting. The driver had us all stay on the bus and he unloaded the luggage along the wall and then he opened the doors and basically said, “Find your bags.” I wondered what would have happened if it had been raining. I don’t have that answer for you, but my guess is that they unload them where there is an overhang. But that’s just a guess.
With Uber and Lyft, it’s super easy to get anywhere in Atlanta. I used my app, a car picked me up three minutes later, and I was on my way to my hotel.
Even with a less than ideal experience on the Megabus, I was much more alert than if I had driven, as driving tires me out. I had the energy to meet up with someone for drinks and then head out to dinner with our Atlanta city editor. If I had driven, I likely would have headed straight to bed.
On the way back to Nashville the next day, we hit tons of Atlanta traffic and it was pouring rain most of the trip. I was so happy I was not driving (remember, I also had my second seat!). This time, a group of high school kids got on in Chattanooga that were headed to Chicago, and they were a livelier crowd than on the way down. (Of note: we only stopped for eight minutes in Chattanooga on the way back to Nashville.) When we arrived home, I used a car sharing service and was home 15 minutes later.
In the end, only you know if you are up for this or not. If you are picky and need to be with “your people” and this doesn’t sound like your tribe, don’t take the Megabus. No judgment here. But if you hate driving, consider it. It’s really economical. Just know that you may sit next to your own Shaq or someone who smells. If you are good with that, try it out!
Learn more about the Megabus, including routes, fares, etc., at us.megabus.com.
Oh, one other thing, Megabus has had a few accidents since debuting in the USA in 2006, but, it’s still safer than driving.