how to survive a long-distance bus journey

If you're a budget traveller heading to Latin America, there is one undeniable truth which will apply to your adventure: a whole lot of your time is going to be spent on a bus. 

In our two years travelling the region -  with a convoluted and scattergun approach to route-planning - we've conservatively estimated that we spent whole month perched upon seats of varying levels of comfort surrounded by a random assortment of kids, locals, backpackers, the occasional chicken and always to the soundtrack of obnoxiously loud Latino music. 

So, we think you can call us experts when it comes to long-distance bus travel. In this post, we've shared a few of our key survival tricks we picked up along the way!


1. Pack snacks

For the first few months we survived multi-hour journeys on little more than bus vendor offerings and multiple corn-based snacks or, on rare occasions, our ticket included a small meal on-board.  Either way was pretty poor in terms of choice and would leave us feeling not terribly good the next day!

Eventually, we learnt that if the trip was going to take more than a few hours we needed a proper meal (and not just the overpriced sort available at refreshment stops). Packing something as simple as sandwiches or a pasta salad the night before alongside some fresh fruit and plenty of water (especially if you're taking a night bus) will leave you feeling significantly less bloated, satisfied and much more likely to enjoy that first day sight-seeing. 

So make sure to pack some tupperware!


2. The need for entertainment

There are only so many hours that you can nap on a bus before boredom gives into the need for entertainment. And with the dubbed or subtitles movies on certain journeys (usually either a Fast and Furious or one with Jason Stratham) not always being the best, you have to provide your own alternatives.

A good book and a couple of gadgets are essential to make the time pass quicker. We're huge fans of podcasts and audiobooks, whilst having a few episodes of your favourite series or a movie is a great time-killer. 

We're also a little addicted to the occasional online or downloadable game. A fantastic option for long distance international and inter-city buses with on-board wifi is Poki Games, giving the user free access to more than 20,000 games, including one of our favourites Shift to Drift, a great racing game. 


3. Bring a hoodie

Air con is great. It's fantastic when you're walking along a sun-drenched street, pass a store and get a blast of ice-cold air, it's bliss when you dive into an ATM for two wonderful arctic minutes, it's brilliant when you've been at the beach all day and your favourite ice-cream parlour turns the dial down low.

It's not so wonderful however when it's 3 a.m, you're wearing a pair of shorts and shivering whilst covering your knees with your t-shirt. 

Take it from us, no matter what the temperature is when you board the bus, make sure you have a hoodie and a pair of socks in your day pack - it's worth the bulk! The vast majority of overnight bus drivers in Latin America choose to have their passengers shivering throughout the night (we have no idea why!) and - with blankets only being provided on the fanciest bus lines - you simply have to bring your own warm clothes.


4. Keep track of your day pack

There are all sorts of concerns about taking buses in Latin America, a place where fatal accidents, hijackings and common theft do happen. But the good news is that in around 800 hours of bus travel, we never experienced anything more upsetting than particularly bad music. Although, a number of these issues are often little more than tremendously bad luck, there are a couple of things that you can do to reduce the likelihood of suffering from petty crime - the most important being keeping a track of your day pack.

Unless you are absolutely certain that your bag cannot be accessed by those in front or behind you, do not put in on the floor. In certain countries (especially Ecuador), it is not uncommon to have your pack sliced open from behind, and your valuables taken. The same goes for the overhead space.

If there's any doubt, keep your bag on your lap.


5. Take ear plugs

We know, you're probably thinking that this is not an essential item. However, spend the night next to an obese Mexican man with no problem dozing off on public transport and you will reassess that assumption. Same goes for a sleeping mask as it's not uncommon for drivers to leave all the lights on - making it nearly impossible to catch even forty winks. 

This post was produced in collaboration with Poki Games