On our travels to visit different universities across America, we used the Greyhound lines twice. Even though we were sceptical because we had heard various stories, we hoped that these were just overly dramatic stories. And from our experience, it was not too bad. It was very much like your school coach trip to an amusement park, just a couple hours longer.
Our two journeys
Baltimore, Maryland to State College, Pennsylvania
State College, Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The two trips were vastly different. The first one involved us turning up at a busy bus terminal and following all sorts of procedures (I'll get to that). Yet, the second one had us turning up at a closed building with no one else around. So, the first expectation we wish to give you…
1) Your Greyhound experiences might be completely different.
Most advice about Greyhounds tells you to turn up with some extra time for checking in and getting in your boarding line. What we found was that this advice is actually only relevant if you are going to a Greyhound terminal.
When we got to State College bus station, we found that everything was closed. You can't even buy tickets at this location. This is because it is merely a Bus Stop. In comparison, Downtown Baltimore Bus Station was more like a terminal.
At Baltimore, we were required to check-in, weigh our bags, and wait to be called for our bus.
2) Boarding the bus is a free-for-all
Whether or not you have to line up to board your bus, getting seats is a free-for-all. If you want to sit with your family, make sure to line up the moment they call for your bus if you are at a terminal. This will hopefully allow you to get the first pick of your seats.
Do remember that some of these buses will have come from other places. This means that people may already be on the bus and have seats, even if you were the first person in line. After having your ticket checked and your luggage is put in the storage underneath the coach, you can board the bus and choose your seat.
3) Only keep essential items in your carry-on
Your carry on might be small enough to put by your feet, but for most of us, we have to store it in the overhead bins. Anyone can access these so make sure you know exactly where yours is and what it looks like.
For my carry on, I took a pink backpack. As it was daytime when we left for State College, I left it in the overhead bin for most the journey. However, on our way to Pittsburgh, I wanted to sleep. For precaution, I padlocked the zips together and wore it around my front.
4) You might have to change buses
On our way from Baltimore to State College, we had to change buses at Harrisburg. This was made clear to us on our tickets, but the process was still quite ambiguous. Although we were given a number which matched a bus at the stop, it wasn't a Greyhound Bus, so we didn't think it was ours. We double-checked with the driver as we were unsure but knew we were pressed for time and found that it was actually the correct one.
Just because you book a Greyhound bus, it doesn't mean that your bus will be branded Greyhound.
5) Greyhound buses attract all types of people
Some people on the buses are determined to have a quiet and peaceful journey to their destination. Others will strike up a conversation and offer you food. What type of traveller you are is entirely up to you... Just be prepared for several hours of discussion if you wish to chat (I didn't actually get much sleep on the second journey because of this).
We found that we preferred being closer to the front of the bus as the bus driver does not put up with unsociable behaviour. Whereas, at the back of the bus, people were playing music and sharing food around (much like those school trips I mentioned previously!).
6) Small breaks
When you are going on longer journeys, expect the driver to give you small breaks to allow you to go for a quick walk and stretch your legs. I do not recommend you going far though as the bus driver will leave without you if you are not back on the bus by a given time.
We never stopped for too long, but on extra-long journeys, the bus drivers apparently give you a long enough break to grab some food. They are known to be very specific about times, so make sure you know when the driver plans on leaving again.
7) Rules on buses
Typically, the buses will all have specific rules that you should follow. Most typically: no standing, no eating, no public music, no smoking, etc. But how strictly enforced these rules are will definitely depend on your bus driver. As I previously mentioned, on one of our journeys, people were playing music and sharing food. We even ate a Subway sandwich when we were travelling (but we were near the back at this point). If you're planning on taking food, we suggest snack-like food that you can just put back in your bag if necessary. It seems that the rules on each bus could be different, but they are more enforced when they cause a disturbance to others.
You can, of course, stand up when you need the toilet. Whether you actually want to use the toilet is a different matter. I had to go at one point, so I went during one of the stops so that the bus wasn't moving. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't great.
8) Is there Wi-Fi on the Greyhound buses?
Yes. The buses come with free Wi-Fi and an onboard entertainment system, but we found that it took some time to connect. The free package includes 100MB of data, which they equate to surfing the web for 3.5 hours. They also offer two paid packages, gold and platinum, which offer 150MB for $3.99 and 300MB for $6.99, respectively. Unfortunately, this will not be enough to stream Netflix or Hulu.
I don't recommend relying on the Wi-Fi being easy to connect to as mum couldn't connect her phone at all. Although I could access it, I get car sick regularly, so I did not put it to much use. I recommend downloading films or TV shows on Netflix beforehand if you need entertainment.