Bus travel is a mode of transport; within the public transport network or with chartered buses.
All inhabited continents have some sort of bus travel and unless government regulations or geography prohibit it, you can find some – at least nominal – bus service almost anywhere you go. While comfort and prices range wildly, from the (in)famous chicken buses, the engines of which may or may not survive the next steep ascent, to luxury buses in countries such as Saudi Arabia, buses are usually the cheapest option at least on short distances.
Although buses are not at all glamorous and sometimes associated with the poor, a long bumpy bus ride is often the ideal way to meet locals and strike up conversations with "real" people (don't forget to bring a phrasebook).
Contrary to rail, which is usually organized at the national level, it is often easy for anyone to start a bus company. Where regulation is absent or moderate, there will thus be many independent firms, not always coordinating very well. You often have to check the connections locally. There may also be a few dominating companies. National monopolies or cartels are rare, but in some countries government regulation sets (usually rather low) prices and/or pays subsidies, thus establishing a quite stable market. Still competition often varies from route to route. You will not have much trouble finding a company that goes from Washington DC to New York City, but a trip from Herzogenaurach to Regensburg may only be offered by a single company or none at all as a direct route. Where there is a need for public transport, but no economically viable market, there may be heavily subsidized taxis or minibuses for the target audience, still taking outsiders as passengers as well – to find these you may have to get local advice even in places where most timetables are on the net.
Something being announced as a bus route does not necessarily mean you will ride a bus. In some regions you may end up in a lorry and where passenger volumes are small you might have to board what looks like a taxi. Also, bus stops are not always well marked or marked at all.
Depending on the line, tickets may have to be bought in advance, paid to the driver or paid to a separate conductor. On some lines it is possible to reserve seats. Bus operators have different attitudes towards standing passengers. While it is par for the course on chicken buses, laws and regulations in other places may require not only sitting down but buckling up. In some countries a few buses at the lower end of the price scale may transport standing passengers even over long distances, but the "first class" buses on major routes may not even fill all seats or seat less than the standard two abreast.
For long bus rides you may want to have a bottle of water, something to eat (eating not allowed in all buses, though), something to read and perhaps something to lean your head against if getting tired. A map and guidebook, with which to keep track of what you see, is also good to have. On some lines there are newspapers, coffee and snacks available. If you are prone to get seasick, avoid seats in the rear end, try to get a seat with a good view and have a plastic bag handy. If you are travelling with children, having food, entertainment, paper towels etc. may be crucial. Unless there is a functional toilet, you should use the breaks (but do not miss the bus). If you don't get off at the very last stop, it is usually a good idea to try and tell other people on the bus where you have to get off. In many instances, stops are "on demand" only or in non-obvious places and you may only recognize the landmarks of the city you want to go to when the bus is already pulling out of the station.
Capacity for luggage varies. On some buses you will want or have to have your bags in your knee, in some there is an overhead rack for smaller bags, in some there is a luggage compartment below the passenger compartment, in some the luggage is fastened on the roof. You may want to have your most important belongings in bags small enough to keep with you even in a crowded bus.
Almost all buses are designed for top speeds no higher than 100 km/h, some don't even reach 80 km/h. In some countries, e.g. Germany, this is enshrined in laws and thus technical developments in favor of higher speeds are unlikely. This means in practice that almost everywhere where railways are up to a 21st century standard the train will be faster ceteris paribus. In low income countries some buses are even slower and the ubiquitous former US school buses sometimes have trouble reaching the speed of a jogger over inclines. Still, bus drivers - especially those of "minibuses" - are notorious for trying to get the last out of the technology available, even if that might seem "suicidal" to outsiders. Be assured that especially when there has been a delay and time has to be made up, the driver will do anything in their power to get the lost time back. Another factor often limiting travel speed is the state of the roads. Sure, the Caribbean Coast is only a few hundred kilometers from Managua, but the roads are often nothing more than a small stretch of dirt that has been (mostly) cleared of trees and undergrowth and even at the maximum the bus will do on such routes you can easily spend a day or more on the road. If you take a ride such as these, you will surely have to tell a tale, but you might want to reconsider taking a bush plane on the way back, especially if the bus does not in fact make it and you have to be picked up by the next one.
Eat and Drink
While some low income countries have perfected "at your seat service" to an art form, with vendors for everything portable up to and including the newest "miracle cure" for some ailment you didn't know existed, buses in other regions may offer a limited selection only or nothing at all. Bringing your own is always a good idea, especially on long routes. This is also true if the bus makes scheduled "lunch breaks", as those are often at overpriced venues exploiting a captive market. Don't get yourself into a situation where you have to buy a greasy sandwich that has seen better days for twenty bucks or go hungry for the next eight hours. Choose food that does not risk to cause cleaning work, and do not make a big number of your meal if you think eating may be disallowed – often a driver chooses not to enforce such rules as long as your meal is no problem.
In some regions one is always supposed to share ones food or snacks with those nearby, at least among the ones sharing a bench. Offering is hardly rude, while not doing it or eating too much of what others brought may be.
Bus travel by region
We currently have guides on bus travel in some countries were this phenomenon is either widespread or rather new. If you know about a country we should cover but do not, please plunge forward and create the article. For many countries the issue is more briefly handled in the "Get around" sections.
- Bus travel in former Yugoslavia – often the only feasible way to get around without a car
- Intercity bus travel in the USA – not the fastest or most glamorous but sometimes the cheapest, sometimes the only way to get around the United States without a car
- Bus Travel in Mexico – backbone of passenger transport without a car
- Chicken bus – the backbone of public transport in e.g. Central America
- Bus travel in Israel – the most important mode of transport in the country
- Intercity buses in Germany – virtually illegal prior to 2010, this market is rather new and volatile
- Bus travel in Japan – yes, Japan is famous for the Shinkansen (and rightly so), but if you are travelling on the cheap or want to go to places where no train goes, the bus is your mode of choice
- Rail and bus travel in Sweden – dealing with rail travel as well
- Marshrutka – common in Russia and Ukraine
City buses are a high-risk area for pickpockets, who can take advantage of packed crowds, noise, and travellers' confusion. Long distance buses tend to be safer in this regard, as they are usually less packed and less people wander on and off the bus in a short time, but still keep your wits about and an eye on your luggage.