5 Tips for Safer, More Comfortable Bus Travel in Any Country


For budget travelers and true thrill-seekers everywhere, bus travel is essential. Though bus travel comes with risks and has gotten a bad rap in some areas, riding the bus shouldn’t be something you worry about.

These easy precautions will make your journey more enjoyable in any country. Ready to book a bus trip? Read on for tips on how to make riding the bus more comfortable

Pay more, not less.

When it comes to bus journeys, you DO get what you pay for. If you’re in a bus terminal and have the option of a “local” or “VIP” experience, go with the VIP.

Sometimes this is the difference between the driver having a GPS or not. Other times, it’s having a bus with doors, windows, or even seats. Always confirm with the ticketing agent there will be climate control or air-conditioning. 

Bus travel and travelers in the Middle East and Asia have reported cases of heat exhaustion just from sitting on the bus all day. You will never regret paying the two extra dollars for a trip with fewer breakdowns or unscheduled stops in questionable places.

Employ the three-bag method

This is especially important if the bus company insists on storing some of your luggage under or on top of the bus. When packing, put your documents, wallet, and cellphone in a cross-body or bum bag that you keep on your person at all times.

Warm clothes, water, any necessary medications, electronic devices, and anything you will need to keep you occupied on the journey can be packed in a day bag.

Keep this in your lap or at your feet with your ankle looped through a strap. Clothes and non-valuable gear can go under the bus in your bigger bag.

Don’t put anything you absolutely cannot live without in luggage that will be stored away from you! Things fall out of luggage compartments, people accidentally grab the wrong bags, and objects get knocked around during the journey.

Once, my trusty Osprey spent an entire nine-hour journey from Cusco partially underneath a 400-pound hog. It was really never the same after that.

Bring warm clothes, regardless of climate.

Why exactly buses blast the air-conditioning is one of life’s many mysteries. Are there only two settings, freezing and sweltering? Is it to keep the windows from fogging?

Did they run out of actual buses and put me on a refrigerated shipping container? Pack layers, and sit towards the back if you can. Heat generated inside the engine can often be felt back there and will keep your toes toasty if you can snag the sweet spot.

Tell at least three people where you’re going.

This is especially important if you are getting off at a stop that isn’t the bus’s final destination. Many long-distance buses have attendants who take tickets, hand out water, and make sure it’s impossible to sleep over the death gurgles emitted from the in-flight kung-fu movie.

Confirm with this person AND the driver, if you can, that you are on the right bus, even if you are pretty sure. Seek out fellow riders getting off at the same spot and strike up a conversation (or a game of charades) with the people next to you as well to communicate where you’re going.

People remember foreigners, especially if you introduce yourself. They won’t neglect to let you know when you’ve arrived at your port-of-call if you’ve dozed off or are just unfamiliar with your route.

Remember where you are

You are not at home, and chances are, things are done a little differently here.

One time, when I was in Laos, the driver stopped at a supermarket to do his weekly grocery shopping after about an hour on the road.

Another time, the driver pulled over, ran into a house, and didn’t return until the elderly lady sitting next to me got up and started honking the horn: a full 20 minutes later.

Operations might not run as smoothly or efficiently as you are accustomed to in your home country. Delays happen, often with no explanation. People puke. Sometimes, a hog poops on your backpack. Remember, you opted for the more adventurous route.

Have you traveled by bus in another country? What was your experience like?


About Author

Karli is a thrill-seeking, outdoor-loving slow-traveler from Olympia, Washington. She attended the Evergreen State College where she studied the history of Latin America and responsible tourism. She now wanders the planet aimlessly in pursuit of new cats to befriend and the world's best happy hour. You can see what she's up to at littlelosttraveler.wordpress.com.


  1. This advice is spot-on! Especially the first, second, and third points. A bus ticket that costs twice as much might still only be $4, but the ride will be… twice as nice. In China I’ve regularly had my under-bus bag clearly rifled through, but nobody wanted my dirty laundry. I have plenty of natural insulation but buses in developing countries are the only places I’ve ever actually been cold. You wonder why they sell polarfleece and down in the tropics, and then you take an air-conditioned bus and then you know.

    Question for the author, though: what’s the best way you use to find out the different bus options (VIP vs. local?) Any tips there?

    • I would say if you really can’t eyeball it, always ask the locals. When in doubt about ANYTHING (or when I’m hopelessly lost) I always walk into the nearest hotel/hostel. It’s your best bet for transport and travel information in English. And free maps!

  2. I would recommend bringing a bag of food for the long hauls. I recently took a VIP bus from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu which was said to serve food. They did but it was no where near enough for a small child on a 14 hour trip, let alone a hungry man. I also took an 18 hour bus from Foz de Iguaçu to Florianopolis and was not served any food.
    2 last tips: Try to sit towards the front as the back can be bouncy on old buses and if possible, sit on the ground floor if it’s a double decker. There is less sway doing this.

    • Thanks for sharing! Snacks were key, I thought they were a giving because I am such a snacker, but I’ll sneak it in there next time!

  3. Well written and informative! I can tell the author has spent a lot of time navigating bus routes through trial and error. As someone who is fairly new to traveling, my future backpacking trip through South America just got a lot easier…and more comfortable it sound like. I just want to know where the hog free baggage area is, but I have a feeling I’ll find out one way or another haha.

  4. “Remember Where You Are” is the most helpful for me. Having traveled to different country’s is good to keep in mind that people do things differently, you can’t expect it to be the same!

  5. Lucky enough to find this while booking onward bus tickets from an Internet cafe in Santiago. We had to learn the “three bag method” the hard way on our trip over from Mendoza. My boyfriend and I had nearly had two bags with our personal s**t stolen from under the bus; we didn’t realize how easy it would be for someone to try to steal at the border under the border guards noses! Definitely keeping this in mind for our next trip.

  6. It was interesting to figure out that when it comes to bus journeys, you DO get what you pay for! We are planning a bus trip to South America this summer for as my son’s graduation present. I will be sure to pay more attention to the pricings!

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