Sanity, Safety and Serial Killers: Bus Rides in America

Bus rides in America - Long term travel

Bus Rides in America & Why A Cheap Bus Service Is A Bad Idea

Bus vs. Train? Personally, it’s hands down the train, no contest. Bus rides can be fun, don’t get me wrong, but nothing compares to a comfortable train with one of those serving carts that bring you food and coffee. Busses are uncomfortable, take longer to get places and occasionally terrifying (read on my friend). Unfortunately, they are also usually cheaper than trains, hence the predicament I found myself in below, where my frugality had gone to war with my common sense and won. A cheap bus service is occasionally going to win out against my better judgement because occasionally I’m also tighter than a camels arse in a sandstorm. In fact, one of my most recent bus rides was frankly terrifying…

It is 2:00 am, almost nothing good happens at 2:00 am. The guy sitting next to me reminds me of Charles Manson. He smells like tobacco, body odour and criminal insanity. Maybe it’s something to do with the animated discussion he was having with himself in the line; maybe it’s just that he genuinely looks like he sleeps under a bridge and drives a shopping cart for a living or perhaps maybe it’s the fact that he has a swastika tattooed on his neck.

Whatever it was, from now on I’m going to refer to him as ’Just Released’ and right now he’s sitting uncomfortably close to my right side.

Chopper Reid -Bus Rides - Cheapest Bus Rides
A slightly less scary looking version of ‘Just Released’

As I’m typing away ‘Just Released’ leans his unshaven face over towards my ear and quietly in a voice that sounds like a body being dragged over dry leaves, whispers: “Have you ever made love to man?” Shocked I shake my head in disbelief as he adds: “Do you want to?” Thankfully this worst case scenario I was playing out in my mind fades as we hit a bump in the road and I get a fresh whiff of his body odour.

Luckily I was not sexually assaulted by Ted Bundy on one of the Greyhound bus rides into Portland.

As some people may have guessed I have chosen to ride Greyhound’s rather scary but also cheap bus service. This particular ride was an enlightening 17-hour journey that started at 4:00 pm yesterday (at the time of writing) in San Francisco and will end early tomorrow (this morning) in Portland.

The worst part is I actually got off lightly sitting next to a Nazi version of Chopper. The rest of the Greyhound clientele look more like the kind of villains you get in superhero movies.

The Joys Of Bus Rides

On this particular bus ride, my poor girlfriend is sitting next to a woman who is honestly so fat she should come with a health warning. I was going to try and take a picture but I’d need a wide angle lens, and the sound of the shutter would draw her attention and might make me a target for her next meal.

Why might you ask, do long distance bus rides in America attract such ‘interesting’ clientele? A question I have been asking myself ever since I decided to forgo the pleasures of flying to spend time with California’s criminally insane. I have no idea, bus rides over here are actually not that much cheaper than the train. I expected a cheap bus service like Greyhound to be, I dunno more like they are in EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD. I’m jumping ahead here but interestingly enough, taking another bus ride into Canada from Seattle the clientele were polite and I never felt unsafe or at risk of being consumed by another human being.

As we thunder towards Oregon ‘Just Released’ starts snoring loudly. I’m torn, do I elbow him to wake him up and risk leaving the bus with a far better idea of the techniques involved in ‘Shanking’ someone or do I just ignore it?

Greyhound Bus - Bus rides
Greyhound.. it gets you there, possibly in pieces! 

I decide to keep my mouth shut and read a book.

An interesting choice on a Greyhound bus ride, given that reading, would have been more at home in Nazi Germany than among these fine fellows. I put the book down in frustration and glared at the now very loudly snoring ‘Just Released’ and contemplate all possible meanings of the word ‘strangle’ wanting to kill someone so badly hasn’t happened since I was throwing elbows on 5th Ave in New York.

Meanwhile on the other side of the bus: A thick shake, 3 packets of chips and a double cheeseburger have fallen into the fat ladies gravitational pull.

Bus Rides in the US: I’m a Survivor!

Hours later we arrive in Oregon, in one piece and with a better understanding of what prison time would be like. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger I guess and these kinds of bus rides are no exception. I have had some memorable bus rides throughout Asia in my time, including sharing my seat with a chicken but this one has to be up there!

Moral of the travel story: There are many different ways to get around and see America. Bus, car, train and plane, each has its own unique pros and cons. Sometimes when you travel, it shouldn’t always come down to cost: sanity, safety and serial killers should probably factor in there somewhere too.

Lesson learned for next time, and the wheels on the bus go round and round…

About Author


Hi, I'm Pete, an ex-cubical slave and corporate love monkey currently writing my way around the world. My background is in branding, digital marketing, media and I'm probably about a level 10 at moustaches.


  1. I hate Greyhound coaches too! I have memories of some not so pleasant long distance journeys on those bad boys. The smell of ‘Cheese Puffs’ still haunts me to this day.

  2. Ivan

    Mate – you’re too funny in all your articles. I’m glad I found this blog as I’m planning to travel long term from August. Keep sharing your stories!

    1. Pam

      I took 4 trips by Grayhound in 2014. I had 2 seats to myself every time and kept my phone charged. The worst experience was trying to use the bathroom while the driver hit the brakes! Altogether I did about 1200 miles for about $150 by reserving my tickets online. The bus stations were clean and secure and quite well-managed. Unfortunately I’ve read not so nice reviews since then. I believe management has decided good service and complaints not very important anymore.

  3. Jackie

    Man, I’ve had some wild greyhound trips across the country. Bus stations seriously attract the most ‘interesting’ characters, I’d say. I saw my share of serial killer look-alikes and just flat out scary people when I took a bus from Boston to Brownsville, TX. One of my worst memories was of the guy next to me that hacked open a can of tuna and proceeded to eat it with his hands – the smell and sight almost sent me to the bathroom.

    1. That sounds disgusting, your bus experiences are all too familiar! The funny thing is, if you take a Greyhound in Canada the people are all normal. No idea what the difference is haha

  4. Jaz

    Love this! I spent a couple of months traversing the USA via the Greyhound. Many of the bus trips, the stations, the outskirts locations and the people encountered on my journeys have been far more memorable than the destinations. I’ve missed connections, lost luggage, even had five nights in a row on overnight buses. On the sixth morning I remember waking up as the sun was rising, and seeing cactus silhouettes all along the horizon. Five nights of discomfort and that moment took my breath away. I’ve since travelled the states via plane and self-drive. But nothing has been as gritty, grungy and eye opening as the Greyhound experience.

    1. Wow 5 days is an Epic bus effort!! Thanks for the share 🙂

  5. Dennis

    My wife and I are planning to take the Greyhound from New York to Phoenix. It’s just about $20 fare difference from taking a flight via Southwest but we like to try a different experience and see the sights across America. Travel time is about 2 days and a few hours.

    But after reading this post, I’m quite hesitant in taking the Greyhound.

    1. Well too be honest, maybe it was just the buses we took while there, I guess it’s totally possible we just had a bad run. Maybe take a short ride to test it out? Funnily enough I found the Greyhounds in Canada almost 100% different, far, far ,far better/more friendly and way less dodgy. Could have just been my experiences but honestly given the choice I won’t be taking them in the US again unless I can help it. That’s a long bus ride btw, i’d recommend going trains if you can instead.

  6. Judi

    Back in 2000 I travelled a long way around the US in buses on my own. I had some memorable experiences, like a driver getting my next bus held for me because we were running late coming into Chicago, a bus with no aircon going from Colorado to Nebraska, watching armed police chasing a suspect through the bus station in Memphis, accidentally sitting in the middle of a homeless church service in Rochester New York, to name a few. I also noticed that the practices at each bus station were different. Some took your bags, tagged them and you didn’t see them again until you got off, right through to you got the tag, you kept your bag with you, you gave it to the guy to load & then you got on the bus. Worst experience would have been arguing with the woman behind the counter in Raleigh North Carolina, who wasn’t going to let me on the bus, because the first person in Colorado hadn’t dated my 30 day ticket. I had to produce my passport for the driver to tell this woman that I hadn’t been using my ticket for more than 30 days, because I hadn’t been in the US for more than 30 days!

    All in all, an interesting experience though.

  7. Leslie Gurule

    Hey, did you see a few days ago, on twitter, regarding Amtrak, the little snippet about Amtrak security dog teams playing a critical role, assisting in assisting US rail users, get to their destination safe and sound. These dogs and their highly trained human handlers, deserve genuine thanks and support. So, if you have tracked down yourself, a cheap train ticket, best to you, but your AMTRAK train travel experience is, every trip, a serious “top dollar” professional effort, from the experts, including some four legged members, behind the scenes, sniffing away, always on the “smellout” for issues!

  8. Marilyn Shelton

    The Wifi broke on my 24 hour trip and the driver had a policy about no one turning on their overhead lamps. So you couldn’t even read if you wanted to. It was extremely boring sitting there for about 12 hours straight with nothing to do but twiddle your thumbs. Also Greyhounds are equipped with portable toilets and they always stink. You will smell like a campground when you finally get off. As mentioned, the terminals are always in shady, drug filled areas. I swear that a scary woman in the bathroom in the Vegas station was giving birth in there for all her screams and a meth-head went around mumbling to herself and sobbing in the terminal. TIP: Don’t step off the curb of a Greyhound station after 9 p.m. at night. That’s when the creeps come out! Stick with the driver and stay on the bus or in the terminal. Don’t step outside. I almost got my purse stolen and assaulted but I drew my elbow back in a gesture of learned self defense.

    1. haha Marilyn that sounds like it was just loads of fun… Good story though! Thanks for the comment 🙂

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