Ever wondered about taking the Amtrak or Megabus to a nearby destination? While I love jetting around the world as much as anyone, there are times when I am so grateful to have these as travel options. There are some horror stories and definite drawbacks to traveling via train and bus, but here’s why Amtrak and Megabus get my business:
- Last minute travel is definitely more affordable when you take a train or bus instead of flying. (Psst – find other ways to book a last-minute trip for less here)
- It can be nice to roll through the countryside
- You can skip the TSA hassle
- More spacious and flexible seating
- You can pop right into the city center in most cases, as opposed to an outlying airport
Ready to consider the Amtrak or Megabus? Keep reading for all the information you need to have a great trip!
Tickets and Boarding
Amtrak offers plenty of routes and times to suit any of your U.S. travel needs. Want to travel from Chicago to Austin? It’ll take you 28 hours, but you can do it. While Amtrak’s ticket prices vary greatly based on your route, how far in advance you book, and what kind of ticket you book, it is generally less expensive than flying. You can choose from Saver, Value, Flexible, or Roomette (overnight sleeper) tickets, so you’re sure to find one that fits your comfort level and budget.
Boarding Amtrak is fairly simple, too. Chicago’s Union Station is crazy busy and a little confusing, but every employee I talked to was incredibly helpful and there are plenty of departure boards to keep you informed. Arriving at least 30 minutes before your train’s scheduled departure is advised. I might have once been the girl sprinting through Union Station to catch my train – oops.
I’ve traveled in both coach and business class and recommend either. The Amtrak provides a comfortable ride, even in coach, with individual tables (like a plane) and plenty of leg room (unlike a plane). Business class offers a free beverage, extra comfy chairs, and the option of sitting in a single row (no chatty neighbors). You’ll also be seated on the lower level, near the cafe car.
WiFi and power outlets are fairly reliable, making it easy to be productive on your train trip. There are several bathrooms on the train, an observation car, and options to purchase food (real food – not just pretzels). One drawback to the train is the noise level. Depending on where you are seated, the announcements and train whistle can be extremely loud. Just don’t plan on making too many important phone calls, okay?
- Upgrade to business class for a more comfortable trip – and only a slightly higher price tag.
- Be sure to walk around and explore the train. The observation car usually provides some great countryside views!
- If you’re traveling out of an unfamiliar station, give yourself extra time to locate your train.
The real perk to choosing Amtrak over a flight for nearby destinations? Totally flexible cancellation or rescheduling policy, two free checked bags plus two carry on bags. My trips have been comfortable and relatively unhindered by delays.
Make your trip a little more fun:
Tickets and Boarding
Megabus is known for two things: ridiculously low fares and disastrous customer service. Despite some terrible trips, I still believe the Megabus is a good option for last-minute and budget-friendly travel. I have yet to score one of their $1 fares, but booking just a month or two in advance can get you a round trip deal for $20 or less!
When purchasing your ticket, you have the option of reserving a seat on the upper deck or downstairs for just a few extra dollars. You’ll have to reserve a seat downstairs to get a table, and even then they’re small. We are talking not-enough-room-for-my-Macbook small.
Many of the Megabus stops are uncovered, so prepare to be exposed to inclement weather as you wait for the bus. The best solution I’ve found is to have a friend drop me off, that way I can stay comfortably in their car until the bus arrives.
The Megabus offers a fairly easy boarding process – drop off your luggage at the back of the bus with your destination information, give the driver your reservation number, and hop aboard! If you didn’t reserve a seat, it’s every (wo)man for themselves.
The buses are equipped with a small restroom, power outlets, seatbelts, reclining seats, and free WiFi – theoretically. I’ve been on a few trips where the power outlets weren’t functioning, the WiFi was completely unavailable, or the WiFi was incredibly slow.
Megabus allows you to bring your own food on board, so it’s perfect for healthy or picky eaters. rest stops are provided on longer trips, usually to a gas station/fast food restaurant combo space.
In my experience, the lower level is dark and crowded, while the upper deck feels brighter and more spacious. It also seems like younger people tend to gravitate upstairs. The temperature on Megabus can be all over the board. One mid-summer trip it felt like the air conditioning wasn’t working at all, and another it was blasting so high I huddled under my carry-on for warmth.
While I’ve had completely uneventful Megabus trips, the company is infamous for delays and mechanical issues. It is generally a safe bet to plan for delays and go into your trip with a positive, flexible attitude. On one of my recent rides, the bus had an unidentified mechanical issue that required us to stop in middle-of-nowhere Indiana for two hours until another bus could be sent to pick us up. While it was a little frustrating, it was also kind of hilarious. Everyone got to know each other, proving that Megabus is frequented by anything-goes travelers.
- If you’re traveling with a friend, reserve seats together
- Bring a power bank and charger for your phone in case of faulty electrical outlets or an emergency
- Dress in light layers to account for unpredictable climate control systems
- Bring sunglasses if you plan to sit on the upper deck
- Leave plenty of time for possible delays
If I could pick one word to describe travel on the Megabus, it would be disorganized. That being said, it’s a cheap way to travel – and usually results in some fun stories.
Would you take the Amtrak or Megabus for a short trip? Let me know if I can answer any other questions!