Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fearless Flying: Let's Hit The Road!

Last week, I talked about airline tips for the plus size traveler. This week, in the third and final installment of my plus size travel tips series, I will discuss traveling via bus and train.

Me on Amtrak to Pittsburgh
I actually love traveling on the bus and train. I once flew into London and then took the train to Paris and then Amsterdam.  I regularly take the bus to Boston and Washington, DC. The experience on a bus and train is different from a plane. While a plane offers you a faster trip and nice views of the sky and overview of cities, a ride on a bus or train offers you a scenic ride, where you can enjoy seeing the countryside from your window.  And a long bus or train ride is definitely a great way to clear your mind and relax.

First tip: Compare your options. I always compare times, locations and fares between buses and trains.  Believe it or not, sometimes the bus ride is shorter than the train ride (and cheaper)!  I know that sounds weird but it depends on the number of stops each method of transportation makes. In my experience, trains make more stops. Also, keep in mind how many transfers, if any, you will have to make.  If you require more time and assistance to get on and off a bus or a train, please allot yourself enough time and know ahead where your next connection will be (the gate number or track number). The convenience of the trip and your comfort are two important things.  Especially when thinking about seating, bathrooms and etc (which I will go into later).

Greyhound seating
Second tip: Know ahead of time where you want to sit. As I talked about last week, planning and knowing your seating is a science, especially for plus size travelers who want to be comfortable and not end up feeling like a sardine. On a bus, I find everyone likes to sit up front. The upside to this is that you won’t have to walk down the narrow aisle when exiting the bus, which is always a tight fit. The downside is that you will probably have someone sitting next to you since the front is popular.

I usually go for the back and just deal with the aisle walk when exiting. Being comfortable for the length of the trip is more important to me and it is more likely I won’t have someone sitting next to me in the back. The prime seat is the last row next to the bathroom. That row has three seats and you can really stretch out, if the bus is empty. Warning, though, if it’s a long ride, the smell from the bathroom can definitely make the ride a little smelly. If you are daring like me, just bring some Febreze spray, stretch out in the last row and make it work.

NEVER sit in the front rows across from the driver or behind him. The legroom is not great and usually the driver stores their bag there. Not a comfortable spot to sit at all unless you’re a size 4 or a small child.

With buses, the key is to get there early. People usually start lining up at the gate an hour before and that is how the bus boards. So the closer to the front of the line you are, the greater the chance you will have in choosing your ideal seat. If you can’t stand for a long period of time waiting on line, there are options. Some buses like Peter Pan and Greyhound offer either reserved seating or priority boarding. On Greyhound, priority boarding is an extra $5. Not bad for an extra fee and you can skip the line and board the bus first.  If you are traveling on a popular route, I would definitely advise you pay the extra money so you can have your seat pick.

Amtrak coach seats...wonderful!
With trains, my only tip is get there early so you can get a window seat or seat of your preference, unless you have purchased a premium assigned seat. I have found that Amtrak trains have wonderfully wide seats. The tray table comes down with no problem and someone is able to sit next to me comfortably.  It’s just a matter of choice on which direction you want to face, when sitting on the train and looking out the window.

Third tip: Choose your days and times wisely.   Just as you should avoid a full flight like the plague, the same applies to buses. With trains, not so much since the seats are more comfortable. But you still want the ease of travel and when a plane, bus or train is full, there will be some sort of delay or just pure chaos. Plus, with buses, you want to be careful on the days and times you travel to avoid getting stuck in traffic.

You should avoid traveling during rush hour, especially into a major city in the morning from 6am – 9am and out of a major city from 3pm – 7pm. Fridays, Saturday mornings and Sundays tend to be the busiest times as well. Also, during summer vacations and seasonal breaks, you will see more children and college kids traveling. I always look up Spring Break dates and that’s my own blackout time period where I don’t fly or travel at all. Plus, the fares are usually higher during these times as well.

Other great little travel tips:
  • Always make sure you use the bathroom before boarding. On trains, the bathrooms tend to be a nice size but on buses, they vary. For instance, on Greyhound, the bathroom is really small whereas on Megabus, the bathroom is huge.  I would suggest that before your trip, look at the stops along the way online and plan a bathroom break for yourself during stops. That way, when you get on the bus and check out the bathroom, if you think you won’t fit, you know you have a back-up option.
  • If you require more legroom, look for the seats in the emergency exit aisles.
  • Just as I suggested while on the plane, if you need a tray table on the bus or train, just use your backpack, purse or laptop bag across your lap.

And these two last tips are not plus size related but I feel are so important.
  • Always take a sweater and a small pillow with you when traveling on long trips. The air-conditioning can be ridiculous sometimes on buses and trains so a sweater will help you not freeze to death. A pillow can work wonders on comfort and help you not get neck pain while traveling.
  • Carry baby wipes and anti-bacterial gel with you. Some of the worst germ-infested spots on a plane, bus or train are the arm handles, the little light and fans above you and the handles on the bathroom door. You have a greater chance of getting sick in a confined place so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

I hope you enjoyed my travel tips and that it inspires you to go out and see the world. If you ever have any questions about traveling, just email me at and I would be more than happy to answer them.

Travel safe! And have fun!

Train station in Amsterdam

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