Traveling By Bus Or Motor Coach

When to leave the driving to someone else

If you are in a hurry to get across the country, take a plane. You won't see a lot at 30,000 feet, but you'll get where you want to go in hours instead of days. But if you are looking for a vacation that lets you experience the landscape, cities and memorable stops along the way, a luxury motor coach may be the best way to go.

Two different types of bus trips

There are basically two different reasons to travel by bus or motor coach: Destination Trips designed to get you from Point A to Point B, and Vacation Trips where the trip IS the vacation, an opportunity to enjoy the sights while touring in a luxury motor coach.

In the United States most buses are intended primarily to move people from one location to another. The most recognizable company is Greyhound (greyhound.com), serving nearly 25 million passengers each year, with 13,000 daily departures. Amtrak (Amtrak.com) is known more for its train service, but it also offers several bus routes, especially along the west coast. Its buses often serve as connectors between different Amtrak train stations. Megabus (megabus.com) and Boltbus (boltbus.com) are smaller bus companies that serve the Midwest and New England states.

As with any mode of travel there are advantages and disadvantages to traveling by bus or motor coach. Before booking your trip consider these pros and cons:

Advantages for all bus travel

· Relatively hassle free, with No driving, No rental cars, No reading maps or getting lost, No buying gas, No parking

· Bus fares are often more affordable than traveling by plane or train. While advance booking can offer discounts, buying last-minute bus tickets usually will not result in late-booking penalties.

· Bus routes often serve towns without airports or train stations so you have more flexibility in getting to your final destination.

Additional advantages when traveling by luxury motor coach

· Your English-speaking tour guide will be knowledgeable about the things you will be seeing, can trouble shoot, solve problems and keep the group on schedule

· Sleep when you want in comfortable recliner seats… or read a book or watch in-trip entertainment

· An up-close, panoramic view of the landscape and local stops, offers a more intimate, first-hand traveling experience than other modes of travel.

· It can be preferable option for singles who benefit from having other traveling companions and a tour guide

· Families and large groups vacationing together may find a motor coach tour to be more affordable and much easier than planning and executing a group trip on your own.

· You can choose from a growing variety of specialized trips in the US and abroad that you could never plan for yourself

Disadvantages to bus and motor coach travel

· Spending hours on a bus, no matter how luxurious, can be claustrophobic, with very little room to move around.

· Typically there are no seat assignments, so you can wind up in a poor location or can be stuck sitting next to an annoying traveler with whom you have nothing in common, or even near a loud snorer or crying baby for hours on end.

· On regular bus trips, if you have to change to a different bus you will probably have to carry your own bag from one bus to the next. On luxury coaches this will be handled for you.

· Buses and motor coaches are subject to the perils of road travel. High traffic volume, road construction delays and bad weather can drastically alter your schedule and even your itinerary.

· You are at the mercy of the tour operator as to when to stop, how long to spend at each site and where to eat.

· Bus stations are often located in older, more run down, sections of cities. Be sure to keep your belongings with you and stay with the group.

The quality of the travel experience can vary greatly depending on what country you are in. It is not unusual to be crammed into an old, hot, dirty van or school bus for a trip that seems interminable. Even on sophisticated islands and ports of call you can be subject to outrageous delays. While staying on Nassau's CableBeach, one group of travelers reported they decided to hop on a local public bus to downtown Nassau. What should have been a quick trip to town become forever known as the "Jitney From Hell." The jitney driver made numerous unscheduled stops to get gas, buy personal groceries and to take time out to wage a huge argument with his girlfriend, all while his passengers sweltered in the Caribbean heat.

Mishaps with public transportation are occasionally inevitable, but when planning a motor coach tour you have more options. If you do your research, and book through a motor coach travel specialist, you can ensure you will be touring on a top-of-the-line coach with large windows, reclining seats and in-trip entertainment.

What to ask before you book your trip

As with any vacation, careful planning will pay off in a much more rewarding trip. In doing your research be sure to ask:

· What is the age makeup of the group likely to be, and are children allowed?

· How long will you be on the bus each day? How long are the scheduled stops? Pay special attention to the time you will be able to spend at your favorite destinations. "Seeing" a historic landmark can mean visiting for a few hours, or merely driving by it…

· What, if any, "free-times" are scheduled where you can explore on your own?

· Is it a policy to change seats each day? Many tour operators do this to ensure everyone has the opportunity for preferred window seating and to meet other members of the tour group.

· What are the amenities on board the coach? Which hotels and restaurants you will be visiting? This information will help you research on-line reviews to determine the overall quality of the trip.

· What are the accommodations for disabled travelers?

Pricing

For regular bus trips, such as those operated by Greyhound, fares are often based on miles traveled. Midweek fares are typically less expensive. You may receive a discount for booking early, but late-booking is not usually penalized. Some carriers offer a 5% or 10% senior discount. In booking a motor coach tour make sure to get a complete break down of all charges, including any surcharges or additional fees for side trips. Also check out your AARP, AAA and other club memberships for discounts.

Traveling with a disability

If you have a disability be sure to get a clear understanding about policies regarding wheelchairs and walkers and whether your motor coach will have wheelchair lifts at every location. Greyhound's policy is to provide assistance to disabled passengers with 48-hours' advance notice. This can vary greatly by tour operator and the country in which you are traveling. Also, some sights, such as Italy's cobblestone streets, or temples and landmarks that are reached solely by climbing steps, may not be assessable to disabled travelers

Pay attention to the details

It really pays to read the fine print. You should be fully informed about the tour operator's overbooking and cancellation policies. All details should be given to you in writing. It may also be wise to purchase your trip with a credit card. If you want to dispute the charges at a later date your credit card company may be able to help get your money back. Paying in cash or check makes getting a refund much more difficult. Also, when purchasing any expensive tour package you may want to consider getting travel insurance.

Check on-line reviews before you book your tour

A number of websites offer expert and consumer reviews of specific tours and tour operators. Here are 6 you may want to check out:

TripAdvisor.com

Epinions.com

Helium.com

Fodors.com

Affordabletours.com

Myworldreviews.com

There are many sites that can help you find the lowest airfares to your departing destination or will offer reviews of the hotels and restaurants your tour operator has planned for the trip. These include: Travelocity.com, expedia.com, farecompare.com, airfarewatchdog.com, travelzoo.com, bing.com/travel, yapta.com, kayak.com, Orbitz.com, Hotwire.com.

Luxury operators to consider

There are hundreds of tour operators that offer motor coach touring. Some of the more notable are:

Global Coach Tours (globalcoachtours.com) This is an aggregator of luxury motor coach operators throughout the US and with many world wide destinations. Check out their "Top 10 no-flying Europe tours" to get an idea of their scope.

Trafalgar Tours (trafalgartours.com) One of the biggest tour operator with options throughout the world, including the United Kingdom, Netherlands, France, China, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Italy, Turkey, and the US.

Insight Vacations (insightvacations.com), Another operator with a large number of options including France, Spain Portugal, Scandinavia, Russia, Egypt, Greece, Turkey, Jordon, Israel

Perillo Tours (perillotours.com) Since 1945 this family-run tour company has specialized in luxury travel to Italy. Their patrons speak highly of this professionally-run company, reporting that they are able to visit the most popular sights (e.g. The Sistine Chapel, or the statue of "David" in Florence) that others wait in line for hours to see. Perillo now also offers specialized tours to Hawaii and Israel.

Scottish Dream Tours (scottishdreamtours.com) Offering small-group tours (2-10 people) in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England. With a keen knowledge of the history of the area, the company brings historic sightseeing opportunities to life, everything from visiting "St. Patrick's castles and pubs" to a tour of "Haunted Scotland"

GRANDTRAVEL (grandtrvl.com) Founded in 1986, this operator specializes in tours for grandparents to take with their grandchildren. Many of the trips are educational opportunities, in locations all over the world. AARP members receive a $200 per person discount.

Carson Tours (carsontours.com) Primarily serving western US and Canada, according to comments on their website, they specialize in personal care and Christian music and values.

Contiki International (contiki.com) This international tour operator caters to a younger demographic, often with activities later at night, such as visiting trendy area clubs.

Touring by motor coach offers something for everyone. It can be an ideal way for single travelers to enjoy the company and safety of a group, a sensible and affordable solution for groups to travel together, an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in the history of a country, or the best vacation you will ever spend with your grandchildren. Whatever your reasons for wanting to travel by motor coach, with careful planning you can find a trip that perfectly suits your needs and your interests.