If you’re travelling around South America on a budget, it’s inevitable that you’ll find yourself on a 15 hour (or more). However, there is no need to dread them! I’m a few long bus journeys down and I’ve cracked the code. Here are my best tips.
A simple A to B google search will bring up the right page to book online. However if you’re booking a bus from Brazil you will need a CPF number (a Brazilian identification number). So if you haven’t already made friends with the hostel staff, do! You can use a local’s CPF (with their permission) and then book your ticket in your name. Failing this, booking your bus from the terminal on the day is no issue. I have yet to be on a full bus, even on a Friday/ Sunday evening.
A word about TIMING. If you’ve got a 15 hour bus, don’t waste a day, choose over night. You can get a very decent night’s sleep if you choose the right seat.
There are various seat options online. From cheapest to most expensive the choices are: executivo individual, semi-cama, coche cama and promo cama ejecutivo. You’ll always want to choose promo cama ejecutivo “promo executive bed” where possible. This option is the most expensive but if you check the currency conversion, it is often only £5-10 more then economy “executive individual. Just think that you’re saving on a whole night’s accommodation!
If you are booking in advance, I have found it best to get to the bus terminal about 40 minutes before departure so you have time to brush your teeth in an actual toilet and change into some warmer clothes as the buses are often very cold, especially at night.
Essential items to bring
Pack for the artic. It is advisable that you have a couple of warm layers in your hand luggage. I get really cold so normally wear a thermal, t-shirt, jumper and a light jacket. I would also advise a blanket (I use my towel or beach sarong) and if you’re carrying a sleeping bag/ or sleeping bag liner keep that in your hand luggage too!
I have no shame in admitting that I sleep for about 9 hours on these buses! Most of the credit must go to my faithful neck pillow. I would recommend an inflatable one and always pick the softest! I also love an eye mask. The bus gets pretty light from 6am, even with the curtains drawn. Earplugs/ headphones are essential for drowning out the odd unhappy baby and general noise.
In terms of theft, i’ve personally never had a problem on any bus in South America. However, I do know people that have! To be on the safe side, I always keep all my money, cards and phone in my money belt which I wear the whole journey. I also padlock my rucksack shut and keep it by my feet.
I am confident to say I have officially aced overnight bus entertainment. It’s all about the pre download. Spotify, BBC iplayer and Sky app’s have become sacred for these journeys. Although technically speaking you cannot get access UK TV apps abroad, I have heard that you can download Tunnel Bear app, pay a monthly fee of £3 and get unlimited VPN (i.e hiding your location). You can download endless films and episodes before you leave. Before I started travelling, I was not a TV person. However I have come to realise that it is a successful way of escaping the reality of a long bus!
I also always bring a book but its often too dark to read and turning your light on tends to light up the entire bus of sleeping people. It just depends how many evil stares you can stand..
Last, but certainly not least, food for the journey. Long buses often make stops every few hours. However the food available in the service station is often wheat based, fairly unhealthy and very expensive.
Whenever I can, I prepare some food ahead. Most hostels have kitchen facilities and tupperwares are easy to find in any supermarket. I normally prepare some dinner, snacks and maybe breakfast. Not all food travels well. Including bananas. Which i found out the hard way. Here are some of my healthy faves to take on the bus.
Cooked veg (peppers, aubergine, tomatoes, carrots)
Salad (make sure it has been cleaned with filtered water as drinking the tap water can make you ill so washing lettuce leaves in it is not to be advised)
Sweet potato fries
Quinoa with peanut butter, dark chocolate (absolute FAVE)
I’ve grown to love a good overnight bus. A couple of hours of relaxation, often no wifi and sleep.
Feet up, belly full, David Attenboroughed out, I wish you a beautiful night’s sleep!