Money Saving 101: A guide to a thrifty journey home for Christmas
So rail fares have risen three times faster than the average person's wage, according to a recent survey, which makes sense considering the heart failure that usually accompanies visiting the National Rail Enquiries website. If you haven't got a 16-25 railcard, are 16-25 and travel a lot then sort that out because you'll still have cardiac issues but will at least feel like you're being proactive.
If you're worried about being stuck alone this Christmas, unable to fork out for the disappointing trolley, chewing gum covered seats and friendly ticket inspector refusing to accept your ticket unless you have all three, the receipt and are able to confidently mould some plasticine into the shape of a little train, there is an alternative which won't leave you a pauper. Or a worse pauper than you are already.
People don't often think to take buses for national travel these days. Or they think about it but refuse to check how cheap it really is in case they'll be forced to go on one. Why the reluctance? It may be a terrible experience, but it's so much cheaper that you'll feel like the King of Travel until it's time for the return journey. The return journey is always the worst.
Being a Megabus connoisseur (I once took the 10 hour one from London to Edinburgh and back again) here are my transportational tips on how to not lose your mind on the megabus.
- Arrive early and stand right next to the gate. Megabus travellers are douches who will, once the bus arrives at the gate, push in front of you and bag the best seats regardless of the whole British queuing thing. You need to sit as close to the front as possible (forget all that schoolyard back-of-the-bus thing. You're not trying to be cool. You're trying to endure a 10 hour bus ride) so make sure you're within the first two or three people to get on the bus.
- Sit by the window, put your bag on the other seat. As people get on, they'll head to the tons of empty double seats behind you, thereby giving you the best chance of having a double seat to yourself. Also, putting a bag on it makes you look like a bit of a badass so nobody will want to sit with you. It's so, so worth it.
- Be wearing an embarrassingly large scarf. This can be rolled up and placed on your shoulder, stretching up to your head against the window. Megabuses vibrate quite violently and you also need to maximise your positional options because it's going to get squashed pretty quickly. If you don't have a huge scarf, use your coat or a jumper.
- Have music. Don't start listening to it in the station, reserve it for when the bus starts moving to maximise the battery energy left.
- Use the lapdesk. After a few hours when you're searching for a new, more comfortable napping position, flip the lapdesk down, put your scarf/jumper/coat on it, cross your arms and have a forward-leaning snooze. Very refreshing.
- If nobody has sat on your double seat, use it like a bed. Scarf/jumper/coat as a pillow, lie down as if it's a little campbed. You will need to swap sides frequently in the event of dead legs.
- If someone has sat on your double seat, create legroom by occasionally touching their leg with yours. We're all quite reserved, so this will cause him or her to move a little further away. If they get visibly excited at the physical contact it's probably best to change seats.
- Maximise break-time. Sometimes the bus will stop for a break so the driver can have a fag or swap with another guy. Use this time to do some stretching and maybe get some crisps. Never stay on the bus during break time. You will regret it when everyone else comes back looking stretched out/smelling of crisps.
- Don't look at the clock. There's no point- it will only cause pain. It's a bit like working a crappy part time job; the moment you start counting down, the moment the minutes start crawling.
- Always pick an overnighter rather than a day journey. An overnighter means you will definitely fall asleep at some point, thus making the journey more pleasant. When travelling in the day, you're usually awake and conscious for the whole thing. Think of it as if it were invasive surgery.
- Know exactly where you're going upon arrival. Bus stations can be tucked away in cities and there's nothing worse than surviving a longhaul bus journey before getting off and wandering around in the cold for an hour with no idea where you are. This usually causes crying and panic-hailing taxis
Want to check out bus fares, times and routes? .
- The mighty Megabus
- The National Express (a little more upmarket, nicer buses, ever so slightly pricier but still cheaper than train travel)
- Stagecoach buses are, again, a little pricier but still good value
- Don't have music? Scrobble (best word ever) your favourite songs on Last FM
- And here's a nice link to help you prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis (includes good break-time stretch techniques)