Everybody’s coming home for school next week, so let’s talk about cheap and sketchy travel, shall we? In particular, how about off-brand discount travel: it’s awesome in many ways — duh — but let’s face it, it’s also horrible. Case in point: the Megabus corporation. They don’t run out of Colorado, but they’re incredibly popular across much of the rest of the Midwest and East Coast, and many of my friends are very well acquainted with them. The first person to book a ticket on each bus pays only a dollar and fees increase gradually from there, but they’re always cheaper than Greyhound or comparable companies.
The pros are pretty obvious. All the money you save is a big bonus, and for students who have to calculate every month whether they’re going to make rent or not, getting a cheap fare can be the difference between making the trip and not making it.
The cons only appear once you’re packed and standing at the bus stop, or sitting miserable in a little plastic seat. To get those cheap prices, Megabuses run on a tight budget: they don’t tend to stop at union stations or major bus stops; they usually stop nearby, in a far sketchier area. Customer service — like information on bus whereabouts or help if something goes wrong — is also a lot harder to come by. So I’ve found myself nervously standing on a random street corner in downtown Chicago at 2 a.m., loaded down with bags, because some dude at the real bus station pointed in that general direction. Similarly, one friend found herself dropped off in the outskirts of St. Paul in the wee hours of the morning with no idea of where to go next.
Once you make the bus, just sitting there is an adventure in itself. You meet quite a cast of characters on Megabus, though that’s a characteristic of any travel — and bus travel in particular. I suppose this could be a pro or a con; maybe if you’re bored and extroverted, meeting your fellow passengers might be a nice way to pass the time. But for me, and I think for many others, adding the stress of sketchy peers to the stress of sketchy traveling just seems like gratuitous masochism. And when you catch a glimpse through the window’s reflection of the guy in front of you cleaning and loading a gun, as my friend did a few days ago, all the fun of meeting new people dissipates in a heartbeat. And when the air conditioning is broken and won’t stop running at full blast so you shiver for 8 hours through the night in a sleeveless shirt — then you really begin rethinking whether the money saved was worth it.
Now, I realize those last few paragraphs sounded cranky, but don’t get me wrong: me and super-cheap travel are good buddies. It’s usually my first choice in planning a trip, and none of the anecdotes above (except maybe the gun-loading incident!) trump a cheaper fare in my eyes. However, I think as we get older and our bank accounts (hopefully) get a little fuller, the scales will tip a little bit and it might be worth it to spring for convenience rather than bottom-line cheapness — and leave those seats for the young people coming up behind us.
Vivian Underhill is an environmental sciences major at CU and writes about being cheap once a week for the Colorado Daily.