They say every journey begins with a single step. Sometimes it’s a step down a road, or up a mountain. And sometimes that step is up into a bus, where we sit back and let the wheels carry us on our way. A few months ago, I wrote a love letter (of sorts) to airports and all they represent. But last week, on my drive to work, as my car was stopped behind the flashing lights of a yellow school bus, I started thinking about an often-overlooked, little-celebrated but still meaningful mode of transportation – the bus.
Travel isn’t just about exotic locations or different languages. It’s about changing yourself and your perspective, and that can happen down the street just as easily as across the country. Travel is about taking a deep breath and putting yourself out there; it’s about doing something scary or out-of-your-comfort-zone. And the first time I remember feeling that way was when I climbed onto a school bus, bound for the big, bad world of kindergarten. My little 5 year old self was stepping into the unknown when I boarded that bus, and it was good practice for all those times ahead when I had to just take a deep breath and trust that everything would be fine. From then on, buses represented independence.
A bus took me on my first overnight school trip away from home. Colonial Williamsburg, here we come; a bus full of eighth graders excited to taste freedom.
One of my proudest moments freshman year of college was conquering the city bus schedule. For a suburban girl used to car travel, deciphering those letters and numbers and timetables represented a major accomplishment. I could figure out how to get anywhere I wanted to go; the world (and Pittsburgh) was my oyster.
My semester in London was all about navigating double-decker night buses when I stayed out long after the Tube had closed.
There was an epic overnight bus trip to Edinburgh, which I spent trying to sleep while the driver’s Shania Twain tape played on a seemingly endless loop.
I was riding a bus in Paris when I got my first look at the Eiffel Tower. And The Sound of Music tour was a bus full of senior citizens and me; rolling through the Alps and the streets of Salzburg while the movie Von Trapps do-re-mi’d their hearts out over the stereo.
That said, not every bus ride has been magical. Sitting for hours on a bus in Rocky Mountain National Park while waiting to get through a construction zone was not one of my fondest vacation memories. I also took a bus from Philadelphia to North Carolina, and one of the scariest places I’ve ever been was the D.C. bus station at midnight. Pretty much every bus terminal I’ve been in has been dicey, so I guess the lesson is: buses are good, bus stations…not so much.
But unlike a plane, where you’re high above the earth traveling at warp speeds, where it’s possible to go to sleep in one time zone and wake up on the other side of the globe, a bus offers a window onto the places you’re passing through. You see the small towns and the strip malls and the town squares. You’re not just flying over some nameless state in the middle; in a bus you notice that little town in Kansas with the cutest main street you’ve ever seen, and you wonder about that billboard advertising the world’s largest fudge shop.
I like buses because I love noticing the little things. Trains move too quickly, too far outside of town centers, to really see what you’re passing through. Planes are like time machines, propelling you over miniature landscapes and, quite literally, through the clouds. But the slower pace of a bus gives you the time to look, really look, and to make the journey an experience in itself.
What’s your favorite way to travel?
Image via Shutterstock