Forget train strikes, here’s why you need to start traveling by coach again

Trainer - Justin Kase z12z / Alamy

Trainer – Justin Kase z12z / Alamy

I might as well say I traveled by catapult. “How will you get there…?” My colleague looked amazed when I explained that I was traveling by coach from London to Cardiff where I was spending Christmas with my family.

“But… won’t it last forever?” Officially three hours and 45 minutes, I said with a shrug, but in fact probably five hours, given traffic jams and delays – but I had a good novel, some pretzels …

Then another friend came. “I heard you were on the coach,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “To Wales?! Can you stop by a roadside cafe – stretch your legs, look around a bit? It was my turn to be amazed. Does no one but me ever take the bus?

It wasn’t always like that. When I was 20, I routinely traveled by train when visiting family in Cardiff. The Friday rush at Paddington Station was legendary in those days. Groups of passengers crowded around the departure boards. In the other, a platform flashed, pandemonium: run. Pushing. Bottlenecks as people squeezed through narrow barriers all at once. The carriages were crammed too – there was rarely a seat, so you could stand for two hours boiling with silent rage at having paid £71.50 for the experience.

Why, I once asked myself, didn’t I pay £20 for the coach instead? Sure, the travel time was almost twice as long, but cross-country Friday nights are still a waste of time… and at least the coaches guarantee a seat. And so five years ago I became a National Express loyalist, thanks to the fact that my office was just around the corner from the bus station.

So what can you learn from my journey from rail to road?

Coach Travel - Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Coach Travel – Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

First, choose the right coach company for you. National Express, being single-deckers, have higher ceilings which give a sense of spaciousness and make them worth the often slightly more expensive fare. Megabuses have a better view from the upper deck, but can be a bit “noisy”. Conversation between passes. Sharing food or insults.

Today, most coaches have modern amenities – power outlets and small folding tables – although Wi-Fi tends to be patchy. Yet there is blissfully nothing left to do but sit, think, and just be carried.

National Express even inspired a song by indie band The Divine Comedy. If Philip Larkin were alive today, surely a stagecoach, not a train, would carry his poems.

Admittedly, it’s not always glorious. On one occasion, I boarded, laden with luggage, and landed bottom-first in someone’s family’s cracked tube of Yeo Valley Peach Yogurt. Another time, the man next to me opened a giant plate of warm sushi and ate it slowly. It was the height of summer. Ah that smell…

But other downsides, like filthy bus stations and gruff drivers, are easily remedied with a bottle of antibacterial hand gel and a bit of banter. Noise-canceling headphones are recommended, although my 77-year-old grandmother, a professional coach traveler, disagrees. People are the pride of the coaches, he tells me. Just last month, she sat next to a man recently released from prison after serving a sentence for fraud and spent four hours talking.

The climate on the coach can also be unpredictable, so wear layers. I learned it the hard way, driving my first Megabus at the age of 19.

Somewhere between Coventry and London there was a blackout – there was a storm and we got stuck on a roadside. Still, I found a pack of playing cards and a bottle of Coca-Cola in my purse to cheer us up. I was cold, but sitting with my good friend soon to be my boyfriend, I quickly forgot that I was cold.

I wouldn’t credit Megabus with this romantic change per se, but what a fun way to get to know each other – the joy of a Friday night together on National Express.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *