How to Travel on the Chinatown Bus

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Chinatown buses have become a popular form of transport between cities on the East Coast. Cheap, speedy and usually reliable, these no-frills buses can get you where you want to go. However, you need a bit of know-how and patience to get the most value out of your Chinatown bus travel experience. By planning ahead and keeping your wits about you, you'll have a good travel experience and arrive at your destination with extra cash in your pocket.

  • Decide which bus line you want to take. Depending on your departure and arrival cities, you may have many lines to choose between. Most Chinatown buses run to the major cities along the northern East coast (Boston, New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.) Some Chinatown buses also offer services to smaller cities, such as Hartford or Richmond, or to cities further south, like Atlanta. Check the Go to Bus website to find out which Chinatown buses service your cities. See the Resources section for a link.

  • Order tickets online if you want to travel at a specific date and time. If you also know when you are making a return trip, you can order a return ticket for a discount. If there are too many people waiting for a bus, travelers with online tickets are often allowed on the bus first (see Step 4).

  • If you don't want to pre-plan, show up at the Chinatown bus stop and purchase a ticket using cash. You can also get a round-trip ticket for a discount, just like if you order a round-trip ticket online. However, it's better to pay for a round-trip ticket with cash as the ticket is open-ended and you can return any time you like. Get to the stop at least a half-hour before the bus arrives to guarantee a ticket. If you're traveling on or around a holiday, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, show up earlier.

  • Make sure that you have found the correct bus. There may be two buses leaving at the same time for different destinations, and it is not always clear which bus is which. Look for signs in the front window and ask both the ticket seller and the driver whether the bus you're boarding goes to your destination. Stow any luggage after you have asked these questions.

  • Get ready to wait in line, especially if you are traveling at a busy time of year. Buses don't always leave strictly on schedule (although drivers usually make up for a late start). In addition, Chinatown bus operators sometimes oversell seats. If you don't have an online ticket, you might have to wait for a second bus to arrive to seat overflow passengers. Depending on where you depart from, you may wait in an orderly line or there may be a boarding free-for-all. Be prepared to wait for the overflow bus if you're not willing to push your way through a crowd to the bus door. And dress for the weather as most Chinatown bus stops are outside.

  • Bring your own fun. Some Chinatown bus drivers play movies, TV shows or music, but if you don't like the selection or the video system is broken, you're out of luck. Take an iPod, CD player, book, or magazine (but don't expect WiFi if you bring your laptop).

Tips & Warnings

  • Be sure to map out your arrival and departure stops before you leave. Chinatown buses usually stop in cities' Chinatowns. These neighborhoods may be far away from cities' main bus or train terminals. Some cities, such as New York, have "dedicated" Chinatown bus stops that handle several Chinatown bus lines. If you want to leave from one of these stops, prepare for aggressive ticket sellers in the street. If you're looking to buy a ticket quickly, this is handy, but if you're looking for a particular line it can be a hassle. Tell them that you've already bought your ticket and they should leave you alone long enough for you to get to your assigned bus.

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