OR THE WILDLY DISPARATE TYPES OF COMFORT FROM YOUR TICKET CHOICES.
I have to be honest when it comes to trains I have only ever gone first class on long journeys. These trips I have adored but I also managed to see the cheaper sections. False economy as far as I’m concerned, for a mature woman. With buses I have a lot of experience across the spectrum and let me tell you when it’s bad it’s very very bad. So let’s have a look at all manner of tickets you can get for buses and choochoos.
Alert: WELL IF YOU READ THE LAST POST YOU’LL BE GETTING THE DRIFT OF MY INTOLERANCE TO BAD BOOKINGS. This post is less harsh but still very judgemental and scathing in parts. Understand that you must weigh up your options carefully if you’ll be aboard for anything over four hours. Your travel tickets can make or break a trip, Choose wisely. As you can see here I’ve had my cockups so you don’t have to!!
I bought my tickets for the Trans Siberian Express at this end and received two of them here in London and the Mongolian one I had to pick up from my hotel in Ulaanbataar. I made a massive swoop to my visa office and organised my tickets through Real Russia and Scotts Travel. It was very neat and had to be dealt with at this end on account of me being a fussy bitch. You see I wanted to have a first class cabin but alone so I had to pay for the other berth too. This sounds very greedy but let me tell you there is no way I’m sharing a cabin. Also have to add this is the traditional train not a fancy schmancy type of Orient Express.
Cabins on most trains are tight and on the TSE I can tell you I would have killed another person sharing that space with me, especially because the first leg I had decided to do was three days to Irkutsk. Three days I hear you say? Yes it’s a big trip and for the people who stayed on board for the duration to Beijing from Moscow it’s six days plus and to go on the diverging line to Vladivostok it’s seven. For the crazies that stay on without stops, well they end up in the loony bin. I can attest to this as each time I re-boarded the train, from my breaks at different cities, the crazies had got crazier and the grubbies had got grubbier and revellers no longer revelled but sat in dark places or wandered the length of the train like spectres reliving a terrible crime. I can’t stress this enough, go first class and buy the extra berth it’s false economy to do otherwise.
These tickets were a little pricier but not amazingly so, and I had the time of my life which would not have been the case if I was sharing. This is the time that booking through an agent is preferable. I could have waited till I got there, and maybe if they were not full they would have let me have the whole cabin for the price of the one berth, but who wants to travel with that dark stress cloud over their heads? I could imagine arguments at Moscow’s station ticket office at midnight. The TSE leaves on it’s marathon journey every night at this time, so there really wasn’t another way round it, and as I found out later, it’s best not to depend on the kindness of strangers in Moscow.
Now that sounds snarky, but the Muscovites are a harsher crew than those of St Petersburg where I had started my grand tour. There, I had bought my train ticket online easily and the train was a super new bullet train which had a service much like that of a quality airline. The station in Moscow for long journeys is old and past its best a bit like the TSE it has to be said, and when I got there I was very glad not to be trying to buy my ticket. They have high security you see, and they also have surly ticket staff. This combo is very pressurising when you’re travelling late at night and alone, and an old bird.
When I staggered in after struggling through the security at the main door, I went to the ticket office just to check that all was well with my train and to see if there was a place to relax until the train came in (I was hopelessly early as usual)
‘It’s ok? My tickets? I mean can you check what platform I go from?’ I ask eagerly pushing them through to the stone faced woman on the other side of the counter. She slowly looks down at them avoiding my anxious smile clearly showing how boring I was.
she says looking over my shoulder as if there was a huge queue at this nearly empty midnight express station. I was a nuisance and should leave her alone. What did I think she was? A fucking ticket lady?
‘Is there a waiting room with these tickets?’
I had spotted a vile, vault like room with grey light and rows of plastic armchairs arranged haphazardly around, some moody looking people and a TV, on my quick look around of the station so I presumed it to be for first class passengers, meaning me.
‘….but I saw just over there…..’ I pointed helplessly
‘No, not for this train’
And then, you could see she was done with me, so if I was actually buying my ticket there I would have been up shit creek and there would have been no paddle.
I said sullenly.
At this she perked up when she saw how squashed I was by the whole experience and pointed at a large noticeboard for the departure platforms and smiled slyly, I looked and they were all in Russian. This is a worse case scenario but it just shows that for some places and for such a mammoth journey it’s best to be well prepared and not to add stress to an already high charged situation.It was -10 that night so the frigid station was not my friend even up the huge escalators where the miserable shopping parade was. For indeed that was also grim. After dragging around the station a bit I went out of the station again for a cigarette as I was so stressed just to have to go back through security again now feeling more stressed and paranoid because of going in and out, this led to wanting another cigarette, and so it goes on.
Finally after asking again and again like a demented parrot finally my platform came up and I went through another security to my platform and waited in the snow with a handful of other passengers for our train. This iron beast arrived and the ‘provodnitsa’ (your personal carriage attendant) had us wait while they fussed around inside making sure all was spick and span for the start of our adventure. Then they came out and finally checked passports and tickets with their smart coats and thunderbird hats on, indicating where our cabins were.
Once in my cabin I saw I had been a wise old bird to have spent the extra money and bought those tickets. An Englishwoman’s house is her castle. This castle would have been really shit with another princess in it.
I travelled on an overnighter from Sopot to Krakow the previous year, but obviously from a smaller station and in the daytime. Life is easier for a solo traveller in the day but I also had my Polish mate who insisted on helping me, so it was a breeze. Again though, I saw the other cabins and I was happy with the extra investment on first class. On top of my selfish reasons for not getting cheaper tickets is I snore for England, nobody wants to be next to a foghorn ffs…..
Shorter Train Trips.
My train going to Aguascalientes from Cusco to visit the great Machu Picchu was attached to the whole trip which I organised with an agent in Cusco. This was a blast and I loved it. All the ticketing except for the bus up to Machu Picchu itself was done by him and that also worked well, just don’t let an agent push you around while acquiring tickets. Make sure about the times you want and not what is a left over bit of shit they can make more money on.
Top Tip: For trains try to buy online for short trips, if you’re not comfortable doing so get your hotel to do it. I was very anxious in St. Petersburg but it was easy and in English. For off the beaten track physically going to the ticket office is better I find, and you can always get someone to write down in their lingo what you’re after on a bit of paper. Long distance is a no brainer, an agent is always best. For the Trans Siberian Express they organised my tickets AND visas. They also nursed me through the fact that I had to pick up my tickets at Ulaanbataar Railway station or have them sent to the hotel. This obviously meant I had to email hotel address when I finally booked it a couple of days prior to arriving. Incidentally they also arranged a taxi to pick me up from Irkutsk to Lake Baikal. This was a blessing as I arrived there early morning and nobody was around except for my cab driver. This is a perfect example of when it’s best to get an agent for your travel needs. You’ll feel better someone else does it so you can blame them if something goes wrong!
Bus and Coach Tickets.
The ugly little bus.
And, oh the bus. It deservedly has a bad reputation for it is the ‘transfer’ mode of torture of preference in many countries. It is the way they get you to otherwise inaccessible places. It’s what they arrange for you on those package trips to rattle your tired old bones for many hours on unmade roads, or leave you screaming as they hurtle around mountain hairpin bends. This is the beast you can look forward to, after a terrible flight which arrives in the middle of the night taking you to a far flung hotel just to find they have double booked you. The bus is either part of your ‘inclusive’ticket or just a plain mistake on your behalf.
You see with the loose terminology ‘bus’ they give you any old shit, for it will be too late, my friends to change anything by the time you first set eyes on squalid unroadworthy normally white vehicle. You are now in the white van man of buses land. The drivers are usually suicidal as their wives have just left them, or are alcoholics or both.
If you’re just buying a ticket at a local bus station you can see the vehicles and decide if you think you can stand the bus. Mind you sometimes it’s ugly but will get you there much quicker than a coach. I had this going from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido.
This was the case when I had trotted round to a very dodgy part of town to an address for a cheapo bus. It was on an unmade lot with a couple of the ubiquitous white van buses. The guy at the office had snarly teeth and it all felt terribly dodgy but the most important bit was they didn’t have any transport to anywhere with toilets. This along with the very uncomfortable seats I saw as I peered into one made me shudder at the idea. No loo and sitting bolt upright on bench seats left me semi hysterical and I shuffled off saying I might come back. Now the bad tooth day man did explain to me that it only took six hours instead of twelve with a coach because they didn’t stop everywhere, they were direct. Why I didn’t listen to him and the locals in general is because I thought I bloody knew best. The price of the ticket was half of that of the coach but oh no, Mrs Know-it-all ignored the three other locals explaining to me in their Mexican dialect, that it was much better and they would stop for the toilet as needed.
On the coach the next day I nearly took my own life as we zigzagged around Mexico stopping even at bus stations en route to my coastal heaven. The being able to piss even every five minutes if I wanted and having a comfy seat didn’t make up for the terrible anxiety I felt after eight hours. I cried a little as people who I had got to know left the bus one by one. My stop was the last one and the experience was bleak. So even though generally coaches are better don’t look a white van bus in the mouth.
I know the bus of old, as my friend Andreas who travelled with me for some of Guatemala wanted to keep it cheap so was a fan of this mode of transport. Many a time a bitter argument would ensue after him booking us onto a combo bus tour. Yes it was cheap but oh my god the misery. Refer back to SOLO TRAVELLERS BUS RIDES FROM HELL (GUATEMALA) AND HEAVEN (PERU).
The coach is another thing but as I said earlier that also can go wrong.
I booked through Guatego, for our ride to Corban before the hellish trip to Samuc Champey. This service was pristine and the company doesn’t ghost you if things go awry, however A. didn’t want to use them for the next part of the trip after the stop over in Corban. It’s amazing how quickly you can grow to hate someone who won’t do as you say. Naughty Andreas.
In Peru I found the bus station out of town whilst in Trujillo. It was murder just getting there for it was outside the walled city. In all these places the prettier nicer things are in the walled city and one step outside and it’s a different animal. I had wandered romantically viewing the North part of the town that was new to me, happy as Larry, taking photos and full of happiness and pretty things. One step outside the North gate and oh my god. Dirty rough streets full of potential danger. I didn’t want to get my phone out in case it was snatched and so while gazing and walking I fell into an enormous pothole. Badly shaken, cut and bruised, I had trouble even getting up. Nobody stopped which I was grateful for as I would have just thought them opportunistic thieves. Bloodied and trembling I spied my office from street level and staggered up and over to it.
Now this company is great. They have a superb service that links Perus towns and cities and it was only a shame I came across it on my way out. They cover cities such as Chimbote, Chiclayo, Cusco, Ica, Arequipa, Huaraz, Piura and more. I would recommend them from the beginning. If I’d have known about them I could have made a huge difference to my travelling in Peru.
I bought the 180 reclining seat ticket and it was fabulous and very cheap. My journey back to Lima was the best coach ride I had throughout South and Central America. When buying tickets you should consider looking at the national coach services, if I had done that in other countries I would have saved a fortune and been able to immerse in the country more deeply by just looking out the window.