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On Saturday I was planning on flying from Washington, D.C., to Toronto, but my sister called and said my dad wasn’t feeling great. So I canceled my plane ticket and did some research on getting to New York so I could see my dad. This is what I learned: between the two cities are ridiculously expensive, especially last minute: $382 nonstop and $262 with a stop (12-hour travel time). Even if the tickets were $50 I wouldn’t have flown since you have to go out to the airport; deal with security, delays, and boarding chaos; and then arrive to an airport miles away from the city.

My first choice was the since it’s the most reliable and comfortable; has the most legroom, biggest seats, a dining car, and electrical outlets; and departs and arrives in the center of the cities. But were expensive too: $134 for the regular train (takes 3 hours and 25 minutes). Taking the Acela Express (2 hours and 45 minutes) was $229. Note: There was a regular train for $78, but it left at 3:15 a.m.

I then looked up bus fares. While I was in D.C. I kept seeing Bolt Bus, Mega Bus, and Greyhound drive by with big signs implying they are cheap, so I checked them out (there are other companies too). When I logged on to their websites I discovered they really are cheap.

My first choice was Bolt Bus because most of my friends/followers on Twitter expressed their love for them. Bolt had buses departing every 30 minutes and for as low as $17.50, but the mornings were all sold out, so I looked at . Mega had as low as $15 but the first available bus wasn’t until 11:30 a.m. Since Bolt Bus had one leaving at 1 p.m. and Mega’s trip duration was 15 minutes longer, I figured I would go with Bolt.

Just for the fun of it I logged on to Greyhound Express (Note: when I did a search for regular Greyhound, not Express, travel times were twice as long and expensive). had buses leaving every 90 minutes and starting at $19 with a travel time of 4 hours and 18 minutes. I was tempted to go with them, but since I wanted to try Bolt Bus out I gave them my credit card. Bolt charged a $1 transaction fee, so the total for a one-way ticket to NYC was $20. TWENTY DOLLARS! Isn’t that insane? You can’t take a taxi 5 miles for $20, yet you can take a much more comfortable bus . Makes no sense, but I’m not arguing.

By the way, I could’ve rented a car, but didn’t even bother looking at those prices since I was just one person and knew the drop-off fee would be ridiculous. If I were traveling with three other people I possibly would’ve, but with bus prices so cheap and gas prices so expensive, why bother?

Here’s my tips and observations from the Bolt Bus Trip
– leaves from the upper parking lot of Washington, D.C.’s Union Station. Mega and Greyhound don’t leave from here.

-To get to I was going to take the Metro near my hotel, but the ticket agent said, You can pay $1.85 to go one stop, but if I were you I would walk. It’s just five minutes away. It turned out to be about 12 minutes, but I’m glad I walked since I got to see the neighborhood and stop at one of the restaurants I passed. I bought a meatball grinder from Pot Belly ($4.85), which I later shared with my seatmate. One thing is for sure: sharing a meal with a stranger (or at least offering) breaks the ice.

-It was my first time in , and it really is . I’m so glad I got to (but Grand Central blows it away in terms of beauty).

-My ticket was for 1 p.m., but since I didn’t have a printer I went up to one of the agents hanging out near the buses and told him my dilemma and he asked if I had my confirmation number. I just showed him my email receipt from my Blackberry, and he said, You can get on now. I said, But I’m on the 1 p.m., not the 12:30. He said, You can take this one if you like–it’s leaving now. I asked if I would get a better seat if I waited for the 1 p.m., but he said that bus would probably be late so I should go now. I did. When I got on the bus I was expecting to be stuck in the last row, but I wasn’t. The first row had a vacant seat and so did the third. I took the third since I could stick my carry-on bag somewhat under it (my bag was too big, as there isn’t the same amount of room as there is under plane seats).

-My seatmate was a Congolese guy who turned out to be really nice. He works for a nonprofit Congo organization and travels between NY and D.C. at least once a week. He almost always takes Bolt Bus, and he taught me a few tricks. One is that he chooses a seat in the first eight rows because they have electrical outlets, and two is that if you want to get an , all you need to do is register with Bolt Bus Rewards Program. I hadn’t registered so I had a “C” card. I guess they board like Southwest Airlines. FYI: I just registered (after the trip) and it took 60 seconds, so it’s worth it.

-We left on time.

-It took 20 minutes for us to get out of D.C. and onto the thruway.

-The bus only had four empty seats out of 50.

-You can purchase tickets online until three hours before departure (for example: they stop selling the 3 p.m. bus at 12 p.m.).

-They don’t oversell their schedules, so they guarantee you a seat provided you arrive a minimum of 15 minutes prior to the scheduled departure.

– Five minutes prior to departure, any unclaimed seats are released to walk-up and standby passengers. I should’ve shown up for the 9 a.m.!

-The but they don’t give you that much legroom.

-There’s not a lot of room for overhead space, so big bags need to go below the bus (no charge).

-There is a toilet on board.

-No dogs, cats, birds, or other animals can be transported (except service animals).

-Our was an excellent driver and had a personality like Cuba Gooding Jr.–he kind of looked like him too. What was annoying is that he was using a Nextel phone that’s like a walkie talkie. Their initial sound needs to be eliminated, but I appreciated the fact that he was in constant with the drivers in front of and behind him to find out about road conditions. He made a detour but we still got stuck in traffic twice due to accidents.

-The driver also played soft music. I was just three rows away and it sounded like it was coming from a passenger’s headphones–it wasn’t loud enough to enjoy.

-I learned we were on a 45-foot bus when the driver was ragging to his colleague about a local D.C. bus driver who parked in two lanes: “He said you know that bus driver ain’t no bus driver and he’s just in a 35-foot bus, not like our 45 foot.”

-Two different cars lost their tied-down luggage. That was the cause of one of our delays as cars had to swerve out of the way of a suitcase.

-We took a 15-minute break in , at their incredible one-year-old (it opened June 28, 2010) . It’s located on the Delaware Turnpike part of I-95 between Exit 1 (Rte. 896) and Exit 3 (Rte. 23). The 42,000-square-foot rest stop has 21 fuel pumps and a bunch of restaurants including , Brioche Dorée, , Cinnabon/Carvel, Famous Famiglia Pizza, , and Starbucks. There’s also Z Market, Postcards from Delaware, and iShades shops. (Delaware has tax-free shopping.) What I appreciated the most was no line for the bathrooms–they had plenty.

-The took 5 hours and 30 minutes thanks to traffic.

-We all got off at in NYC.

-We traveled five in five hours–not bad for one day.

-To get to Connecticut I took Metro North ($9.25) from Grand Central Terminal. Trains leave every hour.

-My dad’s doing much better, thanks for thinking of him!

 

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