I am not exactly what you’d call a frequent traveler because I do not have the greenbacks for it. I have only been to two different places that required a plane — A-Camp and Ireland — and both times I was flying Air Klonopin, so I couldn’t tell you what ritualistic things I did besides pray for my life and throw up into a ziploc bag (which the passenger next to me gave to a flight attendant because I’d fallen asleep with it full on my lap). However, I consider myself to be the Crown Prince of Megabus & Bolt Bus, and I will tell you everything I know about traveling by bus between Philadelphia, New York, and Albany.
I have actually made the full conversion from Bolt to Megabus. I firmly believe that more genuinely irritating and rude people ride on the Bolt Bus because their website is more aesthetically pleasing. I think you are promised a better experience on a bus if the website looks like it was designed in 2002 and has a rotund glossy pegman as its mascot. It takes a nice 45 year old lady who will stay on her side of the seat and politely eat a bland snack at the very beginning of the ride to book with a site like that. Bolt Bus, on the contrary, seems to be for last minute college students who show up hungover and unwilling to move over slightly, forcing half of your body to exist in the aisle while some white boy from the Boston suburbs plays Mac Miller during his nap. I am 99% sure that there was one time I was the only non-Drexel student on a bus from Philly to New York, and it took everything in my little body not to murder someone. The buses aren’t in great shape, the stupid gigantic Bolt Bus sticker is covering the entire surface of the vehicle and thus making it impossible to look out the windows, and your seatmate is a guaranteed asshole.
Bolt Bus riders, I want you to internalize something once and for all: There is no queue. Why people form a goddamned queue is beyond me, and only attests to the human instinct to make other people feel inferior. If a queue forms at any time, I blatantly stand outside of the queue as close to the bus as possible. Sometimes I throw exasperated stares at whatever person is organizing the queue and making a big deal about it. You received an assigned order for boarding ahead of time which makes you standing in line completely pointless. Sorry for dropping this truth bomb, but I’m serious, it has to stop. You are making the old lady who got here late and is forced to stand at the end of the line feel really bad, even though she is in the first boarding group and should actually feel great about herself.
Enough about how much I hate Bolt Bus these days, though. Megabus trips are full of tiny little important rituals. I always pack my own snacks because buying a snack on my stop in New York seems the equivalent of buying a car or a bag of diamonds. This usually means cashews or almonds or something else that will make me look a little weird and intimidating when I eat it. I also carry my phone charger in my hand because I am that asshole who marches straight to the second floor back row and uses the one plug that hangs from the ceiling. Because if your bus doesn’t have working chargers, then that is the only game in town, and I, like a true Lannister, believe strongly in controlling access to whatever is the most valuable item in the bus. In all honesty, my phone is usually already charged because I can sniff out an electric socket in a public place like I’ve been trained since birth for that explicit purpose, but it’s good to know that if I need it, it’s right there, and I will only look a little stupid to have a USB cable dangling in front of my face for the whole ride.
Be prepared for whatever horrible weather will inevitably be taking place the day you are waiting for your bus. Everyone who has waited for a bus outside 30th Street Station knows that if it isn’t oppressively hot and humid and smelling of garbage, it’s because there is a torrential downpour, violent wind, or a criminal emergency. Know in advance how fast you can run from one crowded block in Midtown Manhattan to another, and whether you can do so with a rolling suitcase and a full backpack. Accept that if you want to poop on the bus, there will not be toilet paper . And then you will be truly ready for bus travel.
I’m weird about the way I travel. Like, really weird. Partially because I’m a very weird person, and partially because I’m afraid of several common ways of traveling.
Probably the only travel tradition I have that is just straight up practical and isn’t rooted in tradition or superstition or eccentricity is that I always make sure I wear a dress or shorts or pants or a jacket that has pockets. Like, in my daily life, I wear dresses 90% of the time, but when I’m traveling, I want to make sure that I’m able to carry my phone, wallet and a few other things as close to myself as possible. When I get to my destination, though, it’s back to choosing fashion over function.
Packing is where I first start to show my weird colors. I always make sure to pack two books (that I don’t plan on reading) and a cute hat (that I don’t plan on wearing) because I feel like those are good things to pack and I’m afraid that someone will look through my luggage and judge me. I also always pack way more clothes than days I’ll be gone because I’m constantly afraid that I’ll stain the clothes I’m wearing. I also pack way more jewelry than I’ll need, but that’s just because I like having options.
I also carry in my pockets several Catholic tokens for protection. These include St. Joan of Arc and Our Lady of Guadalupe saint’s medals and a Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I’m pretty much cripplingly afraid of air travel, I’m pretty afraid of being on mountain roads and, as a trans woman, I’m afraid of going through airport security and having to use bathrooms at small town Red State rest stops. I’m also fairly superstitious about specific things and I was raised Catholic, so having these in my pockets where I can reach them brings me a lot of comfort.
The other thing thing that I do before I actually leave is take a selfie. I’m a big proponent of selfies, especially for people who usually get erased by visual media, like queer people, people of color, women, fat people and people with disabilities. Putting out celebratory pictures of ourselves is a radical act and makes it so the world cannot ignore us or forget we exist. I also just like getting dressed up and taking pictures of myself. Anyway, I like to take a selfie before I travel because it’s sort of a last thing I can do that I’m in total control of before I’m about to give up control of my life as I let someone else drive or pilot the vehicle I’m in.
Another notable thing about my travel routine is that when I have to fly, I usually end up crying. I’m afraid of both flying in airplanes and of heights, so the fact that airplanes fly so high up in the air really messes me up. It’s also unfairly stressful to go through airport security as a trans person (I’ve been repeatedly misgendered and had TSA agents read my birth name off my ID, look at me, and shout my birth name at me, asking why that’s my name.) Once I get past security, I try to calm myself by listening to podcasts featuring the actresses and comedians Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham, because first of all, they’re hilarious, and second of all, I find Jessica St. Clair’s voice to be extremely comforting. You know how people are always going on about how great Morgan Freeman’s voice is? That’s what her voice is for me. While this is usually able to calm me down a little, I like to get to airports with enough time that I’ll have at least an hour after I get through security before my flight takes off. Sometimes it’s several hours. So these podcasts work for a while, but my anxiety slowly builds until I cry at the least and have a full-on panic attack in the bathroom (this has happened twice in the past year and half) at the most. I already cry pretty often, but crying in public is a different kind of monster. Since I usually fly alone these days, it can be pretty embarrassing. So I have to prepare for this. Back in April, the comedian Chris Gethard released his first comedy album, and included on it a song that he wrote and sings with musician, awesome person and A-Camp talent Mal Blum called “Crying at the Wawa.” This song is about crying at Philadelphia-area convenience stores and how crying in public is nothing to be ashamed of at all. So, when I’m not listening to the dulcet tones of St. Clair and Parham, you can be sure that I’m listening to Mal Blum and Chris Gethard sing “Cry at home, cry at school, crying’s not just okay, crying’s cool” on repeat.
Then, when it’s time to actually fly, I have to get my body ready. I take some Dramamine and then have several Wint-o-green Lifesavers in my pocket for the flight. Those always distract me and calm my stomach, so they’re much needed when there’s turbulence and during takeoffs and landings. I also completely turn my iPhone off for the whole flight. There’s no such thing as Airplane Mode in my mind. Lastly, I always drink a ginger ale on the flight, partially because it also calms my stomach, partially because I feel like it’s a sentimental drink, and that makes me feel better about my situation.
Now, if I’m going on a road trip, things are different. There I’m comfortable (but probably because I don’t have a driver’s license so I’m able to stay pretty stress-free). My first step is making a playlist on my iPod. These playlists need to have a good mix of classic songs from throughout my friendship with whomever I’m traveling with, new songs that are some of my favorites, but that my friends might not know, and songs that are topical to the trip. This could be songs about whatever city we’re traveling to, songs about the places we’ll be traveling through, or just songs about driving. I also make sure we have great snacks for the trip. As a kid, my dad would always make Gorp (which is a kind of trail mix) because he’s a hippie and a hiker, so I like to have that to make me feel young again. Other classics that I usually bring are granola bars, apples, sour gummy worms and popcorn. I also like to bring some Powerade, because electrolytes.