You’re in the middle of a foreign country, with absolutely no idea how to say anything other than hello and thank you in the local language, but you know from numerous travel forums that the cheapest and easiest way to get to a certain city is to just take the bus.
Sounds simple right?
Unfortunately, the local online bus site you want to buy your tickets from won’t take foreign credit cards or even worse, requires a local government issued ID number. Well, at least you still feel good because you did a decent job using Google Translate to get you through all the steps since they don’t even use the same alphabet as you. It’s not your fault. It just isn’t possible to book a ticket online.
Head down to the bus station and just pick up your tickets in person. No problem, jump in a taxi and pantomime your destination to the taxi driver, while continuously saying what you think is the proper local term for bus station. The taxi driver just looks at you like you’re crazy until you point to a passing bus and nod vigorously.
Away you finally go, already exhausted before you even left the parking lot and still wondering what the proper term for bus station is.
Before you know it, you look up and there you are. That was faster than expected. Wait, wasn’t it supposed to be across from a park?
The wrong bus station
Oops, this happens to be the local bus station he drops you off at. You need to get to the long distance bus station on the outskirts of town.
Never giving up, you jump into another taxi and go through it all again. However, for some inexplicable reason, this taxi driver understands exactly where you want to go. You swear you used the exact same word for it before. Maybe it’s the intonation?
This time however, it takes a lot longer than you expected to get to the bus station. As you watch the taxi meter slowly rising and, knowing you still have to get back to your hotel afterwards, you see your bus savings going right out the window.
Finally, you arrive at the bus station you wanted. You look around and it’s way bigger than you expected. There are dozens of buses pulling in a out and hundreds of people moving this way and that. It takes you 10 minutes just to figure out where you need to go and, as you line up, dozens of impatient looking people instantly queue behind you.
Lost in translation
You finally get to the window and you can already read the panic in the ticket agent’s face. She knows you don’t speak her language and she obviously doesn’t know yours. This is going to be fun. Not.
You start to explain where you want to go but it doesn’t seem to get through. They finally give up and call for a friend or a manager to come help. The people behind you are starting to get really impatient.
Miraculously, the new person knows enough of your language to figure out what you want. The problem? They only allow booking a day in advance and you want to leave in three days. You get them to write things down because damned if you’re going through all this again in two days.
You get back into another cab and head back to wherever you’re staying. Not broken but definitely spiraling in an ever widening hole of lost in translation.
Sound familiar? I swear this exact scenario has happened to us dozens of times over the years. It’s actually uncanny how eerily similar each time has been.
Luckily, a new company has decided to step up to the plate and make bus travel as easy for the masses as booking a flight or renting a car. You know, online, in your own language, with just a regular credit card.
Thanks to Busbud, bus travel has never been easier. My only complaint? Why didn’t this company exist 20 years ago? It would have solved so many problems for us.
As of right now, Busbud deals with over 1,500 bus companies connecting over 16,000 cities across 75 countries with millions of bus routes between them all. The best part, they’re growing at a ridiculously fast rate and if they don’t cover the country or area you’re looking at, I’m sure they soon will be.
Based out of Montreal, Canada, CEO LP Maurice decided that there needs to be an easier way to book buses. Like us, he had spent time in South America and realized that there had to be a better way to get around.
When he got back from his travels, he partnered with two of his old friends, Mike Gradek and Frederic Thouin and together they started designing Busbud. With over 30 employees and counting, the Busbud company is growing as fast as they’re adding new bus routes.
Busbud bus routes
Now I know Busbud has Canada and the USA well covered however, those aren’t as important to us as bus routes further abroad. I will admit that it is much nicer to have all the bus routes covered on one site rather than having to jump around from bus company to bus company in Canada and the States so kudos to Busbud for that alone.
The real test however, is seeing how well we could have used them on past bus trips around the world. Here is our Busbud review of bus routes we’ve taken in the past.
How to Book Bus Tickets Online
We tried three test routes to take Busbud through its paces.
Test #1 – Bus route from Malagas to Tarifa, Spain
For the first example, I’m going to look at how easy it is to book a bus with Busbud from Malaga down to Tarifa in Spain. This is the bus route we took when we headed to Tarifa and, from there, took a ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar to Tangiers in Morocco (northern Africa) and then finally took an overnight train down to Marrakesh.
Typing in a location on the Busbud website is quick and easy and it surprisingly enters the cities as I type them in. That’s a good sign that the city is in their database. I chose five days out from today since that’s about as far ahead as we normally plan our small jumps. The best part about bus travel is that outside of major holidays, you rarely have to book much in advance.
The Busbud search takes a good 30 seconds as it scans all the bus lines in the area and calculates fares. I finally get two options; a morning option and an evening one.
The morning one makes the most sense so I click to see more details. Busbud tells me the bus class and what amenities that bus includes such as air conditioning, whether there is a toilet on board and what kind of entertainment I can look forward to.
After selecting the route I wanted, I’m presented with a screen asking for my information. The page also lists all the bus rules and regulations. I have to say the Busbud website is quite clean and well laid out here.
This screen also includes everything from baggage allowances to their cancellation policy. Nothing jumps out as odd and the fare is $27.47 CAD with a $6.59 fee. Not too bad and pretty much what the local bus charges minus the Busbud fee.
Test #2 – Bus route from Nerja to Alicante, Spain for two adults and two kids
This next test I wanted to see how Busbud deals with families. Booking a family together on a bus trip is often trickier than a single fare so let’s see how Busbud handles it.
It was a bit of pain figuring out how to get all the family to Alicante, Spain from the little white village of Nerja where we a month in Spain a few years ago. We finally just decided it was easier to rent a car and drive up. The problem? There were way more toll highways than we expected. Turns out it might have been cheaper for us all to just jump on a bus.
After typing in my options on the Busbud webpage and watching it cycle through all the available bus companies in the area, Busbud listed all the same routes as the local bus company. Busbud’s prices, minus their fee, seems right on track with the other bus lines. This bodes well for those hoping to save a few pennies by busing rather than flying or driving.
The only thing I noticed was that Busbud appears to charge full price for children while the local bus companies give children a discount on this route. It wasn’t a huge savings but it’s there none the less. It would seem that if you’re traveling with a family you need to be aware of child discounts, otherwise it could end up costing you a few more dollars for the convenience of using Busbud than strictly for adults.
Test #3 – Bus route from Quito to Guyaquil, Ecuador
Another recent trip we did where we looked heavily into busing options was down in Ecuador. We were in the capital, Quito and needed to get over to the Galapagos Islands. Flights out of Guyaquil were much cheaper than Quito at the time so we toyed with the idea of taking an overnight bus to Guyaquil and flying out from there. We had just gotten back from our Amazon Ecuador tour adventure and were a little burnt out so decided to forgo the bus and just pay a little more for our flight directly from Quito.
Like the other two scenarios, Busbud pulled up similar routes and timetables to the local options however I can quickly see that the Busbud site is a lot easier to navigate compared to most bus lines websites. Did I mention it wasn’t in Spanish either? That’s a huge bonus since my Spanish no está bien. At under $20 CAD, even with taxes and fees, we would have saved $50 a person had we gone that route instead. Of course, we also didn’t have to sleep on a bus…
Test #4 – Bus route from Goreme to Istanbul, Turkey
After hot air ballooning in Turkey’s famed Cappadocia region, we needed to get back to Istanbul so we could fly back to Canada. After taking the bus from Bodrum to beautiful Pamukkale to check out the travertine springs and then onward to Goreme, we weren’t really minding Turkish buses. We were all set to bus it all the way back to Istanbul but we got a great price on a last minute Airbnb rental in Istanbul and decided to save time and just fly there.
That said, the Goreme to Istanbul bus route is very popular among travelers wanting to save a few dollars. After I plugged the info in, Busbud gave me a single overnight option. That isn’t too much different than the other bus sites and in a way, simplifies your choices. At $24.65 CAD all in, that really shows you how cheap it is to get around there. Considering that the bus lines I looked for don’t even display in English there, you know who I would book with.
Busbud E-tickets and printing requirements
As long term travelers, there’s not much more annoying than trying to get something printed out when you’re out and about. I don’t know how many times we’ve had to search for an internet cafe or ask our hotel or hostel if they offered a printing service. Sometimes it was free to print and sometimes it cost us a few dollars but never once has it been convenient.
With Busbud, it seems most bus companies allow you to simply present your e-ticket and identification when you get to the bus station or when boarding. A few, like New York Trailways, still require a pre-printed ticket but for most, all you need to do is show them the ticket Busbud has emailed you after you purchased so all you need is your smart phone or tablet and you’re good to go. No paper wasted and even more importantly, no crazy rushing around an hour before departure trying to figure out where to get your ticket printed. Modern technology for the win!
Is Busbud reliable? Busbud refunds for bus tickets
One of the nicest things about Busbud is their simple refund process. I couldn’t even imagine trying to get a refund for a bus ticket in some of the countries we’ve visited in the past. Based on lack of communication in our language meant just getting the correct bus tickets in the first place was a near Herculean task. Trying to get them to give our money back would have been a nightmare and anytime we’ve had a last minute change of plans we just swallowed the cost.
With that said, Busbud can refund a good portion of bus tickets with just a few clicks. The best part? Most bus tickets are 100% refundable within 48 hours notice of departure and it drops slightly the closer you are to departure time. On a few of the tickets I checked above, you can get 80% of your ticket price back 2 hours before departure. That’s crazy! I wish airplane tickets were as forgiving.
Conversion differences with other currencies
One of the best things about Busbud is that it charges everything in your local currency. What this means is the price you see when you go to pay is the exact amount that will be charged to your credit card.
In terms of currency conversion, you never know exactly what your final bill will be when you buy something in another currency since it’s not only based on the day’s currency valuation (set by Visa and Mastercard) but also the bank fees that your credit card might charge as well. In Canada, nearly every single credit card includes a hidden 2.5% bank conversion fee and many banks around the world charge the same. What that means is that when you book with Busbud, what you see is what you pay, which is a good thing and can help offset Busbud’s small fee.
Busbud’s fees and my final Busbud review
To say that Busbud operates their website out of the goodness of their heart would be a stretch however their fees seem to be inline with most services these days. I saw fees that ranged anywhere from 10% to 20% on the dozen or so routes I looked into which would be huge if we were talking about air travel however for the $15 cross country tickets that exist in many locations around the globe, that only amounts to a few dollars difference.
If you want the convenience of easily searching out bus routes in both your language and currency, then you know there’s always going to be a cost. Busbud simplifies the selections, provides clear information including prices, schedules, bus service classes, amenities and even gives you mini maps of the bus station locations themselves. They also let you easily cancel your tickets and, more importantly, offer easy refunds for many of their routes.
For a fairly new company, Busbud is on their way to not only simplifying booking bus travel around the world but also in helping travelers access remote places that previously only die hard backpackers and locals ever tread. I look forward to their ever growing expansion and know that I’ll be booking my next bus travel via their clean and simple site.
If that means no more confusing taxi rides while trying to mime a bus station then so be it. I’d rather book my bus trip from the comfort of my hotel room and spend the afternoon checking out the local sights anyway.