When needs must…

Over the last two years I’ve increasingly taken to travelling by coach. I’m not sure if this is a sign of my increasing poverty (various political internships then a return to higher education), the rising price of budget airlines/Eurostar or of my general thriftiness. Perhaps it’s a combination of all three.

Many of my friends balk at the idea of sitting on a coach for hours on end but on the whole it really isn’t that bad. One French housemate even said to me once, “But it’s so dangerous! The kind of people that travel on that bus!”

I’ve travelled with Eurolines (National Express in Britain) from Brussels to London, Zürich, Paris and Amsterdam. Yes, it is very slow. Yes, there is a risk you may be sat next to someone who has questionable personal hygiene (that will serve me right for attempting to take up two seats with my luggage until that seat was the last one left). But yes – it is very cheap.

I paid just €26 return to go from Brussels to Amsterdam and visit my family during reading week. When my friend got married in Switzerland two years ago, I almost cried when I saw the price of the plane and train tickets. Fortunately, there was a way of getting there for just €40 one-way as opposed to €80, it just mean sitting upright on a coach overnight through four different countries (which when you come from an island like me, is an adventure in itself).

In 2009 an American friend and I travelled to Paris by coach for a long weekend. He was anxiously waiting to find out if he’d been accepted at his dream university and I was miserable and wanted to forget about my ex-boyfriend.We had a blast in France – impromptu picnics of brie, baguette and cheap red wine followed by hours of walking around the city, admiring the architecture and the chicness of the place.

On the journey home we sat opposite one woman who took off her shoes so she could pick and file her dry, cracked heels onto the coach floor for the entire journey. It was so revolting and my friend spent the best part of an hour trying to make me laugh about it.

We stopped for a break just before the French/Belgian border, and the coach driver told us we all had fifteen minutes to grab a coffee, smoke a cigarette and have a wee. Fifteen minutes, then the coach would be leaving – with or without you. Most of the passengers were back in time, with the last few stragglers arriving a few moments later.

The driver switched on the engine and slowly began to pull away. The last passenger then emerged from the kiosk, clutching a paper cup of coffee and waving his free arm began to sprint towards the bus. The coach driver saw him straight away of course, but instead of stopping to let him on he just smiled and said wickedly into the PA system “Let’s have some fun with him!” and then proceeded to drive another fifteen metres, then stop. Then drive another fifteen metres and stop. After the third go the driver really did stop and let the furious passenger get on. There was lots of shouting in French, several wild hand gestures and the poor bloke was left wiping his burnt, coffee stained hand. Personally, I would have dropped it long ago.

Could I have had such experiences on a plane or a train? Probably not. The Eurolines coach is not perhaps the most glamorous way to travel, but when I’m skint and needs must then I’m pretty pleased that it’s there!