Travelling By Megabus From Preston To London To Amsterdam

2015-09-28 13.03.13

Although megabus provides an FAQ there don’t seem to be many guides to what travelling on the megabus is actually like, how to prepare for it and get the best from it.  Last week I travelled from Preston to Amsterdam via London, starting on a busy Sunday night/Monday morning and returning on Friday night/Saturday.  Overall I enjoyed the journey, it was a great experience to do once and I would consider doing it again.  I was travelling alone to meet one of my daughters who is studying there, so my advice is mostly for the lone traveller. I found it useful to track my progress on google maps, unfortunately the projected 10 hours by car was a lot longer by bus!

2015-10-04 11.23.29

Track your progress on google maps

The journey starts really early at 1:55am at Preston bus station, which is of course completely closed up at this time of night.  There is a designated drop off point for car drivers and my daughter left me there and I was relieved to see a megabus already waiting at the far end of the bus station, with a few other people already there, even though I was over 30 minutes early.  The bus engine was running but there was no sign of life from the driver for about another 15 minutes and when he appeared he was totally non-communicative.  Another ‘official’ finally turned up in a car, checked our email tickets, but otherwise offered no information.  It turned out that the bus that was already there was for the 7:30am run and the bus we were waiting for finally turned up was 30 minutes late. I was annoyed that despite two megabus staff being there no status information was provided and when asked by several people what was happening they were brusque or rude.

2015-09-28 01.33.14-1

My bus at Preston Bus Station

You are allowed to take one large bag, under 20KG, which is stowed for each leg of the journey and can’t be accessed.  On the international legs of the journey you are given a tag to attach to your bag and you will need a pen to write on it, remember to detach and keep the number that’s on the tag.  I assume these tags are in case you and your bag are separated (perhaps if a bus breaks down) they are not used otherwise.  You can also take another smaller bag with you on the bus, but it needs to fit in the overhead storage shelf.

Boarding the bus at 2:30am it was very busy and every seat was eventually taken.  I managed to get a table seat with three other guys who were already asleep and so I decided to sleep too, which I knew would be a challenge.  I had a strategy though, I used an ear plug for one ear and my iPhone headset in the other, then I used the iPhone pzizz app on it’s sleep programme to provide soothing meditation and music, it worked and I managed about 4 hours of sleep, others were even more successful. 

Choosing your seat is worth a little thought, I picked up a few tips, and made some mistakes

  1. Some of the buses have a couple of tables with four chairs, I sat on one of these on the way down but I wouldn’t recommend it as the tables are very small
  2. About 3/4 of the way down the bus the seats seem to be above the engine and it’s noisy with a lot of vibration, give them a miss
  3. Some of the windows are obscured by the megabus logo, when you get on the bus at night this isn’t obvious, but it is very annoying when you want to watch the world go by later in the day
  4. Avoid seats that are close to the toilet, which was in the middle of the single decker bus and at the back of the lower floor of the double decker
  5. On three of my journeys I managed to get a double seat to myself which made all the difference, putting your bag on the seat is a good idea (but against the law outside of the UK)
  6. Recline your chair immediately if no one else is behind you, so they know what they are in for before they sit there
  7. Check that the plug sockets work, two of mine didn’t
  8. You need to wear your seat belt

Sleep can be elusive on the bus, but with a bit of preparation it can be possible. 

  1. Try and get a double chair to yourself
  2. The chairs have the ability to recline a little by using a small lever at the side which is definitely worth doing
  3. The armrests can be stowed away or pulled down depending on comfort, I found sleeping easier with the armrest stowed away, but down when I was awake
  4. A neck pillow is essential, but also something to use to rest the head against a window or a table, I suggest a small blanket that can be folded and used as a pillow but also unfolded if the bus is cold, our’s wasn’t
  5. Ear plugs are essential
  6. A relaxation app is a good idea too, I like pzizz
  7. Unless you can sleep anywhere it’s unlikely you will be well rested on the trip so try and nap the day before and after

If sleep is the downside of megabus travel there has to be an upside and for me that was food and entertainment.  Although you aren’t allowed to bring hot food or drink onto the bus and ideally should avoid ‘smelly’ food it’s still worthwhile packing a good selection of your favourites to munch on.  Looking forward to a tasty treat is a good motivator on a long journey.  Don’t drink too much though as the toilet experience is not the best, it’s difficult to access on the swaying bus, small and cramped once inside, dirty and sometimes blocked, I suggest bringing your own tissue and wet wipes along.

Entertainment is critical, I spent a lot of the time looking out the windows, especially on the windy, stop/start city sections of the trip which otherwise would have induced travel sickness (take some travel medicine with you).  But it’s a long trip and I needed something else to do as well so I alternated window gazing with watching TV shows on my iPhone and reading, magazines are a great option too.  The buses all seem to have 3 pin plug sockets and USB ports for charging, but they didn’t always work, so bring an extra battery or two along.  The buses also advertise free WIFI but this rarely worked for me, fortunately my iPad was on the Three network which offers free roaming in France (but not the Netherlands) and my iPhone was on GiffGaff which has relatively low cost data roaming and calling.

2015-09-28 17.34.56

Wind turbines all the way along the motorway

The journey is broken by a 3-4 hour stop off in London, you need to take all of your bags with you and it helps to have planned something to do.  I checked my bags at the Victoria Bus Station baggage storage area, it cost £4 and is located in the departures building, across the road from where you arrive.  If the weather is ok I recommend walking to Hyde park and getting breakfast at the Serpentine Bar and Kitchen Cafe, it takes over an hour to walk there and back, but leave two and enjoy the park a little.  For the international leg of the journey you will need to check-in at the megabus departures office and show your passport and get a boarding ‘card’.  You can’t join the bus without this card.  Megabuses were departing from gates 18,19 and 20 on my visit.

2015-09-28 08.32.52

Breakfast at Hyde Park

Prior to each channel crossing you will go through customs check and have to leave the bus.  On the way out this was quick and easy, we stepped off the bus and walked through French customs (which is located in the UK) and then straight back onto the bus which was waiting in the car park. On the way back we had to go through French and UK customs and there was about a 20 minute queue.  There are no shops or toilets at these customs stops.

My buses only ever stopped to pick up/drop off passengers, the only time we were allowed off the bus was on the channel crossings.  On our outbound journey we crossed via the tunnel which was quick and easy (but the driver said the previous day he had been delayed for 3 hours).  You can get off the bus to stretch your legs during the crossing, but there’s nothing to see or do except walk to the ends of the train where there are toilets, with a long queue.  I would recommend just staying on the bus and sleeping.  On the way back we crossed by ferry, which would have been ok but on our journey it meant being woken up at 2am and spending 2 1/2 hours on the ferry when all I wanted to do was sleep.  I recommend finding a bench and sleeping, alternatively make the best of it and have a ‘nice’ meal, there are video arcades, shops and duty free available too.

2015-09-28 13.48.59-1

My bus on the train, crossing via the Channel Tunnel

The buses themselves are fairly comfortable, the seats are good, leg-room reasonable, there are cold air vents and personal lights above you.  However there are a few niggles:

  1. There are no tables on the back of the seats, or drink holders, so everything has to be on your lap, in your hands or on the seat next to you
  2. There are no seat pockets, so there’s nowhere to store anything except in the parcel shelf above you and that’s not too easy to access. 
  3. There are rubbish bags attached to the arm rests of the seats in the aisles which are very useful.  I recommend ‘borrowing’ one of these bags (or bringing a spare small carrier bag of your own) and attaching it to the middle arm rest of the seat in front.  You can use it in place of a seat pocket or for rubbish if you are sharing the seat with someone else
  4. On the international leg of our journeys the driver said that bags were only allowed on the parcel shelf, not on the floor or seat next to you.  This wasn’t enforced but he explained that it was the law and that infringers could be fined if the bus was inspected.  Most people ignored this.
  5. There is a 3 pin and USB socket shared by each set of two seats, but don’t rely on them working, the WIFI hardly ever worked
  6. My buses were all warm, maybe a little too warm, especially when the bus wasn’t moving and the cold air blowers were off
  7. The toilets can be a bit of a mess, but they are worth their weight in gold as each leg of the journey is very long
  8. Only one of the six drivers I had was helpful, the others provided no or minimal information

I arrived in Amsterdam at about 9pm, an hour later than expected.  The bus parks up at the park and ride (blue arrow) which is right next to the tram stop.  You can get the number 26 tram to Central Station (red arrow) and it takes 15-20 minutes, or you can walk it in about an hour.  There’s also a camp site close to the drop off point which looked very nice, but I didn’t see any nearby hotels. 

image

Map of Amsterdam (tip: save google map of Amsterdam offline, before leaving the UK)

Summing up I really enjoyed the trip to Amsterdam, I got a few hours sleep on the way to London, spent a lovely 3 hours wandering around Hyde Park and having breakfast, enjoyed the novelty of the Channel Tunnel, spent a lot of time gazing out of the windows and watched some great TV on my phone.  I didn’t enjoy the return journey as much, because of the few hours on the ferry, but it was ok.  I’d go again, but I couldn’t do it more than a few times a year.

2015-10-02 10.17.05

Amsterdam is lovely!

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

1 Response

  1. Nigel says:

    I use an air pillow, it packs tiny and can be a full size pillow for the bus or if not enough pillows in the eventual bed.

    http://www.exped.com/usa/en/air-pillow-ul-m is the one I use, there is large but its too large in a cramped place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *