I’d been warned time and time again about taking Greyhound buses in America. But I was on a budget, so I ignored the protests of friends and parents and off I went.

What’s the worst that could happen? Oh how little I knew.

Having spent a few days in LA, the time for my first bus trip was looming, and I got chatting to some girls in the hostel the night before. “Don’t go to the bus station on your own, and make sure you get there at least an hour before or you won’t get on,” one fellow traveller told me.

While two Australian girls decided to impart every detail of their nightmare trip down the entire west coast of America – not what I wanted to hear.

First Trip Nerves

So the next morning I walked to the bus station full of dread. How long would I have to wait if the bus was full? What if there was a drunk/homeless person/murderer/rapist sitting next to me?

I was first in the queue for the bus over an hour before it was due to leave, so I sat nervously glancing around, making sure no one looked like they might want to “befriend” me once we got onboard.

Eventually the bus rolled up with only two people on it. I got on and enjoyed an eight hour trip to Las Vegas with two seats to myself. Too easy.

The next few trips I took went much too smoothly for my liking. A sense of impending doom fell over me every time I went to catch a bus, but every time I was pleasantly surprised at how much I was enjoying myself, and more importantly, how much money I was saving. I knew it couldn’t last.

My final and shortest bus ride from Santa Cruz to San Francisco turned out to be my downfall – fate had saved the best for last. 

The bus arrived 30 minutes late, but this didn’t worry me. I knew I was in trouble when a gang of about 15 men in wife beaters and white shirts stepped off for a smoke. 

I got on the bus, suddenly feeling very middle class as I sat down next to a toothless Mexican and looked around. 

The bus was packed, hot and smelly and my feet were now wedged into a tiny space, surrounded by the entire contents of the Mexican man’s house. 

The white shirt brigade swaggered back on and took their seats. None of them had any bags or belongings.

As the bus chugged out of the station I kept quiet and tried to ignore the alarm bells going off in my head.

Jail Bird

I noticed one of the guys in white flicking through a stack of letters and things started to make sense; wife beaters, no bags, stacks of letters… 

Sure enough when I finally caught a glimpse of the address on the envelope it read “Cell 14” of a Californian prison. Fantastic. 

I was stuck on a sweaty bus with a load of ex-cons.

As I willed the bus to go faster, one of the inmates started to look a bit green. 

His buddies taunted him as he dashed to the back of the bus, but the door to the ‘‘emergency toilet” was jammed and the whole bus was treated to the sickly stench of vomit as he emptied his stomach next to the back seats.

Just as we thought it couldn’t get any worse, it turned out we had been lumbered with one of Greyhound’s less experienced drivers and we got lost on the way to one of our drop off points – twice. 

We were saved by a local passenger who sat at the front giving the driver directions.

An hour later I practically jumped off the bus in San Francisco and skipped to my hostel, very thankful that was to be my last Greyhound trip for a while.