Tips for Riding BoltBus

Photo by Flickr user btrandolph
A couple weeks back I had to head up to New York City for an overnighter. Not wanting to deal with traffic, gas prices, and parking, I opted for one of the bus services that run between Washington, DC and NYC. I wasn't sure which one to go with but after a little research I decided on BoltBus. They seemed to have some of the best reviews and a decent track record.

Note: The Washington Post did a great comparison on the bus lines that run from DC to NYC. It's worth a look if you are interested. 

The bus was by far the simplest and cheapest way to get from Washington, DC to New York City. My tickets came to $28 round trip. A ride where I can sleep the whole way, read on my Kindle, or just have room to stretch out is well worth that cost. But like the other bus services, BoltBus offers a decent list of features.

  • Wi-Fi
  • Extra Legroom
  • Electrical Outlets
  • $1 Fares (if you book far enough in advance)
  • Boarding Groups
  • Reserved Seating


Ok, so they seemingly offer a lot but is it really worth it? Most of this stuff is just icing on the cake. The real deal is that you get to sit back and relax for four and a half hours instead of fiddling with the cruise control. I'll break down a few of the features a little bit more though.

The on board Wi-Fi is so slow and can be so finicky that it's virtually nonexistent. Depending on your device, it may take a few tries to connect to it and once you do, you're best if you limit your Internet surfing to a minimum. Since it's an open network, security is important. And due to the low speed, don't count on video chatting with a friend or watching YouTube.

Although the Wi-Fi speed depends on a number of factors, in my two simple tests it was slower than 3G on my iPhone.


The on board electrical outlets are handy but there's only one outlet for two seats to share. Granted both of you can plug in one gizmo each, it's going to be sort of in the way for one of you with the cord dangling by your feet. Also, the slots feel very loose and my iPhone charger wouldn't stay in without falling out.

It's hard not to compare the seat layout with that of an airliner because they are essentially the same thing; mass people carriers. With that in mind, there are two things to note:

  • There is also no flexible little pocket in the seat back. So keeping a magazine or water bottle handy isn't super easy.
  • There are no tray tables so you'll have to set your tablet or laptop directly on your lap if you decided to use them. 
  • The spot for a bag under your feet is slightly limited in size by the fold down foot rest. On an airplane, you can fit a full backpack under the seat in front of you and still have some room but not so much on the bus.
Those aren't huge things but certainly something that feels awkward if you are used to flying. 

At the end of the day, you can't go wrong with taking the bus. I'm sure there are some horror stories of broken air conditioners, mechanical troubles and flat tires but the reward of getting to sit there doing nothing (or even working on your computer) is worth it if pick a reputable bus service. 

If you want my advice, here it is:
  • Book as early as possible. You'll get to board first and have your pick of seats. I like being near the front so I can see the road ahead and it also keeps me away from the noise and/or smell of the bathroom. 
  • Regarding your carry on, pack light. The overhead bin is not as large as an airliners and the spot under the seat in front of you is a lot smaller. 
  • Don't count on Wi-Fi. Pack a few magazines, book, Kindle... something pre-loaded with reading material or games to keep you distracted. Wi-Fi is a bonus, not a guaranteed feature.
  • If you know you aren't going to use the electrical outlet, it may be best to grab the window seat so the cable from your seat mate's iPad doesn't get caught under your feet. 
Have you tried BoltBus or a similar service before? What was your experience?