There’s nothing quite like stepping off the bus onto the street of a new city on a Friday night to face its new sights, sounds, and smells.
We like to get out of New York for the weekend from time to time, and the cheaper and quicker we can do it, the more time and money we have left to spend on food, sights, and the next weekend getaway. That’s why we often travel by bus. The bus has had a renaissance as of late, with cheaper tickets and more competition leading to a virtuous cycle of more and better service.
I have to say, I like the train, when it’s convenient and we can afford it, though the bus station is often similarly located and less expensive, with a wider variety of destinations.
In order to maximize our vacation time, our primary considerations for any mode are:
- Trip time. We like to take trips that can be completed in a few hours, so that we can depart after work and arrive with some time to enjoy the evening.
- Stops. If we can find a nonstop, that’s the best, though sometimes having an extra stop can work in your favor, e.g. on our way up to Syracuse, the 3:45pm bus always stops at Syracuse University, which saves time getting to our final destination.
- Connections. We avoid connections if at all possible, since it’s one more thing to coordinate that could go wrong.
- Local transit. The best destinations are either walkable or connected to public transit when you arrive. Luckily, we live in the Northeast, where the larger cities have both. If we have to rent a car upon arrival, we don’t travel by bus, we leave by car.
- Cost. Generally, we like to pay $20-30 each way, per person. Any more and it’s something we feel the need to plan out and schedule instead of a spur-of-the-moment decision.
- Reliability. Good transit has backup when something goes wrong. That’s why we tend to take Greyhound, which has spare drivers and buses, instead of Megabus or the Chinatown bus, which do not.
Given these considerations, we always return to a handful of places:
- Philadelphia (2 hrs, $10-15). Great food and beer, cheap hotels, tons of history, and the closest big city to New York.
- Washington, DC (4.5 hrs, $15-25). Amazing free museums and monuments, cheap hotels over holiday weekends, good food, beautiful neighborhoods, slightly better weather.
- Syracuse, NY (5-6 hrs, $35-45). Great food, nature, and good people. My parents and a number of friends live here, though you really need a car or a bicycle, depending on the weather, to enjoy it fully.
- Boston (4.5-5 hrs, $25). Walkable downtown, tons of Revolutionary War-era history though different than Philadelphia, beautiful university campuses and neighborhoods. Slightly harder to find a hotel, from what I recall.
- Montreal (8-9 hrs, $60). Feels like you’re in another country because you are, interesting food (poutine), Canada’s curious use of the 20-oz imperial pint when serving beer, tons of arts and culture including weekly festivals during the summer months. No other city I know enjoys their short summer months more than Montreal. This also happens to be the longest direct bus that you can take from New York.
This is just an overview. I’ll be taking on each of these destinations in the future (as well as a return to Montreal).
Good luck planning your next escape from New York. Let me know your favorite destinations in the comments.