I used to wonder what would it be like to take a bus tour somewhere. In my travels, I’d see tour buses everywhere as a staple of the tourism industry. I’d imagine what it would be like to go on one of those pre-arranged bus trips rather than plan a trip from start to finish for my wife and me.
I wonder no more. I recently returned from my first bus tour and – not to my surprise – there are a lot of very sharp pros and cons to the experience.
Our trip was run by Gate1 Travel, which I gather is a fairly well-known tour bus operator. Our trip started in the Black Hills of South Dakota and finished in the Northern Rockies of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Covering over 1300 miles in six days, we saw every tree, plant, animal and breathtaking view between Mt. Rushmore and the Grand Tetons.
If you’re thinking of taking a bus tour, here are some pros, cons, and pointers you might wish to consider before making a down payment.
Just About Everything Is Taken Care Of
From the time you arrive until the time you leave, you do not have to touch your luggage except for putting your bags outside of your hotel room when departing for a new destination. No loading your luggage on the bus, of course. It’s all done for you.
What’s more – and something I loved – was that you do not have to check in and out of hotels. All that is already arranged for travelers. When you arrive at a hotel your tour guide gives you your keys and room assignments.
A Tour Guide
A good guide must have a very broad knowledge of the region in which you are traveling.
We were very lucky to have Kerry Anderson, who’s not just a knowledgeable guide, but someone who was funny even at 8 AM.
Our guide was an expert in the Northern Rockies. He tied history to geography to local lore to horticulture to language to everything. He gave us a great blend of what we needed to know and knew answers to our questions without resorting to the Googler.
He arranged to have “Step-ons” along the way. These were local experts who joined us for a bit to provide local expertise. This added great color commentary to our adventure. One such step-on was a Native American k/a Big Belly. He brought us up-to-date with the progress of the Crazy Horse project.
Our tour guide seemed to have endless energy. He had a good spirit about things even when things broke down as our bus did on the first day. While we were out and about, he was working behind the scenes to make our experience a great and memorable one.
You Are Not In Control Of Your Schedule
Since a bus tour packs in as much as possible, you do not stay at any one place for very long.
Say you fall in love with Sheridan, WY and want to spend more than one hour at The Mint Bar talking with cowboys and cowgirls. Well, that’s too bad. Next time.
If you can’t get out of bed before the sun rises, this kind of trip is not for you.
We were up most mornings by 6 AM with breakfast at 7 and on the bus at 8 – or earlier.
When you get the itinerary for your trip, see if you can find out before you go how much time you will spend at all of your stops.
This will give you a sense of how fast the tour will move and an opportunity to plan in advance what you might want to explore when you get to each stop.
Which Side Of The Bus?
That doesn’t sound like a big deal but it is.
While our tour guide rotated us to the front and back of the bus every day, we never switched sides. For reasons known only to animals, the best view of bison, longhorn sheep, elk, deer, and a few bears was always on the right side. This really annoyed me. Only a few animals seemed to be hanging around on the left side where I was.
You may wish to consider a tour that travels in a certain direction.
We had the option of taking the same tour from east to west or west to east. Our choice was to go east to west so that we could travel into the sunset should the occasion ever arise. (It sort of did.)
If possible, find out the accommodations you will have on the bus. This is more than whether your bus has a bathroom (which most people don’t use).
Does your bus have easy access to electrical outlets?
How much legroom is there? That’s a very important factor.
Our original bus was new and was perfect. Very comfortable with easy access to electrical outlets. However, it broke down on the first day. The replacement bus was not so good. The few electrical outlets were available only in the first few rows. The worst aspect was the lack of space between seats.
Did anyone say, “Airplane?” It was about that bad.
Before you go on your trip, do your homework! Learn as much as you can about the bus and the stops you’ll be making.
Photos: Bud Kraus.
Editor’s note: If you enjoyed Bud’s advice on taking a bus tour you may also want to read his article on If You’re Thinking Of Taking An Amtrak Trip Like I Did Around The USA.