Traveling by bus probably invokes memories of dirty, old Greyhound buses. Or if you live at the East Coast you may use the modern buses frequenting between the major East Coast cities.
While many parts of South East Asia (Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam) have been providing great and comfy bus services, Europe is now catching up.
Germany has freshly liberalized the bus travel market and for many East European countries the lack of rail infrastructure but excellent new freeways (thanks to European Union subsidies) make buses a great option.
Most routes are run by small companies from their hubs. Since the initial investments in buses are low compared to an airline there are many startups. What unites most of them especially in Eastern Europe is the quality of buses with WiFi, free drinks, movies and more.
However there is no central reservation system and loyalty programs are just starting.
So here's why I think these companies make a great addition to your travel:
– it's cheap – many routes are offered at EUR 9 or less as promotional offers
– its comfy and in-time
– for short/medium hops it's the best alternative thus avoiding the creaky rail infrastructure and congested airports
Here are the challenges:
– since there is no central reservation system you first have to google the route and then look up schedules and book a ticket online (mostly major CCs are accepted)
– since each company has it's own spin on rules read the emails very carefully
My recent experience:
Just yesterday I took Student Agency bus (ok not sure how anyone would come up with such a name) from Dresden to Prague and it was fantastic. The online purchase was a breeze. The bus was on-time and came equipped with leather seats. An IFE had tons of movies and TV shows (in English! and Czech), free hot drinks and a service rarely seen in most business class flights. Someone actually smiled when helping passengers – unbelievable! While the WiFi was slow it worked all the way and was free as well. I'd take the bus over a train or a flight any day. City center to city center in under 2.5 hours for under $30.