What do you need to bring on your overnight buses in Aus? So you've bought your bus pass for Australia, your travelling the East Coast on a hop on hop off bus pass for a few weeks, and you've got some long journeys ahead of you!
This is a guide for taking the long distance and overnight buses in Australia, with Greyhound, Premier Motor Service, or Loka, but the points here can be applied to any long bus journey, be it in Asia, Europe or America. Not sure of which bus company to pick? Check out our detailed breakdown here.
For a trip of any distance, but especially in Australia, do the obvious. Bring your phone/ipad, download music on Spotify or another platform, download Netflix movies, have a book, or Kindle full of books ready to go. On the East Coast of Australia you will probably have at least 4 bus journeys over 5 hours long, so entertainment during those times are key! For the overnight buses, for example from Airlie Beach to Rainbow Beach, its 12 hours with Premier Motor Service. If you're like me, and struggle to sleep on buses, than you need something else to distract you, as everyone else will be trying to sleep. Netflix and chill with noise cancelling headphones are perfect in that regard.
Never ever ever rely on wifi in any form of transportation, be it a private bus, train, or plane. In general the wifi is being shared between 40-50 people, and it is also dependent on getting signal- oftentimes it doesn't work at all, especially in Australia, where there are large distances between towns. These distances tend to be black holes when it comes to wifi. If you are planning in staying in Australia for a month or longer definitely get a SIM card from a local phone store. The three biggest phone companies are Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone. If you are just planning on travelling the East Coast, it shouldn't matter which network you choose, every town will have network (I personally prefer Optus but it depends on your needs). Telstra is a must if you're planning on going to the outback, as the service stations, which can be 100's of kilometers apart, often only have Telstra coverage (I only remember one service station between Darwin and Adelaide that had Optus instead of Telstra). However, if you are out of data and need the wifi, Greyhound are the only bus service that offers it. It's dodgy at best, but usually improves during the night when there is less people using it.
Charge Your Phone/Electronics before
This might seem obvious, but make sure to have charged all your electronics that you plan on watching Netflix on for those 12 hour buses. Most companies don't offer a means of charging your equipment, so a portable charger is a must. For $20 I got one that recharges my phone fully 3 times, more than enough for any bus journey. If you're worried about battery life, put your phone on airplane mode and lower the brightness, as these functions use the most battery power. You can find more tips for saving battery on your phone here. Greyhound buses, however, do have a USB port for charging small electronics, but no plugs for charging laptops.
What clothes to bring
Before departing on an overnight bus, make sure you prepare well by bringing and wearing the right clothes. On buses without aircon, it gets warm during the day so make sure what your wearing is comfortable, and light. This also is handy for when your stopping off at servos for breaks, so you won't be left sweating outside. It's also nice to have a spare clean t-shirt to change into for when you first arrive at a new destination. But, oftentimes with Premier and Greyhound they have the aircon on full blast during the day, so bring a scarf/jumper/cardigan,because that aircon is set to arctic. At night definitely cover up, this is where a scarf or towel comes in most useful- you can wrap yourself up in them if it gets too cold, or use them as a pillow against the window, if your seat partner won't let you lie on them. At the very minimum I'd advise bringing socks as well, to cover your feet from the aircon, because you don't need another reason not to be able to sleep. I'd even bring socks during the day, thongs just don't do it here. For girls, leggings are also very popular to wear, I'd imagine they're quite comfy. And although personally I don't like neck pillows, some people swear by them for sleeping on transport, so make sure you have yours on you if that's you thing.
Food on buses
The food at roadstops tends to be terrible, expensive, and infrequent. The bus will stop every 4 hours, so if you're on a long bus journey, stock up while you can. I'd advise bringing some of your own food from Woolies or Coles, as they have a much better selection to choose from than the servos on the way. However, some drivers won't let you bring on hot drinks or hot food, or anything that smells too strong, so if you bring one of those $8 full roast chickens on, drivers will happily tell you to go pluck yourself. But in general, little snacks like crisps/chips are fine to eat on board. Personally, I found the best food for overnight journeys to be Nimbin's baked goods. I don't always get sleepy after I eat, but after them..
Alcohol is not allowed. Visibly. Think of it like been on a trip with your school when you're underage, and do what underage you would do. That's all I'll say.
But speaking of alcohol- Hangovers. Don't go hungover. Or do, I'm not your boss. I sleep through my hangovers on public transport anyway so it doesn't bother me, but if you're the type that gets pukey hungover, maybe leave the schooners for the nights that you arrive in new places. This is especially true if you get to your next place early in the morning and can't check in anywhere until 2 (Rainbow Beach > Noosa, for example). It's no fun waiting around hungover until you can get a bed. Also, waking up drunk and having a 7am bus ride can seem like a great idea at 3am, and it is... for the first hour, then it goes downhill fast when you realise you've verbally abused everyone around you and you stink of old cigarette smoke and shame.
Pick your seat well
You have to get a double seat for an overnight bus. This is non negotiable. And essential for those who can't sleep sitting straight up. With a double seat I tend to turn to the side, put my chair back a tiny bit, and lie against the headrest. But each to their own. The front seats of the bus tend to be nicer if you get travel sick, as the motion of the bus has much less effect on you when you can see out the large front window. Also if you get travel sick, avoid seat over the wheels, they're generally a bumpy ride. For Greyhound buses, the toilets are at the back of the bus, so sitting near them can stink sometimes, while with Premier they're located in the middle of the bus. Choose wisely, especially if school-aged you liked a few drinks on the sly. Finally, sit away from screaming kids, unless their your own. If they are your own, you've made questionable life decisions if your bringing kids on a 10 hour bus ride.
Toilets on buses are never great, but in general Premier and Greyhound keep them fairly clean. Don't expect more than single ply toilet paper, that stuff is a luxury not a right. I find toilet doors on Greyhound can get stuck, making it easy to fall, so take care hopping in and out. Finally, the door needs to be closed and locked for light to turn on.
The 15 to 30 minute roadstop at a servo every 4 hours is a legal requirement in Australia. Drivers will make you get off the bus at these stops, no matter the time of night, as they can't leave anyone on the bus in case they steal something. Accept this and you'll be much happier, there's nothing they can do about this rule. Plus it gives you a chance to stretch your legs and get some fresh, petrol fumed air.
Personally, I find overnight buses great. They save you money because you don't need to pay for that nights accommodation, and more importantly, they save you a full day travelling, which you can then spend doing activities/ chillling by the beach/ playing kangaroo golf. But there are some disadvantages- often times overnight buses are not comfy, especially if you only have one seat. Some people also really struggle to sleep on them, so the time they've spent travelling that night is wasted by sleeping the next day. Obviously, its preferable to have a hostel bed if you struggle to sleep on buses. Don't plan activities for the morning you arrive after an overnight bus, just in case you have trouble sleeping, unless you are really tight for time (Some overnight Whitsundays boats leave at lunchtime, so its possible to make them, but you might not be in the mood for a 2 day booze cruise after one of these buses). It's usually worth having a day to check in and explore your new surroundings. As mentioned earlier, you will be woken every 4 hours to get off the bus at a roadstop, it's a legal requirement to prevent driver fatigue, so it is necessary. Finally, check in for the vast majority of hostels is at 2pm, which means a few hours of waiting around, but most hostels let you drop your bags off in their storage room, and this gives you a morning to do your shopping, chill by the beach, and in general just get a feel for the place.
Buses frequently get booked out in the summer months, especially December/ January/February. Its definitely necessary to book a few days in advance, and in January, you simply won't be able to get anywhere if you don't have things booked at least a week in advance. This is due to everybody celebrating the New Year in Sydney, and deciding to embark up the East Coast from the 2nd of January. Don't expect to get your preferred days for any trip during this time, and for the Whitsundays and Fraser, bookings in December are necessary or you could get stuck on something really poor quality.
Secondly, with the extremes of weather in Australia, buses can get cancelled and be full for the next week. Especially if there's a cyclone or that coming in, be prepared to have all your plans thrown into disarray, and have you travel insurance in order just in case. If you don't think you need travel insurance, check out 'Cyclone Airlie Beach April 2017'. This was a horrible time to be working as a travel agent, and even worse for the people trapped in the likes of Mackay for a week.
Thirdly, even with a hop on hop off pass, you must book on to each and every bus. You can book online on your bus company's website, by phone or through us. Normally, if you book an East Coast trip by bus with us, we'll have booked all your buses in to fit your schedule, and we will have triple checked the days and times. But if you are booking them yourself, you need to go the bus company's website, log on with your booking reference and your PIN code, and choose the locations, dates and times. If you booked with us, you'll receive your PIN and full bus tickets through email. For boarding the buses, the drivers normally ask for ID and your name. Take a screenshot, download the pdf, or print your ticket off just in case though. For ID, any ID is normally accepted, but Passport or Drivers Licences are recommended.
Finally, thank the driver as you get off, they have driven you to your next stop safe and sound, and they usually appreciate it. Its only polite.