Tag Archives: bus travel

Best way to travel Montreal-Toronto

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Montreal’s “Gare Centrale”

I’m just about to set off from Montreal on a Via Rail train to Toronto. I have lots of fond memories of making this trip frequently during my studies as an MBA student at York University. In fact, I’ve made the trip in all modes of travel: train, plane, bus, and automobile. The only thing I haven’t done is walked or biked!

In keeping with the travel theme of my blog, here’s my opinion of each of these four modes of transportation.

Automobile: I love road trips. But for me, the conditions have to be right. I could probably travel nearly any distance by car if I’ve got the windows down and the wind in my face, radio blaring my top travel tunes, and ideally a travel partner with whom to stop at Tim Horton’s coffee shops along the way. My last road trip was in the USA: from Chapel Hill, North Carolina to Tampa, Florida via Charleston, South Carolina. A great time! But, I rarely travel this way. This is mainly because I haven’t owned a car since the late 90’s. I could rent but my drivers license recently expired and I can’t get another one until my work visa is renewed. So, the trouble factor is too high. And of course parking would be a burden in a city like Toronto. Renting a compact car for this trip – three nights and four days, plus fuel, and parking, would probably have taken me to about $200-250. There are options to ride-share. Check places like craigslist or simply ask your friends on facebook!

Bus: My global travels started by bus, and although its probably my least favourite mode of transport, it’ll always be a fall-back for me and I like to think it keeps me grounded to being a frugal traveler. Bus travel takes a long time: at least a nine hour trip to Toronto. Advantages include affordability and I sometimes like being able to travel overnight (you save on a hotel and can maximize your daytime hours in the city). Greyhound buses have a seat-side socket for your laptop and wi-fi on board, though on a recent trip from New York to Montreal I found it to be quite slow. For me, the major cons to traveling by bus are the frequent stops, the bumpy ride which makes it difficult to get any rest, and the usually crappy dining options along the way. But sometimes its still the best option in comparison. My most recent bus trip was from New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal to Montreal on a Greyhound bus. I paid $78 for a one-way ticket and the journey took eight hours door-to-door. The money saved lets my travel dollar go even further and that keeps me true to my roots as a budget backpacker. :)

Plane: Usually the fastest way to go of course. But don’t forget to add the travel time to and from the airport, check-in and security clearance, boarding time, and the extra costs of a taxi. Consider flying into Billy Bishop Toronto City airport which is much closer to downtown than Pearson International. Remember that flying by plane is the least environmentally friendly way to travel. Don’t be fooled by those airlines which allow you to purchase “credits” or “offsets” so that you can be carbon-neutral. Some carbon offset programs may not be having the impact we seek (more on that in another blog post). A return flight from Montreal to Toronto can be anywhere between $250 and $600, depending on when you book, who you’re flying with, and what time you’re flying. I last flew this route in January, as the first leg of a journey to Ethiopia.

Train: My favourite way to travel to Toronto is by train, mainly because I can sit comfortable with lots of leg room and work while on board using free wi-fi. Travel times ranges from five to eight hours, depending on the number of stops. There are fewer security hassles too. Getting to the train station in Montreal is easy and fast and likewise in Toronto. And fares are usually quite reasonable: I paid $116 for this trip, tax in. Another huge plus is that its much more environmentally friendly than taking the plane or traveling by car.

Via Rail still has Economy Escape fares available to Toronto for the upcoming Labour Day weekend, at $90 all in, return trip. What are you waiting for? :)

If you’ve done this trip before, please share your thoughts below! Thanks!

Bus from Lusaka, Zambia to Lilongwe, Malawi

My neck is very comfortable

I find it very helpful to read other’s accounts of how they got from point A to B in strange places, and so I thought I’d return the favour. I’ll try to do this as often as I can during this trip – click on the tag “bus travel” to find more of the same.

Summary

Travel time: 12 hours
Cost: 170,000 ZMK (Zambian Kwacha) or 34 USD
Bus company: Kobs Bus Services

I travelled with Kobs Bus Services, and caught them at the Lusaka Intercity Bus Terminus. I was recommended to go with Kobs by a few locals I’d met during my time in the city who I paid a few bucks to do some travel research. They said it was the most comfortable, the fastest, and the most reliable. I was told that they even provide a snack and a cold drink along the way. That was good enough for me!

Pre-departure

I went to the bus station to buy a ticket ahead of time as I wanted to be absolutely sure I would make it on to the bus. The ticket cost me 170,000 Zambian kwatcha, which is about US$34. I know that I didn’t overpay as this is what was listed on a sign as I approached the ticket office, and someone else in the bus confirmed having paid the same thing. Since I have troublesome knees, I asked for a seat at the front. The fellow at the ticket office (Masuzio) was very nice and met me the following morning to make sure I had a comfortable seat. I tipped him 5000 kwacha (US$1) for this as I really appreciated it.

Departure and Baggage
Zambian countryside at sunrise
Zambian countryside at sunrise

The bus boarded at 4:30am, and was scheduled for departure at 5:00am. It left on time. I decided to put my large backpack into the hold down below. The baggage handled tried to pull a fast one on me, by saying that there was a charge for bags stowed under the bus. I just ignored him and he didn’t do anything. But a scary thing did happen on route. About an hour and a half into our trip, along a dusty highway through the countryside, the bus went over a bump and the hold opened up and several bags fell out on to the highway. The bus stopped, and passengers ran back along the highway searching for their bag and clothes that had fallen out of those that had burst open. Thankfully mine was safe as it was in one of the other holds. Still, quite disconcerting!

Our bus stopped at Chipata

Stops

During the trip, we stopped about half a dozen times. This was not a surprise, as I had been told that the bus was an express but that several stops were planned. However, consistently the bus driver said we’d only stop for 10-15 minutes, and we always stayed at least double that. So this dragged out the length of the ride quite a bit. One of those was the town of Chipata, where we stopped for about an hour. Some passengers alighted here and took taxis to the Malawian border, and caught another bus on the other side. One local suggested to me that he wished he had done so himself, as he would have saved himself up to an hour.

Bathrooms

There are no bathrooms on the bus. In some places you’ll find private restrooms which charge a small fee for use, and others you’ll have to hunt around for a spot to go. This is obviously much easier for guys than girls. In the countryside, folks will step off into the bush. As a rule, I always bring a roll of toilet paper with me, and this is often useful on bus trips. I also find popping an immodium a couple of hours prior to the trip can avoid an uncomfortable (or embarrassing situation!).

Border Crossing
A group of nuns sitting outside the border office

The border crossing was uneventful. Leaving Zambia is easy, you simply fill out an exit card and they stamp your passport. Entering Malawi is about as easy. You fill out a visitor register, carry a log number with you to the agent, and fill out an immigration card, and he stamps your passport. There is no fee for entering Malawi (as there was for Zambia and Mozambique). I doubt the reverse is true for Malawians entering Canada! And there are always moneychangers around willing to take your money for a fee (or for free!). Good idea to check rates ahead of time if you’re worried about getting fleeced.

Arrival in Lilongwe

Depending on who I had asked, I had had quotes of anywhere from 8 hours to 14 hours for the ride. In the end, we arrived in Lilongwe in 12 hours, which was about what I had hoped. The bus was usually traveling at a pretty good clip and often overtook other vehicles on the road.

On your arrival in downtown Lilongwe, there will be plenty of local taxis (motorcycles and vehicles) available to take you to your destination. If you don’t have a place to stay and your budget is flexible, I would highly recommend the Kiboko Hotel where I stayed myself for long enough to have a very informed opinion. If you need something more affordable, I have heard good things about Mufasa Backpackers’ Hostel, although I have never stayed there myself. For either hotel, it should not cost you more than 3-4 USD from the bus station using a regular taxi (much less for a motorcycle taxi).

Bottom line:

I would travel with Kobs again but if you can, bring your backpack on to the bus with you. And of course, be aware that bus travel is not the safest form of travel in many countries with poorly enforced road laws. News article: Zambian bus accident kills 33

Is there something else you wish I’d commented on or want to know about? Leave a note below.