I Survived: First Megabus and Hostel

When I began planning for the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) conference in Boston, it quickly became obvious that cost was going to be an issue. Airfare could not be considered: it was way out of budget. My second go-to was Amtrak. I got pretty comfortable and familiar with Amtrak after riding it twice a week this summer to get to my internship. Again, the price was too high.

This left me with two options. The first was to drive to Boston. This would have been ideal regarding timing (6 hours) and price (only gas and tolls.) The first issue with driving is that I absolutely hate it. Yes, I’ll drive to get where I need to be. It won’t stop me from getting to another college to visit my best friends. But I hate it. The second issue is that there was no way my mom, who is the ruling authority of my car, was going to let me go on a six-hour drive alone. The plan was vetoed before it was even out of my mouth.

I was left with one feasible solution: the bus.

8ish hours by car or 24 hours by car/ bus/ hostel/ bus? Map by Google.

I left school after class on Thursday (around 2:30pm.) I made the hour and a half drive home with no problems, did a load of laundry, and ate dinner. I loaded my travel backpack into the car, happy to be using it for the second time, and my mom drove me to Philadelphia; the drive should have only taken an hour, the keyword being “should.”

We were cutting it a little close on time after leaving late and deciding we had enough time to stop at Dairy Queen–I literally cannot say no to ice cream. The trusty GPS displayed our arrival time: two minutes before I had to be at the MegaBus boarding location.

Just as I finished eating my salted caramel truffle blizzard, my mom decided she wasn’t going to listen to the GPS, because it was clearly wrong and was not telling us the fastest route. We were instantly met with standstill, undeniable, not-moving-an-inch traffic. I yelled about how she should just listen to the GPS. She yelled about it not being in her control. I frantically tried to find another route to Boston, acknowledging that my seemingly brilliant, cost-effective plan was down the drain. Somehow, by a stroke of pure luck, we arrived in Philadelphia before the MegaBus left. I boarded without an issue.

I thought the trip was already fairly eventful. I clearly didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I settled into a reserved seat on the second floor of the bus, which I had chosen strategically based on reviews online. It wasn’t so bad for the price. My seat mate arrived, carrying a bag of food. As we drove through Philly, I tried to distract myself. I saw Independence Hall for the first time in years despite being in the city twice a week for my internship this past summer. I glanced away from the window, towards my chomping seat mate. With a level of skill that comes only with practice, they were holding a chicken wing between the index finger of thumb of the left hand. A piece of chewed, bright green gum was squished between the middle and ring fingers…in the same hand as the chicken wing.

The rest of the way to New York, I read John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley in Search of America” with intermittent breaks to write down quotes, look up pictures of Rocinante, and add the John Steinbeck Center to my bucket list. When we arrived in the city, I started making my way through the drizzle to Chelsea International Hostel, only a few blocks away. When I made my transportation plan, I was most concerned about cost and sleep. Staying the night in New York between MegaBus rides provided me with the most satisfaction in both categories.

The deceiving entrances of Chelsea International Hostel.

As I approached the hostel, my sense of confidence started to fall away. I had never stayed in a hotel alone, let alone a hostel room shared with up to three other strangers. There was a canopied entry and door with a small sign above. I asked the two men standing outside of the smaller entryway where the door was: I’m sure I sounded slightly psychotic. They motioned for me to enter and one of the men said he’d be around in a minute. He rushed through the backdoor and into the office, which was located in a narrow hallway. I was assured that I would be able to check-in, I just needed to wait until after the computer was done resetting at midnight (it was about 11:50pm.) I leaned against the wall waiting and the man opened the office door so the fat cat, Tubs, could keep me company.

Unexpected courtyard between the lobby and rooms.

Eventually I checked-in and made my way across a courtyard to my room. The lights were out: one girl on her phone, another definitely asleep. I didn’t say anything, wishing I had done a little more research and instantly remembering that I had forgotten to bring a lock for my bag. The girl on her phone said hello with a thick Spanish accent. We decided which bed I would use, I washed my face, and settled in. The next morning I woke up at 7:00am. I never got to see the room with the light on, but my only complaint was the temperature: very warm.

New and old: morning walk along the High Line (New York.)

I walked along the scenic High Line, a railroad line turned into a park, for the majority of my journey to the bus stop. Once I knew where I would be boarding, I began my bagel search, ending up with an un-toasted circle of doughy disappointment from a street vendor. The bus ride from New York to Boston was fairly uneventful; I slept most of the way, this time freezing instead of sweating.

Seven hours later, the bus arrived in Boston and I didn’t have enough time to head to Elizabeth’s to shower, the dream plan. Instead, I grabbed lunch at Au Bon Pain (breaking one of my Travel Rules: trying not to eat at chain restaurants) and changed from my leggings into a dress and heels. I swiped on some more deodorant, brushed my teeth, and walked out as if I hadn’t just spent twenty-minutes using their restroom to make a complete transformation. At the Park Plaza Hotel, the conference location,  I checked my backpack with the concierge (I looked pretty funny carrying it with a dress and heels on) and headed to the first session with only ten minutes to spare.
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Although my MegaBus experience both to and from Boston was less than desirable, I would certainly do it again considering the price. I made note of the things I wished I had: mints, nerdy head pillow. My journey turned into a fun anecdote to share with other students who had traveled to the conference from much further geographic distances–in much less time.

I was fairly fortunate that all the moving pieces in my crazy transportation fell into place, but it barely worked. Being delayed for ten minutes at any point would have caused me to miss the first session. As the bus snaked its way through Philly, Steinbeck reminded me: “The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand it.”

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