Why cheap bus travel makes me feel rich

I looked up at the bus stop I had just approached… and saw number 695. Bingo! After a slight detour I had nailed it, with four minutes to spare. I was figuring out this public transport even if it had me wandering seemingly aimlessly at times. The bus pulled up on time and I boarded, asking the driver for Potsdam Hauptbahnhof… the central station to which I was to board my FlixBus to Dresden.

I gestured with euros and he said ‘ah, automated’ and pointed down the bus. Ohhhh. I glanced and saw a kiosk further down, which I realised I was supposed to buy a ticket from. It suddenly dawned on me that the bus driver a few days ago who dismissed my euros and waved me on the bus was not indeed giving me a free ride (which I took), but probably telling me to pay at the machine. Oops.

I did this, with 20kg backpack on back as the bus lurched forward. In moments like this it takes a lot of abdominal strength to stay upright. Everybody saw my amusing display of Hulk strength. I then tried to validate my ticket on another machine as I had seen other people do. This didn’t work. I sat down with, at least, a ticket in my hand, and listened to that munching-crunching-ticket-validating machine haunting me all the way to the station.

When I finally hopped off, all I had to do was find Platform 9 where the Flixbus would go from. I walked along the aisles… 6, 7, 8…? No nine? It just wasn’t there? There wasn’t a ninth platform.

I walked all over the station hearing my sensible inner voice thinking “this is why you leave plenty of time”. I stood in the queue at the Information desk to ask where Platform 9 was, and the lady said she didn’t know. I thought I had no hope. Time was hurrying on.

Honestly, what are you supposed to do in life when you’re told to find a platform which just doesn’t exist?

She did recognise the name Flixbus though and pointed the generic direction of where I had just come from, so my hope was somewhat renewed.

I stood bemused outside thinking that when a big green bus pulls up in 15 minutes time, I won’t be able to miss it. I had this shaky self-confidence because I’ve been in similar confused situations countless times and always managed to work it out; I’m sure it’d be fine. I hadn’t missed a bus yet in four months of travelling. I’m pretty much Jason Bourne.

And by zooming in really, really far on the Flixbus app I pinpointed a location which I then translated into Google Maps and wandered the 50 meters or so towards the unused buses parked up by the side of the station, not in numbered bays and not flinging past the station in German efficiency.

I approached a few other people with luggage and saw a very tiny sign saying Flixbus, angled far away from the station. I searched high and low for a ‘9’ and was satisfied that this didn’t exist, and it also wasn’t a platform. I knew it. I was on a goose chase.

I took off my pack and stretched my sweaty back. I sat on my worldly belongings and dived in for the tuppaware of pasta that I prepared in advance for dinner at the kitchen-less hostel in Dresden that night. I sat by the kerb and gobbled down that pasta. I didn’t know if it was because I was hungry or because I wanted to delve in to something that I'd actually gotten right, to make me feel better. My home-made meal made me seem like I had my day on track. The avocado was perfectly ripe.

When the bus did pull up, it wasn’t green. It was blue. The first blue Flixbus I’d seen. I felt betrayed (how would I have spotted that??) but I also didn’t care anymore. It was all in the past, just like that. I stowed my luggage, produced my ticket and climbed the stairs to the upper level of the double-decker. As I plopped myself on a seat by the window and wrapped my head in my noise cancelling headphones I felt rewarded for the hundredth time, just by sitting on the seat. For the next 3 hours I was no longer responsible for myself; I became the luggage of the bus and there was nothing more for me to do.

The struggles and stresses of travelling in a foreign country with no grasp of the language let alone how everyday things function (who would have thought kiosks on buses?) without a second opinion to confirm or deny your overthinking is like running a mental marathon on the daily. It’s more difficult with lack of sleep – or god forbid – a hangover.

But if you can just get yourself on the right bus, it’s practically a high-flying private jet after that, I promise.

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