10 notes for travelers using the bus around East Africa

Now that I have gotten over the trauma of my last bus ride I thought I would post a few notes I made about taking long distance buses in these East African streets. These are just a few tips from my personal experiences, hope this helps:

  1. Be sure to wear shoes that can easily be removed and pack a pair of socks in your backpack because the buses go from hot to cold in seconds. Socks will be more bearable then heavy or open shoes.
  2. Pack a roll of toilet paper and baby wipes in the luggage you will be taking on the bus and make sure they are easily accessible.
  3. Always travel with a pen for any paper work, as well as a spare pen that you are willing to donate to the stranger who will ask you for a pen and not bother to bring it back (often because they have given it to someone else who they cannot find anymore).
  4. Make sure you have money, at least one bank card, a fully charged phone and your passport with you on the bus. Try split them up between your backpack, pockets, travel pouch and any other safe place in your clothing. That way if you lose one thing you still have another that could help you.
  5. Always have at least 3 copies of your passport and travel insurance (preferably certified). Keep one copy in your main luggage that will be stored at the bottom of the bus, one in your backpack and one in your travel pouch.
  6. Lock your main luggage. I have never had a problem with any of the buses I have used. In fact they take better care of my luggage than I do but it is best to be safe. Also just don’t leave any valuables- such as laptops, cameras, phones or chargers- in there because the luggage shifts around a lot, especially if you have major stops on your route.
  7. If you need to ‘relieve yourself’ and you are on a direct bus somewhere there are two main ways to go about it: Tap the conductor and inform him that nature is a calling; He will inform the driver to stop at the next best bush where you can do your business. You can also just wait for the regular stops that the bus makes. The buses stop a lot to pick up and drop off passengers, you will know if the stop is for the bathroom if the conductor shouts “short call” (if you are not sure just ask). Grab that toilet paper I mentioned above and find a spot. Often the men will stay close to the road while the women go further in behind bushes. Mind your own business and others will do the same. When you get back in the bus use the wet wipes that you packed to wipe your hands before you even think of doing anything else. I am serious… just do it.

    Riverside Shuttle has a bathroom stop between Arusha and Nairobi
    Riverside Shuttle has a bathroom stop between Arusha and Nairobi
  8. If you are on a bus that has major stops, eg: Arusha to Kampala stops in Nairobi for 2 hours then you can always wait to use the bathrooms at the buses’ offices; With that said, do not expect anything better than the bush. When we stopped in Nairobi we were given a plastic container to scoop up some water from a bath-like thing. You enter the toilet, do your business and then use the water you collected to clean the area- it was a squat toilet with a faulty flushing mechanism, shared by men and women. As far as I have seen on my trips there has not been a petrol station stop for bathrooms.
  9. When you get off the bus keep an eye out for your luggage. There is always a gang of porters waiting outside the door for passengers. At first it appear as if they are just trying to help, and could potentially work for the bus company, but very quickly you realize that you will have to pay a fee for the service being provided and they expect good money for carrying your luggage.
  10. If you have the opportunity, try ask people on the bus how much you should expect to pay for a cab to your final destination; that way you can feel more confident when negotiating with the cab drivers. There will be times when you do not have the energy to bargain and that is alright, get into the first registered cab and get some rest before enjoying your itinerary. Don’t fall into the trap of the rush and chaos created outside the bus doors. If you need time to think push your way to a calmer spot, there will always be a cab that you can catch just outside the bus stations.

Happy busing.

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