A Bus Trip Gone Wrong: This Is Why You Always Need Plan B

As a frequent traveler moving from destination to destination on a budget, I often choose the slower or more adventurous route in search of differing experiences. This often leads me to take a bus trip or the train when time permits, and for the most part, this has not led to any issues or travel delays. However, on a trip to Reno, Nevada, I chose bus travel for a crucial part of the journey, but a series of errors led to more than I had planned. 

Learn From My Mistakes: A Bus Trip Gone Wrong

Boston Bus
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With the rise of bus travel as an airline alternative, I booked another ticket with them based on a previous experience with FlixBus from Reno to Sacramento. FlixBus rose to popularity in Europe, where bus and train travel is commonplace, and now operates across the U.S. since arriving in 2018. Additionally, since FlixBus acquired Greyhound in 2021, they now connect over 242 cities in the U.S. with budget fares. 

A Series of Delays and Mishaps

2022’s Airline Chaos: A Summary
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I planned to fly from San Diego to Sacramento and take FlixBus from Sacramento to Reno. I had used this same travel route before successfully. Approaching this winter trip, the plan seemed simple and easy enough, even with an impending storm.

The First Delay

Man looking at watch, late
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My first bus mishap occurred when the local city bus from the airport to the Old Town neighborhood to connect to FlixBus failed to show up as scheduled, despite my four-hour time cushion. It eventually did come over an hour late. Perhaps this was an omen for the day. 

The First Mishap

Tourist Complaining, tired woman, exhausted
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Previously, I had enjoyed a great restaurant in Old Town, but much to my chagrin, I found it had closed down. This was another unplanned part of the trip. I quickly found an alternative where the owner and his children kept watch of my luggage while I used the restroom, located down the sidewalk from the FlixBus stop. It may seem trivial for an area filled with restaurants, but many were closing for the evening, and options were limited. 

The Next Delay

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About an hour later, I could tell something wasn't right as I approached the dark sidewalk, where not another soul was waiting. There were no notifications via text, and the FlixBus app indicated there wasn’t anything wrong. I was also suspicious that no other passengers were waiting until one woman named Kim approached me, asking about the bus. 

I quickly called the customer service number and had a challenging 20-minute conversation with the voice on the other end. I couldn’t hear the representative due to noise or understand her accent. She also couldn’t locate my reservation number, which she stated was necessary to answer a question about the bus. 

This aggravating conversation resulted in her delivering the bad news that the bus had been canceled since midday. That meant the cancelation decision had been made before I got on my flight when I would have had time to fix it, rebook myself, or make alternative arrangements. Her claims that the company had sent email notifications meant nothing to Kim or me since neither of us received them.

Finding a Solution

Woman shrugging holding steering wheel, license, driver, test, shrug, clueless, car
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Now there were two strangers left on the same sidewalk facing a conundrum of how to reach our destination. With a storm approaching overnight, waiting until the next day would find us stranded on the “wrong” side of the mountain, unable to return home. As two solo female travelers, instincts kicked in that we could accomplish more safely and share expenses if we worked together. Kim would tell me later that “You seemed like a nice person who I could trust” on the decision to join forces–a sentiment I shared. 

Options were weighed on the best course of action–calling an Uber for the whole journey, waiting, or doing it ourselves. After conversations with our loved ones, renting a car and driving ourselves was the best choice. A quick search on one of my favorite go-to travel apps, Priceline, and I found a car rental for less than $70 from the Sacramento Airport. 

The Final Delay

Man driving car, directions, GPS
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We called for a Lyft to the airport, and to my surprise, a driver showed up in a Tesla. It was my first time in a Tesla, and I had never seen one as a rideshare car. I tried in vain to ask him to take us directly to the Dollar Car Rental's offsite rental counter, but he didn’t seem to know where that was and only took us back to the terminal. This wait further delayed the journey as there was now a wait for the shuttle.

Car Rental to The Rescue

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It was now nearly nine at night, and despite being tired and annoyed, neither of us was deterred. The staff at Dollar Car Rental convinced me that an upgrade to an SUV was needed to drive over Donner Pass on Interstate 80 safely–something I had only done once in daylight and good weather. The still discounted higher price was worth it to ensure our safety, and for the next two hours, that red SUV was our trip savior. 

After a long day, the drive on dark, icy roads was unplanned and nerve-wracking in an unfamiliar vehicle. Kim and I had already started this adventure together, and we made the best of the drive, telling our life stories, regaling tales of past travel debacles, and keeping each other awake. We also plotted how to ask FlixBus to cover our added travel costs, and not being in this situation alone was a comfort to both of us and our loved ones. 

Silver Linings

Enjoying Music
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Despite the canceled bus and the unplanned drive, I managed to make a new friend that day—and share costs with her–and as Kim would tell me, “It was a pleasure talking to you all the way to Reno.” The feeling was mutual, and we became another example of how stranded strangers have come together to find an alternative solution to reach their destination. 

Would I Use Flixbus Again? Maybe.

FlixBus, Bus, Transportation, Travel
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While FlixBus did refund our bus fares, they refused to help us with anything else. Those “missing” emails eventually arrived–the first informing me of the delayed departure and the second of the cancellation—four days after the scheduled departure. Even the app was showing I had completed the trip. I'm undecided on whether I will use FlixBus again. If I do, it will come with some misgivings and a backup plan, just in case. 

Travel plans can go awry for various reasons, often out of our control. However, sometimes the best stories–and meeting new people–come from unexpected travel experiences. In this case, I had more of a journey getting there than planned. But, I made a new friend, had my first-ever Tesla ride, and reinforced my belief in my troubleshooting abilities.

Kelley Dukat is a freelance writer, event planner and photographer based in the United States. She’s been traveling the United States as a nomad house and pet sitter for the last two years. For Wealth of Geeks, she writes about travel, news and side hustles. She has a Journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She’s also working on a memoir and a series of personal essays.