5 Ways to Stay Safe on Bus Trips Abroad

Before you take a long bus trip, ask about the route, and whether it’s a standard route that the driver has taken before. Well-maintained and well-lit roads are preferable to smaller ones, and have better access for emergency medical services should they be necessary. Ask if the driver has been behind the wheel for more than eight hours and if there is backup for long journeys. Most bus and tour companies that operate aboveboard should be willing to have this conversation with you, and those that aren’t should arouse your suspicion. If you have doubts, consider taking a train or hiring a private car service with a local driver who is familiar with the region.

Avoid Night Travel

Overnight buses are a perennial favorite of budget-minded travelers who want to save on hotel stays. In some cases that may be true, but in many countries, particularly in rural areas, taking a bus at night or in early dawn hours is strongly discouraged because drivers often turn off their headlights; they falsely believe it saves the vehicle’s batteries. The danger is exacerbated when roads are in bad condition, where visibility is poor, and in mountain areas with narrow, winding roads.

In countries with higher road safety standards and bus companies that operate more transparently, overnight bus trips may be an affordable and comfortable option, but it’s critical to do your homework before booking one.

Spot Red Flags Before You Depart

Bottom line, if something seems amiss, speak up. If a driver is being reckless or speeding, politely ask that he or she slow down. Be assertive. If the situation does not improve or if the driver seems impaired or overly fatigued, get off the bus as soon as possible. If you don’t speak the language, ask a local to assist.

Avoid buses in poor condition or that are crowded and top-heavy, which can offset the center of gravity. Check if the bus’s tires are bald or low on air, or if the name of the company on the bus is unclear. You don’t have to be a mechanic, but look the bus over as if it were your own vehicle, and decide if you feel safe enough to ride in it.

After a crash, bus companies often close down, repaint their vehicles, and reopen under new names. “Look at the vehicle and ask yourself,” Ms. Sobel said “‘is this the wisest choice?’”