NYC To Florida Using Free And Sneaky Buses

Bridget and I managed to put together bus tickets from New York to Florida for only a few dollars through Mega Bus that was doing holiday discounts. We’d just spent Christmas and New Years with my friends and family up there, but we were ready to get down to the Florida Keys where we could hitch a ride on a boat to get to South America.

We’d gotten a ticket from NYC to Washington, then Washington to Knoxville, Knoxville to Atlanta and finally Atlanta to Orlando. Pretty sweet, it would save us some colder days of hitchhiking through the claustrophobic freeway system of the northeast.

It was snowing when we arrived in Washington, teetering between flakes and rain as we got off the bus and walking. There’s only one place I know to go to in Washington DC, the Dubliner, and Irish Pub which remains one of the very few places in the United States where you can get a pint of Kilkenny. We went for a couple of those before hopping on the subway to get just south of the city where my friend John was waiting to pick us up and take us back to his place.

I met John and his wife Jamie a while back in the same manner, bussing down from New York and hitching south after the holidays. They were both like minded beer and travel geeks, always good vibes.

A friend of there’s was staying with them and cooking (her specialty) when we got there, her name was Camus. Jamie arrived shortly after and soon we were into a big great dinner, tasty beers, homemade baileys, homemade spicy ice cream, boozy ice cream - all of which kinked Bridget’s vegan armour as she could not resist partaking in the greatness. It was a lively night that ended with watching the football game and playing a board game called Fireball, all good times.

We had another day and night there until our Knoxville bus, so we caught a ride with Camus in the morning to head back to the heart of DC. We goofed around the Washington monument, wandered until arriving at the natural history museum checking out the universe and everything else, then it was on to the capitol building to relax for a bit.

We got into the art museum, checking out Picasso and the like, then kept to wandering some more until Camus picked us up and headed back to the house. It was another night of great food, beers and a cherry wine, ghost pepper being thrown around, another board game and finally rest.

The next day we planned to relax for the most part, our bus wasn’t leaving until midnight. It started easy, beer pancakes, coffee, watching a movie. At some point I got online to take a look at our tickets going forward, realizing I’d made the classic mistake. Our bus was leaving at 12 noon, not 12 midnight, and noon had come and gone.

Thoughts of snowy hitchhiking and missing out on our chain of free buses came in a flash, but only a flash, the idea of just going to the midnight bus with our noon ticket and playing it cool and dumb seemed a much better idea.

Relaxation continued, then Camus gave us a ride back into DC proper again with our bags and all. We went into the air and space museum and Bridget had a back and forth with security who was giving her a hard time about a pair of scissors buried in her backpack, but then we had just enough time to do a quick wander before they closed, sending us back to the rainy night.

We made a dash for a Chinatown coffee shop, but soon the Dubliner’s call was too strong to ignore, more pints of Kilkenny for good measure. At last midnight was coming close and we made our way to the station, hoping our now faulty tickets would still work.

The way Mega Bus tickets work is by reservation number, many people just pull up the email on their phones and show that to the driver as they enter, others print it out. The bus was far from full and I quickly flashed my phone to the driver who squinted, only for show, “Knoxville?”, he said like a disinterested robot.

“Yup”, we threw our bags under the bus and we were on. Once we actually got moving I sent a message to Christine in Knoxville, a woman I’d gotten in touch with via couchsurfing to let her know that all was smooth and we’d be there in the early morning.

We woke up, transported to a new city just as the sun was coming up. Christine came and picked us up, immediately taking us out for breakfast and asking what we wanted to do and suggesting the Smokies before we could answer, and it was a good answer.

We dropped our bags at her house, then it was into and up the mountains. We went on a hike, seeing deer run around and the rest of it, along streams, seeing old cabins and buzzing off little sleep mixed with good times.

We all took a nap when we got back, even Christine had worked the night shift. When we woke up, Christine took us out to dinner, specifically and thoughtfully at that, it was a place known for their vegan menu and their local beer selection. Bliss ensues.

Snow flakes fell as we left the place, the car took us to the store where we mixed together a six pack each of various beers for an easy night of watching movies.

The morning came before morning, Christine gave us a ride to the bus for our third leg of the trip to Atlanta, we were rolling well before sunset. I wrestled with my phone attempting to find a couchsurfing host in the city or otherwise see if I knew someone there. Our next bus ticket, to Orlando, wasn’t for some four days later. A bit of a convoluted schedule overall, but that’s the price you pay for free tickets.

Stepping off the bus we were hit with the icy chill of the city, the type of cold that stings the ears and reduces one’s thoughts to icicles, the wind comes and takes the breath away, presumably to add to it’s own biting force.

Without the capacity of thought, it was a beeline down the street, a library, we’re in. Except not, no bags allowed, especially backpacks of our size. The heat is temporary, but gives us a moment to regain thought.

Then it’s back into the cold, wandering aimlessly, enjoying the sights of a new city, but awaiting the turned corner where there’s an opening for warmth, awaiting the buzz in a pocket with news of nearby friendly faces offering a roof for a night.

We looped around, at last finding something like a mall, essentially a warm spot with a bench. We ate up and warmed up, these both helped tremendously. Our thoughts returned and things came in focus; the Keys were calling us, no use in plodding around Atlanta for days, especially since we were rolling the dice on finding someone to enjoy it with, someone with a couch we could crash on or otherwise, night time would otherwise be unsustainable.

Our attention turned to the Mega Bus schedule, there was a bus heading to Orlando in just about an hour. Although our ticket wasn’t until days later, we figured our accidental false ticket had worked in DC, maybe it would work here, and a night outside in Orlando would likely be much more tolerable.

He started navigating our way back to the curb where the buses were coming and going from. On the way we met Kevin, another guy wandering the city like us, him searching for the Greyhound bus station with the same thought of getting out of town. He came along with us in case it left from the same place. It didn’t, but it was nice having the extra company and hearing his story.

We waited until the Orlando bus came, and quietly got on with the rest of the people, it was fairly packed as well, but I was happy to see that everyone had managed to get on and find a seat. Unlike in DC where they’d “checked” our ticket before getting on the bus, it looked like they were letting us all on and then checking. They slowly made their way down the aisle, at last coming to us, staring at my phone for a second, then moving on. We’d succeeded again.

We got moving and I posted a message in the Orlando couchsurfing group, then let my eyes flicker on and off, lulling in and out of sleep as the bus rolled south.

Sure enough, a ways before we hit Orlando a message came through and it seemed we’d lucked out, we had a place to stay with someone interesting who could come and pick us up even. Our bus mission had been a success through and though, now we’d be in Orlando and done with it, back to our thumbs, smiles and the road ahead.

January 9, 2012 to January 13, 2012