I remember sitting in a hot bus terminal in Alice Springs, being tight-lipped and refusing to speak to my then boyfriend. I had left our travel pillows on The Ghan and we were about to embark on an overnight bus to Tennant Creek. He was angry with me. As an Englishman and coming from a country where the two hour train from London to Manchester is classified as a ‘journey’, the thought of travelling seven hours on a charter coach blew his mind. And the thought of buckling up without the comfort of an inflatable grey camping accessory was the added insult to injury and consequently blew his fuse.
I get that long journey buses are hell. There’s always a fellow passenger ‘man-spreading’ next to you … in shorts. You get tunnel vision looking down the long aisle and if the nausea wasn’t enough to make you travel sick, the stench of the toilet up the back spreading throughout the cabin will. The toilet on a bus coach is a terrible experience; a rattling square foot space littered with used tissues, pearly pink soap that’s a curse to eczema sufferers and a broken lock that requires to you do your business holding onto the swinging door for dear life. It’s like a confession box where backpackers disclose their sins.
There are many aspects of long haul bus travel that are frankly, awful, but its lengthy travel duration which turned my ex into a tantrum-throwing toddler, doesn’t bother me. Aside from being cramped up to the window by an unwelcome hairy knee, I love the peaceful roll that takes you through a large barren land. I expect Australia to have long car rides. It makes you release how big our land is. I like how it makes me feel infinite, as the roads are ongoing and seemingly endless.
There are others who also enjoy the longevity and even use the journey as a place of familiarity to rest and ‘come home to’. These passengers climb aboard without a holiday destination or a ‘gap year’ Facebook album to fill.
‘Greyhound nomads’ are motivated by a metaphorical middle-finger to an everyday existence which encourages routine, responsibility and income, and travel from place to place at the convenience of wherever the next service is going.
Amongst the seats of couples on working visas and university students returning home, coaches facilitate people who aren’t guided by a Lonely Planet recommendation or family to greet at a terminal. ‘Greyhound nomads’ are motivated by a metaphorical middle-finger to an everyday existence which encourages routine, responsibility and income, and travel from place to place at the convenience of wherever the next service is going.
It’s a trend mostly seen in the US, with 50 state capitals at a traveller's disposal. The younger individuals often use popular Internet forums as a means of decision making, like a cyber Magic 8 Ball and ask other online users where to go, whereas more traditional ticket holders are like a tumbleweed that rolls in the direction presented to them. Next stop is seen as ‘X’, and it marks the spot.
Travel in Australia is expensive and our towns and cities are an agoraphobic's worst nightmare and far too far apart, but as the culture of living bus-to-bus increases in places like America and Europe, there are also those in Australia choosing a life of roaming at the influence of a timetable.
Cary, a travel consultant of a national bus charter company, meets all kinds of travellers at the ticket counter, including those who are aimless in direction, but not in spirit.
“It’s very rare to be honest, mostly people here are just doing short trips to a particular destination,” he says. “But on the odd occasion, you’ll have a customer motivated by spontaneity.”
“I sometimes think about this old man from North America, in his 60s I’d say. He said he’d been travelling on the buses around Australia for a while since he stopped working. He told me he now has the time to do ‘whatever he wanted’.
“He would have gone anywhere, at any distance or direction. We talked about Cairns and stopping a few places on the way up the East Coast, which he seemed interested in. But then when I suggested a totally opposite route like the Great Ocean road, he was equally as agreeable.
“He said he’d think about it and come back. As my shift ended, he didn’t end up booking through me. Usually I wouldn’t think too much about customer transactions, but I sometimes still think about him and wonder where he ended up.”
I understand the appeal of just seeing where the bus takes you. When my ex and I would argue, sometimes I would ‘chill out’ by buying a cinema ticket to whatever was screening next. It felt good not having to make a decision and allowing fate decide my afternoon. But come dusk, the afternoon would end and I would soon back at home in the familiarity of routine, responsibility and the every day, feeling as though that film didn’t transport me far enough.
Deputy editor of the New Philosopher and co-founder of Behind the Wire, Andre Dao says, "It's a long drive, from Tennant to Toowoomba - hours and hours, enough time for day to turn to night and back again - but the journey passes quickly in easy, deep conversation", in Episode 2 Season 2 of True Stories | SBS Podcast