The Unstylish Traveller: How to Survive a Long-Haul Coach Journey

Pre-Varsity ski trip, I daftly used Google Map journey planner to get an idea of how long the coach journey would be between Oxford and the French Alps. 14 hours 35 minutes? It seemed long, but bearable. Some chitchat with my seat buddy, iPod time, a sleep and maybe a movie…it’d be over soon enough. What I failed to factor in was London traffic, ferry waiting time, hourly service station stops (where every student needed to use the bathroom and then restock on ridiculous quantities of Gatorade) and mandatory driver breaks. All up, 22 very painful hours and 18 torturous minutes.

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So how to survive the long-haul journey? Most travel articles I’ve read recommend a giant cashmere pashmina (it’ll function as stylish scarf and cosy blanket!), rosewater spray (to keep your pores plump and cheeks dewy fresh!), and water infused with spirulina (superfood!). But in my experience, any pashmina you take is going to end up covered in drool (your own or your slobbering neighbour’s), facial spritzers won’t make you look like a woodland nymph (just a pretentious weirdo), and spirulina is disgusting and should be reserved for flamingos.

What will actually improve your trip:

  • Sleeping mask – because there’s always someone who insists on keeping their light on at 3am to read Nietzsche (…or maybe that only applies to coachloads of Oxford students?)
  • Compression socks – you’ll be mocked by young travel companions for wearing these, but you’ll be the one laughing when you’re DVT and varicose vein free…in 30 years time. In the meantime, just shake your fist at them in a curmudgeonly way.
  • Earplugs – to block out the sound of undergrads earnestly discussing the one time they got high, and their ‘addiction’ to nicotine gum.
  • Snacks – in this department, the undergrads had me beat. Every few hours, they’d bring out a loaf of bread, various sandwich fillings, packets of panda-shaped biscuits and vermin-shaped candy. They did this with a practised precision and unabashedness that reminded me of Ian, this guy in my undergrad Fed Con class who would bring a full Japanese banquet to every 11am class. He’d spread out his eggrolls, sashimi and teapot, and spend the next 2 hours picking delicately at his food with chopsticks right under the Professor’s nose. I think the take-home is that ritualising eating is as good a way as any to pass the time.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste – for the comfort of the entire coach, there needs to be communal agreement on this one. Eating peppermint patties or smearing mint jelly on your teeth is not a viable alternative.
  • A doona jacket – warmer and more comforting than a pashmina, and wipeable.

The trump card though? Learn to sleep like an Asian. How many times have you been on public transport or at an airport and marvelled at the ability of some people to nod off on command, in the most uncomfortable positions and amidst hubbub?

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If, like me, you missed out on this gene, don’t despair. As I discovered on the trip home, 2 heavy-duty sleeping pills can work wonders.

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