Flix Those Muscles: A Review of Flixbus
I’ve taken my last Flixbus, at least for a while! So that makes it an opportune time to recap my adventures with them on the road. What started out as an ambitious strategy to get around Europe at low cost with savings on accommodation ended up a little differently. Read on.
Flixbus is one of the biggest bus companies in the world, and operates thousands of routes across Europe (and now America). The company has been active in purchasing local bus lines and re-branding it to their own green Flixbus. The benefit is that it consolidates the network and thus makes it an easy option for planning and purchasing.
I aimed to book a few overnight buses to get through long journeys as well as save on booking a hostle. But what we found in the end is that the experience isn’t that comfortable, and it adversely impacted our energy and mood the next morning. So whilst it’s cheap and you can cover a lot of distance, it is a bit of hard work in itself with that tradeoff in mind.
The big pluses of Flixbus (or bus travel in general): it’s extremely cheap. It’s your lowest cost option from getting from one place to another, and there was surprisingly a wide selection when it came to routes and times. You can get a further 10% off with the ISIC student card and if you book via the app, which is what we did.
Booking more ahead of time also nets the lowest price. Most of mine were only booked at best a week in advance and I didn’t notice too much difference (other than departures in the next 24 hours). Popular routes (and times) sell out faster so book when you can. I did see that some particular combinations of cities were a bit more expensive that others that also affected my planning.
How to book
Surprisingly easy! My current trip across Europe had us picking destinations on the fly and one way to narrow down the options was to see which cities had direct connections via Flixbus’ network map. I liked the site a lot. I did limit the bus travel time to 8-9 hours (overnight) and I had wanted to minimise losing daytime as well. And nothing connecting, Flixbus is unreliable with timing and I didn’t want to float around a place waiting for another bus.
One of the big cons of Flixbus is the speed. Each route has at least a few stops, as well as seemingly random stops at petrol stations. The latter was kind of welcome when it meant having a nicer toilet and a bonus snack break.
I must have been rather naive thinking I would get a perfect night’s sleep in an overnight Flixbus. Wrong! You won’t. I still fared better than my travel companion, but there’s a few things that squarely halt this ambition. The stops mean that people get on and off creating noise and that the lights are turned on.
And when you cross borders you have police/ immigration coming around to do checks and admin. Crossing from Romania back to Hungary meant ALL the passengers had to exit the bus, pick up their passport at a roll-call and then get back to their seat.
The air-con is crazy. At times it feels like a sauna and then it overcompensates and turns into a fridge. Bring a blanket/ jumper and ALWAYS have a neck pillow.
Then there’s the lottery of the company. You might have talkers, snorers or general weirdos. One guy was trying to sleep in the corridor? The most annoying for me was this woman behind me who had the most deliciously buttery popcorn in her lap, being nibbled away at 2am. Wish she had shared.
Things to know about Flixbus
A few things to know when travelling with Flixbus. Not all these buses are bright green (some were acquired local buses) and the quality of their fleet varied. I had Wi-Fi on all of them although this is limited to 150MB (and patchy) so don’t go too nuts.
Toilets were in all of them, expect wet floors, weird odours and always have your own spare toilet paper just in case! Only about 50% of the buses had USB connectors so lucky I had my power bank. None had food or drinks for sale.
Some routes had allocated seating (less than half) and MAKE SURE you are in the right seat. A few passengers were insistent on sitting in the assigned seat. The last thing you’d want to do in the middle of the night is moving your crap to another spot. Even with the allocated seating we never actually chose these ourselves, it just appeared on the ticket.
The tickets state to be at the stop 15 minutes before, we were always earlier. 15 minutes is fine, none of the buses ever left on time even if they were early. Don’t ever be late though! The bus
stations stop were labelled quite clearly on the ticket (sometimes a bit odd, like a corner of a street – some might be uncovered, beware rain). Since all our buses were full, there was always a growing crowd that would reassure us we were in the right place.
Our Cluj-Napoca bus arrived an hour early (including the time zone change) but all other buses arrived on time or within 30 minutes of what was promised. Overnight buses would be less subjection to variation, naturally and depends on where people are going
Flixbus seem alright with cancellations, but they will always issue credit. We didn’t cancel anything so can’t speak from our own experience here.
Other Flixbus tips
Things to have ready: water, tissues, neck pillow, tickets, passport, snacks, powerbank, USB cable. ALWAYS have your passport ready as you’re going to be disturbed in the middle of a snooze by a grumpy-looking official who wants it the minute he flashes his palm.
Check in your luggage. Although it doesn’t feel at all safe (no one watches the bag and you could grab anyone’s stuff, really) the tight squeeze in the seats is not worth it. No one seemed too fussed with the amount of luggage you had (on board or checked in).
There’s usually a mad dash to get onto the bus, as everyone wants the best seats (i.e. with space, with company, away from the toilets). Try board as soon as you can with your ticket (and passport if international) ready. There’ll be one queue for people to load their bags and one to get in. (Note: I did sit next to the loo on one trip and wasn’t that offended).
Summer vs winter make for different experiences. I never had a not-full bus, but my friends who travelled a few months earlier often got spare seats.
Set an alarm if you are worried you might miss your stop. I wasn’t sure how vigilant the staff are but I think they know how many people are meant to be leaving at each stop. Hardly any of the staff spoke English so try work out as much as you can yourself.
Fellow passengers can be super helpful and nice company to meet. Even if you don’t get instructions in English, you’ll likely have someone letting you know what’s up. And it’s great to have a chat buddy with long journeys anyway.
The seats not only recline but SLIDE SIDEWAYS as well. I don’t think anyone knew you could get an extra 10cm of side space. This is life-changing.
Flixbus: great prices, great network, easy to purchase and show tickets. Service, fleet and amenities are average or vary. But overall the biggest thing for me is that you can’t sleep on an overnight Flixbus! So be aware it is likely to impact on your stamina after arriving.