Before You Go: Travel Tips

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As campus is slowly emptying out for Thanksgiving, Penn Station and JFK are filling up. Bwog has asked some experienced travelers for advice on having a safe, cheap and relatively painless journey home. Bon voyage!

How to decide upon the lesser of the three evils: train, bus or car?

  • “I’m going to Western Massachusetts, and booked a train two weeks ago to get there (already most days were filled up) and am booking a Greyhound bus today to get back. I figure the roads will be worse on Thursday—making Amtrak convenient—but not so bad in the middle of the day on Sunday, making the bus more flexible and economical.”
  • “If you live in Philly or its environs, any Chinatown bus during holiday season will be packed with everyone you went to high school with.  NJ Transit, though a foul, foul beast, is a less awkward experience.  I plan to take a very early (7:14) train on Thurs. morning, which will get me into 30th Street at 9:30 am.  I hear Thurs. morning NJ Transit trains are pretty empty.”
  • “If your parents are visiting tell them to avoid the LIE at all costs.”
  • “Penn Station is a ghost town past 1:30 in the morning.”
  • “Triboro Bridge to Columbia all the way. And the secret best route to all points north (holidays only) is to take 155th St to the Harlem River Drive to the GW Bridge to the Palisades Parkway. Even to Connecticut. Even to Iceland.”


So you’ve chosen to ride the bus:

  • “If you’re taking a bus, get a bus that leaves from Penn Station rather than Chinatown, you save a lot of time in transit on the Subway.”
  • “I typically go to my uncle’s farmhouse outside of Hagerstown, Pennsylvania; it always takes a ride on Beiber Bus, which leaves from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in a
    stink, invariably. It would probably be intelligent to bring potourri or patchouli along with, just in case. Or, if you don’t have to go to small-town Pennsylvania, to take Fung Wah for better-smelling buses. Additionally, one must make a point of purchasing tickets at the counter, rather than at the electronic machine: Nobody can explain it, but there are no monitors showing bus departure gates at the PABT. Only the ticket ladies know; that is how they maintain their power.”
  • “The secret of taking Chinatown buses is that the ones that leave from Flushing [and 8th Avenue in Brooklyn] are less crowded (and harder to plan).”
  • “The secret of the Port Authority is that while the bathrooms claim that there are ‘Plainclothes cops on duty’, after 8 PM it’s strictly crack addicts. The real secret of the Port Authority is that the pizza place on the mezzanine level has garlic knots and free ice water.”
  • “Fung Wah = death.”


  • “I’ve always taken the train home to Long Island from Penn on Wednesdays, usually in the later afternoon, and it is always packed. Always. They run more trains, but still every year I’ve ended up having to stand the whole way home.”

NJ Transit

  • “There are a few days during the year (around the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, etc.) in which the car is as full as it could get. Literally. Avoid NJ Transit the day before a holiday. If you live that close, your parents should give you a ride (goddamn them)!”

Metro North

  • “Full of Wall Street types going to Greenwich, Westport, Fairfield, etc., but nice and empty by the time it gets to New Haven! As a side note: the last time I took the train home, at rush hour, a 60-something-year-old very well dressed and professional looking man actually punched me because I accidentally nudged him with my rolling suitcase. I was so shocked I didn’t even say anything, just gaped and rolled on.”
  • “It took me a really long time to realize that if you’re taking metro north anywhere (Westchester or CT), it makes much more sense to take the M60 or a cab up to 125th street station than to go all the way to Grand Central, unless traffic is really bad, which it can be.”


  • “The secret of departing from Penn Station via Amtrak is to hang around the Red Cap counter, so you know what gate your train is departing on in advance. If you sneak around the NJ Transit level, you can sometimes get to the track before anybody else does (including the train).”
  • “Take late-night Amtraks from Penn Station; if you take it late enough, you don’t lose a night out, and the fare is much cheaper.  Then, you get to walk through an empty Penn Station, and if
    you live in a city that’s the center of a metropolitan area, you get to see the commuters taking the morning train to work. Of course, you can’t get express, but if it works out for your schedule it’s pretty good, and you can have a bench to yourself to sleep until you get to the commuters.”
  • “Don’t wait until the last minute! Slack just a couple of hours (i.e. buy your ticket less than like, 6 hours in advance) and a $60 bargain turns into a $92 rip-off. Granted, this is, $30 cheaper than usual, but still.”

Airports and Planes

  • “If you’re flying out LaGuardia, take that M60 for 2 dollars. It’s a nice ride, too, visually speaking.” 
  • “Use Mobissimo to find discounted flights, but then go to the airline’s website and book the flight directly through the airline. Those services usually just search for cheap flights that are offered by the airline, so you can bypass their convenience charge that way.”
  • “Don’t take a taxi to the airport, whatever you do.”
  • “I hear it’s much faster to fly out of Newark than out of JFK if home

    is out West.  Like it’s one stop away from Penn Station on NJ

    which is much more palatable than the epic subway ride on the A out to the hinterlands of Queens.”
  • “For the flyers, JetBlue is cheap out of New York, and as far as I’ve been able to find out, not listed at all on the sites most people use to scan for cheap tickets. And if you want to go to Europe, you can still go round trip for under $550 with only twenty-four hours to go: book on Air India to London and then get RyanAir or EasyJet from there.”
  • “Don’t take the A to JFK. It’s much better to switch for Times Square, hop onto the E, and take it out to Jamaica Center, which only takes like 22 minutes. (This is also the airport’s recommended route from all uptown points). The A is an endless slog to hell, and you don’t even get to ride the one good part: the two-mile causeway across Jamaica Bay.”



  1. ttan

    There is no Thanksgiving in Australia :-(.

  2. I have

    ...never been so happy to have been born a Manhattanite.

    Except for maybe after Christmas finals, when all I have to do to get home is take the subway.

  3. DHI  

    Mobissimo searches JetBlue.


  4. The M60  

    is tricky. It can take anything between 45min and 2hrs to get to LaGuardia. I missed a flight once because it took me 2 hrs to get there. Definitely take it home though.

    Btw, SuperShuttle isn't a bad deal; I'm surprised it wasn't mentioned. $20 Bucks to any airport in a shared but comfy van.

  5. Anonymous  

    Why would anyone in their right mind take the A to JFK? The LIRR goes from Penn Station to Jamaica in about 15 minutes, only costs $7 off peak, and leaves about every 5 minutes. Is it as convenient as the M60? Nope. But I have made it back to Columbia from JFK in less than an hour, which is not something people who take the A train can ever say.

    • second!  

      yes if you're doing jfk, the lirr is the way to go... it's worth noting that the airtrain link on the other side takes 15-20m, so even though the trip to jamaica is short, the trip from jamaica station to jfk is kinda long. it's still faster but plan accordingly.

  6. my advice...

    If you're taking Acela to get the gate early, just look for your train's arrival. ie, if you're going to Boston, look for the arriving train from Washington, and vice versa. The track is listed before it's announced for departure.

    Acela may only save about 40 minutes, but it's way more comfortable and the trainsets are far newer (and prettier) and less prone to absurd breakdowns.

    Take the LIRR to Jamaica if you're going to JFK. It's about a 20 minute ride from Penn Station and the service is very frequent. The E is faster than the A as well, but the transfer at 42nd street is treacherous with suitcases, and it's still slower than LIRR. Either way, the (A) takes centuries.

  7. Nick  

    I have brand loyalty for Fung Wah in a 1950s-housewife-cleaning product way.

  8. jonathan hager  

    actually, hagerstown is located in western maryland, about 20 or so minutes away from the border with pennsylvania.

    washington county represent?

  9. connecticut resident  

    Taking metro-north from 125th Street is a good idea any day but tomorrow! If you get on after Grand Central on the day before Thanksgiving, you are all but guaranteed not to get a seat. I would advise giving yourself a lot of time to get to Grand Central and snag a nice seat early. Off-peak if you can, to avoid the boozy commuters.

  10. ...  

    Shit. I'm supposed to be on a 7am bus (from Penn Station) to Philly tomorrow. How early am I going to have to get there?

  11. i just

    arrived to my terminal at jfk. there is wifi here. i am okay. thank you bwog.

    ps total travel time from 116th to my present location: precisely two hours. what the fuck. note nasty post time.

  12. NJTransit  

    If you're taking NJTransit (or even Amtrak) from Penn Station, wait on the second level, just down the stairs from the main departure board, by one of the electronic departure boards. The e-boards show the gate about 30 seconds before the main departure board, fewer people wait down there, and you're one level closer to the trains, so you'll have a slight advantage in getting a seat.
    And if all else fails, for NJTransit, the very first car is usually empty since most people walk back, and for Amtrak, you can often get a seat in the cafe car even if the rest of the train is full.

  13. Hagerstonian

    Yeah I also noticed the mistake about Hagerstown, because I live there. Now I'm curious who else is in the area.

  14. lirr

    also, don't buy tickets in advance if you are taking the lirr to jamaica station for jfk--the conductors often don't ticket until after jamaica station, so most times you will get a free ride

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