Seattle Night Bus

This is how it all begins.

The night before, I pack my bags. I can do this in about 20 minutes if needed, but to be safe, I usually take twice as long. After a lot of experience packing, I have a good system. Running shoes, two pairs of pants, three shirts, and so on. The shoes take up the most room in my bag by far. Adaptors go in the laptop bag, along with my phone, iPod, and notebooks.

I set two alarms for the next morning, but I don’t really need them. I wake up every half-hour, worried that I’ve overslept when in fact I’m really not sleeping much at all. At 4:15 I get up and turn off the alarms that are set for 4:30. Contact lenses in. A last-minute check of the only stuff I absolutely need to travel: passport, tickets, money, journal.

At 4:55 I go outside and walk over to the #16 bus stop, conveniently located just one block away in front of a 7-11. I’m waiting for the 5:04, and it’s usually on time or close to it. I ride the 16 to downtown, and it takes about fifteen minutes with all the stops.

I get off and head to the transit tunnel to catch the second and final bus. Here at 5:30 a.m. there is an odd mix of people coming and going in the tunnel. There are early morning commuters, a few other airport-bound passengers, a few people going to construction jobs, and a lot of homeless men. The homeless men aren’t really coming or going; they’re mostly just hanging out.

For ten minutes we all hang out together, us commuters and Sea-Tac passengers and construction workers and homeless. Nobody breaks ranks to speak to someone else.

The 194 comes and I climb onboard. Along the twenty-minute commute we pick up airport employees and other passengers heading for other cities. Often they are looking through their e-ticket printouts and I can see the destinations; they are almost always domestic cities.

Portland, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, San Francisco, Anchorage, Salt Lake City

My tickets are almost always international, although I do often hop to JFK or LAX to get underway. But if not New York or L.A., I’m going to Copenhagen or Frankfurt in one direction; Tokyo or Seoul in the other. From there I’ll travel further to a final destination, and it always takes a long time to get there.

I get off the bus at the only Sea-Tac stop and walk inside the terminal. I’ve been traveling with paper tickets, which means I can’t check in online or print boarding passes at home. I check in at the counter and get boarding passes for the next two or three flights. I never have bags to check, so I’m ready to go.

I shuffle through the security check and walk down to the A gates or the S concourse, depending on where I’m going. I sit and watch the planes take off and think about places I’ve been.

It’s 7:15 a.m. now, and time for boarding at gate A8. I walk down and find my seat. Half an hour later, we’re underway.

And that’s how it begins…


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  • Ariel says:

    You’ve mentioned a couple times that you don’t check your luggage. Do you still travel with liquids and gels… i.e. how do you get through security?

  • crashsystems says:

    The last international trip I went on (Egypt) I didn’t check any bags. It was certainly nice not worrying about lost luggage, as well as having little to carry around. I’ll probably never check luggage again.

  • Anca says:

    @ Ariel,

    I’m assuming he does it just like everyone else: 1 quart-sized bag full of 3oz containers (or he buys items at his destination or after security check), though to let you in on a not-so-secret, the TSA will not care (or can’t see) that some liquids are not in the ziplock bag (I’ve previously forgotten, say, a thing of hand sanitizer in my purse) or that some liquids are slightly above 3oz. They will NOT ignore water bottles (but you can carry them through if they are empty, why does no one understand this?!) or containers clearly larger than 3oz.

    @ Chris,

    I assume that given your frequent flying out of Sea-Tac you’ve discovered the benefits of skipping the security check closest to the bus stop, and going to the farther one, which not only is less crowded but has a special faster lane for “frequent travelers”. It’s pretty sweet to be able to get through it in 5 minutes.

  • Ken says:

    Hey Bro,

    What’s your packing list? That might make an interesting essay…

    I’m a big fan of

  • Alex Fayle says:

    Hey Chris:

    Given your frequent international travel, I’d love to get your take on the whole environmental impact on flight travel. And/or on this article in Walrus Magazine about the coming end to airtravel for every except the very rich (due to the whole looming oil crisis thing).


  • Chris says:

    Hey guys, thanks for the questions. I’m in Russia at the moment and will respond whenever I get a chance (might be a while) or at the end of the trip.

  • Nomadic Matt says:

    I always set extra alarms but excitement wakes me up early too. I think most travelers worry about oversleeping but few ever do.

  • Chris says:


    I travel with a few liquids like contact lens solution and toothpaste. I have never used the plastic bag thing– it is a ruse by the TSA. Seriously, in 40+ U.S. and U.S.-departing flights I have only once been asked to take the liquids out of the carry-on. And even then they said, OK, maybe next time you should put them in the bin. I thought that was funny.

    They are a bit more strict in the U.K., however.


    Not checking bags is definitely the way to go!


    Sea-Tac security– for some reason the “expert traveler” line is always closed when I’m there. But I’ve usually had good luck there anyway, and only had to wait a long time (30 minutes) once. Most of the time, it’s done in 5 minutes.

    @Ken and @Alex,

    Packing lists and environmental impact, those are good questions but require a longer answer. I’m getting on a plane in Vienna right now– hold that thought and I’ll cover both issues in a future essay.


    Yep, I am usually pretty psyched to travel!

  • Travis says:


    You’ve mentioned packing light. I browsed through your posts to see if you go into detail about this, but I can’t find anything. Could you please give me an example what one or two people need to pack light?

    My wife and I went to Europe, and while I packed kinda light (2 carryon) my wife packed heavy (2 carry on, 2 check). Of course, my wife was not the person to lug this stuff around Europe. I want to avoid this mistake when we take our trip to Hawaii this October. Any tips?

  • William says:

    I avoid checking bags, too. Why have you been using paper tickets, though?

  • Chris says:

    @ William,

    My Round-the-World tickets are paper instead of electronic because they have more than 16 segments on them. There is a limit of 16 segments on all e-tickets.

    On July 1 of this year, they restricted all RTW tickets to being 16 or less, so I purchased a 20-segment one the day before. I’ll use this one for my travel over the next 6-9 months, so until that’s done I’ll still be on the paper system. It’s not really by choice, but it’s not usually a problem either.


    Hold that thought; I’ll come back to it soon.

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