James Wang: What essential gear to get before driving a coach bus

If I could go back and tell my younger self 4 essential gear to get before driving a coach bus, these are the 4 things I would suggest.

This column is inspired by the many messages from drivers and bus company owners alike that have told me that my videos are a great resource for their training needs. I can’t tell you guys how grateful I am to hear that. Kinda brings a tear to my eye.

Not too long ago I made a video about 10 things that coach bus drivers pack in their travel bags. I got a lot of requests for another video more focused on what I would suggest new drivers should take with them on bus trips.

Now, keep in mind that every company and driver has different needs, depending on the types of trips and the rules their company has. So what I would consider basic and essential gear may not be the same for you.

Here is a list of four essential items that I don’t leave home without. (Note: My recommendations are my personal opinion and not sponsored.)

1. Travel bag

Over the years, I progressed from one travel bag to another. Today, I have this giant monstrosity of a bag that is perfect for me because it not only holds all of my driving gear, but it also carries all my camera gear. Unless you also are a vlogger or photographer, you do not need to buy a bag like this.

The Endurax Camera Drone hard-shell backpack has all kinds of customizable compartments for not only the camera but for my driving gear. It gives me room to bring a lot of stuff and organize it in a way that is easy for me to use. 

One drawback about this bag is that it is huge. I can’t fit this bag next to me in the driver’s area, nor will it fit in the overhead luggage compartments on any motorcoach I have driven.

That means that when I travel, this bag has to go down in the luggage bay after I get everything that I need for driving. Honestly, that makes me nervous. I prefer to have my driving bag either next to me in the driver’s area or overhead in the driver’s compartment. 

A really good bag that I used to use before I started bringing camera gear with me is the SwissGear 1900 Scansmart Backpack. This bag will fit in the overhead compartment of the coach and was perfect for me. I still use it to this day for other things, and it’s over 6 years old now. 

2. Flashlight (simple one-click) and a holster

I would never go on a bus trip without a good flashlight. I see a lot of drivers use their smartphones as flashlights, but to me, it’s not the same as having a nice flashlight handy.

I’m a simple kind of guy, and I like my flashlights compact and simple to use. Today, many flashlights have different flash patterns and illumination levels that you have to cycle through to get a nice, solid beam of light.

Some of you may like that kind of stuff, but as a motorcoach driver, I want my flashlight to turn on and off with one click of a button. 

The one I use is from a company called Skysted. It’s cheap, durable, waterproof, and really bright for its size. I like it so much that I bought several. I take one with me on bus trips, one stays in my truck, and one is next to my bed at home. 

I’ve had mine for over six years now, and it has never failed me. These flashlights come with a lifetime warranty, so if it ever breaks, Skysted will replace it for free.

The only drawback is that it uses an uncommon rechargeable battery. If necessary, you can order replacement batteries on Amazon. They are called 18650 batteries, and I bought two extra with a wall charger so I can swap them out and leave one on the charger, ready when I need it. 

In addition to this flashlight, I also got a nice belt holster so I can carry it on my side at all times when I’m on a bus trip. I use the AirsoftPeak Flashlight pouch holster, which fits this flashlight perfectly. 

At the time I’m making this video, Amazon says that the holster is no longer available, but the Livans Tactical Flashlight Holster is basically the same thing. 

3. Ratchet belt / soft phone holster

Although some of you may consider this more of a fashion statement than essential bus driver gear, I personally love this combo. I’ve gone through many belts and phone holsters over my coach bus career, and it took me a while to optimize this setup.

I hate putting my cell phone in my pockets. On top of butt-dialing everyone on my contact list (Picard), putting my phone in my pockets has also resulted in a lot of scratches on my screen. So I started using phone holsters. The really fancy plastic ones never lasted long. With all the luggage loading and walking up and down the aisle of the coach, it was only a matter of a week to a month before I would bump into an armrest and break the plastic holster. So I went with the leather ones. They are not brittle and have a lot of flex. I’ve had this one for over five years, and it’s still with me. 

I also like the fact that the one I have has extra little slots for cards. They come in really handy for hotel keys on overnight trips. On top of the holsters not lasting long, the leather belts I used to wear got very worn over time, and the belt holes would get deformed to the point that my belt would just break.

My wife found these really cool nylon ratchet belts. There are no holes for you to push a prong through. It’s all based on a ratchet system on the buckle. I’ve had this belt for four years, and whether I get heavier or lighter, all I have to do is pull the belt to the correct tightness and let the ratchet do the rest. When I need to remove the belt, a push of the release lever instantly releases the ratchet. 

And because it’s nylon, it always keeps its color and will not fray or fade, keeping me looking spiffy behind the wheel.

4. Phone mount

Some bus companies don’t allow their drivers to mount their phones in front of them when they drive, so this may not apply to all of you drivers. 

I use my phone for GPS guidance as well as traffic alerts when I’m behind the wheel of a coach bus. The app I use isn’t anything fancy, just Google Maps. On top of traffic jam warnings, it also does a great job giving me an estimated time of arrival so I can keep my passengers informed along the way, all the while being hands-free.

And if you’re using a Bluetooth headset with your phone, you can use speech to set new destinations or ask about the weather so that you never have to take your hands off the wheel. But I couldn’t do any of this without my phone mount. From lots of trials and errors over the years, I have two criteria that my phone mount has to meet. 

First, it has to be a suction cup, but not the sticky adhesive suction cup. 

Because we don’t have assigned buses in my company, every time I finish a trip I have to get all of my gear off the bus. And some of the new sticky adhesive suction cups are really hard to remove from the windshield, not to mention the sticky residue they leave on the windshield for the next driver. Also, over time the adhesive gathers so much dust and dirt from being in my bag and mounting and dismounting to so many surfaces that it gets nasty really quickly.

My second requirement is it has to be magnetic. I can’t stand the phone mounts where you have to push and pull the clamp every time you want to attach or remove your phone. I hated having to finagle and squeeze those phone mounts. So I went magnetic.

With this mount that you can get on Amazon, you can simply pull your phone off the mount when you need to and put it back on using one hand without having to manipulate any springs, levers or buttons. 

The magnet is strong enough so that even on bumpy roads, my phone does not fall off the mount. Trust me on this one – I went off-roading in my truck using this clamp, and my phone didn’t go anywhere, even while I was jumping over sand dunes.

I hope this helps some of you incoming, new, or even experienced drivers when it comes to functionality on the road. 

Viewers’ thoughts

Here’s what some of you had to say about my take on the four essential items to get before driving a coach bus.

Kimberly O’Keeffe: Having a good bag that holds all your ‘essentials’ is worth more than gold. My husband used to give me grief about how picky I was with my work bag until he went back on the road himself. That phone mount looks like it’s the bomb! (Scurrying off to check it out). I purchased two different mounts for my truck and hated both. I returned the first, as it only allowed the phone to be mounted horizontal – bleech! The second one pushed the fins out of the dash vents, and I’ll need to pull the whole dash out to get them back into place.

L-Taraval 1971: Excellent video, James!  I completely agree with the magnet mount for your cellphone. I use the same, and it’s a time saver. The item I’ve found very useful, especially in the Prevost H3-41/45, is to have a 12vDC small fan with a suction cup. I mount it above the driver’s window to help with air circulation around the driver’s area. The H-series doesn’t circulate enough air, especially on warm sunny days.

Swf2e: Finally. Someone else that understands the phone in a holster situation. I can’t stand having it in my pocket. But I use a wireless charging mount, so the magnetic mounts like you use interfere. Mine has the “fingers” but works really well. Been looking at upgrading to a MagSafe style charger (iPhone user, and I’ll cut you some slack on Android because of using that scene from Star Trek).

Bus & Motorcoach News columnist James Wang is co-owner of Peoria Charter Coach Company and a bus geek who shares his passion for the motorcoach industry on his two YouTube channels, J Wang and Motorcoach World

Read more James Wang’s columns here.

Bus & Motorcoach News columnist James Wang is co-owner of Peoria Charter Coach Company and a bus geek who shares his passion for the motorcoach industry on his two YouTube channels, J Wang and Motorcoach World

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