If you are traveling around the region on a budget, you will definitely find yourself on an intercity автобус (bus) or маршрутка (minibus) at some point in time. These buses are cheap and convenient, but the Russian language protocol can be bewildering at first. I based this post on my experiences in Moldova, but most of this should be applicable to any Russian-speaking place.
So you’ve entered the автостанция (bus station) with your big old рюкзак (backpack). When you approach the ticket window and you don’t quite know when the next bus is leaving, a useful phrase is “Когда следующий рейс в ... ?” (When is the next trip to ...?) This is my go-to phrase since I find that posted schedules aren’t always the most reliable.
Alternately, you may be in a place where a number of buses have gathered. Drivers fishing for customers may ask you “Вы куда?” or “Куда едете?” Note that Russian speakers often drop the verbs of motion and just use куда or a place with a preposition. The proper response to this is “Я—в Комрат.” (I’m going to Comrat, for example.)
Sometimes the driver is distracted and talking to his other bus driver buddies! The proper way to get a driver’s attention is to say “Водитель!” (Driver!) This might seem rude in America, but it is usually fine in the former USSR.
Once you have his attention, you can ask “Куда едете?” (Where are you going?) or “Когда уежайете?” (When are you leaving?). In Moldova, bus drivers usually make long trips passing through several towns on the way. If you want to know if the bus driver is going through your town, you can ask “Вы едете через ... ?”
If you don’t want to get in without knowing how much it is going to cost (always a good policy), then ask “Сколько до ... ?” (How much to ...?)
Once you’ve secured your ticket, it’s time to get in the bus. Oops, where are you going to put that backpack? The appropriate question to the driver is “Можно в багажник?” (Can I put it in the trunk?). Once you’ve got that settled, you need a seat. This can be tricky. People can be very territorial! If you’re not sure if a seat is taken, ask “Это занято?” (Is it occupied?).
Once you’re on the bus, you can zone out or watch cheesy music videos on the TV (if you’re lucky). But hey, sometimes you want to sleep. If you fall asleep and don’t know if you’ve passed your stop when you wake up, you can ask “Мы проехали ... ?” (Did we pass ...?)
The driver may stop for a bathroom or snack break. When he does, he’ll usually say something like “Мы стоим (на) пять минут.” (We are “standing” for 5 minutes.)
Finally, you’ve reached your destination! If you need to get out and people are standing in your way, the best phrases are “Разрешите, пожалуйста” or “Извините, ухожу.” A third option is “Будьте любезны.” The first phrase is also key if a smelly drunk guy with bad teeth has fallen asleep on you and you desperately need to escape to another seat. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.
With these phrases, you can brave any long-distance bus trip.
Счастливого пути! (Have a nice trip!)