The experience of taking a bus a long distance trip is greatly influenced by whether you have to sit beside a stranger or get both seats to yourself. Getting two seats to yourself on a mostly crowded bus can be as joyous as finding money. Since a bus has no assigned seating you can use certain strategies to increase your odds of getting both seats to yourself. I'm not talking about doing things that make you a jerk like sitting on the aisle seat while the window seat is empty. I'm talking about positioning yourself on the bus in such a way that people will sit somewhere else and think it's because of their own free will.
I also promise that these are not merely untested strategies. I learned them from touring musicians and comedians before I embarked on a two month cross Canada journey entirely on the greyhound bus. These strategies work and will improve your experience of bus travel.
Be one of the first people on the bus
Being one of the first on the bus guarantees you priority seat selection. You're going to want to have that for the next step. Of course being first is only possible if you are catching the bus from its first point of departure. However if that is the case it will be worth your time to line up at the gate well before anybody else does. If you're going to be on a greyhound bus for ten hours an extra forty-five minutes in the bus depot to get a optimal seat will more then make up for it.
Sit near the front of the bus
You want to sit in the first couple of rows of the bus when at all possible. When a bus is first departing it is usually only partly full. Then as it makes additional stops more and more people get on. There is a certain point on the trip when all of the seats have at least one person in them. That means that any new person getting on the bus is going to have to make a decision about who they sit next to. This is when sitting near the front is very helpful to you.
When a person first boards a mostly crowded bus they're going to hold out hope that maybe there is still an empty two seats near the back. They'll walk all the way to where the bathroom is and then realize that they're going to have to take an aisle seat next to somebody else. However they're going to make that search from the back of the bus working their way to the front. Since you've positioned yourself near the front of the bus you're now sitting in one of the last empty seats they'll take. They'll likely feel kind of embarrassed and just sit down near the back like they walked all the way down there for a reason.
Pretend that you're asleep
Every time new people get on the bus you need to pretend to be asleep. It works no matter what time of day it is and you only have to do it for a couple of minutes. It even works if you were just standing in the line up to get on the bus moments before. There is just a social contract we have that we don't bother a stranger who is sleeping. You don't even need to hang your leg into the other seat so they would have to move it to sit down (that would be a jerk move). People prefer to sit next to a conscious stranger even when it would clearly not disturb the person sleeping.
In the event that you do want somebody to sit next to you
Sometime you feel like company or maybe somebody getting on the bus seems cool. How do you get them to sit next to you? Just make eye contact and smile as they approach. This always works. The only thing worse then having a stranger taking up a seat next to you is being a new person on the bus who has to pick a seat. A person getting on the bus feels sheepish like a kid on the first day of school so if they see a warm toothy grin among the faces they'll likely go towards it. If you're in a friendly mood then it's easy to find a neighbour.
The bus is a great way to travel North America if you don't want to spend a lot of money. I saw some amazing scenery on my trip from Vancouver to Halifax. However if you want increased personal space without being a jerk about it then follow my tips for getting two seats to yourself on the greyhound bus.