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Best Method of Transport for Travelling Across USA

Travel Forums North America Best Method of Transport for Travelling Across USA

1. Posted by rframpton14 (Budding Member 6 posts) 5y Star this if you like it!

Hello All,

From what I have read and gathered from speaking to friends the best method of getting around America is by car. From what I hear there is little in the way of trains and buses, and once you are in a city a car is necessary to do little day trips. The greyhound bus system is one option for travelling between cities but to see national parks ect car is the only real option. Would this be accurate or am I mistaken?

So if we agree that car is the best option then the next question what is the best way of getting a car? Firstly, buying seems attractive but from what I have read it can be troublesome due to insurance, differing state laws etc, besides all the usual problems with buying a car from relatively little money ($1000). Also I have heard you can get in a lot of trouble for just leaving a car at the end of the trip. So the next method I am considering would be renting cars. Initially we thought one car for the whole trip (exact route is not decided but it could be something like LA to Miami), but this could be hugely expensive if the hire company charges per mile after a certain length of time. So another idea would be to rent cars between areas (Hire a car in LA drive to Vegas, drop the car off in vegas hire another and then go onto the next destination ect). This may avoid some per mile charges but the one-off car hire charges may stack up.

Anyone got any ideas/comments or knows a good way to hire cars?

All help will be much appreciated.


2. Posted by Daawgon (Travel Guru 2009 posts) 5y Star this if you like it!

Your observations are correct, the US is the land of the auto (especially the Western states). There is no cheap way of seeing this country, and we simply do not have the transport systems available in Europe or Japan/Korea. Recently several new startup bus companies have emerged to compete with Greyhound (Bolt Bus is one that just started between Seattle and Portland, and also in the Northeast). Amtrak train service is spotty - very good in the Northeast (Boston-NYC-DC), but mediocre to poor in many areas. You might check Rent-a-Wreck, but there would be not long distance travel for that company. I still think flying between regions makes the best sense for independent travel - I like Southwest Airlines (our Greyhound of the skies).

(whenever you "drop" a car in the US, you pay considerably for that convenience - most all car rental agencies are franchised, and they simply do not want their cars dropped too far away - dropped as in one-way rentals)

[ Edit: Edited on 22-Jul-2012, at 21:20 by Daawgon ]

Post 3 was removed by a moderator
4. Posted by micromini (Budding Member 3 posts) 5y Star this if you like it!

One way to see part of the US without a car is to see the West Coast; then take Amtrak through the scenic mid section of America (California Zephyr); then pick up a car in Chicago and travel the Eastern States. If you want to see some of the national parks you can get off the California Zephyr do your touring and then return. For example,

Get off in Salt Lake City; rent a car; drive up to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons

Get off in Grand Junction, see Arches National Park (rent a car and return)

Get off in Winter Park/Frasier Colorado and rent a car and see Rocky Mountain National Park

That way you don't have to drive long stretches through boring states. You then just rent a car to see California and Las Vegas - best to fly into San Francisco and return to San Francisco, going to Emeryville nearby to get on the train. That will help you avoid car drop off fees.

In Chicago, you can rent a car and perhaps it would be best to pay the car drop off fees which can still be sizeable (so a loop might be less costly as well there.)

Note: Just an alternative to driving the whole way. You can also get 45 day passes and ride other trains to other cities on the East Coast if you so desire. For California/Las Vegas I would rent a car. Cost of coach (not sleeping cars) on Amtrak is downright inexpensive...and although much slower than air travel it allows you to get off at places closer to many of the sights you would want to see.

5. Posted by laurim (Respected Member 260 posts) 5y Star this if you like it!

One word of caution about taking the train, Amtrak. They don't run as efficiently as trains in Europe because they share the same tracks as the trains used to transport goods. My brother and his wife recently took the train from Minnesota to Seattle and had several multi-hour delays for a variety of reasons, including a 6 hr delay caused by a man who decided to end his life by jumping in front of their train. Can you imagine being the engineer? Nightmares for years. Anyway, they were warned to not attempt any tight timelines when using the train. They almost missed their cruise to Alaska out of Seattle. Sometimes Amtrak will arrange to fly people to their destination if they know there will be a long delay but who knows. The train is for people with a lot of time and no definite timelines.

6. Posted by rasheeed (Full Member 75 posts) 5y Star this if you like it!

The best of America is between the cities. Only accessible by car...

7. Posted by rframpton14 (Budding Member 6 posts) 5y Star this if you like it!

First of all, thanks for all your comment I really appreciate it.

I think buying a car will be out of our price range, I think maximum each of us could contribute to a car would be £1000, and it is questionable how reliable a £2000 car would be.

It sounds like a good idea to rent a car once in a city and use it for touring that area then bring it back then use flights/train/bus to cover the major distance.

I also want to see the stuff between cities as well and not really be tied down my flight/train times. E.g. if we find a really nice town or something we want to see we can just stay another night and working the other way if we really hate somewhere we can just pack-up and leave.

Are there significant savings to be had for booking Amtrak in advance or is turning up on the day just as cheap?

A friend of mine also mentioned that some people pay to have their car's driven across america. For example, someone is moving from NY to LA, they will take flights or go will the trucks and they need their car driven across for them. Does anyone have any experience of this. I know it's a long shot!

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10. Posted by Kimee129 (Full Member 37 posts) 5y Star this if you like it!

Yes, I agree with the other posters. I have travelled the US from SC to Ca 14 different times. Various routes and National Parks along the way. A car is definately the way to go! However, as you mentioned above buying one with insurance, taxes and fees is very expensive. I am unsure how long your trip is for or when you plan to travel? How many are going to be traveling? I would consider sitting down with an itenerary and mapping out the "Must see" areas. I would rent a car in the big areas such as LA and do a round trip...(LA to San Fran, Yosemite National Park, Death Valley, Las Vegas, Zion National Park (surrounding other National Parks), Grand Canyon, Phoenix, San Diego, and back to LA). If you are interested in seeing Seattle Washington you can take Amtrak from LA to Seattle R/T for $212 per person. That is on the Coast Starlight which is a wonderful train trip. You can rent a car in Salt Lake City and drive up to Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, and down to Denver Colorado. I would fly from Denver to Chicago or take the Amtrak. No offense to Kansas, but unless you love a lot of flat fields there isnt' much to see until you reach Chicago. Chicago to the great lakes...then over to the New England area. As someone stated previously the amtrak and other trains through this area are very well run and inexpensive. I am from SC so driving down my way is a must. Not only do we have sweet tea and pretty people, but our mountains (Blue Ridge Mountains) are gorgeous. Good luck on your trip...I wish you much luck and happy travels.