NYC - Seattle: how?
July 29, 2010 5:50 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to get from New York to Seattle without losing too much money (or my life) and possibly getting a great experience too?

I'm heading over to NYC in late Sept for a conference, and I also intend to check out a convention in Seattle in mid Oct. I have a window of time - specifically between Oct 8 and Oct 13 - to get from one state to another.

I looked up Amtrack, airfare, and Greyhound, and pricewise they all seem the same. A friend has offered to house me in Chicago, so I thought I might make a bit of a roadtrip around it (having never been to Chicago before). I'm a lone female South Asian traveller with a third-world-country passport, so my safety is a concern too.

What are some good ways to get to Seattle from New York that won't compromise my safety or my wallet? How do I organise the trip so that I can also check out Chicago or anything else interesting in between? I don't have to leave strictly on the 8th or arrive strictly on the 13th; it's just that the convention in Seattle starts on the 14th and I have something in NYC on the 7th so anytime between those two dates are free.

I can't drive, so no car hire for me, and I don't know anyone else who I can hitch a ride with at the time. I've done cross-country buses and trains before, but in the States it's usually been with a group of people I know. I'm not sure how safe overnight trips on Amtrack or Greyhound are, esp for a lone female foreigner, but I'm cool with ideas that allow me to meet different kinds of people. (Is there like a Contiki type thing for the States?)

(Also, just as an aside: I'll be in NYC from Sept 29 to Oct 7, and Seattle from Oct 14 to 17. Anything I should check out while I'm around? I will be coming from across the world anyhoo :D)
posted by divabat to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You'll be okay on the bus. Here's the thing: there's always lots of people on the bus, and troublesome passengers tend to get put off the bus, so there's much incentive for people to be cool. Bus travel is great if you want to talk to people, although at times everyone will just be exhausted because bus travel can be very fatiguing. You may find the bus trip takes 4-6 days, so you might not have much time in Chicago, but I haven't checked the schedules.

You may be able to get a flexible bus travel pass which would allow you some ad-hoc travel before and after your cross-continent voyage so you could get around locally a little bit.

The train will be more comfortable (better seats, room to move around) but will also be more limited in your exploration options. It also may be more expensive, but I haven't priced it out. Sounds like fun!
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:27 PM on July 29, 2010

Single female whose traveled alone here.

I've taken the Amtrak Empire Builder (the Chicago to Seattle train) many times, and I've had no problems. This also was in Coach seating. The only thing I faced was boredom, but if you have some books or puzzle magazines or a computer, and/or you like to talk to people, the time goes by surprisingly fast. I also brought on my own munchies (fruit, crackers, and the like) instead of eating my meals in the Dining Car to cut down on funds, and I also took advantage of every 'smoke break' stop to stretch my legs and get some junk food from the station. And if you do Coach, bring your own travel pillow!

The trip takes 48 hours, give or take a few, but it also takes you through some stunning scenery. To meet people, just park yourself in the Lounge Car - you'll run into plenty of folk doing the same thing, and conversations will develop.
posted by spinifex23 at 6:44 PM on July 29, 2010

I'd say Amtrak is the way to go. I've gone cross-continent by bus, train, plane, and driving -- and train would absolutely be my pick given the amount of time you have. It's the most comfortable because there's lots of leg room and you can move around. At station stops there is usually some time to get out and walk around. The scenery is amazing, and you'll probably meet some interesting (in a good way) people. If you can't afford a cabin, bring some stuff to make yourself comfortable for sleeping in your coach seet (pillows, blankets, etc.). You might also be able to find a bit of floor space at night in the lounge car for sleeping.
posted by Emanuel at 7:34 PM on July 29, 2010

I'm a lone female South Asian traveller with a third-world-country passport, so my safety is a concern too.

This will depend on what route you take west of the Mississippi and your mode of transportation, but from Chicago on you should be fine. Maybe avoid Arizona?

If you fly or take Amtrak from Seattle to Chicago, you won't face any danger. Amtrak is extremely safe and glorious compared to commercial airlines, if you have the time and can get over the "but it costs just as much!" voice in your head. Less security theater, too, with Amtrak -- I don't think you'll even need to show a passport unless it's your only form of ID to pick up your tickets at the station.

Greyhound could certainly be interesting, though. It won't be comfortable, and it might be dangerous depending on schedule and route and luck of the draw. Though I wouldn't worry about being lynched or raped or anything - your worst risk is probably getting pickpocketed. I've never taken buses out west, so I'm not sure how bearable they are. I know the distances are long.

From Chicago to New York, you have a lot of options, and Greyhound might be more feasible (maybe it's the shorter distances or more competition from different lines, but I don't find buses bad at all around here). If you bus it in legs between different cities, you might be able to use a fancier service like Megabus - these are cleaner and usually have onboard wifi.
posted by Sara C. at 8:14 PM on July 29, 2010

If the money is the same, I think you'd have to be nuts to take the bus when you could take the train or an airplane. The train is the most comfortable, but it takes days -- so you'll have to balance the time on the train vs time at your destination. And add into your budget that you have to eat on the train; you'll either need to bring food or eat in the (not very cheap) restaurant car.
posted by Forktine at 8:23 PM on July 29, 2010

Yeah, Amtrak is much, much better than Greyhound. It's safe, and you can stretch your legs out, and often lie down.

I have done long haul Greyhound runs across America (MA to TX) and I would not do it again. (I had no safety problems, but I am also male.) If I were a woman traveling alone, I would never have done it in the first place. This sounds exaggerated (and sexist), but every woman I've ever talked to about it has a Greyhound-pervert horror story, and it gets dark and creepy on the bus at night. Frankly, even if you're perfectly safe it's an awful experience.

Amtrak Amtrak Amtrak. Safer. Prettier. Spacious. Better bathrooms, too.
posted by zvs at 9:34 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

amtrak is expensive and takes a ridiculous amount of time—you might as well fly. and, mind you, i hate flying! your money and time are better spent hanging out with friends in cities you actually want to see.
posted by lia at 10:13 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've taken the Empire Builder twice (am female in my 20s). I had a private room once, and the other time I just slept in my seat in coach. I felt totally safe.

The biggest drawback in my opinion was that when I was in coach, lonely and/or bored men talked to me constantly, even when I just wanted to read or sleep. They weren't scary, even the ones who were interested didn't act like perverts, but it got to be wearing. But, you have said you want to meet different kinds of people, so you might not mind that at all or even enjoy it.

I have also taken quite a few trips on Greyhound. Like everyone else has said, Greyhound is a lot less comfortable. Also, in my experience, the people who take Greyhound are usually the people who can't afford a car and can't afford to fly. Maybe you are fine with that too, but I'm just saying, it's a different demographic that takes the bus here than you might expect coming from another country.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:57 PM on July 29, 2010

When I moved from my native Washington State to NYC, I did it with two bags on the Empire Builder. If you have the time and want an experience, it’s the way to go. As people have said, more room, check. More comfortable, check. Better bathrooms, check. Concessions or real dining, check. Floor to ceiling windows in the lounge car, check. Time and environment to decompress and appreciate travel in America – check.

The Greyhound bus will be cramped, more noisy, and possibly smelly... there’s a limit to the kind of experiences I’d be interested in, know what I’m saying? Who doesn't love the clack-clack-clack of the rails, anyway?
posted by SirNovember at 7:37 AM on July 30, 2010

Because trains are more expensive, they're rarely as crowded as buses. And even when the entire train is occupied, something about the greater number of seats means you have more options as to who you choose to sit next to.

Not sure what bus/train options you've been looking at, but on the whole Greyhound is waaay cheaper than train and I hate to say it this way but the "class" of people you encounter on the train is generally very different than on the bus. I've had good bus rides, bad bus rides, and very odd bus rides. My train rides have either been interesting, or boring, but always relatively pleasant. If you leave from Port Authority, which is likely if you take Greyhound, odds are about even (based on my admittedly anecdotal experience, not hard stats) that you'll see at least one drunken altercation while waiting for your bus, and at least person will be forcibly not allowed on your bus. That part is okay, though, as it bonds the remaining riders together.

If you go by train, most of your traveling companions will be businesspeople, medium-sized families, and older people. If you travel by bus, it will mostly be young people, college students, and military.

The bus rides, in my experience, are always slower than on the schedule, so take that into consideration.

Basically, if you want to see a slice of Americana, take the bus. If you want to get where you're going in comfort without the danger of being crammed next to someone who smells like Ranch doritos for 3-4 hours, take the train.

I agree with Ashley801 that the buses in the US are not like the buses in other countries.

My recommendation? Either take the train to Chicago, and fly to Seattle, or fly to Chicago, and take the train to Seattle. If you buy it enough in advance, a plane ticket can be close to a train ticket, particularly when you take into account the costs of extended travel (either sleeping in your chair or shelling out $$$ for a sleeper, and train food is pretty terrible *and* expensive). I'm guessing the view Chicago to Seattle is nicer (Montana and North Dakota aren't *nearly* as built up as Ohio and Indiana.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:47 AM on July 30, 2010

Yeah I just checked and Kayak has $110 fares NYC -> O'Hare. That's just $30 more than taking a 19 hour train ride.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:53 AM on July 30, 2010

Let me jump back in and say that my train ride from Chicago to NYC was less comfortable (packed full commuter-style train), less scenic, and ultimately forgettable. Well, except for seeing the sun set, coming down the Hudson. Anyway, the Empire Builder, from Chicago to Seattle, as Deathalicious suggests... that’s just the thing.
posted by SirNovember at 7:58 AM on July 30, 2010

nthing the train. Amtrak is worlds above Greyhound in terms of comfort, particularly for long trips. Pack some food, a good book, and watch the world go by from the observation car. Magical.
posted by fracas at 8:05 AM on July 30, 2010

Flying is so dehumanizing and no longer FUN that I would recommend the train, no matter how long it takes. There's something about disconnecting from life and sitting on the train that I cherish. Sometimes travel isn't just about the destination, but also the journey.

That said, it won't be that exciting/beautiful from NYC -> Chicago, but after that, it'll be great.

You can get up and stretch your legs, you can use a nicer (but not great) bathroom. The bathrooms on the buses and in bus stations are wretched. (Some buses are nicer but still.)

We have newer bus lines now, like Bolt Bus and MegaBus who are 'better' than Greyhound in some ways but I always sit in an aisle seat towards the front of the bus, just in case.

I wouldn't go cross country on a bus. The buses are darker, more cramped, and passenger activities more 'hidden', all of which emboldens the perv. People get up and walk around on trains and there's more room between seats, making it harder to hide anything furtive. (It changes a little at night, but again, people do get up more on trains I find.) I would find traveling cross country by bus alone as a single woman absolutely exhausting because I'd always be on the defensive. Hell, traveling by bus to freaking Atlantic City last summer, with my SO, I had a guy try something by snaking his hand between the seat and the window the second the SO fell asleep.

The closest thing that's like Contiki is Green Tortoise. They used to just be West Coast, but now I see they do cross-country.
posted by micawber at 9:41 AM on July 30, 2010

If I were you, I would fly to Chicago, spend a day or two there and then take the train to Seattle. I've never taken that particular train, but I have driven across the country multiple times in the last five years. The western half of the U.S. is vastly more interesting to look at than the eastern half, scenery-wise. The vast open spaces of the upper Midwest and the West are totally boggling, and the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Mountains are spectacular wherever you cross them, but the East and the lower Midwest is mostly towns and woods and cornfields (which can be interesting for a particular set of reasons, but probably not as a casual traveller).

As for recommendations for stuff to do: if you have any interest at all in museums, when you're in NYC, you should go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It has a huge, amazing collection. If you like classical music or the opera, the New York Philharmonic and the New York Metropolitan Opera are fun. Seattle has an orchestra that is less famous, but still quite enjoyable and a lot cheaper.

While you're in Seattle, if you have time on a warm clear afternoon, I'd recommend going on a ferry ride on Puget Sound. You can get a round-trip ticket for pretty cheap. Seattle is in a really beautiful spot, and if you like just sitting and watching the world (I'm guessing you probably do if you're thinking about traveling cross-country by train), it's really interesting to see the area by water rather than land.
posted by colfax at 11:33 AM on July 30, 2010

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