Carfree Travel Across the U.S.
February 12, 2012 9:48 AM   Subscribe

Tips for Frugal Carfree Multi-Month Travel across the U.S. (from east to west)? (particularly on how to tackle the South without a car...)

I'm planning a multi-month trip across the U.S. this August. My main focus will be visiting design programs at various universities and blogging about those differences. But I also really enjoy traveling so will probably linger in nearby towns and try to check out some famous sites. Although I have a driver's license I don't have much driving practice nor a car (I'm also under 25 which would make renting fairly expensive). Thus, I'm hoping to make this a carfree trip because of those mentioned factors and since I'm interested in promoting carfree cities and travels.

I will be starting out in the D.C./Baltimore area and then moving westwards. Since I'll be traveling starting August/September, I was planing to do a counterclockwise loop of the U.S. (i.e. DC > Northeast > Great Lake region > Midwest > Pacific NW > CA > TX/AZ > Southeast > DC.)

I will be visiting a lot of state schools and know that I have megabus to cover me for most of the Northeast. But for schools such as LSU and Texas A&M, those are proving to be a bit trickier. I know I could always take Greyhound but I'm a single female in her early 20s and I know I wouldn't feel comfortable on the greyhound by myself (the last time I took it I was with a few of my guy friends but I know that I would've been uncomfortable were it just me) Amtrak is pretty expensive by my standards but I know there are deals out there that I will try and figure out how to get.

I will be traveling on a tight budget so will need to travel lightly and inexpensively. I plan to just bring one bag with me. I will definitely be couchsurfing and staying at hostels along the way but any other tips would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!
posted by bluelight to Travel & Transportation around United States (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Greyhound has (or had, I haven't checked in a while) monthly hop-on hop-off unlimited passes that are surprisingly inexpensive. There is no cheaper option than the grey dog, and it goes pretty much everywhere.
posted by rockindata at 10:01 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, everyone should do an epic bus trip at some point. I find that roughly five rows back was the sweet spot. To close to the front and there are always truckers who won't stop talking to the driver. The back can be sketchball. The front quarter-third is where the little old ladies sit. I found a soft-sided cooler, stocked when I could get to a real grocery store, was a great thing as well.
posted by rockindata at 10:06 AM on February 12, 2012

Here's the Amtrak route map (1.6 MB pdf). How close can you get to where you need to go on Amtrak?
posted by lukemeister at 10:06 AM on February 12, 2012

I think you should reconsider Greyhound. It's the cheapest way to go and they go to more places than Amtrak. By the way, if you're afraid of traveling by Greyhound then hostels may not suit you at all.
posted by mareli at 10:32 AM on February 12, 2012

It appears I totally skipped over the no greyhound bit. Sorry about that.
posted by rockindata at 10:35 AM on February 12, 2012

You could post in Mefi Jobs. I bet there are travelling Mefites who could use some help with gas.
posted by raisingsand at 10:36 AM on February 12, 2012

Response by poster: No, I will consider the greyhound as I think I have to. I have stayed in hostels in the U.S. and in other countries and I don't think you can equate a dislike towards greyhound with a dislike of hostels especially when you can usually choose what kind of dorm you want to stay in (number of beds and whether it's co-ed). Maybe my two experiences on the greyhound are not the norm, but when I was on the bus it was mostly older men, some of whom were hitting on me (in an uncomfortable way) even with my male friends around.

Thanks for the tip about the monthly passes rockindata, I will definitely look into that.
posted by bluelight at 10:42 AM on February 12, 2012

FWIW (and YMMV), I'm a mid-twenties female and traveled quite a bit on the dirty dog in my late teens and early 20s. I took it around the northeast and southwest (AZ, CO, NM, TX, southern CA) usually by myself and one trip with another female. It was gross, some riders were shady, some were downright belligerent. Several men wanted to know if I was married. I loved it! I took the chance to catch up on reading, watch the scenery, imagine the geographic and geologic forces that made the landscapes, practice pop sociology, and learn about all the different kinds of lives bus riders have. The shadiness of the dog is entirely mitigatable by your attitude and how you present yourself. I found it relaxing overall. It's an experience that I wouldn't count out so soon.
posted by thewestinggame at 10:46 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I might be wrong, but I think that you cannot get into College Station without going by car, plane, bus, rail, or a combination of those. Well, there's hitchhiking and cycling but I think you aren't looking for those as options. Are you hoping to find a ride-share type of thing?
posted by Houstonian at 10:46 AM on February 12, 2012

Evidently there is an Amtrack station in Temple, Tx. That would mean riding the Greyhound for about an hour and a half to College Station.
posted by tamitang at 12:27 PM on February 12, 2012

Say you travel between major points by rail or bus...How do you propose to actually get to your final destinations without a car? Once you get out of the NE, things get spread-out, and viable public transportation becomes very spotty-to-non-existent outside of big places like Chicago.

Most towns across the country might have a stop for Greyhound (maybe), but it's likely going to be far enough removed from your final destination as to be impractical to walk. And passenger train service to most places you might be going to doesn't even exist.

Are you pre-arranging rides with friends or contacts?
posted by Thorzdad at 12:39 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Young girl, visiting design schools, blogging about the "car-free" experience...the PR department for Greyhound would eat this up with a spoon. Why don't you write them a letter about your plans, and see what they offer. Do it with AMTRAK, too. I feet they might try to insure you have a safe, pleasant experience to blog about.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 12:42 PM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you don't want people hitting on you while riding the bus, bring a big pair of headphones (earbuds won't work, you want something that completely covers your ears and can be seen from a mile away by old men without their glasses). Put them on when you get on the bus, and if someone tries to talk to you (and you don't want to talk to them), just politely inform them that you are listening to some lectures for one of your classes, or something like that which would require your full attention, and then proceed to ignore them the rest of the way while listening to your tunes.
posted by markblasco at 7:13 PM on February 12, 2012

- I did the 60 day greyhound bus pass. It was a fascinating experience.

- Food will be expensive - the greyhound stops at road stops where the options are Subway, McDonalds and Wendy's. Say $7-10 per meal ($8.50 average) x 3 meals a day = $800/mo.

- Prepare to get fatter or do a LOT of meal planning.

- Lodging will be your next big expense - couchsurfing & hostels help but even at $15/night you're looking at $500/mo - more if you don't go for dormatory style rooms.

- I know this will sound gross considering what's on the bus floor, but bring something like open toed shoes - you don't want your feet to stew for 48 hours.

- Dental hygiene.

- The best seat is about 1/4 of the way back. The rear of the bus is where the people who want to get away with all snorts of nastiness sit. The front is where the whack jobs that like to talk talk talk sit (they talk to the bus driver if nobody else is around to talk to).

- Pepper spray, just in case (as a man I felt safe, as lone woman, stuff may happen).

- Drug sniffing dogs - I saw them once in my 2 month trip. We got off the bus, they got on.

- Keep your valuables in sight at all times - someone had a laptop stolen because he stupidly left it on the bus to grab some food.

- "The Urine Stinking People" (with dementia) nuff said.

- Unplug the electronics & enjoy the scenery. Especially in the southwest.

- Travel size shampoo + grayhound bus station sinks. Yeah.

That said I have two words for you: ROAD TRIP!

You cut many of your expenses in half if you bring a friend, you can find actual real places to eat (thanks to the magic of the internet it's easier than ever) they can share driving duties & there's no better way to learn than on the open road.

You'll discover this on your own, but the "welcome to...!" rest stop areas & other rest stop areas have awesome coupon books for discount lodging. I stayed at a Raddison for $40/night. After paying the $80 bill after two days for what should have been $300-400 I felt almost guilty.
posted by MesoFilter at 7:41 PM on February 21, 2012

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