Planes? Trains? Automobiles?
April 12, 2012 2:44 PM   Subscribe

I plan to make a trip this summer (June-July) visiting friends and family, making 2- to 4-day stops in each of St. Louis, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Vancouver, and Missoula. What's the cheapest way to do this? Or, what are some resources I can use to find the cheapest ways?

Is it a greyhound bus pass (I don't mind overnight bus rides), some Priceline-like thing that can city-hop by plane, or find when the airlines are having crazy sales? Anything? I'm leaving from New York, BTW.
posted by Jon_Evil to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Traveling via bus sounds awful, but there is a Greyhound unlimited pass. Details here.

I would see if Amtrak has something similar. Maybe look at resources for students doing a "backpacking" trip across the US.

Do you have a car? Seems like it could be a better option.
posted by kdern at 2:55 PM on April 12, 2012

Buy a reliable car, a small Honda or Toyota sedan that gets good mileage, for $3K-$4K before you leave and sell it when you get back. Even assuming it loses $1000 in value along the way, which is high, that's like $15 per day. Way cheaper than any realistic combination of air fares and probably about a wash with the bus fares, frankly, with a great deal more convenience and freedom to set your schedule.

I did this once; bought car at the beginning of the summer and sold it at the end for $700 less. Given that I had it for 3 months, that's under $10 a day.
posted by rkent at 2:57 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Huh. I guess I was wrong about the car being a wash with the bus pass. Still, way more convenient.
posted by rkent at 3:02 PM on April 12, 2012

You can get a 30-day Amtrak pass for $650. That allows 12 "segments", which I have no idea whether they'd be sufficient to get you from here to there. You can bump it up to 18 segments in 45 days for $830. Here's the site.

I don't think your trip is too convenient to Amtrak though — Phoenix, Santa Cruz, Vancouver and Missoula don't lie on any train routes, as far as I can tell (though Amtrak provides bus service to all but the last so you can still book a trip entirely through them — no idea if the passes are good for buses, although I'd bet they are).
posted by brentajones at 3:11 PM on April 12, 2012

Missoula would be a couple of hours drive from the Amtrak station at Whitefish, for what it's worth.

If it were me, I'd probably do the Greyhound 60-day pass linked above at $564. However, one would probably want to look at schedules and sketch out at least a rough itinerary to make sure there aren't too many hassles getting around your big loop--bus companies have been cutting back lately.

If you look at the car option, don't forget to calculate in fuel costs.
posted by gimonca at 4:36 PM on April 12, 2012

I tried looking into going to Phoenix on Amtrak. Apparently that station doesn't seem to actually exist, despite their supposedly being a station in Phoenix.

Realistically speaking, if you're going around the West Coast, you probably need a car. Amtrak tends to be really really really super perpetually late, like DAYS late, if you are going long distances. And if you need to be anywhere by a certain date/time, forget it, you'll end up being late because a freight train had priority.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:19 PM on April 12, 2012

I came in to suggest the USA Rail Pass as linked above. I've only travelled via Amtrak between Vancouver and Seattle, but I have done both a 48-hour Greyhound trip and a 4-day train trip with VIARail, Canada's Amtrak. Travel by train is so, so, so, so much nicer. If it's at all possible, go train.
posted by snorkmaiden at 5:43 PM on April 12, 2012

Train is massively more pleasant than greyhound but service schedules are minimal. Bus I've done extensively, works but miserable. Consider the car seriously. Or ride shares. Lots of opportunities for "split the gas and keep me company" ride sharing.
posted by ead at 12:00 AM on April 14, 2012

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