a road trip without any ability to drive
June 4, 2014 7:55 PM   Subscribe

BeMyTravelAgentFilter: Help me figure out a way to make a trip from the Bay Area to New Orleans doable and affordable - when driving is not an option.

I'm currently in the SF Bay Area (specifically Emeryville), am planning to head to Anaheim for Vidcon later this month, and was hoping to make a trip to New Orleans right after Vidcon to visit some friends. It sounds like the perfect roadtrip opportunity, except that I don't have a car and don't actually know how to drive. So this will all need to incorporate public transport.

I've been trying to plug in dates and numbers for flights, buses, trains, and so on - but am not sure how to optimize my trip. What I wish existed was something like Expedia that also took into account buses and trains, but maybe you all could give me some ideas.

I'm planning to arrive at Anaheim on the 25th of June and plan to leave on the 30th. I'd like to be in NOLA for about a week. If I went to New Orleans by bus or train I might consider stopping by at Reno and/or Tuscon - are they on the way, and is it cost-effective to get there?

I am accessible to SFO and OAK airports - does it make more sense financially and time-wise to fly to and from SNA (which I understand is the airport closest to Anaheim) or is LAX better? (If it helps, I'll be at the Anaheim Marriott.) Is there a different airport/station in Louisiana that's cheaper and yet still accessible to NOLA?

I haven't really set a budget yet, but about $600-$700 for the whole trip would be ideal (esp since I'm getting paid about that much soon anyway). I can get a pretty cheap bus from the Bay Area to LA, but that's as far as I got. I don't mind long trips, but would like to spend as much time in the actual cities as possible.

Any other options that I haven't thought about would be helpful too.
posted by divabat to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Another option would be finding someone on Craigslist rideshare who wants help with gas. I've done this before to get from SF to LA.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:07 PM on June 4, 2014

If you go to amtrak, there's a sunset limited from la to new orleans that leaves on the 29th.. it's $200 (approximately) each way. It only runs three days a week and takes almost 2 entire days for the trip (and I'd add on another few hours for delays)
posted by empath at 8:08 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here's the Amtrak route from LA to New Orleans: you get Tucson (only stopping for an hour) but not Reno. It takes 48 hours and it's $1400 one-way, so way over your budget. Though I know of people who've taken that trip and loved it.

Southwest flies from SNA, and if you're flexible with your return date, you could get a round-trip more or less within budget.
posted by holgate at 8:09 PM on June 4, 2014

Does the $600-700 budget need to include lodging or is that just travel? Because I'm seeing a few LAX - NOLA flights on Kayak for just over $400 roundtrip, and you can definitely get to/from LA from Oakland for under $200 (bus, ride, whatever.) I don't think you'll save any (or much) money by taking a bus or train.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:10 PM on June 4, 2014

it's $200 (approximately) each way.

Ah, more fool me. I was checking for June 30th, and the only seats are on trains that go via... Chicago. Or Galesburg. So, um. The Sunset Limited runs on the 29th and 2nd and is indeed $200 each way.
posted by holgate at 8:14 PM on June 4, 2014

Best answer: Rome2Rio can be a good guide to travel options. It might also be worth looking into carpooling/rideshare for some of the legs, though I don't know a good website for this.
posted by kjs4 at 8:21 PM on June 4, 2014

Response by poster: It's without lodging, I've got that taken care of.

I can't leave on the 29th and don't really have options to stay beyond the 30th.
posted by divabat at 8:27 PM on June 4, 2014

The $1400 fare on Amtrak is if you reserve a full roomette. Those are expensive.

The Sunset Limited between LA and NO only runs three days a week. Schedule. You'd leave LA on Sun/Wed/Fri. You'd leave New Orleans to come back on Mon/Wed/Sat.

If you choose any other days of the week, Amtrak's website will try to route you on a non-direct route, that's where the weird suggestions for Illinois, etc., come from.

Note carefully that the trip takes two days.

I was able to put together this example Amtrak itinerary:

Leave Los Angeles at 10 p.m., Sun June 29.
Arrive New Orleans at 9:40 p.m., Tue July 1.
Leave New Orleans at 9:00 a.m., Sat July 5.
Arrive Los Angeles at 5:35 a.m., Mon July 7.

Value fare, reserved upper level coach seat, came to $368 for the whole thing.

So, it can be quite cheap. You're sleeping in a chair, though, for two nights in each direction. And it does take a lot of time, although much of that time can be you relaxing and watching the scenery go by.
posted by gimonca at 9:12 PM on June 4, 2014

Due Amtrak's schedule, if you can't leave on the 29th, and you don't have an option to stay in LA until Wed. July 2, it seems like Amtrak is probably not an option.
posted by gimonca at 9:18 PM on June 4, 2014

Best answer: A search of ultra-cheap Megabus-type options aren't showing me anything that would connect from LA all the way to New Orleans--the cheap bus networks don't seem to be that comprehensive yet.

Greyhound looks like a solid $422. Again, a two-day trip in each direction.

Southwest Airlines, I could get the cheapest fares down to the mid-$400s. Southwest is probably your best bet.
posted by gimonca at 9:31 PM on June 4, 2014

Are you looking for the cheapest option, period, or the cheapest option that involves only ground travel and no plane travel?
posted by kalapierson at 9:39 PM on June 4, 2014

Response by poster: kalapierson: cheapest option regardless of method (air, land, sea, teleportation, whatever). Interesting that people are bringing up Southwest - flight sites are quoting me airfare in at least the 600s.
posted by divabat at 9:46 PM on June 4, 2014

There's a lot of room in those Amtrak seats to sleep in -- they aren't like airline seats at all. I've taken a train from Emeryville to Seattle and slept pretty comfortably across two seats, which you might get if you're lucky.

Also, there's wifi on Amtrak, so you can entertain yourself if looking out the window gets boring.
posted by vickyverky at 10:07 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Is there a different airport/station in Louisiana that's cheaper and yet still accessible to NOLA?"

Speaking as a New Orleanian I have never heard of anyone flying into any airport other than Louis Armstrong (MSY). I hear there's one in Baton Rouge but I don't think I've ever spoken to anyone that's been through there. Upon research it looks like it connects only to DFW and IAH, at least in terms of things that are in the direction you'd be coming from.

There's no big public transportation from Baton Rouge to New Orleans so yeah, I'd say MSY is your only option when it comes to air travel into our city.
posted by komara at 10:09 PM on June 4, 2014

Best answer: Try looking at flights home on Tuesday the 8th instead of the 7th. Sometimes it's cheaper to fly Tuesday/Wednesday rather than Monday - Monday is in more demand because people do weekend getaways. Plugging that in I'm seeing plenty under $500 at kayak.com, including flying directly back to SFO.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:10 PM on June 4, 2014

Best answer: SNA is much better than LAX.

Southwest flies to all of these airports, and from a quick search it seems like it's in your budget. You can get flights from SNA to MSY and from MSY to OAK for less that $300 each, and OAK to SNA is less than $100...

Since you called this price "ideal" and you want to maximize the time you're spending in your destination cities, you should probably just fly, unless you're really into the whole sitting-for-days-at-a-time thing.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:21 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Interesting that people are bringing up Southwest - flight sites are quoting me airfare in at least the 600s.

Southwest doesn't put its fares on the usual comparison flight sites like Kayak or Travelocity, which is why I looked at their own site. And their return flight on the Tuesday (8th) is a lot cheaper than the Monday.
posted by holgate at 10:35 PM on June 4, 2014

Best answer: Seconding looking into flying out of John Wayne (SNA). One thing that Angelenos know (and that out of towners don't) is that when flying to and from LA, you avoid LAX at all costs... whenever you can, fly out of Burbank, Ontario, or John Wayne, whichever you live nearest, since it's almost always cheaper, more convenient, and more pleasant.

Flying Santa Ana to New Orleans via Southwest looks like a good deal to me too, I just found the same prices that mr_roboto did. Then, you're straight back to Oakland for a nice price too, and you've got a quick ride home to Emeryville.
posted by Old Man McKay at 10:37 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

In short: stick to flying.

In my mind, two things make a road trip fun: a) good company and b) the freedom to stop off and see whatever fun stuff you like, taking as much time as you like. Even if (public) ground transportation was good enough for you to string together a handful of hops to get from CA to LA (I'm pretty sure it's not), traveling alone on trains and buses for two days will almost certainly not be fun. And there goes 4 days you could have been more comfortable and doing cool stuff.

I feel like people still have road trips in mind as good cheap fun. Back when gas was 89 cents a gallon, it was cheap. Fun can still be had, but now road trips are not necessarily a better deal than flying.

Also, the southern route (along I-10) is the most direct, but it is incredibly miserable at the height of summer. I wouldn't dream of doing that again (20yo me already made that mistake).

Reno is not on the way from southern California to New Orleans in any reasonable routing, and it would only be on the way back to the bay area if you deliberately headed north early and took a big chunk of the trip on I-80.

I was also able to pull up flights on ITA totaling under $500 for you (for SNA-MSY and MSY-OAK/SFO), but with the Tuesday return, like everyone else.
posted by ktkt at 11:53 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, I don't think I've seen the cheap flights on Southwest anywhere but their own website. They show up as "Wanna Get Away" fares in the far right column in their search results.

I'm finding slightly cheaper fares out of LAX on 6/29, those appear to be on certain non-stops. The ones out of SNA on 6/29 are pretty close in price, but involve layovers in Denver or Las Vegas, so more time spent in the air and in airports.
posted by gimonca at 4:41 AM on June 5, 2014

Best answer: I see a roundtrip fare from SNA to MSY, 6/30 and 7/7, for $378 on Southwest, like everybody's saying. (Returning to OAK instead of SNA adds $7 to the cost.) It is 100% your best option.

I too understand the romance of a road trip, having driven across the country many many times, but it's not a practical choice for someone who doesn't drive. Even if you knew someone who was going that way anyway, there is a good chance they would expect you to share driving duties.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 6:51 AM on June 5, 2014

Response by poster: Southwest it is! I've got the SNA-MSY-OAK routes down, though I might opt for Megabus or Amtrak for getting down to Anaheim because I'm not in a huge rush.

Thank you!
posted by divabat at 1:52 PM on June 5, 2014

There's a lot of room in those Amtrak seats to sleep in -- they aren't like airline seats at all. I've taken a train from Emeryville to Seattle and slept pretty comfortably across two seats, which you might get if you're lucky.Also, there's wifi on Amtrak, so you can entertain yourself if looking out the window gets boring.

Vicky is incorrect on this - wifi is NOT on the two day crosscountry trains - only on the Starlight, the Surfliner, and the NE Corridor trains and some other ones. There's parts of that cross-country ride with no cell phone service, let alone any data. I've done a whole bunch of crosscountry Amtrak travel - mainly in sleeper - PM me if you want any thhoughts.
posted by waylaid at 4:19 PM on June 5, 2014

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