How to travel cheap cross country?
December 26, 2005 3:15 PM   Subscribe

Are there any good options these days for cheap/easy crosscountry travel?

I'd like to visit friends on opposite sides of the US and I don't want to spend a lot of money. Has anyone succesfully used the craigslist rideshare board? Does anyone still hitchhike? Any other tips?
posted by afu to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1) Hitchhike
2) Hop a freight train (note: don't do it alone your first time)
posted by cmonkey at 3:18 PM on December 26, 2005

Define 'a lot of money' .. $300 for a RT flight is not much considering you're spending 10 hours total for travel time in the air vs. 60+ if you're lucky otherwise.
posted by kcm at 3:22 PM on December 26, 2005

A few years ago I got a "deal" where for $660 I got an umlimited use month long Amtrak pass, with the one requirement that you HAVE to ride through Canada.

It sucked. The United states is too big. I did manage to visit everyone I know in 8 different cities, but I spent nearly half of my month travelling! And of the 8 legs of the trip (not nine because I got pissed off and just flew home from Austin) 6 of them were 2-6 hours late in arriving!

So: Something not Amtrak would be my recommendation!
posted by aubilenon at 3:25 PM on December 26, 2005

I'm a big fan of the list of cheap car rentals, listed by airport. I've seen cars for as low as $8 and $9 per day, depending on pickup location and time of year. You can rent a car for less than $100/week but with gasoline at $2.25/gal or so, expect to spend several hundred on gasoline.

If you can't rent a car, then Greyhound is one way to go but it takes a very long time. You'd also have to deal with the crazies and undesirables who often travel by bus because they have no other options.

I've offered rides on Craigslist and once took a kid and his girlfriend from D.C. to Michigan. It was really weird, since they refused to make small talk and preferred to spend 10 hours in the car saying nothing at all. It was weird.

I don't recommend hitchhiking since it's not safe. Few people pick up hitchhikers anymore and those who do may be looking for easy prey for whatever criminal act they want to commit. On a drive from Austin to NYC a few years ago I picked up two hitchhikers. The first was clearly an ex-con who was looking for someone to rob. I stopped the car after letting him know I wasn't going to take him more than 20 miles. he knew that I knew what he was up to and chose to bother someone else rather than get his head kicked in (I'm a pretty big guy). The second was a woman who was off her meds or something. She refused to tell me where she needed to go and instead just asked me to drive in the direction I was going. I dropped her off 30 miles later after realizing she was a little bit too unstable.

Lastly, you can opt to fly standby at most airports. Airlines would rather fill empty seats for a greatly-reduced fare than not fill them at all and take a loss on those empty seats. It takes a lot of patience, but do your research and figure out what flights/airlines are flying to where you need to go, show up at the airport a few hours early, tell the people at the ticket counters you want to fly standby and then wait around to see if you can get a cheap fare.
posted by camworld at 3:31 PM on December 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

You can travel RT from New York to LA on Southwest for less than US$200. How much cheaper do you want for travelling 3000 miles? You'll spend that much travelling by car if you have to kick in for gas and you plan on eating.
posted by soiled cowboy at 3:40 PM on December 26, 2005

I don't know if any exist in the US, but in Canada there are several "ride sharing services" such as Allo Stop. They are a form of organized hitch-hicking where you pay a small fee to join a network of people willing offer a ride for a price negotiated between the driver and the passenger(s). For example, a few years ago I did Montreal to Quebec City (3 hr drive) for $15. Often offers similar to this can be found in the classified ads.
posted by furtive at 3:40 PM on December 26, 2005

not a lot means hopefully cheaper than greyhound, but I'd be willing to spend more money for speed. I hitchhiked once and it was about as fast as greyhound, but much more stressful and it's a bit cold for that now.

Thanks for all the suggestions. Lot's of stuff I hadn't thought of.
posted by afu at 3:51 PM on December 26, 2005

I haven't hitched in the US, but I have in many other places across the world, and have never felt threatened or in danger. I am a guy, so YMMVIYAW.
posted by signal at 4:02 PM on December 26, 2005

Maybe get a driveaway car? Driveaway companies get people to drive cars long distances for free (sometimes even with a stipend). They require a copy of your driving record to be eligible to drive. There is a list of available cars here.

My friend successfully got a car on Craigslist rideshare and drove it from NYC to SF. It was perfect, as his theatre ensemble was going on tour cross-country, and it was fine with the lady that they use her car for that.
posted by unknowncommand at 4:22 PM on December 26, 2005

Chinatown buses are cheap.
note: last=timesselect article
posted by lalochezia at 4:33 PM on December 26, 2005

i'd also say look on craiglist for someone who must move thier car (i'm about to move in august of next year from SF to DC and plan on trying to find someone through Craigslist). However, with the price of gas and lodging it would probably be cheaper to fly....of course if you want to drive a miata across country give me an email :)
posted by NGnerd at 4:52 PM on December 26, 2005

Hitchhiking is rough, both where the horizon is long and short. However, it does teach you an incredible amount. If you want to travel don't care how you get there, just lunge yourself at it. Somehow, that momentum will make it work.

I'd stay away from trains, if possible buy a used motorcycle, spend some time get it working, know it well, then use it to wiggle where you want. They're easy to stash, great on gas, and known to keep you honest.

Have fun with the trip, don't see the ocean as the end but a part of the breath. Boredom and pain are the most aware moments you'll have in your life, each of which you'll have on your journey.
posted by sled at 4:53 PM on December 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

This might not be right, but because you're considering hitch-hiking across the US, I assume you are young. If so, you could qualify for Airtran's X-fare program. The program is a stand-by flight thing. No checked bags (cause you might not get on your flight). You must be 18-22. You pay some pretty cheap price per segment -- $59 last I checked. Cash (exact change) or credit card.

It's sweet and I did it dozens of times in college. Airtran was struggling a bit more then, so it was a way to get rid of unsold seats. These days (post 9/11), flights are a lot fuller. But hell, if you've got nothing else to do than hang out in the airport all day, then it'll probably work out for ya'. The fly across the country (ATL -> San Fran and LA and Vegas, too and I think NYC -> San Fran also). It's restricted also on days of travel. It used to be only friday was restricted, but now I think Sunday a no-go also. I used to do a lot of Thursday to Saturday weekends to visit my girlfriend (now fiancee -- <voice="cheesy testimonial">Thank you Airtran X-fares!</voice>).
posted by zpousman at 5:30 PM on December 26, 2005

Green tortoise
posted by hortense at 8:39 PM on December 26, 2005

I know the craigslist rideshare board works for some people, because I just used it to find a passenger to accompany me on a drive from san francisco to chicago. offers for cross-country rides are uncommon but they do pop up from time to time.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:37 PM on December 26, 2005

I recently discovered a very good site for ridesharing b/w cities that works better than Craigslist. is basically a road trip market place where people can buy or sell passenger space on road trips with feedback rated travelers. I found it last week through as seen here on

Another cool site that's apparently pretty popular is I guess you could combine and
to plan a road trip pretty easily.
posted by Jason_r at 8:49 AM on August 24, 2006

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