Cheap and leisurely cross-country travel?
April 27, 2006 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Is there such a thing as a Greyhound bus pass 'designed for independent travellers who want to get the most out of their travels in this great country' - similar to a 'Travel Oz Pass,' but for America?

I've got a friend who has spent this spring semester studying abroad in Europe and he's looking to fly back in mid-July. We were thinking about trekking across the country from Orange County, CA to Northern VA. The original plan was to hitch rides the entire way, but I'm a little too much of a control freak to leave it at that.

In studying up on the Greyhound bus system, I thought that there might be a plausible way to go about seeing some good sights in the crossing while saving a pretty penny on the travel price. I also stumbled across a thing called the Travel Oz Pass - it seems to be a Greyhound bus pass that will allow you a great deal more freedom than booking all of your bus rides beforehand.

My question: Is there such a beast for these vast American bus routes, or should I settle myself into a steady thumb-focused exercise routine before I bum my way back to Virginia this summer? If not, is there something similar that might help me out in my trek?
posted by myodometer to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Greyhound seems to have a Discovery Pass. Amtrak also has a month-long pass. I'd suggest Amtrak over Greyhound any day.
posted by hsoltz at 2:38 PM on April 27, 2006

Also, Amtrak's prices are much less expensive for non-USA residents. But I suspect that using two different passes might limit your travel options.

I suggest the train rather than the bus because it's faster, never gets stuck in traffic, and as a general rule, the other passengers aren't as "interesting." In a good way.
posted by hsoltz at 2:43 PM on April 27, 2006

Response by poster: Unfortunately, I doubt that we'll have the $2,000 required to get the Amtrak passes. Looks like I'm holding out for the Greyhound Discovery pass, so far.

Thanks for the suggestions :)
posted by myodometer at 2:53 PM on April 27, 2006

If you do get a Discovery Pass, be very very careful with it, as there's no way to get it replaced if you lose it. You don't want to be half way across the country with no money and no transport. Trust me.
posted by cillit bang at 3:04 PM on April 27, 2006

Why not borrow a car? That's really the "American" way of doing something like this, IMO.

You can get a cheap used car for like $600 and travel anywhere with it.

Or you could get a short term auto lease. You could get this mazda Rx-8 for $359.00 a month for four months.

I'm not saying that's practical, but if you really want to travel around the US seeing the sites it's better to use your own wheels.
posted by delmoi at 3:09 PM on April 27, 2006

If you want US bus travel with some control but also some roughing it, I'd suggest the Green Tortoise. The people are very interesting in the best possible way, and you get to cover a lot of ground for cheap without living on truckstop food & sleeping in Greyhound stations.
You could go all the way across the country or just see some sights while you're out west . Even if you don't go cross-country, I'd recommend taking one of the shorter trips while you're out west to see if you're really up for Greyhounding the whole US. (whoops. I just checked the schedule, and there aren't any full-cross-country trips in mid-July. But recommendation still applies.)

(crosses fingers that someone else doesn't beat me to the GT recommendation while I'm writing this)
posted by bartleby at 3:14 PM on April 27, 2006

Response by poster: I like the Green Tortoise idea, but it won't get me across the country at the right time :(

As for leasing, I've never considered it. Where would one start to really get more information on the process of picking up, say, a one month lease? Is that even possible?
posted by myodometer at 3:38 PM on April 27, 2006

I have a friend who took Greyhound all the way across Canada from West to East. (Greyhound in Canada? I have no idea.) She liked it because she could wander around all day and then take the last bus out and sleep on it. Saved quite a bit of money on lodging.
posted by smackfu at 3:55 PM on April 27, 2006

myodometer: I havn't looked into it that much, but I'm sure it's possible. Another term to search for would be "long term rental". A lot of these places sell new cars though.

But the price of a 30 day discovery pass is almost $600.

But check it out, you can actually buy a honda civic in and around Orange County for just $200. For $600 you could get a '91. Another car to look at would be the Toyota Tercel.

In theory you could even buy an old junker in Orange County, drive it across the country, and then sell it in VA. That would be the ideal way to do it, IMO. Even if you can't sell it you're still only spending the same amount of money that you would on a bus ticket, along with far more freedom of motion (since you can drive to local sites along your trip).

Of course, there's more risk in that the car could break down on you, but you might be able to get it checked out by a mechanic, sign up for AAA etc.

Like I said, I've never done anything like this, but it's definitely the way I'd go if I were in your shoes.
posted by delmoi at 4:09 PM on April 27, 2006

I've done both the Greyhound and Amtrak month-long passes as an overseas visitor (caveat: more than ten years ago) and I'd say that while Amtrak is more comfortable, Greyhound is more flexible, much more reliable, and will give you far more bang for your buck... as long as you're small enough to sleep comfortably in the Greyhound seats. And like smackfu's friend, I used the buses as my hotel. You can do the same with the trains, but it's much easier to turn up at a Greyhound station in the evening, pick a destination, climb on the relevant bus and fall asleep. Train schedules are restrictive; bus schedules are liberating.
posted by Hogshead at 4:10 PM on April 27, 2006

One interesting trick with Greyhound is that with a one-way ticket you can hop off the bus at any point and then get back on (so long as there's an available seat) any time within a 6 month period. Thus, if your friend's trip was, say, NYC to SF and didn't deviate from the route, s/he could jump off as many times as necessary. Round trip tickets offer a year's flexibility.

Train schedules are indeed restrictive, but traveling by train is a minor luxury nevertheless: you're always free to get up & move around, seating's spacious, you get to see parts of the countryside unavailable by bus, you can have a vaguely lavish meal in the dining car if you're inclined, and the stations are almost always downtown (whereas Greyhound stations can be pretty out of the way, requiring a friend to meet you at the station, or a taxi, or a minor stint of hitchhiking).
posted by soviet sleepover at 12:48 AM on April 28, 2006

Fellow once-current-future Orange Countian, greetings!

Usually I'm all for non-car solutions, but in this case, I'm voting for the car with delmoi. Craigslist and private parties are probably the way to go here.

Personal experience: I put my car on Craigslist when I was living in Lake Forest and it was sold in just a few days to a kind soul from UC Riverside. She paid cash, we signed the papers in my driveway in about ten minutes, I went to the ATM with the money, and bam, done. Sure, there's some (easy, available online) paperwork to mail off, but if your friend trusts you to do the car purchasing/checking out/re-registering and splits the cost with you, you should be fine.

On preview, a summary of a long ending:

30-day Discovery Passes for two: $1200
-time limits: only 30 days!
-route limits: lots of interstates
-no stopping for the amazing sunset photo you'll miss
-no forays to Canada or Mexico
-no fear of falling asleep
-food situation possibly worrying: how many rest area meals can you handle?

Car: $1300-$1500 + car insurance, but with a tidy sum back upon selling it in VA
*Gas:$3/gallon, 5000 miles/25 mpg = 200 gallons = $600, *Car: aforementioned '91 Civic = $600
*AAA, mechanic checking it out, reg fees, etc.: $100-300
-no route or time limits
-freedom to camp out/sleep in car
-a secure place to keep your stuff: this seems key on a long trip like this
-Canada and Mexico available

So a car's marginally more expensive but infinitely more liberating. Tips: A National Parks Passport so you don't get hit with park entry fees as you explore, state parks for cheaper/free(?) camping (my own experience), New Mexico, Montreal.

Have a great time!
posted by mdonley at 7:06 AM on April 28, 2006

I've used one of Greyhound's 7-day passes to get from San Francisco to DC. This was a long time ago; if I had to d o it again I'd seriously consider the Green Tortoise (because it sounds like they attract more interesting passengers).

But DO NOT attempt hitchiking in the USA. It'll be an exercise in futility -- nobody (except predators) picks up hitchers anymore.
posted by Rash at 9:16 AM on April 28, 2006

Also I like how the Tortoise buses deploy a bunch of flat surfaces in the evening, for sleeping -- a luxury unknown on the 'hound.
posted by Rash at 9:19 AM on April 28, 2006

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