10
Jan-2010

USA Travel Options: Choices of Futility

Recently, I have been surprised by how difficult traveling is in America if you don’t want to fly. And reasonable people are prone not to want to sit in a metal tube as its flung across the nation with potential terrorists to hinder its flight, or birds to ruin its motors, or a drunken pilot- which is known to have occurred. True that flying is quicker, but its often not worth the hassle and this intrepid writer isn’t planning on boarding and flying vessels without a parachute. So, as I ponder how to get from Washington State on the West coast, to Texas, on the southern boarder, I’m struck by how few reasonably priced options there are.

As this isn’t Europe or Asia, and the argument for a larger and more comprehensive (and not inept) rail system in America has already been made and ignored, I’ll suffice to say that Amtrak leaves so much to be desired that most travelers rule it out as an option. To get from WA to TX would require a traveler to transfer to several different trains, and throw in a few bus rides to boot! That is out of the question for the hassle, the complications with transferring baggage personally, and the cost—which would be staggeringly close to $350 USD.

Let’s think about renting a car next. Since most US rental agencies shy from one-way rentals, there are not many options out there for finding a car to drive the distance without breaking your piggy bank. And trust me, my money really is in a giant piggy bank not worth running for a lousy car rental deal. A one-way rental plus gas would run me in the neighborhood of $500 USD.

Modern transportation
Modern transportation

Lets consider the bus network of America. Now, if one enjoys being watched over the back of the seat in front of you by a deranged cocaine addict who says your eyes look like food, then this is the way to go! However, if you are mentally stable then the Greyhound just might refuse you a seat. The cost of a bus to TX from WA is around $400 USD, and one would have to change buses several times before reaching the end destination—and reaching that same destination with all of one’s luggage and sanity is a real maybe.

So what is the American budget traveler to do?

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  • Anil says:

    It’s funny that a country as geographically large as the US would have such a poor public transportation systems. When I travel in other parts of the world bus or rail is my preference since it’s often comfortable, affordable, and you get to see more of everything in between.

    Car rental seems a good option. It’s not the cheapest, but since public transport within cities is poor as well, having the car is usually a good option (if you can get one way of course). Maybe you’ve got some frequent flier miles you could trade for a lower rate on a car as well.

  • Eric says:

    America is too much in love with and tied to their highways and cars. Hopefully one day we will get over ourselves and do things like upgrading the rail system that not only make sense, but will benefit millions of people at the same time. However, the political system is in such disarray at this time that it doesn’t seem likely anytime soon. Anil is right too that too many large cities have poor public transportation systems, if they exist at all.

  • Laurel says:

    Hi Lauren, I would suggest you look on Criagslist for a ride share. Someone who is driving across country and needs some company or help staying awake. I saw lots of posts like this at hostels when I was in Australia (where there is also no good non-flight option). Good luck, and hope to see you soon!!

  • Sherry Ott says:

    Yes – traveling thru America does really suck unless you have your own car. I do agree with Anil though in that renting may be the way to go as you can normally find some long term discounts and you’ll need the car in the cities anyway. It’s strange – the East coast of America is much better organized from a transportation point, but once you go a little west – the options are totally limited. It just proves once again that you have to have money to do anything in the US..sad but true.

  • Kelsey says:

    We can thank the development of the car for the destruction of the rail system in the US. Huge lobbies by the automotive industry convinced politicians that rail travel was outdated, antiquated, and inefficient, and thus the government tore up most of the tracks in the US, leaving only the minimum required for the transport of goods, and a few regional lines up in the northeast. Connecting America with bullet trains á la France or Japan would be great, but it will be hard to convince the public of the superiority of trains when we are such a car-based country, especially when you begin to talk about the cost.

    Transportation in the US is truly in a sad state, and I feel that the lack of easy transport between states is one of the reasons that Americans are such a poorly-traveled people, even within their own country.

  • David says:

    Good theory Kelsey but unfortunately not based in fact. Obviously geography is not a favored subject for most Americans but the majority are educated in US history so you should ask one for some facts on the matter.

    On the other hand it must be taken into consideration a few things about the USA. It is a huge and diverse country and has been a very rich nation (pre-Obama).
    so there was no real need for public transport as everyone had a car. The American culture is to spread out, have some land and some elbow room so if you traveled across the vast, densly populated areas with a train you would have about ten people at each stop so the enterprise would go out of business. The love affair with the car is real and, good or bad, it is part of the culture.
    I live in Europe and have to drive or fly most places. The public transport is not all that people dream about. A carefully planned tourist with an open schedule may see the wonders of the train but the actual availability and schedule does not always make it an option. I have been on a train once in the last 2 years and I absoletely love them but they do not go where and when I need to go. At least the drives are scenic without pesky speed limits or police wanting to write fines here and we do not have to take our shoes off at airport security.
    Considering the money issue, the US is absolutely 3rd world cheap these days. The price to hire a car is pennies compared to Europe. The exchange with the Euro-dollar is great if yopu are paid in euros. I rented an SUV for a month on my last trip to the US and it was the same a a compact car for a week in Europe. It is much better for seeing the country, stopping when you want, meeting people, taking different routes whn compared to flying or sitting in a high speed train at 150mph. The US invented the “road trip” and there is no better place to enjoy this than in the USA. Why should that change? It is part of the American culture and Americans appreciate and respect that even though visitors usually do not understand it and find it as an inconvenience.
    Hey….. when in Rome……drop the top on a convertible and get your kicks on route 66!

  • Nico says:

    just wanted to note that a cocaine addict wouldn’t be hungry ;)

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