The Cheapest Ways to Travel Across the Country

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Traveling across the United States has long been a rite of passage for young and old.
Traveling across the United States has long been a rite of passage for young and old. (Image: Andy Sotiriou/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Traveling across a country the size of the United States can be a daunting and sometimes costly task. Thankfully there are several options for travelers, with varying speeds, comfort levels, benefits, faults and price tags. There are many ways to go, but it is up to you to decide on the way that suits your needs and priorities.

Bus

Greyhound Bus Lines are often among the lowest cost options for point-to-point travel throughout the United States. The company has an unrivaled network of depots and destinations and can pretty much get you to wherever it is you need to go. Rates from New York City to Los Angeles start at about $210 per person as of November 2010, for the 2-day,11-hour trip. While not the most comfortable option for sure, the bus is cost-effective and allows for luggage transportation at no charge. There is an on-board lavatory, food stops, rest area breaks and new amenities like electrical outlets and free on-board Wi-Fi Internet make the trip somewhat more bearable than it once was. The Greyhound Discovery Pass is another good option as it allows for unlimited travel within the U.S. and Canada for a given amount of days. The seven-day pass starts at around $240 as of November 2010.

Car

If you have a car then driving will be comparable with the cost of a Greyhound since gas, tolls, food and overnight accommodations will have to be factored in. If not, there is the rental car option. While many times point-to-point rentals can be extremely expensive thanks to drop-fees and insurance, there are ways to make it more attractive. On occasion drop-fees are waived if there is a need for cars to be transferred from one coast to another. The only way to find these special fares are to search, unfortunately. Another great way to avoid paying the drop fees is to rent the car on one coast, drive to the other, then either drive it back or arrange with someone coming the other direction to do so. In this way, two people can share the cost of a one-week rental, the miles are unlimited and will not be charged, and the drop fees are avoided altogether. If using a major credit card to reserve and pay the insurance fees are usually waived as well. The rate for a one-week rental from the major New York or L.A. airports is around $250, with lower rates possible on travel bidding sites. It takes a bit of planning but it is hard to beat the price and the freedom of your own car.

Train

Amtrak is a safe, easy and affordable way to make the journey across the country. With stations in the heart of all major cities and the option of seating or a private room, the train is a comfortable and stress-free way to go. True the private cabins are typically very expensive with rates starting around $850 per room, but the choice of a standard seat grants you business-class airline-type recliner seating, a cafe car and electrical outlets starting around $200 per person. The catch is that several changes are required so you will have to lug your baggage off and on a few times and wait in between trains sometimes as long as six hours.

Plane

Sometimes the fastest and easiest way to go is also the cheapest. This may be one of those times as budget carriers make the trip from New York to Los Angeles for rates starting around $99 on JetBlue. Of course there is a lot of variability in air rates with seasonal factors, fuel costs and general pricing fluctuations, but there are low fares out there for those who seek them. If cheap rates elude you, try the lesser traveled airports for a discounted fare.

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