It won’t always be glamorous. It won’t always be comfortable. But you can fulfill your travel dreams without a car of your own. If giving up a little control of the commute means that you get to explore places you’ve never been before, experience faraway destinations, and complete your bucket list, then count us in.
Traveling cross-country without a car is doable. There are many ways to do it; it just takes some planning and flexibility. Here are seven ways to travel cross-country without a car of your own.
1. By train
Taking the train isn’t an original concept, but we mention it here because it works, plain and simple. In 2015, over 30 million people traveled via Amtrak, the United States’ only high-speed intercity passenger rail operator.
The 300-plus train system has 500 destinations through 46 states and three Canadian provinces. Riding the Amtrak gives your a firsthand look into American life. You’ll pass through small towns, major metropolises, and all nature offers in between (think red rock canyons, dense forests, and great plains).
Traveling by train can be time-consuming, but with efficient planning and a concrete schedule, travelers definitely make it work. And you can bring a good amount of baggage — although we recommend traveling cross-country on the lighter side — as Amtrak has one of the largest allowances in the travel industry for free baggage, both carry-on and checked. You can plan your itinerary using Amtrak’s handy map here.
2. By bus
Thanks to lower gas prices and eco-conscious updates, traveling cross-country by bus is not a thing of the past. It’s a scenic, affordable way to get just about anywhere with the right mix of national and regional bus lines.
The biggest player in the bus space: Greyhound. The national bus line has more than 3,800 destinations in North America, and it’s working to expand its Connect and Express services. The Connect option brings passengers to and from rural areas into major cities in 10 states.
Greyhound’s Express service is faster than regular routes, and often non-stop, connecting between big cities like New York, Washington DC, Orlando, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, El Paso, and Los Angeles. Bonus: Greyhound’s Express buses have amenities like free Wi-Fi, power outlets, and leather reclining seats.
Regional bus lines can fill in the gaps on your travel map — and many offer $1 ticket promotions if you plan far enough in advance. Megabus serves the Midwest and Northeast, with more than 50 destinations. RedCoach serves 16 cities in the South. Jefferson Lines travel between 13 states in the heart of the country, from North Dakota to Texas.
3. Relocate a car or RV
Okay, so technically by relocating someone else’s vehicle, you’re still traveling via a car. But talk about a travel hack; this is one way to explore the U.S. without needing a car of your own.
When a rental company needs to move an RV — or car, truck, or camper van for that matter — from one office to another, you can capitalize on a road trip. It’s a unique, affordable, and adventurous way to get from Point A to Point B, and there are some major players you should know about.
If you’re at least 23 years old and have clean driving record, Auto Driveaway can connect you with cars that need to be relocated. The first tank of gas is free, and you can bring friends. Trips range from a couple cities away to true coast-to-coast long hauls. If you want time to sight-see as you travel, they will often allow for some detours and a more leisurely pace.
Another option for relocating vehicles: RV rentals. Companies such as Cruise America and Apollo offer heavily discounted or nearly free ways to drive RVs cross-country, with some flexibility for sightseeing along the way. Many of these companies provide some gas, reimbursements, and/or travel vouchers.
RV relocations are especially plentiful in major cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, and Las Vegas. Relocation opportunities often pop up around two to three weeks before the specific vehicle needs to be moved, so you’ll need to be flexible with your timeline.
Of course, commercial airlines don’t provide the cheapest way to travel cross-country. But websites like Skyscanner will search more than 1,200 airline sites for you, finding the best costs at the more affordable times to fly.
Budget airlines, like Southwest, Spirit, Sun Country, and JetBlue, will do flash sales offering one-way tickets under $100 — sometimes even under $50 — if you book and fly within a couple weeks. Sometimes a quick, affordable flight is the best way to jumpstart your cross-country trek.
Many people think Lyft or Uber when they think ride-sharing, which is definitely one way to travel. However, longer-distance journeys aren’t so attainable with a city-limits car service. Websites like Rideshare.us and ShareYourRide.net are actually ideal portals for travelers looking for grassroots ways to get from place to place.
You simply post your Point A and desired Point B, or create a listing online, and then other travelers can reach out or respond, so you can set up the details. Ride-sharing certainly demands a high level of flexibility, but it’s a great way to lower your costs.
Unless you’re a champion cyclist, bike-sharing won’t exactly get you across the country. However, as you travel, utilizing a bike-sharing system throughout cities is a sustainable, affordable way to explore.
There are dozens of share systems across the U.S. Major players include CycleHop, with major share systems in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, and Canada (bike-sharing pending in Ohio and Kentucky); BCycle, with bike-sharing in more than 17 states; and Motivate, with share stations in Boston, Washington D.C., Chattanooga, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and more.
People have advocated for more bike-friendly cities for years, and many major metropolises have responded by installing these share systems and others. For example, Fort Collins, Colo. has a “bike library” where you can check out bikes for free in order to explore the city.
7. Good old-fashioned hospitality
Don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way. If you’re planning a cross-country trip, post about it on social media. Ask friends about their connections in your destination cities, and seek out recommendations for local hot spots. Not only will you make new friends and discover some cool places, but you’ll probably stumble across connections who are willing to help you travel around the city or state.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a ride, especially from your accommodations. If you’re staying at a hotel or bed and breakfast, they may be willing to bring you to your bus station or a nearby town. Even if the hotel doesn’t advertise transportation, it’s worked for us — especially during off-hours when hotels aren’t packed with visitors. Even in the digital age, people are still willing to help travelers out.