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I know that public transport bites in the U.S. It is a painful fact that at this point the best way to see most of my country is with a personal vehicle. So it is best to have this factored into your plans. With the exception of New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Portland you will need wheels.
I will give you a few ideas that have worked for friends of mine that have visited the U.S.
1. If you have time and the adventurous sprit consider bike touring. I know that this seems crazy to many. It is one of the most interesting ways to see many places in the U.S. It is rich with cultural involvement and would make the trip of a life time.
2. Develop a friendship with an American and travel with them or borrow a car from them. We have traveled with many friends from outside the U.S. and it worked well for them.
3. Rent a car this is expensive but easy and reliable. There are many reliable companies and you can get them right at the airport where you land. (Most U.S. airports are NOT well connected with the cities they serve) This helps to avoid the hassle of getting into town.
4. Buy a used car and sell it when you leave. Many friends have chosen this option and for those with the temperament for dealing with the extra work it is a great option. You most likely will take a loss when you sell it but it comes out better than renting cash wise.
5. Rent a small RV/motor home. This seems to be more common among people that travel to the western National Parks. It allows you to save much of the cost of hotel rooms. You also do not have to keep packing and unpacking. You can also offset some of the cost by cooking for yourself. I have talked to many people from all over the world that have chosen this option and liked it. Not super cheap but it does have it's good points.
Well I hope this helps a bit.
Updated Dec 8, 2011
When I first heard about Megabus I was extremely skeptical. Many reviews I read online made it seem like this was a risky way to travel, and that the buses were rarely on time and often several hours late... this couldn't be further from the truth.
I had been looking for a way to get from Michigan to Maine for as cheap as possible. Flying would be ~$300 one way and driving would be anywhere from $200-$250 in gas. So I was amazed to discover Megabus where I could get from Toledo to Portland for $41.50!
I could have booked: Toledo-Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh-New York, New York-Boston, and then Boston-Portland and completed the trip in just one (albeit LONG) day, but due to the bad reviews I read about buses being late, I broke the trip up into 2 days just to be safe. I booked Toledo-Pittsburgh and then Pittsburgh-New York for Saturday and then I took the train at Grand Central up to a friend's place in CT and then continued on the next morning taking New Haven-Boston and then Boston-Portland.
I had absolutely zero problems with the trip and absolutely COULD have completed it in one day if I had wanted to. All of my buses left EXACTLY on time. The one into Pittsburgh was about 10 minutes late, but the ones into New York and Boston were both 10 minutes early and the one into Portland was right on time. Basically, there were no major delays at all.
The best part was the price. I booked about 3-4 weeks prior to my trip and I got the Toledo-Pittsburgh AND Boston-Portland routes for $1. New Haven-Boston was $9 and Pittsburgh-New York was $30. There is a $0.50 reservation fee when you book online, so my total cost ended up being $41.50 (plus about $14 for the train from NY to New Haven, although buses from New York-Boston seemed to be less than $23 [the cost of NH-Boston + the train] so it could have been even cheaper if I had done the whole trip through MegaBus.
They advertise free Wi-Fi, although I didn't really test it much. I slept pretty much the whole way from Toledo-Pittsburgh. The bus from Pittsburgh-New York was a double decker and I did pull out my laptop for a little while on that. The internet connection worked fine (except media sites like YouTube were blocked - I guess those use too much bandwidth?) and there was a plug under my seat for power.
On the New Haven-Boston ride, one of the passengers complained to the bus driver that the internet wasn't working and she didn't seem to care. She just told him "it's turned on" and didn't indicate that she was going to look into it if there really was an issue. This was before we departed, so I dunno if it worked or not on that ride (I slept and never got my laptop out).
So basically, the internet worked the one time I tried it, but I only tried it on 1 of the 4 buses I took.
For the stops... they are hit or miss. The one in Toledo is really shady and hard to find. It's basically on some random street corner across the street from a McDonalds with no signs that tell you it's a MegaBus stop. The one in Pittsburgh is also similar except they actually had a MegaBus employee there to verify that it was the right place and make sure people got on the right buses.
New York was also similar, they just dropped us off at the corner of 7th Ave/28th St. The pickup was in a different location so I don't know how that is.
The further north/east we got, the better it was though. The pickup spot in New Haven was right outside the train station (Union Station), and the guy working at information inside the train station knew about it and explained where it would arrive, etc.
Boston was the best, it was actually inside a bus terminal and there were screens on the walls by each door indicating which bus went to which location. This was serviced by multiple buses, not just MegaBus, but they obviously were included. The stop in Portland was also at a bus station with parking and an indoor area as well.
So overall, the stops were hit or miss. If I had to rate them in order, Boston was the best, followed by Portland, then New Haven, then Pittsburgh, then New York, and Toledo was the worst. Boston, New Haven, and Portland all had places to wait for the bus INSIDE while Toledo, Pittsburgh, and New York did NOT.
That's about all I can think of for the review. I guess one more thing to keep in mind is that you can only have one piece of luggage + a "carry on" bag. So don't expect to bring too much with you.
Unfortunately Megabus only serves the Northeast/Southern part of the country. If you are heading West past the Mississippi River, MegaBus is not for you. But if you are heading to the Northeast or even all the way down to Florida, it's definitely a good option.
Overall, it was great. Again, the buses were on time and the prices were GREAT. I would definitely recommend this if you don't mind long bus rides.
Updated Dec 5, 2011
Phone: 1-877-GO2-MEGA (1-877-462-6342)
AirTran Airways is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Southwest Airlines, but it avoids some of the minor annoyances that plague Southwest. Of course, Southwest just bought AirTran in late 2010, so chages may be in the works. Examples of why AirTran is better than Southwest: actual seat assignments, you can book flights through regular travel websites like Expedia. Southwest is known for its top-notch customer service and "bags fly free!". Maybe we'll end up with the best of both worlds. The new Southwest is now one of the largest U.S.-based airlines in terms of domestic market share.
AirTran was founded in 1992 as ValuJet Airlines. The company barely survived when one of its planes crashed in the Everglades in 1995, but a merger, a name change, and new aircraft gave the company new life. Prior to the $1.4 billion acquisition by Southwest, Airtran had grown to operate about 700 flights a day.
Updated Nov 29, 2011
Air New Zealand is rapidly becoming my airline of choice. It's just unfortunate they don't fly to many places in Asia and Europe!
Saying that, however, for people living in NZ or the UK, Air New Zealand can get you to the west coast of the US in comfort. Air New Zealand provides services to/fromLondon and of course Auckland, via Los Angeles. The 747 and 777 fleets are equipped with in-seat entertainment systems that are top notch. Air New Zealand also flies between Auckland and San Francisco now with its new 777s. Pictured here is ZK-OKB at SFO, readying to depart for the nearly 13 hour ETOPS flight to Auckland.
Air New Zealand's inflight service has improved hugely from my experiences on four recent long-haul flights with them in 2006. They definitely do deserve your consideration if travelling to the west coast of the US from Oceania.
Updated Apr 4, 2011
As obvious as this tip may sound (and feel assured that I feel very much the fool for even having fallen for it), however desperate you are to get into LA from LAX airport; Don't catch a taxi !!
We were supposed to have been picked up by The Banana Bungalow hostel we had prebooked with but they no-showed. We let the fact we had just arrived in the States with no transport to take us to our beds overwhelm us somewhat and made a beeline straight for the taxi rank.
This moment of stupidity cost us $56 before we had even had a chance to see our first sight !! As I said, it's a very obvious tip but I just want to drum in to anyone planning to visit LA that there are many other better ways to get from the airport to the city including shuttle buses and public transport buses.
$56 is a bad fare in anyone's language but it's made even worse in the States by the fact that they want a bleeding tip as well !! I politely told him my tip to him was that maybe they shouldn't charge so much...
I felt ashamed... LOL
Updated Apr 4, 2011
When you book your rental car from outside the US make sure you book the cheapest and smallest car you can. When you arrive in the US first of all they don't have any of those tiny two door cars so you automatically get upgraded (don't pay for this, just say you're happy being cramped becasue it makes for a cosy ride, they'll try anything to make you pay for the upgrade they're going to give you anyway). If you do want a bigger car or a convertable then pay for it as an upgrade. If you've booked the cheapest tiniest car all upgrades are now negotiable. You'll only pay a few dollars more for a much bigger car, certainly a lot less than it would have been online or through an agent back home. Oh and the other tip is to make sure you get the correct insurance. I always think its best to scrimp on the car but make sure the insurance is fully comprehensive and not just third party. Last thing you want to be doing is worrying about a stupid hire car while you're on holiday.
Updated Apr 4, 2011
Go to http://mpdining.idine.com/site/learn_more.jhtml to find out about a plan where you can earn 10 miles for every $1 spent at lots of restaurants.
It's a great deal.
The above link will take you to United's enrollment page; I signed up through United's website. You have to join United's Mileage Plus Program and then sign up for iDine. You will need the account number from Mileage Plus to join the iDine program.
You can spend $50 at a nice restaurant and get 500 miles! A key restriction is that you only get miles for your first purchase every month at each participating restaurant.
Updated Apr 4, 2011
John F. Kennedy International Airport is the premier gateway airport to the United States. It serves airlines from just about every country you can imagine. I have passed through here 8 times, never out of want, but out of necessity. I don't like JFK airport because it is too spread out. The free red shuttle that stops at each of the terminals helps a great deal, but you had better arrange a layover of at least 3 hours for domestic flights and 4 for foreign ones (factoring in the new security measures), if you have to go to a different terminal.
Updated Apr 4, 2011
La Guardia Airport is New York's domestic-only airport. The reason for that is simply a question of runway length. The end of the runway is the Long Island Sound. For international flights, you need a longer runway from which to take off and on which to land due to the size of the aircraft required to hold the necessary fuel to travel internationally. I have only been into and out of here twice (1986 and 2007). The first time, we had to take a bus to Kennedy Airport to catch our flight to Europe. The second time, I flew out of here in a most indirect route from Richmond to Quito. I find the airport way too spread out for anyone to make a connection with a layover of anything less than an hour.
Updated Apr 4, 2011
Usually car rental makes a lot of sense for travel in the USA unless you just plan to visit a large city or two.
But, for example, if you are just going to Anaheim, you might forget the car business. This is a city with lots of provision for tourists.
You have to be of a certain age to rent a car (I think under 26 can be a problem.), and it is almost impractical without a credit card due to required deposits, etc. I am not sure about credit cards from outside the USA, or about making reservations from outside the USA by internet or phone. This is certainly something you should research before your arrival in the USA.
Definitely book in advance if you find the right price. The walk up price is certainly going to be much higher than a pre-arranged price. Also be sure whether or not your credit card or home auto insurance company covers you during a car rental. There is lots of competition between different companies but most big promotions do not extend to the larger vehicles, so just because a company is having a big promotion it does not mean it will have the best pricing for larger or specialty vehicles.
In general will find non-airport office to same office has the best price, airport to same airport next, airport with dropoff at different airport next, and office to a different office or airport the most expensive. The 'Enterprise' company advertises their willingness to pick you up at your hotel for free. Budget (now part of Avis) and Thrifty are national companies that tend to compete on the low end of prices. In individual towns you can find even cheaper independent rental services sometimes using slightly older cars that might be considered for longer term rentals.
If you find a car and car company you want on one of the general car rental websites, be sure to connect to the specific website of the company because you may find the rental cost even cheaper when purchased directly.
Read more: http://forum.virtualtourist.com/forum-750776-1-Travel-Anaheim-1-forum.html#ixzz1H97c8SDe
Written Mar 20, 2011
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