If you don’t own a car and want to travel between states or between cities in your state, there are three major options: airplane, train, or bus.
Air travel is usually the most expensive way to travel between states, though it may be the only realistic option depending on how far you are going and how quickly you need to get there. If you live near a large airport, there will be more flight options and you may find discounted and direct flights to your destination. If you live near a smaller regional airport or your destination is a smaller airport, flights may be more expensive. Air travel can also be disrupted at any time of the year by heavy rain, wind, thunderstorms, ice, fog, or snow.
A 2022 study showed that the average best time to buy a domestic U.S. airline ticket was 70 days before the travel date, and that buying tickets from 46 to 164 days in advance was the best time to get the lowest priced ticket. Buying airline tickets a few days or few weeks before a flight will almost always be much more expensive and direct flights are in general more expensive than flights where you switch planes (called a layover) to get to your destination. When deciding if you will fly, it is important to factor in the extra fees for luggage that airlines charge and to consider the cost and time getting to and from airports.
The only long-distance interstate train service in the United States is called Amtrak, which is partly owned and operated by the U.S. government. Train service in the U.S. is not as developed or fast as it is in some countries and can be expensive. However, if you live on the East Coast of the United States, especially between Boston and Washington, D.C., and there is an Amtrak station near where you live and where you are going, train service is usually less expensive, more convenient, and sometimes can be faster than flying. If your destination is a smaller city in your state, the next state or a few states away, Amtrak may also be a good travel option. View a map to see if your destination is on an Amtrak route. Some states, especially on the East Coast also have regional rail service connecting cities and towns within states or even connecting neighboring states.
You can make a reservation on Amtrak through its website, 24 hours a day by phone at 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245), or at a staffed Amtrak station. You will need a credit card or debit card with a credit card logo (like Visa or Mastercard) and an email address to purchase your ticket. After you buy your ticket, you will receive a PDF attachment in an email. When you are on the train you will show the PDF ticket on your phone to the conductor. Make sure your phone battery is charged when you board the train.
If possible, it is recommended to buy your Amtrak tickets at least a month in advance to take advantage of lower fares. Buying tickets several days or weeks before the travel dates, during U.S. holidays or high demand times are usually more expensive.
Bus travel is usually the least expensive way to travel between states and routes reach almost every city and town in the United States. Traveling by bus can be slow, but it is comfortable and can get you to locations not available by air or train. Two major bus services offering routes across the United States are Flixbus and Greyhound. The extensive networks of Flixbus and Greyhound can get you almost anywhere in the United States inexpensively when compared to flying, train, or driving. Other interstate bus services are Peter Pan, Megabus and Lux Bus. You can purchase tickets on these bus services by visiting their websites. There are also private bus companies that offer routes between cities in specific regions of the U.S., like the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest or West Coast.
Which Type of Travel Should I Choose?
Comparing the cost and travel time for air, train and bus will save you money and help in your planning. Sometimes a combination of air, train or bus may even be your best choice. And remember, if you want to get the best price for travel, it is best to not wait until the last minute. If possible, always reserve your tickets in advance.