Kerouac, Steinbeck, and Barbie romanticised road trips as American.
Thousands of miles of interstates and backroads connect cities across the continental US, making car travel easy. Driving in the US, the world’s fourth largest country, is time-consuming and expensive, especially with rising fuel and car rental prices.
Fortunately, the US has many transportation options, including a large air travel network, to suit different travel preferences. Plan your US travels with this guide.
Car travel is convenient and flexible.
Driving is necessary to reach rural areas and most national parks. Car rentals cost $45 to $80 daily or $245 to $500 weekly, depending on car size, and fuel costs $4/gallon. Prices usually include unlimited mileage. Booking and prepaying a few weeks in advance can get you a better price. Car rental agencies are usually available at major airports, but prices are usually higher. Insurance is required to rent a car.
Foreign drivers can drive in the US for 12 months using their home licence. An International Driving Permit (IDP) is more credible with US traffic police, especially if your home licence lacks a photo or is not in English. Your home auto association can issue a one-year IDP for a small fee.
Large car rental companies offer hybrid or electric cars, but they cost more. Electric vehicles are becoming more popular, so charging stations are popping up nationwide. On longer road trips, finding a charge can be difficult. Luckily, EVs can be used for iconic American drives with minimal stress with proper planning.
Luxury Mercedes Sprinter camper vans are becoming more popular for rental, especially in the West. Some of these vehicles have comfortable beds, mini-fridges, and other amenities. Daily mileage may be capped, and prices range from $120 to $300, depending on make.
Take in the scenery on a train.
There are frequent and reliable Amtrak trains between Washington, DC, and Boston, making them a popular choice for short trips between major cities. But elsewhere in the nation? Trains are rarely fastest, cheapest, or most reliable. They can be a relaxing way to see the country, and western routes are often breathtaking, especially from double-decker Superliner trains with big-windowed sightseer lounges.
Long-distance Amtrak routes cross the country from east to west and north to south. These routes reach all major US cities and many smaller ones. Amtrak’s Thruway buses connect the rail network, smaller cities, and national parks. Some long-distance trains run daily, others three to five times a week. Consider buying Amtrak’s USA Rail Pass for nationwide travel.
Regional commuter trains run faster and more often on shorter routes, especially in the northeast. High-speed Acela Express trains are the most expensive and don’t accept rail passes. Other commuter rail lines serve Lake Michigan communities near Chicago, major West Coast cities, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Miami, Florida.
On a scenic train, often powered by a historic steam locomotive, you can see stunning scenery without a scary drive, especially in the mountains.
Save money and get to big cities by bus.
By bus, you can travel between cities cheaply. Most middle-class Americans prefer flying or driving, but buses offer countryside views. Buses are reliable, clean, comfortable and usually have air conditioning and a bathroom. Onboard smoking is prohibited.
Be there quickly by plane.
Look into flights if you’re short on time and travelling between regions. Flying is more expensive than bus, car, or train, but the US has a large domestic air system. You can fly cross-country quickly with many airlines, hundreds of airports, and thousands of daily flights. US “hub” airports serve international gateways and large cities. Many smaller cities have local or county airports, but you must travel through a hub to reach them. To save money, consider new low-cost carriers like Avio and Breeze offering low fares. They usually serve smaller, less convenient airports.