Ultimate Showdown: Bus, plane, car or train?

In the past year alone, I’ve managed to cross the United States in every form of transportation possible: twice by car, once by train, once by bus and a handful of times through the air. As I start my first vertical trip from San Diego to Vancouver, BC with Amtrak, I think it’s time to play favorites and give my opinion on the best and worst ways to get from coast to coast.

Let’s just get into it, shall we? Here are the four ways to get across the United States ranked from worst to best and the pros and cons of each.

4. Bus
Pros: You get to see the American landscape and it’s cheap: my bus ticket from Pittsburgh, PA to San Diego, CA only ran me $129 when I booked exactly 7 days before my trip. And it stops everywhere so it’s easy to at least book a trip within a short drive from almost any North American city.

Cons: Well, it stops everywhere. And even though your ticket says it’s only a 10-minute stop, don’t be surprised to end up waiting around even longer for whatever reason (you’ll probably never be told why either). The customer service at Greyhound is lacking, even when your travel plans get messed up because of something uncontrollable or a mishap on their end. In Columbus, one of my bags was left behind because somehow it got taken off the bus and instead of being put back on when I didn’t claim it, it was left sitting there at the station. Granted, I got the bag back after I arrived in San Diego, but how does that even happen in the first place? Not a great way to begin a cross country trip.Greyhound

The whole Greyhound experience is extremely uncomfortable from the seats themselves to being forced to sit for extended periods of time to even some of the passengers. More than once on my last bus trip I heard people openly talking about their sexual escapades, crimes they had committed and even one guy who kept retelling his story about why he didn’t want to go back to Texas and back into prison. And talking loudly, too. This isn’t necessarily Greyhounds fault and I have no issue with these storytellers themselves, but it can’t be a good look to have people openly discussing these things on their bus in voices that easily carry to nearby passengers.

One cross country trip with Greyhound is MORE than enough for one lifetime. It would take some extremely dire circumstances to get me back on an extended bus trip.

3. Plane
Southwest AirPros: Planes are the most popular way to go and for obvious reason: they get you where you’re going faster than any other way possible. Flying can also be cheap if you find tickets at the right time. I’ve flown from San Diego to the east coast before with a one-way ticket under $200. Which is nice because those drinks to calm your nerves at 5,000 ft certainly aren’t cheap… but that’s not a pro!

Cons: Drinks are expensive and most of the time tickets are too and like taking the bus, flying means a lot of sitting and waiting. One of the things to hate most about flying though has to be security and everything that leads up to actually starting your travels including all-too-common delays, cancellations and general airport shenanigans. And then your travels will consist of being in a metal box thousands of feet above ground, so there’s also that! The whole thing stinks of stress.

2. Train
Pros: Taking an extended train trip is easily one of the best ways to see the country since many of the rails go places that roads don’t or simply can’t. First off, you don’t have to worry about driving and there’s plenty of room to move throughout the train, whether it be in your own compartment or to the observatory car and/or cafe. If you do end up hanging out in the observatory car, relax with a domestic brew and you’ll find that the passengers are talkative and easy going. It makes for an all-around solid travel experience.

Tickets for a train ride with Amtrak are generally cheap, though a ticket from San Diego to Pittsburgh will probably run you around $300 or so. In the past 6 months, at least one of the train rides has been a favorite journey for me, the California Zephyr from Denver to Sacramento. Riding a train is perfect for people who want to see the country but don’t necessarily want to be the one behind the wheel the whole time.

And did I mention Amtrak is nearly always on time and there are no stressful security checkpoints?Amtrak Surfliner

Cons: Traveling by train takes a lot of time. For example, to get from Austin, TX to Los Angeles, you’re looking at a solid 2-3 days of travel when the drive could be made in less than a day. Patience is key. Also, longer train rides can be costly with dollars adding up on the ticket and meals onboard.

1. Car
Pros: By far my favorite way to travel, road tripping is the ultimate adventure. You can make your own stops, eat where you want, go where you want and do whatever you want along the way. There are very few restrictions when you’re the master of your own road trip, it’s as close to completely freedom as one can get.

Cons: You DO gotta pay for gas and that can really suck.

Today, I’ll be headed up to San Francisco from Los Angeles and eventually on up to Vancouver, BC. Like the Glass Duffle Facebook page for updates on my trip with Amtrak. Video and more photos to come soon!

Author: Eric White

Eric graduated Ohio University in 2012 with a degree in Advertising and immediately went out to San Diego, California to start not using his degree. At the start of 2013, Eric quit his job, let his lease run out and started backpacking North America. Eric has worked with Amtrak, Crowdtap, HootSuite and others, and currently lives in Los Angeles, CA... when not on the road.

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