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The ultimate guide to bus travel in USA

The ultimate guide to bus travel in USA

I don’t think many people appreciate how convenient intercity bus travel is in USA.

A few weeks ago, I was chatting to a new friend at a house party. She mentioned that her family was from a town near Boston, and that she travelled there via Amtrak – the national train network.

Having recently visited Boston myself, I asked my new friend why she doesn’t take a bus, explaining that it was infinitely cheaper and took about the same amount of time as the train.

Her response was “Oh, I don’t know… I’m not sure about buses. I’m used to taking the train so I always take it”.

Now it’s great that USA has intercity trains (unlike Australia, which seems to be living in the stone age) but lets be honest here – the network isn’t all that fabulous.

There are limited destinations and routes, and every time I check the Amtrak website, I’m flabbergasted by the insane prices which are often way more expensive than flights.

In the past, train travel was often the cheaper and faster option, but nowadays that isn’t the case. Sure, trains might seem more comfortable than flights or buses, but is it really worth the extra cost, and extra travel time?

Buses have come a long way in levels of comfort for long-distance travel, and if there’s anything I’ve learnt from catching intercity buses throughout USA over the past 3 years, it’s that bus travel is often the superior option! Here’s why.


US Pacific Coast, California

benefits of bus travel

  • Free WiFi – This is always my biggest selling point as I take my laptop on long journeys to get work done or edit my photos.
  • Stations are in the city centre – I don’t know about you but I absolutely hate having to make my way to airports!
  • No airport stress – Bus travel means no security lines, no bag drop lines, and no having to arrive 2 hours before you leave.
  • It’s often faster than trains – If you compare trains and buses, and you’ll often find they take less time or a similar amount of time to get you from A to B.
  • It’s the cheapest option – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bus that’s more expensive than a train or flight.
  • They can be booked last minute – You know how flights have that annoying tendency to get stupidly expensive at the last minute? This doesn’t happen with buses!
  • It’s better for the environment than travelling by car or air. See this article for a comparison of carbon emissions for different forms of transport, or this post for more deets on carbon emissions from air travel.

USA Bus Route Map

WHERE CAN YOU GO?

In short – pretty much everywhere, you can even go coast to coast! Here are a few sample itineraries:

  • Los Angeles to Miami
  • New York to Los Angeles
  • San Diego to Seattle
  • Austin to Chicago
  • Miami to Boston

how to search for buses

Wanderu

Wanderu website

Wanderu is a great website to search for buses, as it compares all the bus options for your route and includes details on travel time, price, and number of transfers. Once you’ve entered your route and date into the search, you can also filter the results by departure time or price.

After finding the best option for my trip, I’ll usually head to the bus company’s website to book (a habit I developed as booking directly usually guarantees the best price).

Rome2Rio

Rome to Rio website

Rome to Rio is another great website that compares a range of bus, train, and flight options. What’s great about this site is that it has a pretty map that displays after you search (did I mention that I’m a tad obsessed with maps?) and it’s super easy to scroll through all the results.

Again, I’ll usually head to the bus company’s website to make my booking.

my favourite bus companies in USA

Boltbus USA

Image source – Boltbus

Boltbus operate mainly in the PNW and West Coast. We used them for trips from Portland to Seattle, and then on to Vancouver.

Their website is basically a maze of slow loading pages and broken links, but once you navigate through this to book a ticket, you’ll actually find that Boltbus offers a pretty great service.

They offer one ticket on each ride for $1, which might randomly show up when you’re booking a ticket. On the bus, you’ll get free WiFi (though it might be a little shaky at times), power outlets, and a decent amount of legroom.

Megabus

Image source – Megabus

We took Megabus to both Washington DC and Boston. They’re right up there with Boltbus in terms of service, though they offer a wider range of destinations and their website definitely comes out on top!

Megabus allows you to reserve seats for only $1 extra (though you can expect to have to kick someone out of your reserved seat 50% of the time). They also offer the $1 fares that Boltbus does, one of which I managed to score for our tickets to Boston. Booyah!

The only complaint I have about Megabus is that there is no overhead storage, so your luggage either has to go under the bus or at your feet.

Greyhound

Image source – Greyhound

Greyhound are probably the most famous bus company in USA. This makes them a tad more expensive than other bus companies, but their route options are fantastic.

Their service could also be considered a little better than Boltbus or Megabus, as they have extra legroom and overhead storage, as well as WiFi, power outlets, and reclining seats.

They also have a bunch of green initiatives, which is a huge bonus for eco-conscious travellers like myself.


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Ashlea Wheeler

Blogger & Photographer at A Globe Well Travelled
I'm Ashlea, an excitable Australian who loves photography and exploring the world. Find out more about me.

20 Responses to “The ultimate guide to bus travel in USA”

  1. Rebecca

    This is really useful, I’m currently starting to plan my US road trip for next year and I plan on travelling via bus for a lot of it, I’ve pinned this so I can come back 🙂

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      That’s great, Rebecca! I think road tripping the US is definitely one of the best ways to see the country. If you have any other questions about bus travel or travelling through the US, please let me know 🙂

      Reply
  2. Lindsay @ Frugal Frolicker

    YES!! Bus travel is super cheap and convenient in the US, for sure – I miss that! Bolt Bus is pretty prevalent in the northeast as well, but I found that Megabus was almost always cheaper when I wanted to book a trip somewhere from NYC. I also ADORE the Megabus double deckers, which usually run from NYC-DC 😀

    If you’re down for some, erm, *cultural immersion*, take the Greyhound from NYC to Atlantic City. TOTALLY different demographic from what you’ll find on Bolt/Mega. My old roommate takes this bus several times a year to see family and she’s always got some insane story to tell about it.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      So glad you agree, Lindsay! Megabus does seem to end up being the cheapest option most of the time, and they also have fairly frequent schedules so I usually end up going with them.

      Haha ok, this Greyhound to Atlantic City trip sounds like an interesting one. I could organise that! Thanks for the tip 😛

      Reply
  3. Leigh Anne

    I LOVE travelling by bus! I’ve taken Megabus to both Boston and DC (I live in New York) and you just can’t beat the price and convenience.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Yes! The price is so good, especially for trips like NYC to Boston or DC! Thanks for your comment, Leigh Anne 🙂

      Reply
  4. Stacey

    I wish I had known about this during my first trip to the US in 2011! I stupidly booked flights between Boston – New York and New York – Washington DC – all of which ended up getting delayed so the travel time ended up being a lot longer than originally planned anyway. I think buses definitely would have been the smarter (and cheaper) option.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Oh, that totally sucks. Often, when you consider the travel time to and from airports + the amount of time that you have to be there before the flight + the flight time itself, it ends up being longer than the bus trip (and that doesn’t even include delays). At least you’ll know for next time, Stacey!

      Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Wow, that is so cheap! It is weird, isn’t it – the buses here are a great way to travel and it seems that barely anyone knows about them. Thanks Liz!

      Reply
  5. Ellie - Flash and Frugal

    Hi- this is so cool as when I travelled around West Coast America back in 2012 we travelled primarily by bus (and a bit by train) and have always felt a bit embarrassed as everyone sees it as the cheap and slow option. Truth is, it was cheap so it meant we got to do loads of cooler stuff when on our travel budget aand we didn’t have to do the whole faff of getting to and from airports. Plus you get to see the countryside much more easily without having to get off your seat!

    We bought a ticket in Santa Barbara that allowed us a mix of bus and train tickets to and from anywhere for the month and found it very good value and very easy.

    Thanks for sticking up for bus travel! I will cover a similar aspect for South East Asia when I move out 🙂

    xx

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I know exactly what you mean, Ellie – I think bus travel has a stigma that is totally undeserved! It’s sometimes faster than trains, and the money you save can be used to stretch out your travels. You definitely travelled through USA the right way 🙂

      I haven’t heard of that month-long train/bus ticket, I’ll have to check that out!

      Reply
  6. Megan Indoe

    Wow, this is super helpful! We were trying to figure out the best way for us to see the States when we go back, since we sold our cars to travel, and never really even considered taking a bus. The map is super helpful too!

    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks, Megan! I think that bus travel isn’t all that well known as it’s a fairly new way to travel long-distance. Hopefully we can help get the word out 😀 I hope you enjoy travelling through USA when you get back!

      Reply
  7. Samantha

    Love this! Thank you! Aiming to spend a month in USA before I head to Canada and just working out how I’m going to get around everywhere and I stumbled across your blog 🙂 LOVE IT!!! Thank you again!!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks for your comment, Samantha! Bus travel is a fabulous way to get around USA and Canada 😀 I’m sure you’ll have the best time. If there’s anything you can’t find any info on in my blog, let me know and I’ll see if I can help out!

      Reply
  8. Evelyn

    This is great! I am looking into traveling through the states by bus for a few months. This post is very helpful.

    Reply
  9. Eli

    This is such a great article! Not many people consider buses when traveling the US and it’s such a good idea. I took a megabus from Los Angeles to San Fransisco and even though it broke down, they sorted it out very professionally and I had a refund back in my account by the time we reached out destination, without even asking for it!
    Love your blog 🙂

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Wow, that’s awesome! It’s not often that companies offer such great customer service when something goes wrong. It’s good to know your experiences with buses in USA were similar to mine, Eli!

      Reply

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