How to Travel Without a Car in North America
Is it possible to get around without your own wheels?
North America is vast. This makes Canada and the USA much harder to travel without a car than other countries.
We recently backpacked across Canada and down into the USA without having our own vehicle. When we announced we were going to do this, many people were skeptical. Would we really be able to make it around without having our own car?
These are some of the methods of transport we relied on to travel without a car, in descending order from most expensive and most comfortable down to the cheapest and most unpredictable.
Flying is obviously the easiest way to get from city to city in North America, but unfortunately its not usually the cheapest. If you really need to get somewhere fast and don’t mind paying a bit extra then it might be worth booking a flight. We only used air travel once during our trip. A plane between Halifax and Newfoundland turned out to be our best option when we needed to be in St John’s on short notice.
Skyscanner is great for comparing flight prices, you can even be do a broader search if you are flexible with the dates you will be travelling or destination.
The train is a really great way to travel without a car. It is often more expensive than the bus but you will be much more comfortable and usually get a much better view. Our 35 hour train journey between Winnipeg and Toronto gave us some amazing views and we comfortably slept through the night. Most major cities in North America are linked up to the train network. Trains can often take a lot more time because passenger trains sometimes have to give way to freight trains using the same tracks.
VIA Rail is Canada’s passenger train service, make sure you look at their deals page, you can often save hundreds of dollars if you are flexible with your travel dates.
Amtrak is the passenger train service for the USA, the USA network is a lot more extensive than Canada’s and you can often save money by booking early.
You can also buy monthly passes for each if you plan on travelling entirely by train.
This is another option for budget travel without a car. Long distance bus travel in North America can be tiring, but it is often the cheapest guaranteed service you can use and is usually reliable. The buses can sometimes stop in every possible location along the way making the journey seem to last forever.
The buses sometimes have power outlets and even WIFI if you are lucky, although you are never guaranteed any of this and might end up on a bus that has seen better days. We rode the bus on a 24 hour journey from Virginia to New Orleans. most of the journey was great but it was split into 4 transfers and sleeping was not too easy when the bus was full on the return journey. (Although it saved us around $700 so was definitively worth it)
Greyhound US and Greyhound Canada are the biggest country wide bus service, you can get monthly passes that you can use in both countries. Most Greyhound stations have places to eat and sometimes showers
Megabus is usually a good budget option but there routes are limited to certain areas. (We once took a trip to Knoxville, Tennessee on the Megabus and it only cost $1.)
Ridesharing is a win-win situation. Somebody making a journey has seats and will drive you to where they are going for an agreed price. The drivers are usually just trying to subsidise their gas costs so you can usually get quite far for your money. The downside is reliability as drivers can let you down and sometimes you may never find someone heading to the place you need to go.
We shared rides many times while we were in Canada as it was always the cheapest option between cities when we could find someone heading in the same direction. We only had one bad experience and that was due to mechanical failure, we found ourselves stranded in a small town in British Columbia with our unfortunate driver whose engine had blew up!
Kijiji.ca is by far the best place to find rideshares in Canada, you can even post an ad requesting a ride and drivers can get in touch with you.
craiglist.com is usually the a good place in the US although different states might have better local sites for you to use.
Hitchhiking is nothing new. It’s not the most reliable way to travel, of course. You never know how long you’ll be standing at the side of the road. However, if luck is on your side you can travel without a car and not spend a cent. Safety is always something to consider. But, if you use your instincts and refuse rides when you don’t feel comfortable, you’re likely to be okay.
We found older people were more likely to pick us up. They used to hitchhike and nostalgically wanted to pay it forward. Sometimes it was the younger types who were quite laid back and enjoyed the company on their journey. Always check local law to find out if you are allowed to hitch hike. If done right hitchhiking can be the best way to travel without a car in many countries throughout the world.
Hitchwiki is a great resource for anybody wanting to Hitchhike, it has tips for different places and information on getting picked up and overall safety.
Do you prefer to travel without a car?
Whilst travel without a car in North America isn’t ideal, it is not as hard as you may think. If you have any questions, tips or experiences you would like to share, please leave a comment below.
Nice post here. Sounds as if there are some good alternate travel options for North America. As someone who has started writing a bit about travel and snapping mostly local photos, but sparking an interest in traveling longer distances, I am most curious about Canada and the options of camping there. Do you have any favorite camping spots you would recommend? Would you know if there are those who do not require a vehicle to camp. Can one enter by foot, such as a hiker’s camp?
Great tips! I would also like to add Southwest.com for cheaper flights around the US. Their flights don’t appear in flight search engines to the best of my ability. I think using public transportation is easier in cities, the challenge is when you want to reach nature, like national parks. Some parks have shuttles from nearby towns/cities and inside the park, and I would love to see more parks adopting that possibility – not only will it help additional people get to the parks, but it’s much more environmentally friendly.
This article was very useful to me because I don’t own a car at this time and just love to travel. I especially appreciated the links leading to rideshare and hitchhiking since these are methods I haven’t tried before and that sound really useful. As for flying, kayak.com can also be really useful, as can student universe for people who are still students. Thank you for these tips!
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This article was very useful – I’m planning a cross country trip from New York to Vancouver, so hopefully we’ll be able to utilize some of this information. One thing we probably won’t be trying is hitchhiking though – it’s just too dangerous, and I’ve seen too many movies where things go wrong.
Hitchhiking has risks of course but it is not as dangerous as the movies would lead you to believe. We actually recently wrote a post about horror movies and travel: http://global-goose.com/wingtips/movies-people-afraid-to-travel/
I have lived most of my life traveling without a car. I really love this article, because it just reminds me of the passion people have to go by any means necessary to travel. This is great. I think my best form of transportation is flying and commuter train. When you are actually in the city of your choice, of course things like the bus, help you to see the sights and meet the people faster. It’s almost imperative to make most of your vacation happen outside of the car, so you can engage with the culture.
I recently punished myself with a 54 hour bus ride from Calgary to Toronto
Cheap ($175, or about $0.04 a kilometre)
Got to see the country from the roadside
Made friends along the way
Sleep … what’s that?
Some people can be negative or sketchy
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Great! Thank you for your post!. We also love to travel a lot and recently traveled by the car along US Pacific Coast. Here is our first day of the 10-day travel trip https://alfilatov.com/posts/road-trip-northwest-coast-day-1-10-long-beach-cannon-beach-yaquina-lighthouse/. Check it out!
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Hi. Great article. Now thinking about traveling to that area. Been to Dubai and smoked a great bong from Fuma there. Now I want to find the same good bong
Hi. Great article. Now thinking about a trip to this region. But first I want to order the original shisha from Dubai to try shisha from the country where it originated
Late to the game.
I don’t have a driver license. I live in a big prison, Los Angeles, for the past 4 decades. Yes, in 95% of USA major cities, without cars is like living in prison.
I wish LA and other major cities are like New York and Vancouver. Not within next 200 years.
Anyway, when I traveled to DC, SF, Baltimore and Vancouver, I really loved the place because I did not need the cars.
My friends take me to travel National Parks once a while.
Besides that, I join the tours ago. 10 years ago, I usually joined Asian (Taiwanese/Hong Kong/Chinese) tour groups. They were so affordable that you wander did anyone make money. My dad dropped me off at tour bus pick area. On the way back, the travel agent pick me up. It was $5. The travel agent is 5 miles from my home. My home is 2 mile from tour bus area. No, he did not make money, but he entice the people to sign up the tour for this service. Did he make money that I sign up for the tour. The qualities were so bad, but what can I complain for that prices. Recently, I checked the tours from those websites. The prices had gone up twice. The qualities had come down from bad to 200% worst. I started searching for the quality tours. They are not cheap. That is the problem. It is cheaper to drive and stay in 7 star hotels than sharing rides with others.
I went to New York when I was little. It has not been on my radar since I want to travel other place. However, I am thinking going to New York, Niagara Falls, Thousand Lake, and beyond. Ok I am too greedy. Besides New York and Niagara Falls, this requires cars or tour groups.
Couple challenge projects on my list
1) Chicago: You don’t need cars. Try the ambition on Great lakes: Not doable even on tour groups. Ok, there are cruises. I know non car drivers have to pay a lot more for not having car on traveling, but Great Lake Cruise is so high ended. I will stick with Chicago only
2) Portland: How many places I can go without join tour groups
3) Seattle: Outside downtown downtown downtown areas, how many places I can go without join tour groups
4) Williamsburg and Richmond: I am poor in bike, but I know there is bike for dummy path. I want to try. Some places, I need uber. I want to challenge myself on how far I can go on 2 legs and F grade skill biking
5) Acadia National Park: One of few santcuary places outside of New York that I don’t need cars
6) Train rides in Colorado are interesting. However, either you have to walk 100+ miles or drive to reach each station. That is another problem. Train stations are for fun not for transportation. Anyway, I found some tour groups
Of course, if my friends decide to go to those places, I will join them. I have enough struggles living in LA. Do I want to stress myself more on my vacation.
In USA, except New York, Chicago, DC, and SF, you need cars. For me hitch hike is still driving (by someone). Just like my friends take me to many places. No, LA is still hell for non car drivers despite what many people said. I want to try Japan, Korea, and many European countries. That should be fun. I remember on way back from Europe to LA, a German gal seating next to my friend, she never drove in German, and she was ready to pick her rental car at LAX
Greyhound, Megabus, and other bus companies are the finest ways to travel between cities in the United States. We have commercial and private planes, railroads that are fewer but still exist with Amtrak, buses, and so on.
A very excellent blog post.Thank you so much for such a well-written article.