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.
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
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.