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How to Travel Without a Car in North America

North America is vast and spread out which makes Canada and the USA harder to travel without a car than other countries. We recently backpacked across Canada and down into the USA without having our own vehicle. These are some of the methods of transport that we relied on to travel without a car, in descending order from most expensive and most comfortable down to the cheapest and most unpredictable.

1. Fly

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.

2. Train

VIA Rail Passenger Train – A Comfortable way to Travel Without a Car

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.

3. Bus

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.

You Could always Take The Big Pink Bus – The Girly way to travel without a car

4. Rideshare

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.

5. Hitchhike

Hitchhiking is nothing new and is not the most reliable way to travel but if luck is on your side you can travel without a car and not spend a cent. Safety is always an issue but if you take precautions, use your instincts and are not afraid to refuse a ride if you don’t feel comfortable you are not likely to be in any danger. We found we were usually picked up by older people who used to hitchhike and nostalgically wanted to pay it forward. Sometimes it was the younger type 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 because you do not want to get in trouble. 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.

Hitchiking in Newfoundland

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.

 

About Lee Carter

Born and raised in Accrington, UK, Lee has ventured far beyond his hometown, traveling throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, North America and New Zealand. He is the co-founder of Global Goose and as well as writing the occasional rant he can be found tweaking the code and taking photos of amazing things around the world. Lee and Kelly are currently backpacking around Southeast Asia and they have no plans to stop their “Gap Decade” anytime soon.

12 comments

  1. Lee,

    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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. Ciao anch’io vorrei tanto andarci…

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. I recently punished myself with a 54 hour bus ride from Calgary to Toronto

    PROS:

    Cheap ($175, or about $0.04 a kilometre)
    Got to see the country from the roadside
    Made friends along the way

    CONS:

    bad food
    Sleep … what’s that?
    Some people can be negative or sketchy

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