Getting Somewhere for Cheap, Eventually
Image Courtesy of Frankie Smith
You can get pretty much anywhere in the United States for far less than you expect if you are willing to sacrifice time, convenience, and comfort. And even though this method of getting around can lead to some itineraries that suck on paper, you’ll always have an adventure. So if your broke ass has some time and wants to see America, try some of these cheapskate ways of getting around.
You should only take a plane if you need to get to your destination quickly or if it’s cheaper than all ground-based alternatives. The latter case is rare but it can happen. I once found a one way ticket from New Jersey to New Orleans for $59. The catch was that it left from the two-bit regional airport in Trenton and I had to spend the whole flight with Guidos bound for a bachelor party in The Big Easy, but there’s no beating a fare like that.
The closest thing we have in this country to a national rail system is Amtrak. Which is unfortunate, because Amtrak is kind of shitty. But remember, as long as it gets you there eventually, it’s worth it. Buying your tickets ahead of time and starting from a major city will keep your ticket costs low, and you can travel across a couple states for as little as fifty dollars if your play your cards right. You’ll meet and bond with all kinds of interesting people. I once met a real-live time traveler. At least he claimed to be one. Some Amtrak lines are easy to stowaway on, although you should be aware that it is illegal and in no way endorsed by Broke-Ass Stuart’s. But if you do, your best option is to abandon all dignity and lock yourself in the bathroom.
Most major cities have some kind of commuter rail system, although I will say not as good as BART (when BART isn’t on strike of course). Even Los Angeles, known for being a paved-over hell where the only way to get around is in your own damn car, has a commuter rail system connecting most of the outlying cities. You can link these up with buses and sometimes even with other rail systems and get a lot of mileage for a relatively low cost.
What surprises a lot of people is how far you can get taking only local public transit systems. You can go all the way from San Francisco to Long beach taking only municipal or regional bus systems. It will take you more than a day and you certainly won’t be able to pay for it all with your Clipper, but you will get there. Throw regional rail lines into that equation and you can get to San Diego. This kind of thing is a bit easier on the East Coast, but areas including Seattle, Denver, and even Northern New Mexico have limited service buses covering their respective metro areas, or connecting smaller micropolitan areas. Bring a good book and some patience.
Be flexible, be vigilant, and be friendly, and you can get most places worth going. I’ve found that Craigslist is the best for ridesharing. If you need to take rides from multiple drivers, plan out all the legs of your journey in advance. Hitchhiking lies on the other end of the planning spectrum. It’s best to have no plan except a departure time, which should be in the morning. Take the rides which will take you the farthest, or the closest to your intended destination. Check out Hitchwiki for specific regional information.