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How to Travel Cheap On Bus and Train

By Sally Aquire

transportI don’t use public transportation all that often, but when I do need to take the bus or train, I can’t help but notice how expensive itls become. Using public transportation may be unavoidable if you don’t have any alternative means of getting from one specific place to another, but there are some ways that you can make it more affordable. Here are a few ideas to save money when using buses and trains.

Bus Fares

Greyhound is a good option for cheap bus fares, especially if you take advantage of their online booking deals. Discounts are available for students with a Greyhound Student Advantage Discount Card. The card costs $20 to buy (excluding shipping), but it can pay for itself if you’re going to be making regular journeys across the US as you get a 20% discount on bookings.  Other discounts include a military discount (10% discount) and a senior discount (5%) for those aged over 62.

Chinatown Bus is a budget bus company that serves some big U.S. cities, including Seattle, Miami, San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Atlanta, Orlando, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Much of the coverage involves routes between these cities, rather than around them. Current fares include Philadelphia to New York for $10 and Washington DC to New York for $18.

Megabus is another of the cheaper bus services, although it’s a bit more up-scale in comparison to the likes of Chinatown Bus, because most buses feature free Wi-Fi and reclining seats. The fares can be more expensive than other budget bus services as a result of this, but there are some real bargains to be had if you travel on the right day and perhaps at less convenient times, such as early morning. Some journeys are priced at an unbelievable $1.00 for a trip that lasts several hours. As I write this post, traveling from New York to Washington DC in early April costs just $1 and not all of these are leaving or arriving at undesirable times, so it’s worth doing a search if you’re going to be making a trip to another city.

Boltbus is similar to Megabus in that it offers Wi-Fi and extra leg room on its buses and fares start at just $1 dollar. After every eight trips made using the service, you’ll receive one free trip (one-way only).

Train Fares

Traveling by train can be one of the most expensive ways to use public transport and in some cases, it can be only marginally cheaper than going by plane. Here are some tips for cutting the costs where possible related to a popular option, Amtrak.

Amtrak. If you’re a member of the American Automobile Association (AAA), you can be eligible for a 10% discount on Amtrak fares (along with your spouse and dependents). For students, you can save 15% with either a Student Advantage Discount Card or an International Student Identity Card. As a rough guide for what to expect for fares, a trip from New York to Washington in early April costs around $49 in the early morning and evening, but this rises dramatically to over $100 in the afternoon, so it can be much cheaper to travel at less popular times of the day.

If you’re not restricted to traveling with one specific bus or train company, searching for deals online can be the best way to find bargains. If you’re a student, there will usually be discounts to knock something off the regular fare, too.  Traveling by bus or train is not too popular here in the United States, but it can be a cheap alternative to flying if your itinerary is flexible, and you’re not too concerned with getting there quickly.  When’s the last time you traveled by train or bus?  What was your experience like?

(photo credit: TroyMason)

Sally Aquire
Sally is a UK-based freelance writer. As well as personal finance, she also writes on health & beauty and lifestyle topics. When she's not writing, she enjoys reading, shopping, hanging out with friends and generally making the most of her downtime!

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  • http://www.toxic-shock.blogspot.com Shock

    To say traveling by bus is not popular in the States is a bold statement. If you live on the east coast, it’s a very popular means of transportation. Especially in the DC-Philly-NYC corridor. I know lots of people that travel between these cities by bus. I live in DC and my sister lives in NYC. We use MegaBus and BoltBus to visit each other. Our fares are usually $25 or less per person round trip. The trip is about 4.5 hours one way. The value can’t be beat. You can read a book or surf the web to occupy your time. It beats the hassles of driving or flying.

    • Elizabeth I

      And if you have to drive EZPass is a must!

  • http://madsaver.com Mac

    Wish the country’s mass transportation system was a bit more robust. Traffic is terrible wherever I go and the train fares are expensive. I’d take the bus if I could, but it doesn’t even go near where I work each day. Fortunately, a light rail system is really taking off in Minnesota. Hopefully states will start to really invest in such options to limit road congestion and make the air a bit easier to breathe.

  • Elizabeth I

    Madison, WI has a great bus system and covers many residential areas.

  • Winston

    Thanks for sharing this information. It is my first time I learnt about those services. They are indeed good bargains.

    The bus fare from NC to NYC used to be 100 over here. However thanks to competitions, it is now only 30 dollars for a one-way trip. And every night, the bus is always full. Before this, mostly Chinese rode the bus. But due to this huge prize cut, there are a lot of non-Chinese taking the bus too.

  • Gina

    I have not traveled by train or bus since I have been married with kids. It is too costly for the whole family to get tickets, usually cheaper to drive (depending on distance, tolls, etc). We usually try to price out our options, then decide.

  • Oohaysit

    From Atlanta,GA. to Orlando Disney Magic Kingdom which bus service is available because there is no Amtrak service from these two cities.

  • obama asskisser

    Chinese bus tastes like chop suey

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