Travel Planning: North America

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Traveling solo in another country can be a bit intimidating if you don’t drive.  When I started planning my trip to North America, I knew that there were some places I really wanted to visit, but without a car I would need to navigate several different modes of public transport.

It can get complicated when you are consulting different bus company’s routes and timetables, train routes, and the offerings of local bus companies.  I found the easiest way to keep track of it all was actually pretty low tech: I photocopied a page from an atlas at my local public library and marked all the train and bus routes.  This allowed me to identify transport hubs that connected trains and buses, and also let me work out what was going to be easy versus nigh on impossible. The Canadian Rockies, New England and Colorado were three places where I knew I wanted to go to some rather obscure places, and I did have to spend some time doing a bit of due diligence to make sure I was being realistic in my plans.

If you are planning a similar trip and don’t drive, I can definitely recommend:

Megabus (hello, $1 fares!)
Greyhound
Amtrak
Via Rail
Moose Travel Network

The only problem with Amtrak and Via Rail is that often their train stations are in the middle of nowhere and there is no public bus that will take you right there.  But you know what I found out about almost every mid-sized city or town in North America?  While the train station may not be near the city centre, it will always be near the big shopping mall.  And shopping malls have two things: good public transport options, and taxi ranks. So what I would do in a city like Edmonton or Buffalo is catch a bus to the mall, have dinner and then take a short (and cheap) cab ride to the train station.

The only other thing I can say about Amtrak is that it’s worth checking to see if trains are on time. Amtrak waiting rooms are nothing special, and if your train has been delayed by a few hours there are better places to wait.  Always call and check if you can.  I learned this the hard way in Buffalo, waiting almost 4 hours for an overnight train to Chicago.  It would have been fine if the air conditioning wasn’t turned to arctic, and the train wasn’t similarly freezing.  Which leads me to my second Amtrak tip – bring a blanket, even if it’s just a cheap one you buy at the mall.  You will be grateful for the extra warmth.

(update 1: Just a few months before departing on my North America trip, I unexpectedly found love, and changed some of my plans, spending the last month of my trip with my new boyfriend in Chicago, New York, the Caribbean and New Orleans.  If I had been traveling solo, I probably would have spent this month in New England, before catching a very long train ride down to Colorado.  We had a great time in Chicago, St Lucia and New Orleans, but it did mean I didn’t get to explore the Green Mountains or Maine.  Just two more places that remain on my travel bucket list!)

(update 2: Since writing this post and going on my wonderful North American adventure, I have returned to Sydney and got my drivers licence.  I can’t wait until my next solo holiday when I will have the freedom to just jump in a car and drive!)

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