Travel

While you are in the U.S. you will probably want to see more than just your local area. There are no restrictions for travel within the United States and interstate travel does not require any paperwork or visas. Below you will find a listing of the various ways you can travel around the U.S., followed by some travel tips and information.

Bus
Bus companies provide service to many cities and towns throughout the U.S. at reasonable rates. It does take longer to cover the distance than many other forms of transportation due to the frequent stops along the way. If you decide you’d like to set out on an adventure and see the country, some bus companies sell special passes which allow you to travel anywhere throughout the country. For information on passes, schedules, and rates, check bus companies in your local telephone directory or online.

Train
Amtrak, the national passenger train service, travels faster than the bus with fewer stops; however it does cost more and has limited destinations. Amtrak offers service to almost 900 towns and cities in 46 states. Their trains provide snacks and meals in dining cars as well as  sleeping and restroom accommodations. For specials, passes and schedules, check online at www.amtrak.com.

Airplane
You can fly almost anywhere in the U.S., whether on major airlines such as United, Delta, and American, and/or by connecting with smaller carriers in specific regions. Airlines generally offer both one-way and round-trip fares, and compete fiercely with one another to attract passengers. Most airlines now charge for any luggage checked through baggage.

Many airlines offer “frequent flyer” programs that reward travelers with free flights after compiling a predetermined number of miles within a certain period of time. Airlines might also offer miles in exchange for credit card dollars spent on particular cards, allowing you to gain miles even more quickly. Each airline has its own website where you can gather more information, or you can compare fares and deals between airlines at travel sites like www.travelocity.com, www.expedia.com, www.priceline.com and many others.

Rental Car
For long distance travel, many people choose to rent a car. There are many rental agencies that operate offices throughout the U.S., including major names like Avis, Budget, Economy, Hertz, and National. The cost of the rental will depend on many variables including the car type, the season, the day of the week and the length of the rental, but most rates include unlimited miles.

Most rental car agencies require drivers be at least 25 years old. A few agencies will rent to drivers under 25, but charge a higher fee. In order to rent a car, you will need a valid driver’s license and a credit card. (If you do not have a U.S. driver’s license, it might be a good idea to have an International Drivers Permit.) You must also show proof of auto insurance or accept and pay for the rental agency’s insurance coverage.

You are responsible for any damages to the rental car while it is in your possession, so make sure that the form the agency fills out accurately shows any pre-existing conditions so that you do not take the blame for them.

Rental cars come with a full tank of gas, and you must return it that way or expect the agency to bill you for the gas required to fill the tank. They will charge a much higher rate per gallon than you would pay if you filled it up at a gas station, so try to take care of that before returning the car.

You can pick the car up at one location and return it to another one, but there is usually a fee associated with involving two different locations.

The following information might be useful to you in planning for travel within the United States:

Travel Agency
Travel agencies will make all your travel arrangements for you and find the best available rates, based on your criteria. They can make reservations for you on airlines, buses, and trains, as well as hotel or motel reservations, rental cars and tickets. They provide all these services at no cost to you because they make their profit from a cut they receive from the companies that provide the travel or lodging. Your campus may have a travel agency or you can always find a local one in the telephone directory or online.

Online Reservations
Often, you can obtain more favorable fares and deals by going directly to the website of each airline, rental car, or hotel than you can over the phone. The internet also has numerous websites that enable you to make your own travel arrangements economically and efficiently. A few of these websites include www.cheaptickets.com, www.expedia.com, www.kayak.com, www.orbitz.com,  www.priceline.com, and www.travelocity.com. These kinds of sites allow you to compare costs from many different providers and select what best fits your schedule and budget.

You will need a credit card to order tickets and make reservations online. In most cases, these tickets and reservations are non-refundable, so make sure you are reasonably certain you will use them. If you do need to make a change to the specifics, you can usually do so for a fee.

Road Maps
You can purchase road maps of different cities, regions, and states at gas stations, bookstores and convenience stores. If you plan to travel through many states, you should purchase an atlas, which contains maps of all 50 states. You can usually purchase an atlas wherever maps are sold.

Many states provide visitor centers or tourist offices at major highway entry points, near tourist attractions and in some cities. You can obtain state and city maps, as well as brochures about local attractions and discount coupons through these offices as well. They also provide current data about road conditions and other pertinent information.

Roads and Highways
The highway system in the United States includes a variety of road types. The interstate (freeway) system connects major cities with four-and six-lane roads without any stop signs or traffic lights to slow travel. You can only get on and off interstate highways at marked entrances and exits.

Toll roads in and around large cities require a toll (or fee) to use those roads. The toll helps to pay for the road that has been constructed and is not usually the only way through, but provides either faster or less congested travel for those willing to pay for it.

The highway system provides access to many more towns and cities than the interstate. These highways have lower speed limits, fewer lanes and intermittent stop signs and traffic lights. 

State and county roads connect smaller communities and points of interest, such as parks, lakes, and campgrounds.

Most non-city roads are referred to by a number. For the interstate system, all even numbered roads (2, 30, 94, etc.) refer to roads that go east and west, while all odd numbered roads (3, 57, 95, etc.) refer to roads that go north and south. Three-digit numbers (395, 495) refer to connecting roads that interconnect to another major highway (in this case, 95).

Overnight Lodging
Along most interstate roads and highways, you will see signs for hotels, motels and inns offering overnight lodging for travelers. Some motels, such as Econo Lodge, Budget Inn and Motel 6 or Super 8, provide more basic, less expensive accommodations. Hotels, usually much larger than motels, offer more amenities for a higher cost and attract more vacationers and business people. They often include such facilities as swimming pools, restaurants, room service and gift shops.

Depending on what season it is and whether the area has tourist attractions or conferences and events scheduled, you may or may not need an advance reservation. Checking online ahead of time can save you time and money when planning your trip.

Carrying Money
Many hotels, motels, restaurants and stores do not accept out-of town checks, so you should plan on using your credit card. Do not carry large amounts of cash when you travel, but have some available ($40–$80) in case of emergencies. Remember, you will have access to ATMs throughout the country. It may be better to pay a small charge to periodically use an ATM than to carry large amounts of cash and risk loss or theft.

Is it safe to “hitchhike” (ask for rides from passing vehicles)?
Absolutely not! It is unwise to ever hitchhike or pick up hitchhikers in the United States. Sharing a car with a total stranger may make you an easy target for crime.

Safety when traveling
You can generally travel quite safely in the United States. If you keep in mind a few common sense precautions, you can enjoy a great trip. Always lock your car when you leave it, store your valuables in the trunk and do not stop for strangers. If you do not have a cell phone, rent one to carry while traveling. Park in well lit, heavily traveled areas.

When visiting cities, make sure you know what areas to avoid, especially at night. For highway travel you will find many signs and exits providing conveniences, gas and services, as well as emergency telephones phones.

On the smaller roads pay careful attention to distances between towns big enough to have gas and services so that you don’t get stuck in the middle without gas.

If you know you will arrive at your destination late at night, try to arrange your accommodations in advance. People do not generally sleep in train or bus stations in the U.S. and you should never sleep in your car at a rest area. Before you go, get as much information as you can about the places you will visit.

Follow the posted speed limits and traffic signs to avoid getting ticketed by the police. All but one state require drivers and passengers to fasten their seatbelts when traveling in an automobile. Don’t drink alcohol and then drive. Each state sets its own legal limits for blood-alcohol content (BAC), but they all consider anything over .08 illegal.