Ah, it is summer again! The golden time for travel! Dear international students, are you familiar with traveling in America? As an international student myself, I can still remember my first travel in America. I learned a lot about how transportation works in the U.S., and I’m glad to share with you some tips I learned from my own experience.
Train is the primary means of long distance transportation for people in my home country China, while the most popular way in America is to take a plane. But there are lots of other methods of traveling far distances in America as well, that an international student may not know about or think about.
Since almost every form of travel here requires a reservation, you should think about how you want to travel well in advance of your trip.
Flight is the most popular means of travel in America, since it is fast and comfortable. During my last spring break, I took a plane to Los Angeles in order to save time. Spring break only lasts for one week, and I wanted to make sure I had as much time as possible for entertainment.
For many international students though, flying may be too expensive.
There are a lot of websites you can use to find flights and compare prices. I know other people who have used kayak.com, Travelocity.com and expedia.com. But if you simply search “flight,” you’ll find a whole lot of possibilities.
You can also sometimes get cheaper flights by choosing a smaller airline, although those airlines also fly to fewer places. When I was going to L.A., I was able to get a really good deal with an airline called Allegiant Air, which only goes to 6 cities after I input “Fargo, North Dakota” as the departure city. Luckily, L.A. happened to be one of them.
A lot of times, the further in advance you book your flight, the cheaper it will be. This situation is quite different from China for Chinese flight tickets can almost remain constant during a long period of time.
One note of caution. Pay attention to each airline’s requirements for luggage and for checking in. You don’t want to get to the airport and find out you have to pay extra fees for a heavy bag or that you were supposed to check in from home before you left.
Compared to flying, taking a bus is much cheaper, but also more time-consuming. The buses that are meant to take people long distances are much more comfortable than public transportation buses in a city, and some even offer wireless internet for the whole trip. If you’re not in a hurry, the bus could be a good choice for you.
The most well-known bus company in America is called Greyhound, and it travels to many places across the country. I haven’t taken a Greyhound, but I’m going to take a Megabus to help me get to New York City directly from Washington, D.C., where I’m living for the summer. Megabus is one of an increasing number of bus companies that go only between a few big cities. These buses make fewer stops and are usually cheaper than Greyhound.
Similar to flying, the cost to book a bus trip can keep changing, and it is usually better to reserve the bus as far in advance as you can.
Taking the train in America is not as popular as in China, but some trains can sell out of seats. The major train company in America is called Amtrak, and it operates service across most parts of the country.
I took the train to get from Fargo to D.C. My train ticket was about $200 cheaper than an airplane ticket would have been, but it took me two days to get there! There was no direct train so I had to take one train first from Fargo to Chicago, then another from Chicago to the final destination. I probably could have gotten a direct flight, which would have taken only about 4 and a half hours.
I really enjoyed the trip though. On the train you get to see beautiful scenery outside your window. In my case, I saw all sorts of different landscapes, and households of all kinds. Also, sitting next to the same person for such a long time, you can get to know them a bit. I got familiar with an African girl who is studying international finance and economics in a liberal arts college in Chicago. We talked about lots of interesting things and listened to Japanese music together!
As an international student myself, I really enjoy traveling. I have gained fabulous experiences from my travel and I hope you will also have fun and learn on the road. Hopefully these travel tips can be useful for you and lead you to a marvelous summer full of amazing travel stories 🙂