Wanderu: How to find cheap travel via train, bus and ferry

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Regular readers of this site know that I’m a big proponent of searching around for the best deal. When it comes to flights, there’s no single best website or tool that you can rely on for the best fares, and so you need to spend time pricing out different options on different sites, setting up fare alerts, etc.

Related: 17 ways to find cheap flights

Here’s another important point: If you really want to get somewhere for the best price, remember that a plane is not always the only way to do that. When you’re traveling shorter distances, especially—inside the U.S., for example—taking a train, bus or ferry can save you hundreds. This is especially true over the holidays, when airfare prices spike due to high demand.

Credit: Wanderu
Credit: Wanderu

Wanderu (also an app for iOS and Android) is the leading bus and train travel search platform in North America and Europe, and it’s a good place to start a search for alternate modes of transportation. You can search for travel options to/from 10,000 destinations thanks to partnerships with Amtrak, Greyhound, Megabus, Boltbus, Peter Pan Bus Lines, VIA Rail Canada, FlixBus, National Express, Grupo Senda, and Trailways of New York. Each set of search results displays the details of each itinerary and its operator, its cost, the transfers involved (if any), and the amenities available on the trip (A/C, Wi-Fi, extra legroom, power outlets, and restrooms). If you see something you like, you can book it directly through Wanderu.

As an example, here’s what turns up when I searched for options from Los Angeles to San Diego on December 26 (this screenshot shows just two of the 96 options):

Screenshot from wanderu.com
Screenshot from wanderu.com

As you can see above, you can use the filters on the left to narrow in on a journey that suits you. You can sort results by price speed, departure/arrival time, and Wanderlist (I’m not sure how this one works).

Since the next few weeks are among the busiest of the year for travel, taking the train or bus on a route longer than L.A.-San Diego is especially worth considering if you still haven’t booked your travel—even if you generally prefer to fly. If nothing else, it can’t hurt to look at what’s out there. Here’s a sample of what Wanderu is offering right now on non-flight American transit between December 21 and December 25:

  • Boston to New York for $22 (bus)
  • New York to Washington, DC for $23 (bus)
  • Chicago to Milwaukee for $13 (bus)
  • Detroit to Chicago for $29 (bus)
  • Austin to Dallas for $22 (bus)
  • Los Angeles to Las Vegas for $22 (bus)
  • San Francisco to Los Angeles for $33 (bus)

Bus is clearly a cheap option across the board, since buses are generally thought to take longer and be less comfortable than planes. That’s often true but the comfort disparity especially is disappearing. The airlines are squeezing seats into their new planes and cutting comfort while seats on buses like Greyhound can be quite roomy. Don’t forget that an open mind can be your ticket to the biggest savings.

Credit: Wanderu
Credit: Wanderu

Another cool feature is the Explore tool, which lets you search for travel inspiration using only your starting point, dates and/or price point. Any time you’re looking to get away for cheap, or on a specific weekend, the tool will help you get a sense of what your options are. If you’re only looking at flights for inspiration, you’re leaving out a huge chunk of possibility. As I’ve said many times, more tools means more information—and generally more savings.

Good luck with your travel this holiday season and beyond!


Johnny Jet

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