United States “coast to coast” with ESTA!

See the USA and explore every hidden corner, and do so cheaply on the train!

It’s true that not many Americans have the idea of exploring their country on the train. It’s not so surprising, as it’s a very long journey. The distance between New York and Los Angeles is some 2,500 miles, which is the equivalent of around 40 hours by car, not to mention the 3-hour time difference… I think it’s safe to say you’d have pins and needles after that journey!

Realistically, if you want to cross the States by train, you certainly can’t do it all in one go: there are plenty of things to see in America, and fortunately the prices of the trains make it all possible.

Essentially, to go from the Atlantic to the Pacific by crossing the USA, you need to split the journey into two legs, or ‘segments’. Each time you get on or off the train it counts as a segment:

The Cardinal train takes you from New York to Chicago, from where you get on the Zephyr train, from Chicago to San Francisco.

The passes start at around £330, and that gives you 8 segments to be used in 15 days. If you have more time, and want to make more stop offs, you can choose the 30 day pass (with 12 segments), or a 45 day pass (with 18 segments).

Take a look at the Amtrak destinations map to plan your journey and find the tourist places of interest on the way, such as the Rockies or the Sierra Nevada. Why not make a big detour via New Orleans, or Canada?

Necessary travel documents

To get on a train, you’ll need to present your ticket as well as a valid passport.

Before getting your train pass, you’ll need to get your ESTA authorisation for the USA, which you’ll receive within 72 hours after filling in the ESTA form online. Then you can move on to the next step: buying your return ticket to the USA.

Your ESTA authorisation allows you to be in the USA for a maximum of 90 days, which will give you plenty of time to discover the States from east to west!


  • If you leave the USA, you can come back as long as your ESTA is still valid;
  • Make a reservation before getting on the train;
  • Don’t forget that you’re embarking on an adventure, and that sometimes things don’t go quite to plan. If that’s a problem for you, perhaps you should consider an organised trip…!

Travelling to the United States? Do you have your pre-planning checklist in order? Visit our ESTA Guide for more information about obtaining your travel permit. We'd love to hear from you. Send us your comments or questions for travel assistance.

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