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In the past, touring the country by motor coach was both popular and convenient, but for the past few decades travelers have opted to fly or drive themselves. In Europe, bus tours are prolific but in the U.S., the genre has been largely languishing. With gas relatively high, perhaps we should consider going old school and let someone else do the driving while we sit back, relax, take in the sights, and make new friends from around the world.

I would love to say that there are many options available, but frankly there aren't. Yes, there are numerous bus companies that take passengers from Point A to Point B, or on day tours around tourist hubs and large cities, but there are only a handful of travel companies that specialize in multi-day touring trips for the domestic market (despite there being several in-bound operators that cater almost exclusively to large international groups, especially from Asian destinations).. For bus adventures that can take you across the country and back again -- plus south of the border -- Green Tortoise (tel. 800/867-8647; www.greentortoise.com) offers a wide selection of multi-day tours that are perfect for those on a tight budget. In fact entire tours can often work out to be cheaper than a single flight, depending on your destination. What makes Green Tortoise a little different is the accommodation. By day, the interior of each bus features a combination of dinettes (bench seats with tables), couches, and bunks. At night, the coach converts all seated areas into beds (upper and lower level), some with pull around curtains for a bit of privacy and spacious enough for up to 36 passengers to sleep comfortably. Most accommodation on a trip will be on the actual bus, but there is also camping and depending on your itinerary, hostel and hotel stays.

The cross-country trips take 14-days (northern crossings and southern crossings, eastbound and westbound) plus there is the "Mega USA Explorer" that runs 34 days. The cross country trips only run from May to October and range in price from $676 to $744, plus about $200 for the food fund; there are several shorter adventures that run during other seasons. In general, the trip cost plus a food fund pays for all accommodation, most meals (approximately 70% of meals including group prepared and restaurants on the cross country trips), entrance fees to National Parks, and transportation. On longer trips, Green Tortoise caters largely to a mix of domestic and international passengers in their 20's and 30's but all age groups are represented. This type of travel isn't for everyone as communal living is the main accommodation mode. It's a unique travel experience and hopefully your group won't include too many people who snore or sleep talk (bring ear plugs just in case). There is no shower on the bus, but they stop at campgrounds and other public facilities regularly plus participants can take no-soap showers in waterfalls and lakes en route.

Departing on November 21, 2008 and again on March 20 and April 3, 2009, their nine-day Baja Beach Daze trip is priced at $540 per person plus $119 for the food fund. Leaving San Francisco on a Friday night, it stops briefly in Los Angeles and San Diego to and then crosses the border into Mexico and the Baja California coastline. Visit Ensenada and then travel through northern and central Baja California. Dine under the stars by a freshwater lagoon on the outskirts of San Ignacio, take a dip in the fantastic swimming hole, marvel at the beautiful Mission San Ignacio, go snorkeling at Playa Escondida, hike to tidal hot springs nestled in an azure cove, set up camp right on the beach, enjoy an authentically prepared Mexican meal at Rancho San Cosme, and explore the cave paintings of Cataviña nestled within the cacti and boulders.

The four-day "Big Apple to Big Easy" starts with a quick bite of the Big Apple in New York City, then makes its way to Washington, D.C., the Great Smoky Mountains and finishes up in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The $253 plus $32 price includes three nights sleeping in the sleeper coach, one night of camping, most meals, National Park entry fees and transportation. This trip departs on August 16 and 30 and September 20, 2009.

Tours 4 Fun (tel. 626/288-3667; www.tours4fun.com) operates a series of east and west coast bus tours taking in single destinations, attractions, National Parks and multi-cities. Their seven-day East Coast trips depart from New York and finish in Boston. They run throughout the year with Saturday departures and additional Wednesday trips between April and October. Priced at $525 per adult based on double occupancy ($491 in triple and $480 in quad) plus $362 per child the trip includes complimentary airport pick-up and drop-off, six nights' hotel accommodations (in Hilton, Ramada, and Courtyard Marriott hotels), all ground transportation in a private motor coach and a professional tour escort.

TrekAmerica (tel. 800/TREKUSA; www.trekamerica.com) is actually a UK-based company but it has a variety of smaller-sized U.S. bus tours (almost 50 in total) throughout the year and attracts a very international crowd along with some local participants. Though some of their tours are fully accommodated, most of the itineraries offer a combination of camping and what they call "hard top" accommodation (hotels) so travelers can make the most of every destination. While in cities, they use affordable, centrally located hotels and motels and in National Parks and more remote destinations, camping provides the greatest access to the landscape and its attractions. Their seven-day West Coast Highlights trip departs from Los Angeles and travels to San Francisco regularly on Mondays between November and March. Priced from $899 to $939 per person, this trek includes visits to the three big Californian cities on the Pacific (LA, San Diego, and San Francisco), plus U.S. Highway #1's Big Sur, Carmel, the Mojave Desert, Death Valley, and Las Vegas. The price includes all transportation by private adventure vehicle, the services of a TrekAmerica tour leader, all camping fees and equipment (except sleeping bag), two hotel nights and entrance fees to Death Valley National Park. There are also optional activities for additional cost, like Sea World Adventure Park for $54, Grand Canyon scenic flights from $125 and the San Diego Zoo for $30.

Their 14-day Atlantic Dream departs from New York and travels to Miami between May and September with a group size of no more than 13 people. Priced from $1,459 to $1,749 per person, it includes transportation, a TrekAmerica tour leader, 11 nights camping fees and equipment, a Louisiana Swamp tour, admission to Disney World, an Illumination tour of Washington, D.C. and admission to all National Parks and monuments. Highlights include visits to the capitol, the Appalachian Mountains, Tennessee, Alabama, New Orleans, Panama City, Orlando, Disney World, Epcot, and Miami Beach. There are two hotel nights (approximately $50 each) that are additional. These trips are designed for the 18 to 38 age range and there is a $10 a day food kitty that is additional. It is important to note that these trips are one-way and start and finish in different cities so you would be responsible for return trip transportation, if required.