If you're visiting from abroad and plan to rent a car in the United States, you probably won't need the services of an additional automobile organization. If you're planning to buy or borrow a car, automobile-association membership is recommended. AAA, the American Automobile Association (tel. 800/222-4357; http://travel.aaa.com), is the country's largest auto club and supplies its members with maps, insurance, and, most important, emergency road service. Note: Foreign driver's licenses are usually recognized in the U.S., but you should get an international one if your home license is not in English.
The major airports in New England all host national car-rental chains. The websites Orbitz.com, Hotwire.com, Travelocity.com, and Priceline.com all offer competitive online car-rental rates.
A famous New England joke ends with the punch line, "You can't get there from here," but you may conclude it's no joke as you try to navigate through the region. Travel can be convoluted and often confusing, and it's handy to have someone adept at map reading in the car if you veer off the main routes for country-road exploring. North-south travel is fairly straightforward, thanks to the four major interstates in the region. Traveling east to west (or vice versa) across the region is a more vexing proposition and will likely involve stitching together a route of several state or county roads. Don't fight it; just relax and understand that this is part of the New England experience, like rain in the Northwest or rattlesnakes in the Southwest.
On the other hand, New England is of a size that touring by car can be done quite comfortably, at least if you're not determined to see all six states in a week. Note that Maine is much larger than the other states; when making travel plans, beware of two-sided maps that alter the scale from one side to the other.
Traffic is generally light compared to that of most urban and suburban areas along the East Coast, but there's a big exception: Traffic anywhere in or around Boston can be sluggish anytime, and Friday afternoons and evenings in the summer are positively infuriating; the tentacles of Beantown traffic now extend all the way to I-495, which you may need to use to get from the New York area to, say, coastal Maine. Come prepared for unexpected delays if you'll be anywhere near Boston.
Other choke points, such as Route 1 along the Maine coast (during summer weekends) or attractive New England back-road routes (during the height of foliage season), can back up for miles at certain times of the year. To avoid the worst of the tourist traffic, try to avoid being on the road during big summer holidays; if your schedule allows it, travel on weekdays rather than weekends and hit the road early or late in the day to avoid the midday crunch.
If you're a connoisseur of back roads and off-the-beaten-track exploring, DeLorme atlases are invaluable. These are now produced for all 50 states, but the first one was Maine, and the company's headquarters is here. The atlases offer an extraordinary level of detail, right down to logging roads and public boat launches on small ponds. DeLorme's headquarters and map store (tel. 800/561-5105 or 800/642-0970; www.delorme.com) are in Yarmouth, Maine, but their products are also available widely at bookstores and convenience stores throughout the region.
Bus travel is often the most economical form of public transit for short hops between U.S. cities, but it's certainly not an option for everyone (particularly when Amtrak, which is far more luxurious, offers similar rates). Greyhound (tel. 800/231-2222; www.greyhound.com) is the sole nationwide bus line. International visitors can obtain information about the Greyhound North American Discovery Pass. The pass can be obtained from foreign travel agents or through www.discoverypass.com for unlimited travel and stopovers in the U.S. and Canada.
While express bus service to major cities and tourist areas is quite good, quirky schedules and routes between regional destinations may send you miles out of the way and increase trip time significantly.
For quick information on travel schedules and fares, call the major players. In New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, contact Vermont Transit Lines (tel. 800/552-8737; www.vermonttransit.com) or Concord Coach (tel. 800/639-3317; www.concordtrailways.com). In southern New England, Bonanza (tel. 888/751-8800 or 401/331-7500) and its parent company, Peter Pan (tel. 800/343-9999; www.peterpanbus.com), serve western Massachusetts and Connecticut, while Plymouth & Brockton (tel. 508/746-0378; www.p-b.com) serves the South Shore of Massachusetts and Cape Cod.
Overseas visitors can also take advantage of the APEX (Advance Purchase Excursion) reductions offered by all major U.S. and European carriers. In addition, some large airlines offer transatlantic or transpacific passengers special discount tickets under the name Visit USA, which allows mostly one-way travel from one U.S. destination to another at very low prices. Unavailable in the U.S., these discount tickets must be purchased abroad in conjunction with your international fare. This system is the easiest, fastest, cheapest way to see the country.
As noted above, Amtrak provides limited rail travel to and from the region. But it's not really a valid option for getting around. (Coastal Connecticut is the exception -- both Metro North commuter lines and Amtrak trains stop here.)
International visitors can buy a USA Rail Pass, good for 15 or 30 days of unlimited travel on Amtrak (tel. 800/USA-RAIL; www.amtrak.com). The pass is available online or through many overseas travel agents. See Amtrak's website for the cost of travel within the western, eastern, or northwestern United States. Reservations are generally required and should be made as early as possible. Regional rail passes are also available.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.