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.
Note that insurance is almost never included in rental car rates in the U.S. Be sure you actually need insurance before you buy it. Many are covered by their own car insurance and/or credit cards and can avoid this significant add-on cost.
Travel can be confusing in this region at times, as there are few straight roads, but GPS takes the guesswork out of finding your way. North-and-south travel is relatively straightforward, thanks to four major interstates crisscrossing the region. But traveling east and west sometimes involves a zigzagged route.
On the other hand, New England is of a size that touring by car can be done comfortably—so long as you’re not determined to see all six states in a week. Maine is a lot bigger than all the other New England states; beware that overview maps don’t fully convey the state’s size. (Portland is closer by car to New York City than it is to Fort Kent.)
Traffic is generally light compared to that of most urban and suburban areas along the East Coast, but there are a few big exceptions. Traffic in or around Boston can be sluggish anytime, and Friday afternoons and evenings in the summer are positively infuriating; the tentacles of Beantown traffic extend all the way to I-495, which you may need to use to get from the New York area to, say, coastal Maine. Be prepared for unexpected delays if you’ll be driving anywhere near Boston. I-95 almost always gets snarled up around New Haven, where it intersects with I-91. Other notorious choke points that can back up for miles include Route 1 along the Maine coast on summer weekends; the roads leading to the two bridges that enter Cape Cod; or attractive New England back-road routes during the height of foliage season. Try to avoid being on the road during big summer holiday or foliage weekends; if your schedule allows it, travel on weekdays rather than on weekends, and hit the road before or after morning and evening commuter rush hours.
Once you're in northern New England, bus service can be spotty. You'll be able to reach major cities by bus, but few of the smaller towns or villages. Tickets range from about $13 one-way from Boston to Portland, to $22 and up for Boston to Burlington. Buses can fill up on Fridays, Sundays, and around major holidays or holiday travel times; reservations are always a wise idea.
Greyhound (tel. 800/231-2222) operates in all six states—though mostly just along the interstate highways—with frequent departures from Boston. Concord Coach Lines (tel. 800/639-3317 or 603/228-3300) serves Maine and New Hampshire, including midcoast Maine and some smaller towns in the Lake Winnipesaukee, Merrimack Valley, and White Mountains areas. Buses on the Maine routes play complimentary (PG-13 rated or below) movies en route. C&J (tel 800/258-7111) connects Boston with Portsmouth and Dover, New Hampshire, and Newburyport, Massachusetts, on buses that promise Wi-Fi access.
New England has a lot of coastline and a few very popular islands, and so it’s not surprising that ferry service is active here. A variety of ferries serve Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, mostly from ports on Cape Cod. Ferries to Block Island leave from Point Judith, RI, New London, CT, and Long Island, NY. Boston Harbor Cruises also operates a fast ferry from Boston to Provincetown, at the tip of 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.
Amtrak provides limited rail travel around the region, but it’s quite expensive. In coastal Connecticut, frequent MTA Metro-North Railroad commuter trains to and from New York City and within the state are a much cheaper option than Amtrak. A trip between New York City and New Haven, for instance, costs $17.75 to $30 one-way on Metro-North, versus $43 or more (and 40 min. longer, with far fewer departures) on Amtrak. Check the system’s website at www.mta.info/mnr for schedules and fares.
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.