Why hop a plane to SXSW this year when you can get on a bus? Okay, let's rephrase that - why hop a plane when you can get on a bus with 20-something other folks, drive across country, and try to formulate a viable startup idea along the way?

At least that's the idea behind the Startup Bus, the brainchild of Elias Bizannes, which is now in its second, vastly expanded incarnation.

The idea, which started out as "a half serious but fully beer-infused joke about driving an RV to SXSW 2010 with a bunch of friends and hacking on the way" has turned into a full-on country-wide competition this year. Bizannes says that the idea is not only to potentially create potential businesses, but to create collaboration and community among entrepreneurs.

"Successful startups come from good people. And good people build rapport by collaborating together," said Bizannes. "While I don't doubt some real businesses will come out of this, the real value is the fact these strangers work together and get to know each other"

This year's competition is ramping up to include up to six buses, with six teams per bus and more than 150 people total. Right now, Bizannes says buses are definitely leaving from San Francisco, New York and Cleveland, with Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles all penciled in as possible departure points.

The basic idea then is that all of these people hop on a bus, self-organize into teams, and build a functional website or prototype to present to a panel of judges when they arrive in Austin two days later. Waiting at the finish line will be Josh Baer, from Austin's startup incubator Capital Factory, looking for potential opportunities.

"Last year, people actually launched with products that would be considered real web services had you not known," said Bizannes. "I think everyone was shocked how much coding you can do on a bus in 48 hours."

Bizannes says that Xero has signed on as a sponsor, so the plan is full steam ahead, but some details, such as the exact departure cities, still need to be ironed out.

So how do you get in on the road-tripping, brainstorming, startup-forming fun? Sign in on the Startup Bus website using your Facebook login and hope someone in your community has an invite. If you're not connected to the right community, says Bizannes, then helping to spread the word about it through Twitter could help get an invite. Getting on the bus, as it were, isn't only about the competition - it's about the community that can form afterward.

"I want to turn this into a community, where the initiation rite is being on the bus and you tap into this rich alumni community of founders, startup enthusiasts, and talent," said Bizannes. "So, we have plans of creating a private community website after that would have things like a job board."