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Old 06-06-2008, 10:25 AM
2 posts, read 3,474 times
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Hi everyone.

Me and a few of my friends have long been planning a trip to USA and it seems our plans are closely coming to fruition. This time next year we plan to fly to NY, rent a car and do a road trip towards the West Coast, probably finishing in San Francisco or L.A. - depending on plane schedules.

We DO have a year to sort everything out, but still, it's a monumental task. We need to decide which routes to take, what to see, where to stay and of course fit that all in a 4-week schedule. We all our outdoor types with extensive mountaineering experience so sleeping in camps and visiting National Parks is probably a must. Also, since this kind of trip will probably hit our pockets pretty heavily, cheaper options are always preferred.

Anyways, if there's a helpful soul on these forums which could offer any kind of advice or useful information related to any kind of aspect of such a trip, we would be extremely thankful.

Thank you all in advance. Cheers!
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Old 06-06-2008, 07:36 PM
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You may want to think about the enormous distance across country, and what there is to see and do while you're crossing.

Of course, you'll want to see NY, where you are better off without a car, but after that there will be a lot of - in my opinion - just driving. Until you get to the mountain states. I don't want to insult anyone living in, for example, Ohio, but that part of the country is not known for being scenic.

I would suggest flying or taking AMTRAK from NY to Chicago, then the
California Zephyr. Instead of riding for days stuffed into a car with your traveling companions, you could be socializing on the train. (walking around, having a beer if you like - can't do that in a car without spending time in jail)
The scenery on the Zephyr route is some of the most spectacular in the US, and some of it can't be seen from a car.

Once you've seen San Francisco, rent a car and drive down the coast
highway (1) to Santa Barbara or LA. Spectacular! Then train across the southern US. You'll see deserts in S. California & Nevada, Texas, Texas,
and more Texas; then New Orleans, Atlanta, Washington.
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Old 06-06-2008, 11:14 PM
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Since you have 4 weeks that should be plenty of time to drive to many different areas. I agree with the previous poster that driving across the midwest wouldn't be too exciting which is why you may want to drive a southern route that goes through the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee and head across to Arkansas which also has some nice countryside and small mountains, then head for the front range of Colorado and on to Utah. In those states you'll see lots of national parks, the best of which IMO, are Rocky Mountain National Park and one that must not be missed Zion National Park in Utah. When you get to the west coast you really should try to explore both the northern and southern California coasts. In the north, you have the awesome redwood forests and in the south you have the spectacular Big Sur coast with it's massive cliffs and dropoffs with great views of the ocean.

If money is an issue keep in mind that most basic motels will cost anywhere from $70 to $100 a night for a room. Campgrounds of course are much cheaper and may be $5 to $20 a night but beware if you go in the summer that at national parks these campgrounds may be full and you may have to find more out of the way campgrounds outside the major parks. Also if you are going to a lot of national parks it can cost $20 to get into each one but if you purchase a yearly pass for $50 it will get you into all of them and save you some money. Most park entrances will sell the pass.

Last edited by kanhawk; 06-06-2008 at 11:23 PM..
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Old 06-07-2008, 01:59 AM
Location: Assisi, Italy
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Consider an Amtrak pass Amtrak - Hot Deals - Rail Passes - North America Rail Pass

The 15 day NE pass ($299) might be appropriate for the East Coast since you do not want a car in NY, Boston, DC, or PA. Most sites in these cities are accessable by metro rail and parking a car is very expensive. I will be using one next month on my trip.

Once you are ready to go across, you can get a car free from an Auto transport company. Inquire weeks ahead. They can provide you with a free car that you must deliver washed in 11 days to the West Coast. I did this many years ago and it was terrific. Note that if you rent a car, you will have a huge drop off fee because you are taking it one way. If you must rent call around and ask if they have a California car that needs to be taken back.

Depending on the time of year you will cross, the 30 day National Amtrak pass for $799 in low season is not bad.

You must decide if you are taking the Northern USA or Southern USA route. South gets you the Grand Canyon, Vegas, Texas, St Louis, New Orleans. North gets you Chicago, Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Yellowstone, Devils Tower, Reno.

Get a Lets Go USA or at least look at one in the book store. It is fgilled with many little factoids that are well worth the $25.

Also, if you are bringing a laptop, you can get some really great deals like 4 star hotels with breakfast for 100-150 bucks (including taxes) if you book on Expedia or Hotwire.

Last edited by Bob The Builder; 06-07-2008 at 02:08 AM..
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Old 06-07-2008, 09:16 AM
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Truthfully, it would be easy to spend the entire month in California, and you'd see a wide assortment of things - from the redwood trees to working ranches to deserts, plus real cities like San Francisco and fake cities like LA (no offense)

But if you did that, lots of people would say you hadn't seen the real US at all.
And they might be right.

I can safely predict that riding for 8-10 hours each day in an airconditioned car at 65mph, you're not going to get a feel for the real US. Everything along the freeways has been so standardized and homogenized that you'll notice little difference between Maine and California. When you return home, and people ask what you saw, you'll have to say "McDonald's - 1,244 identical McDonald's".

Therefore my suggestion of the train, talking with real people, stopping in small towns. Camping is fine, locally-owned B&B's are good for when you need a break from camping. You might even get a taste of local foods that way.
And to miss out on things like - grits - would be - inexcusable
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Old 06-07-2008, 10:24 AM
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Seeing that mountains, hiking, camping interest your group, here's what I would do:

NY - no car needed, ride the subway and ferry.

Acela to Washington, (3 hrs, but expensive) or regional train (4 hrs, much cheaper) not only historic and scenic, but there are great museums there, not just art, but natural history and technology. At least a day in DC.

AMTRAK to somewhere along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is > 400 miles of non-commercial, twisty road along the mountain ridges. No trucks, motels, burger joints, but plenty of trails, scenic vistas, and campgrounds. Parkway Maps
You might start at Charlottesville, VA, (2 1/2hrs from DC) very near the northern end of the parkway, or to High Point, NC (8 hrs. from DC) near the southern end. (where the highest mountains are found). I doubt your schedule would allow driving the whole thing. Speed limits are low, and for very good reason.

Back to AMTRAK to Atlanta (8 hrs., if you want to stop there) and on to New Orleans (20 hrs.) where you'll have to spend the night - jazz & refreshments would be in order

AMTRAK to LA, (48hrs.) with perhaps a stopover at the Grand Canyon, and a lot of desert scenery along the way. Hollywood.

LA to Santa Barbara - train, again, which runs right beside the ocean.
If you drive, you see nothing but the taillights of several hundred thousand cars and trucks. Beach, seafood, wine tours in SB. Also, UCSB girls
2 1/2 hours on train.

SB to SF on highway 1 - probably the most scenic road in the US. Take your time, it's worth it - and dangerous (in a plunging-into-the-ocean kind of way). Cross the Golden Gate bridge, see Muir Woods. Eat real Chinese food.
1 day to drive, plus one or more to tour.

SF to Yosemite and /or Kings Canyon. Train, bus, tour - or drive. Lots of ways to get there. These are REAL mountains. Finding an unoccupied place to camp may be a problem in the summer months.

SF (actually, Emeryvillle, CA) to Chicago, via AMTRAK California Zephyr. Real mountains without all the people. Some of the areas along this line are inaccessible via automobile. Probably the closest to real "wild west" you're likely to find. 3 days.

Chicago is a nice city to visit (great food!) and might be a good place to catch a flight back home, if time is short. If there were a few days left, personally I'd pay a visit to Canada. Montreal, perhaps.
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Old 06-08-2008, 01:42 AM
Location: We_tside PNW (Columbia Gorge) / CO / SA TX / Thailand
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transportation can be a challenge in the US 'car' based system. You could waste a lot of time looking for transportation if you have to get to remote areas and are traveling by air or rail. With more than 2, the fuel / food / camping would be easier and cheaper by driving your own van. You can drive the 'desolate' stretches overnight with a couple drivers. Do Be Careful, it is common for Euro and Asian drivers to fall asleep in US due to LONG remote highways. Get rest, take nap, STOP if tired, no reason to hurry and end up in hospital.... there are other methods to stay awake... best is to leave one hand / arm out the window. This works well, but not as good as sleep!. I prefer to drive some of USA at night as it is cool and no traffic; so faster and can be safer EXCEPT 4AM to 6 AM is very dangerous for sleeping, and 2 AM for bars closing (good time to pull of and take a nap)

I would buy a VW campervan and drive it, then sell it. (tho east coast rigs do not sell well on west coast, they are rusty), we have little rust on the west coast + the VW's are more plentiful on West coast, so I would consider trip from west to east, as east coast folks really would like to buy a non rusty VW Westy. I would get a 1999 or newer EuroVan for dependability (~$12,000) and comfort, but plenty make the trip with old VW's. (mid 70's) ~ $2000 Here is a place that offers warranty
Pop Top Heaven - Welcome!
GoWesty! - Parts and Accessories for VW Westfalia Campers
another option
Rialta Heaven - Home
Most euro folks rent motorhomes from 'el monte' or cruiseamerica. I think it is very expensive to rent motorhomes in USA, but very cheap in europe. Insurance could be a challenge, but possible (and required). If you can get a US rate ~ $300 for a motorhome or van. ($300,000 liability and $100,000 property damage)

The national parks passes now cost $80, but you will want one, as they get you 1/2 price on camping in federal sites. + free access to National Parks and federal recreation sites. You can 'overnight' several places for cheap or free, (stores and truckstops and rest areas) and take showers at public swimming pools or truck stops.
Grocery is ~$5 - $10 day if you are cooking, most healthy purchased food for the price is deli sandwiches for ~ $5 each. Average cafe prices for meals is $8. - $12.
You will probably drive 8,000 miles or $2,000 in fuel at $5 / gal and 20 miles per gallon.

You could also get a cheap Dodge or chevy van (~$800) and just sell it cheap on the other end or scrap it, older motorhomes are VERY cheap too, ~ $2000, but only 10 mpg, and potential other mechanical issues, but not likely too expensive if you are mechanical and can fix a few items) but ... the niceties of the VW camper (or Rialta) are tough to beat (22 mpg, outside shower, ref, stove, extra beds + you can get attached tents, or carry a couple tents with you. )

I would guess you should be able to sell the vehicle on east coast for what you paid for it on the west coast (if you got a decent deal and kept it in nice shape).

Travel in US is quite cheap, 4 weeks is too short to do a good job. I would consider doing only west coast to Colorado or South Dakota, then another trip for East coast west to Mississippi River. You can fly to midwest cities if you want to see them.

You can average ~ 50-60 MPH between most destinations in the west USA. 40-50 MPH in east due to more cities. Much of east is accessible via rail, but very nice rural spots Blue Ridge Parkway / Smokeys / battlefields will require a car.

I would do West side in early summer, (May - June) and east side in early fall (Sept - Oct) it is very hot and humid in summer on east coast. West coast to Missouri river is ok in summer, hot but not so humid, West has cool nights (it is 8C tonight... burr)

I travel in US and worldwide using private guest homes (not B&B)~ $10 night each person. It is way to get to know people and to get help with travel hints. There are some directories on line, more for 'retired people' or associations. Probably some directories in your region. It really adds a lot to the trip, but if you are with friends you might want to hostel (that is best way to stay in San Francisco !!! Ft Mason) Camping will be least expensive, especially in a van where you can all sleep.

Last edited by StealthRabbit; 06-08-2008 at 01:56 AM..
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Old 06-08-2008, 02:44 AM
Location: rain city
2,958 posts, read 11,362,226 times
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If you're driving cross country I would absolutely advise you to avoid the interstate freeways, particularly I-80. The interstates are a madhouse of long haul truck drivers, high speeds, and tedium.

You will find that there are state highways that run parallel to the interstates. State Highways are not the restricted entrance/exit freeways, but open highways, usually 2 or 4 lanes, speed limit usually 55 or 60. Easy driving, lots of places to stop and see, and a dearth of agressive truck drivers. Much more pleasant and scenic.

On a long road trip I try to stay off the interstates as much as possible.

(....the one place where you want to be on the interstate is in the Rocky Mountains. I-80 or I-40. I-40 is much prettier and once around the mountains you can get back on the state highway again.)
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Old 06-08-2008, 08:43 AM
Location: West of Tampa :-)
105 posts, read 133,266 times
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Originally Posted by baba44713 View Post
Hi everyone.

Me and a few of my friends have long been planning a trip to USA and it seems our plans are closely coming to fruition. This time next year we plan to fly to NY, rent a car and do a road trip towards the West Coast, probably finishing in San Francisco or L.A. - depending on plane schedules.
thats a long route when I used to "visit" the us before becoming a citizen :-) we used to do the East coast in one year and the west coast the next year that gave us much more time to focus on things we wanted to really see.
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Old 06-10-2008, 02:40 PM
2 posts, read 3,474 times
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Woah, this is a lot to take.

It'll take time to digest all this info. Thanks a lot for all your suggestions. Lately I've been considering concentrating on West Coast because that myriad of National Parks is alluring. Also, a SF round trip through L.A. and then through the Western National Parks seems much easier to organize while freeing me from one-way fees and complications with route plain tickets.

Anyways, thanks again. I have some serious calculations and planning to do now, but I'm sure to come back with more pesky questions.

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