As I mentioned a little while back, I’m going to go hard on the travel fund in the new year, focusing on saving for one of the two major trips I want to do.
I have a friend who recently did just this: road trip across the States – but before I pick her brain on logistics, I figured I’d hit you guys up for ideas and tips.
First: Getting there.
It looks like flights will cost around $1000, one way each to LA (we could also fly to SF but pay a premium for it.) I don’t know how much flights back from NY to Auckland are, but a quick glance suggests around $1500 (chokes). So we could be looking at $5-6k alone on flights.
Ideally we would fly in to Seattle, but I don’t think we have flights there. There’s also the possibility of timing it so we can fly to Hawaii with a friend first and have a couple nights’ free accommodation, but I don’t have high hopes of that working out.
Second: Getting around
The reason I mentioned starting in Seattle is I want to see Washington. And Oregon. But I guess we can always drive up from Cali, and then back down again (sigh). Basically, the rough plan is driving from the West Coast to East, probably along a somewhat southern route.
Other stops that are non-negotiable: SF, LA, Vegas, New Orleans, DC, Boston, New York.
There’s a little more detail on my travel bucket list page. While the Grand Canyon is up there, for example, I’m not generally too keen on outdoorsy pursuits. No big hikes for us!
Other suggestions welcomed! Options floated include Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee… BF wants to see a live wrestling match, and be in the Letterman audience. I want to go to some kind of theme park – not too fussed as to which one really, but maybe Universal? I always wanted to go to Disneyland, but that desire has faded over time.
Getting around, b)
I don’t even know where to start. Do we buy a car? (How? Where? Argh!) Rent one? (We’re both under 25. And are one-way rentals outrageously priced?). Rent a campervan? Or even just fly from place to place (although I think that’s at the very bottom of the list.)
Where you come in
We would probably aim for a 3-week trip (maybe 4 max.) I’ve had a quick look at car rentals and the very cheapest is $2-3k for (choke) and probably additional charges galore.
So. Any tips for how best to do this and how much to budget per day or for the whole trip? Should I take the cost of flights and double that, maybe?
- Any places we must see/visit?
- Hostels to avoid?
- The best season to go (think weather-wise and cost-wise). Early autumn perhaps?
Oh and, would we need to book our accommodation ahead of time?
The kind of trip we want to do would involve… a lot of sightseeing ( the free kind). I anticipate we’d mostly make our own meals and stop at supermarkets but also sample local food wherever possible..maybe one meal out a day max (and certainly not every day)?
Shite, I’m feeling overwhelmed already. Okay. Any and all advice welcomed.
YAY for Washington! I’m from just outside Seattle and it is gorgeous. Best months to visit when it isn’t dreary/rainy 24/7 are July-September. But even that’s a gamble! 🙂
What about finding a company or someone who needs a car driven across the states? 2 of my cousins who live overseas came to the States and drove cars from LA to NY for a bit, and I believe they were given 2-3 weeks to get the car there. Not sure on all the logistics, or if you can even do it as a one-time deal…but could be something to look into! 🙂
1. Allow me to point out the obvious: America is really big. You definitely will be spending a lot of time on the road, especially since the places you want to see seem to span the entire country.
That’s my fun “pretending I’m you” route that I would probably take to hit the places you mentioned above. Note that it’s over 3 days–straight–of driving.
It’ll probably be worth the investment to start on one coast and end at the other. Flying in and out of the same airport will add a ton of miles, time and stress into the trip.
2. Flights between states will be expensive. Trains are expensive. Busses are less expensive but take twice as long. I genuinely think you will enjoy your trip the most if you plan to rent a car. In my experience, Enterprise has the best prices. Buying a car is an interesting prospect, but I wouldn’t know where to start. Also, don’t forget about the tolls…
3. Go to Disney. It’s worth it.
4. Have you considered camping as your accomodation? Or couch surfing? I have friends who recently lived in a van for 3 months, while touring the states. They spent about $5k.
5. Check flights into Vancouver as well. It’s really close to the border and gives you one more airport option. Plus, you’d have free accomodation with me if you wanted to stay a night or two… 🙂
@Mel Ha, yes I am aware of that! And prepared for a lot of driving. There aren’t a TON of places we want to see, so I think our timeframe should be enough for us. And if we go with a car not a campervan, some camping will definitely be on the cards. I like your route – we think alike.
@MoneyMaus Yep, although those one-way rentals are usually very last minute type deals, so not sure that would work for us…we’ve got leave to book and flights to arrange well in advance after all but I’ll see if I can find any sites that AREN’T last minute.
Oh that sounds fun! Roadtrip! You will be doing LOTS of driving though. Sadly the states doesn’t have SUPER CHEAP flights like Europe does – that I know of anyways.
I would recommend renting a CAR – remember to factor in gas and gas can be EXPENSIVE. A campervan or truck would probably be pretty expensive on gas whereas a car would probably be cheaper to rent and cheaper to fill up!
Sounds so fun 🙂 Roadtripping across Canada and down into the Northern U.S. is on my bucket list!
Yes, one way rentals can be significantly more expensive, and if neither of you will be 25/26, you may not even be able to rent from some companies. That may end up being a rather large issue! Try a budget site (hotwire, priceline) to find deals on rentals.
State-to-state flights are typically expensive, but might end up saving some money vs. driving in a few cases. check southwest and allegiant for budget deals to cut a little bit of the driving. You may not come out ahead, but maybe! I have always wanted to do the train from SF to LA, but it is a bit slow, and not really cheaper than flying (to my knowledge). I think you can get some sort of unlimited ride amtrack pass, but then you are limited to train routes… Yeah, it seems like a bit of a logistical nightmare!
Also, I live in LA, so be sure to let me know when you are coming!
(Warning: this sort of turned into a novel. Sorry!)
Skip Texas. I’m from here. It’s huge, and most of it is empty and kind of boring, unless you know what to look for. (And even then…) If you’re driving, you’ll spend at least a day just driving through the state. (However, if you decide to ignore my advice, you can totally stay in our guest room in Austin.)
Places you mentioned
SF = yes, at least a couple days. Vegas = yes, but no more than a couple of days. It’s expensive and can become overwhelming. The Grand Canyon can be seen from the car from pretty close to Vegas if you’re driving. New Orleans = so much yes. DC = I personally LOVE it, but I’m a weird nerdy U.S. History buff. The Smithsonians are all pretty awesome. Cities in the northeast = yes, but beware that they are pricey.
Other places to consider
I love driving through the Western states (Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico), but I love the desert and kitschy Old West/Route 66-y stuff. The drive will eat up a lot of your time. There won’t be a lot of hostels, but there will be inexpensive camping and cheap hotels if you go that route.
I second the vote for starting on one coast and ending on the other, if you decide to try to span the whole country. You can usually rent a car if you’re over 21 for an additional fee (I think – I’m not sure about international drivers license rules). I’d probably go that route if possible, unless you can schedule your trip to go along with one of the JetBlue or Southwest flying specials. Amtrak (train) and Greyhound (bus) are also options. I’ve never taken Amtrak (I’ve heard both good and bad things). Greyhound buses can either be scary or awesome depending on where you’re going. (The Houston, TX bus station was a horror the last time I rode through, but some of the smaller stops are kind of cute.) Greyhound used to have some “see the country” type pass available that offered a lot of travel over a short amount of time for backpackers/students.
Since you’re planning on spending time in the South (DC, New Orleans, Vegas), I’d come in late spring or early fall. You’re probably unlikely to experience weather delays due to snow in the northern cities, but you won’t feel like you’re going to die of heatstroke in the rest of the country (hopefully).
In bigger cities, you’re probably better off booking ahead of time through Hotwire, Travelocity, etc. However, if you’re going to have some type of internet access while you’re here, 2-3 days is probably close enough to “ahead of time” to get a decent last minute deal in most places. For camping and hotels in smaller towns, you usually don’t need to book ahead, although online booking is becoming more and more common (even for camping, weirdly). I’ve never done sofa-surfing, but there’s a pretty big community here from what I’ve heard.
Try Cal-Mex and Tex-Mex (if you’re in those states). Steak, BBQ, and hamburgers are usually worth a try in most places in the South/West (if you eat meat). Also good in the South – fried anything (okra, stuffed avocado, tomatoes, chicken, etc.) On the coasts – seafood is pretty good. New York-style pizza is heavenly.
I’ve made myself hungry and I’m rambling at this point, but I love to plan trips and I love to talk travel, so please keep asking questions. Good luck and have fun planning your trip!
I don’t have much advice, but yeah, it will be a lot of driving, so you may have to limit stops. I just got into the basic planning for a cross country road trip and we weren’t even traveling up and down the west coast (starting in CA and driving easy) and still figured the driving alone without counting spending any significant time at stops would take a week. But it sounds like so much fun; hope you write more as you plan.
Also, I have from the Seattle area and now live in LA, so obviously I highly recommend both! 🙂
I’m in DC… I’m happy to play (free!) tour guide and maybe even offer a place to stay. DC is easy to get around without a car and it’s supercheap to get from DC to NYC on a variety of bus options. Bolt Bus, Megabus, Greyhound, etc. If you’re city hopping the Northeast without a car, you should def do DC to NYC or NYC to DC. If you’re looking to do cheap accommodations, I’d look into couchsurfing… I think there’s a website somewhere? Email me?
I don’t have much advice as I’m not a traveler but I’ll put in my 2 cents.
First, try looking for flights on http://www.sidestep.com — I don’t know if it’s better than travelocity or expedia but it’s what my company uses to book flights and I’ve heard it’s the go-to site for some travel agencies.
I actually spent a month in the U.S. last year and I did the Greyhound thing. I was in Virginia (very cozy but not much to see) then I took a Greyhound bus from Washington, DC to New York. There are some SUPER cheap tickets if you book in advance on Greyhound from or to New York. It was about $20 for a 5 hour bus ride.
New York wasn’t really my thing. It was too busy (but what did I expect?) and the air quality is terrible. Whatever you do, don’t stay in the Lafayette Hostel. Unless you like disgustingly mouldy bathrooms?
Visit the NY public library main branch if you like architecture and/or libraries in general. It’s absolutely beautiful!!
Rhode Island isn’t on your list but I spent 2 days in Newport, Rhode Island and it was very quaint and the beach was beautiful. I highly recommend the Newport International Hostel (it’s the only hostel in Rhode Island) You’ll meet Merrilee the owner and she is awesome! She will make your stay 10x better!!
The other place I went to was Georgia and I loved it there but not much to see.. I took the scenic route home and did a 3-day Greyhound bus ride from Atlanta to Vancouver and I loved it. It’s probably not for everyone though.. most people can’t stand to be on the bus for more than a few hours 🙂
Oh, and I went in October of 2009 and it was beautiful and almost summer-like weather! Not sure if that’s the norm or if I got lucky.. Good luck planning!
My family LOVES to travel, and we always drive, never fly. So, here’s my advice. Go early autumn (think September), because you’ll miss the summer storms, winter ice, late freezes, and late storms.
Definitely rent a vehicle, because if you buy one that as cheap as it costs to rent, you may also be looking at some expensive repair costs. If you find a national rental agency, a lot of times you can just drop your car off at the last location you go to. If you have three weeks, though, you might consider (I love driving, so I’m probably biased) driving from the east side of the US to the west, north on the first trip, and then hit the southern states on the back trip.
As for eating, to stay budget friendly, I suggest packing a cooler when you get to the states. (Stay away from drive-throughs, unless you packed a treadmill.) Then, limit yourself to splurging on “Oh, that looks great!” meals only once or twice a week. Trust me; you’ll remember the experience longer than the food. I would say try sea food on the coasts, and stop for a steak when you get in Kansas (it really does taste the best there!).
Hotels are cheapest if you find a nice little town or suburb outside of the town you’re wanting to visit. Also, if you ask for the lowest rate they can give you when you actually go into the office, you’ll often get a better rate than over the phone.
Whee! If you do come here, I need to find a way to meet you! Somehow, someway! 🙂
I have no advice at all. But do rent a car because there’s a lot of driving to be done. And rent a car over anything else because our gas prices are out of this world.
yeah, come into Vancouver!
Air New Zealand did some cheap flights into Vancouver, from what I recall (I think I went to Australia via Auckland for $1300 return in 2009?)
Then you can take the Amtrak down to Seattle, then to Portland.
A drive down the coastal highway in Oregon is GORGEOUS.
Go west coast (sorry I am biased)!
Vegas would be so fun! If it’s a girls trip, all you have to do is dress up and you’ll get showered with free drinks (which might save you on entertainment costs!)
I got hit with the under 25 car rental thing when I did the Eastern Coast of Canada a few years ago. It was a big OUCH. Our 10 day road trip cost us about $3000-$5000 each!
Yeah, flying might be expensive. You might be able to get by cheaply with Allegient Air (flies from places like Bellingham- in between Seattle and Vancouver to Vegas for $40 one way on seat sales).
Okay, I’m not an expert but last summer I drove cross country twice (east to west coast then back).
Prepare for a lot of driving. Your best option is to rent a car. Don’t take a bus (you’ll hate it and Greyhound is sketchy). Flights between states are pricey. If you wanted to save a lot of time and driving you can get a single ticket between Vegas and New Orleans for $131 (USD) that would cut the boring driving out and save you days of time. Might be worth it. If you drove from Vancouver Canada or Seattle down to either LA or Vegas you could then catch a flight to New Orleans via Southwest. This would probably end up cheaper because you wouldn’t have to pay for food for two days and accommodations for the two to three days it takes to drive that distance. Plus it would make your trip a lot more fun because there is nothing at all entertaining or fun to do during that stretch (I’ve driven it way too many times).
So I would suggest starting in the Northwest (it’s beautiful and totally worth it), driving down the west coast (also fun), staying a few days in SF, a few days in LA (you can def do disneyland while you are there!), driving the four hours to Vegas and stay there one night or max two (Vegas isn’t that great). Then hop a plane to New Orleans! It’s a cool city and really fun at night, then I would suggest driving up to Nashville (also cool, very Southern, very country, very USA), then over to DC, then up to NYC, then Boston. Each of those cities deserve a couple days, especially NYC.
That hits a good amount of diverse cities and some really pretty parts of the country without the long boring flat dusty part in the middle. 😉
As far as budget, it depends on how much you want to drive a day, where you want to stay (obviously hostels are cheapest!). I would recommend booking places ahead of time. Then if your plans drastically change while you are on the road you can always call ahead and cancel and just be out a couple bucks. But generally it’s a lot better to research places and book ahead so you don’t end up somewhere at night searching for a place. That can ruin your budget fast and it’s overwhelming in a new place.
The food thing will be easy. There are grocery stores everywhere and you can stock up on cheap American food for the driving then eat lunch/dinner out when you want. It’s hard to explain budget for food because food costs drastically different amounts in different cities. You might pay twice as much (or more) to eat in some place like NYC than you would in the south. Big cites like that are fun but costly.
The good news is free sightseeing is everywhere and there is tons of it. The best is DC where all the museums and tons of things are free.
1. We budget $1000/each per city.
2. We stay in fairly cheap motels, Motel 6 if we can find them. If not, in NYC expect to pay at least $150 USD/night or more for a PASSABLE hotel. It’s ridiculous there.
3. We eat from grocery stores (sandwiches etc), and splurge on mini meals in special restaurants (special meaning $30 total not $30 a person) with food that we can’t find elsewhere
4. We take public transit. A lot. And we scout out free places to visit/see, and we try to optimize flights from one city to another rather than flying there, flying back, etc.
As far as cost/weather goes, I think late autumn would be best. The closer you get to winter, the less packed the touristy locations (like DC and NYC) will be. Plus, our autumn in Tennessee is so hot at the beginning that you’re better off waiting until late October. Ah, I love genuine fall weather. 😀 And you’d get to see the beautiful leaves change colors in the Northeast. It’s my favorite time of year!
You absolutely MUST (must) include a drive down California’s Highway 101 Coast (preferably in early autumn.) Or, if you don’t have time for the whole coast, at least make time for Big Sur which is the main highlight–ocean cliffs, towering trees, cozy woodsy motels, and one of the best restaurants ever (Nepenthe.)
My husband and I made this trek (starting in Seattle) and it rivals some of our best vacation experiences. Have an amazing trip!
Without reading everyone else’s advice, here are some thoughts. I’m sorry if I’m reiterating.
1. Rent a car. Keep checking around for the best deals. A lot of rental car businesses offer discounts for extended rentals. If you are driving from West to East coast, plan at least $1,000 for gas.
2. Hostels are the way to go if you’re in SF, LA, Seattle, Oregon, NYC, Chicago and D.C. (I saw that Chicago is not on your list, but trust me, you would not be disappointed. Also, definitely skip Texas but do not skip Colorado.). There are a lot of cheap hotels in Vegas.
3. If you are traveling through the Southwest states (Nevada, Arizona, etc.) and through the middle states (Nebraska, Kansas, etc.) remember that you will drive for miles – sometimes 100 – without seeing a single house, town, or anything but plains. Make sure you have enough gas; it’s not a place you want to break down.
4. Almost every state in America will have great weather in the early fall, and prices will be down since summer travel will be over. Best time to see the East coast is in October. The leaves’ changing colors are breath-taking.
5. Plan to spend a lot of money to eat out in SF, LA, NYC, Chicago and Boston. The smaller states aren’t as outrageously priced, but sales tax is really high in some states, notably in Seattle and Oregon.
Hope everyone’s advice helps!
[…] first, I quickly wanted to say a humongous THANKS – I am so overwhelmed, both for all your tips and advice, and psyched to hopefully put some faces to bloggers. You’ve given me lots to think about, […]
So much to say, hmmm, where to start. I would think to be able to fit the most in, it would be best to do a drive around the west coast, then fly to the east coast where you can get around to most of the cities pretty easily by train or bus and wouldn’t need a car (although that sort of skips over New Orleans). To echo the other commenters, fall would be a great time to come. And no, you don’t need to make accommodations in advance, unless you want to stay in a nice hotel or somewhere unique. Most of them you can just walk into. I’m in Arizona, if you make it this way I’d be happy to give you some recommendations!
[…] Island. But as I’ve said, the current plan is to focus more on one of the two big trips, America and Europe. We agree the South Island can be done anytime, really, and will be much cheaper than, […]
Woaaaah buddy. Chiming in from North Carolina, I’d say you have to stop through here but honestly it’s probably not a necessity. As far as sight-seeing in my great state, Asheville, North Carolina pretty much tops the list. There’s a HUGE MANSION there that is absolutely gorgeous (in some movies) and it’s up in the Appalachian mountains. If you’re going to drive from New Orleans to DC anyways — might as well stop there!
If you’re interested in seeing an up-and-coming “average-sized” American city though, feel free to stop by Raleigh, North Carolina. I promise an amazing guided tour by yours truly 🙂 I don’t know about sight-seeing here, but it’s pretty much my absolute favorite city and I’ve been all over the world.
I could go on and on… email me if you want more advice!
Must sees: New Mexico (anywhere. it’s all amazing. just drive through it at least). New York City. DC. Disneyworld in Orlando (if you want theme parks, this is probably the best, plus your’e so close to the beach and south Florida is warm ALL YEAR YOUND). Boston. I’d skip LA personally. Skip Georgia. Skip South Carolina.
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