Right now I am planning an epic US road trip and, just like the weeks leading up to our trip to India, it is slowly taking over my life. There is so much to think about and excitement levels are high. I can’t stop myself from doing research, reading blog posts, working out budgets and coming up with new routes and ideas to make this a proper adventure.
Though I have the advantage of doing similar road-trips in America this one seems huge. Previously we used greyhound busses to get round the East Coast and two years ago we spent new year driving around West Coast with two of our best buddies. Despite this knowledge, just like India I have once again booked a trip enthusiastically without really considering the practicality.
So, just in case you are planning a similar adventure, I thought I would share some of the planning process with you:
Picking your route
Our route for this trip has changed what seems like a billion times, each one just as ambitious as the next. Our original plan was to head from LA to Canada so we could enjoy both sunshine and snow but unfortunately the accommodation prices in the snowboarding resorts had skyrocketed over the festive period and were way over our budget.
There were also issues with taking the car across the border so we decide to stay in the USA. Though we would only be in one country this has not made our trip any less ambitious and our final route is as follows;
LA – Phoenix – Tuscon – El Paso – Austin – New Orleans (Christmas) – Memphis – Nashville (New Year) – Oklahoma City – Albuquerque – Zion – Yosemite – Las Vegas – San Francisco – Big Sur – Santa Barabara – LA.
To help work out routes and places to stop I rely on blog, forums, and I also Google “place to stop between A-B” which often brings up some great travel forum posts from truckers or bikers who do the routes regularly.
Getting Your Paperwork Sorted
I hate holiday admin but just like I stressed in my New York planning post when visiting America check your visa requirements.
Most people need an ESTA as part of the visa waver programme, more often than not applications are accepted straight away but it is worth applying a few weeks before your trip just in case there are any hold ups.
If you are not from a country that is part of the Visa Waiver Programme (or have visited certain countries on previous trips) you may have to apply for a separate visa.
Insurance is super important when in The States, not only to protect your belongings but also yourself. I know from personal experience how important comprehensive insurance is. Pablo and I were beaten up and mugged in Orlando and were so grateful that we had splashed out on a decent policy because health care in the US is unbelievably expensive and without insurance we would not have been treated.
Due to the American credit card culture you do not need to get money for the entirety of your trip, however, it is handy to have some cash for tolls, tips, and unexpected expenses.
I hate booking accommodation in advance as I prefer spontaneity, however with a limited amount of time, a tight schedule and visiting during the busy holiday period I have had to give in and get booking.
Booking 17 places has not been an easy task but with a mixture of Booking.com and Airbnb we have managed it! The reason I use these two particular services is that Booking.com has a free cancellation policy on most of their hotels meaning that I don’t feel too constrained and can change my mind if I want to. Airbnb is hit and miss with a lot of people but it is still my favourite way to travel as I love feeling like a local to get to know a place.
Flights – I have an air miles credit card and am such an outrageous spender that I have collected enough miles to pay for my flights meaning that I only had to cover the taxes (which cost me £300 return). You can get some amazingly reasonably flights to LA now so my advice is to shop around. I usually go Virgin or BA, however Norwegian, Thomas Cook and Air New Zealand have had some great prices recently.
For any good road trip you need a decent ride. If I had my way I would do the entire trip on a motorbike, but without a license that’s a future plan – so this time we are once again going by four wheels!
Do your research when it comes to car rental; there are very specific terms and conditions so make sure that they suit your needs. Also, don’t expect to get the car that you have booked. Cars in America come in classes so even though the description says “Rav 4” you may get something of the same specs but a different brand depending what is in stock. Most companies will also take a holding fee when you pick up the car so make sure you have plenty of space on your card.
If the cost of a car is too much for your budget on two occasions I have taken Greyhounds and Megabuses around America. They take a long time, are not glamorous, you meet a load of quirky characters but they get you from A-B and are super cheap.
I have to be organised at work so the last thing I want to do when I get home is admin but when you are planning an epic road-trip you have to find a way to stay organised. Pablo loves organising so has created a colour coded spreadsheet which documents places, drive times, accommodation and costs. Which I have to admit has been super useful for turning my crazy dream into an achievable reality.
Don’t forget the fun
Planning can be stressful and mind boggling but don’t forget that holidays are meant to be fun. This is my favourite part of holiday planning. I understand that the details HAVE to be done but my priority is finding weird and wonderful activities and things to see. I use Pinterest, blogs, ask Twitter, Instagram, and search engines to create my plan of action. I used to try and be crazy organised with a minute by minute schedule but that never worked out well so now instead I have a list of cool things to see and places to eat then, if we can’t find anything, we have options.
Do it as a team
If you are planning a trip with someone else don’t forget it is their holiday too, so work together so you can both have the best trip possible. Also, you can utilise each others skills: Pablo is not an ideas person but is brilliant at putting mine into an actual plan. If I was left in charge our trip would quickly descend into chaos.
Leave it to the experts
If all this seams too much why not look into companies such as Trek America who can handle all the stress for you.
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this is perfect, actually planning to do a road-trip in california around feb-march, so thank you for your insight! your route sounds amazing, can’t wait for your report!
Amazing! I really hope that you find it useful