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  1. Default Londoner needs help with West Coast trip!

    Hi all,

    Just found this forum through google and really like what I see. A lot of good advice and friendly help provided.

    I'm from London, England, and am in the process of planning a road trip down the West Coast from Vancouver to Phoenix with 2 friends of mine. I just wanted to get some advice from you guys as to how long you think that would take and what we should see on the way.

    The main "big" cities that we want to visit are Seattle, San Fransisco, LA, Vegas and Phoenix, via the Grand Canyon. But we're open to discovering as much as possible. We're thinking that it will take us 6 weeks to get it all in and not completely rush it. Is that realistic?

    We're obviously going to have to hire cars, and was just wondering if it would be cheaper and more sensible to hire different ones from city to city, or just one for the whole journey?

    We're thinking of bringing about $4000 each and that is to cover everything except flights to and from the states. Again, is that a ridiculous amount to bring, or drastically little?

    As you can probably tell, we're all complete novices to this, but we are all ridiculously excited and just need a nudge in the right direction as to things to see and places to visit.

    Any help/advice/comments would be hugely appreciated.

    Many thanks!


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Western/Central Massachusetts

    Default Time is money

    Welcome to the RoadTrip America Forum!

    That actually sounds like more than enough of a budget for everyone to have - better to have too much than not enough. Lodging can eat up a good chunk of any budget, no matter what you choose for accomodations, but I would definitely not call that amount drastically little - $12,000 for 3 people for 6 weeks - you should have plenty left over.

    The car hire is something I will leave to someone else, though I do know that many rental agencies charge extra for one-way rentals, if they even allow it. One possibility is to look into intermodal transportation - mix up the car rental with bus and/or trains.

    It also is good amount of time to see everything that you want to. There are many great things to see in the West, though if it was me I'd somehow fit Utah into that trip.
    Last edited by Mass Tim; 09-28-2006 at 05:33 AM. Reason: added greeting

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default Car Rentals

    Renting a car for your entire trip will be much cheaper than renting from city to city. The long term rental will allow you to take advantage of long term rental rates, and will leave you with just one "drop fee" that comes with every one way rental.

    One area you will likely face a challenge it renting a car in Canada and dropping it off in the US. I suspect you may have to explore Vancouver, and find transportation across the border, and then pick up a rental car in Washington.

  4. Default What time of year are you planning on traveling?

    Hello Jamie

    What time of year are you planning on traveling? If its spring/summer/fall you might consider doing a bit of camping along the way. Camping can get you into some places that can't be enjoyed as well as from hotels, and I think you might get a better feel of the western US through it. It also is substantially less expensive than hotels.

    Six weeks is definitely enough time to really explore the western US. Depending upon time constraints and personal preferences, you could do it in something less I'd guess -- but you'd be bypassing some things. For example, with 6 weeks you could spend a week in BC from Vancouver -- go up to Jasper and Baniff and then cycle south through Yellowstone, and then back to the Pacific at Seattle, then Olympic National Park, down the coast to Portland, Oregon Coast, Redwoods, Crater Lake, Mt Shasta/ Mt Lassen, Reno/Tahoe, California Gold Country, Yosemite, back west to California's Napa Valley, SF, down through Monterey/ Carmel, thru Big Sur to Santa Barbara, LA, SD, then east through the desert (Anza Borrego, Salton Sea) to Tucson, Saguaro National Park, up to Petrified Forest National Park, Grand Canyon, then Phoenix. That's a rather meandering route -- and still misses Las Vegas, Death Valley, Monument Valley or any of the places to see in Utah like Bryce and Zion.

    I'd suggest getting together with your co travelers and a map and putting push pens or coloring with highlighters on the places you'd like to visit. This lets you do a connect-the-dots exercise to lay out a route, meandering or not. Then I'd use something like or or the maps at Yahoo to estimate the drive time between places (which doesn't include stops for gas, meals, biological breaks, sightseeing etc.). Then you can start roughing out a preliminary itenerary, and I think the board can help you fill in some of the other places along the way which might be cool to stop at. You can also estimate how many nights in what town you'd be staying in, or if you'd be camping some nights. And I'd lay in some extra time to just kick back somewhere and enjoy the area or get out and do something other than drive -- hiking, exploring a city, relaxing at beach somewhere, etc. (You'll also want a day every week or so for chores and miscellaneous -- running your clothes through a laundromat, buying those important things you always forget, hitting up a grocery store to refill the ice chest, sending emails home, etc.) The rough itenerary also will help with budgeting as you'll have a rough path and schedule to price. And then you can fuss with it until it feels about right for all of you.

  5. #5

    Default Bringing over the budget

    While I assume you're probably referring to Traveller's Cheques, there are several other options if you have a Debit card tied to an account at home. Then you cn draw out a week or so at a time, and use either ATM machines, or walk into a bank and ask for a Cash Advance on the card. (Our banks don't necessarily have weekend hours, but there are ATM machines everywhere.) If its a debit card, there should be no fees for the service from the issuing bank. Check with your bank or CU about their polices. Often the exchange rate via the card is highly favorable.

    Most common cards here: Visa, Master Card, American Express. Cheers. -ttm

  6. #6

    Default Accommodation & the desert

    Myself and the Missus did 3 weeks around California & Nevada and found that picking up coupon books from the freeway service stations was a pretty good way to make savings if you are planning one night stops. We did our travelling around march and prebooking accommodation was never an issue.

  7. #7



    Well I am UK-based, but Californian and I have a thread here about one-way car rental. That was the one thing of my trip stressing me the most. My thread is here -- so that may give you some ideas on car rental - one way costs. The variety of one-way drop off fees was outrageous. I am paying 300 dollars which is fair enough, I guess. Some were charging like 700 so watch that.

    If you can do it less than a month - that's helpful. My trip is longer so costing me 2100 or so (and I am probably gonna have to add on a few days).

    Sounds like a blast of a trip and you've got the benefit of having a super exchange rate right now (me too) yay us.


    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 10-11-2006 at 08:58 AM. Reason: removed the extra white space

  8. Default Cash cards and advances

    I just went back and re-read the section about using traveler's checks, or how to bring the money needed for the trip.

    In general in the US, you should be able to use a UK-based ATM card to draw from your UK account. I know I've used my ATM card all over Europe, and have been surprized at how easy it has been to get local currency by just sticking my card in a ATM machine and getting cash directly out of my account. (And that's from a small local bank here in California.) There are major international ATM networks, and I'd suspect as long as your local bank is a member of the network, you should be able to use your ATM card in the US without any problem. Look on the back of it and it should list the networks your bank belongs to. For example, the back of my card shows I can access my account through the Maestro, Network Co-op, Cirrus, and Star banking networks. Another big network is the Plus Network.

    Star, whose access is at this web page, covers the entire US with around a half million ATMs

    Cirrus is a worldwide interbank network linking MasterCard, Maestro, Diners Club credit, debit and prepaid cards to over 900,000 ATMs in 210 countries. This can provide access directly from the US to your local account or a debit account in the UK.

    "Network Co-op" links 25,000 Credit Unions so you can access, deposit and withdraw funds from your account through any of the ATMs or branches of these Credit Unions. There are international links, but I'm not sure of the extent of those.

    Plus Network lets you get cash and other services from more than one million Visa ATMs in more than 160 countries. The Visa global ATM network encompasses PLUS, Visa's global mark for ATMs.

    The biggest advantage of exchanging money with your ATM card is that all cash withdrawals, regardless of size, are exchanged based on the wholesale exchange rate, which is usually reserved only for very large interbank exchanges. This rate is often 2 to 10% better than what you can get from exchanging traveler's checks at a local exchange counter. In general in the US, it is sometimes difficult to exchange foreign currencies to US dollars, unless it is done in person at a bank. There are very few exchange counters, other than in the airports in the international flights wing (where you pay outrageous exchange rates). Now, using an ATM to access your account will probably add on a transaction fee -- typically I've seen from $0.50 to $3.00. But if you use a local bank to exchange funds, they'll add on anything from 2-10% and give you a much less favorable exchange rate to boot.

    My recommendation would be in 3 or 4 parts:

    1) Bring your local credit card, particularly if is a MasterCard or Visa or DinersClub or Maestro or American Express or other major brand. You can get cash advances on it from most hotels or banks if needed. You will also get charged as noted above at about the best exchange rate, and you'll only need to pay this in pounds when you get home.

    2) Brink your local ATM card, after checking that is a member of one of the major international networks. If you need to, you can probably get your local bank to ensure that your account is linked to one of these networks. This will allow you to access your account at just about any bank or ATM in the US -- again with the best exchange rates. This will allow you to get cash advances in US dollars as needed, so you aren't burdened with carrying around a lot of cash. Check the back of your card for these. You might also have a combo credit and ATM card.

    3) You might bring some travelers checks as emergency money. Citibank, Barclay's and American Express are all fairly common traveler's check names here in the US.

    Travelers checks work in the US, particularly at large locations. I've had small gas stations and out of the way places balk at taking travelers checks, as it means they have to go find a bank and cash it to get their funds. (Some places won't take out of town checks, or traveler's checks at all, because of the hassle). But they'll take credit cards (MasterCard, Visa, American Express, etc.).

    4) and Lastly -- when you land at the airport, you might get some dollars at the horrible exchange rates they charge there, just for the first taxi ride. That's what I do in Europe. (You could probably use a credit card in most taxi's -- most have a means to use a credit card to pay if you ask the driver. If you're going to a rental car company or courtesy shuttle bus, you probably don't even need to do this.) But I'd get some walking-around money from an ATM fairly quickly -- find a bank branch and do that. I'm sure there are ATMs at the airport, but unless they have the name of a major bank on it, they're probably independents who charge a fairly high transaction fee to use the machine (typically $3-5 per transaction).

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default State Welcome Centers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ciaran K View Post
    Myself and the Missus did 3 weeks around California & Nevada and found that picking up coupon books from the freeway service stations
    Were these the state welcome centers found near the state lines on Interstate highways? We have long recommended those coupons --- but I wasn't sure what you meant by freeway service stations. Welcome to the Great American RoadTrip Forum. What did you like the most about your trip? What were the biggest surprises?


  10. #10


    We found these coupon books in several types of locations including state tourist information offices, motel lobbies, etc. The joy is that they are broken down into town by town which make skim reading pretty easy as well as giving a good indication of what's available up ahead and where in town to find it. Service stations are more of a UK term for a group of restaurants and a gas station located just off a freeway.

    Just to give a brief overview our 20 day trip in March 04, to gauge route & distance.
    We landed in LA and pretty much drove on a daily basis. Stops were Joshua Tree national park, Las Vegas, Winchester NV & the Grand Canyon, then up to Death Valley & Beatty, west to Yosemite but via Bakersfield as the mountain pass was closed. Then on to Napa for something a bit more sedate. On towards the coast north of SF and stopped in Bolinas (after we found it). Stopped in San Francisco for the weekend and then follows the coast road all the way down to LA before flying back out.

    For me the biggest highlights were the deserts - Joshua tree with all those rock and boulder formations, Mojave, the rolling hills along the old route 66 in Arizona and Death Valley of course. They variation is incredible as well as the scale.
    We drove into Death Valley to a view of rain showers. The colours are absolutely fantastic and the following day you get all these flowers blooming. A short walk up Golden Gulch (I believe) really showed off the layers of colours. As we drove west we drove down from the hills to see a big plain with the Sierra Nevadas in the distance. The scale of things can be difficult to comprehend when coming from a small island country.

    Yosimite is pretty everything you'd expect to see and more. I'd recommend driving in the southern route from Oakhurst where you come through the tunnel to be greeted by a vista of El Capitan & Half Dome up along the valley.

    Another highlight was the cross-country trip from twentynine Palms to Vegas driving through places like Amboy, Kelso (an abandoned rail town) & Cima was pretty cool. You should try it with the soundtrack to “Paris, Texas” on in the background. Amboy is one of those places where you could imagine yourself stuck without a passer-by for days.

    The biggest surprise, ...well that was never getting fed up with driving or living out of a suit case from day to day. It was the best choice for a honeymoon we could have made.
    Also walking into a bar in a little place called Chloride in AZ to have clients telling us all about the new smoking ban back home in Ireland that week.

    Our biggest pluss was we only had a loose idea of where we wanted to go and so had total freedom on where to go or if we wanted to stay.

    I’m about to book flights for a week trip over in February so I’ll probably be looking for a few pointers on a good route for 5 or 6 days.

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