Hi there, we completed our first ever trip to the states last October. We are from England and when we first started planning it seemed a bit daunting, so I am hoping this thread may help people like ourselves. I don't know if there's a "right" or "wrong" way to go about it, but this is how we started and it worked for us.
First of all we answered the Who, What, Where, How and When questions.
First of all, who's going, have you young children or elderly parents to consider?
For us this was 4 adults, my wife and I plus our son and his fiancee, so no problems there. However if you have youngsters do not limit yourself to theme parks [unless of course it's by choice]as kids have great imaginations that just need igniting, and the National parks are wonderful adventure playgrounds for them.[with certain precautions]
The same goes for the elderly, we found the NP's easier to get around than the City's. You don't have to go hiking to enjoy them, [although best where possible] they have very efficient and clean, free shuttle buses to take you to places of interest throughout the parks. If you fancy a walk/hike but not all of you can, there are rest areas with cafe's where your travelling companions can have a rest and drink while you take off for a while.
What were our common interests? It's important to know you have some!! Lol.
It was easy for us as we all agreed that our trip was to be based on mainly visiting the natural wonders, and to take in a couple of Cities along the way.
This is where you may need to research by way of maps, travel books or Internet to find the area of interest to you, on which to base your trip. We already knew that we wanted to visit the Grand canyon, it was a must.
Now that there was somewhere to build from I took an area from around the Grand canyon and looked at possible places to fly into, this stretched from Denver to Phoenix to Los Angeles to San Fran and Salt lake city, a mighty large area ! I then started researching places of interest within that area. This is where it gets tough, there is just so much to see and do, but one by one I picked "must do's" and lost other fantastic places to "another day" list.
Yosemite quickly became another "must do" for us, and not being a "City fan," but always loved the thought of San francisco [mainly to due to old movies, tv series etc] and Alcatraz, it seemed a good place to start and finish. Once again I was removing places off the list that I really didn't want to until I was left with the biggest decision, LA and the coastal highway, [I love the sea] or more time in the parks, desert and visit the giant sequoias. As I said earlier, I'm not a "City person" and as we had time in San fran and Las vegas, it was LA and the coast off the list. Dropping the coastal route was tough, but I felt that as I live on an Island surrounded by beautifull coastline, with no desert or giant trees, I'll have to live with it, Lol.
How are we to get around? Once again this was easy for us as we love "camping" at home. As we were "on the go" most of the trip we really didn't fancy putting up a tent in the dark and packing it up each morning and then trying to get it all in a car with 4 adults and numerous suitcases, so it was an RV for us, no hesitation.
If you are considering an RV for cost and nothing else, my advice is don't. The cost of 4 adults sharing an R.V isn't a lot cheaper than cheap lodging, although you can't get "cheap" lodging in a National park, however you can park up for the night for around $20 in an RV. The rental, mileage and fuel costs are much higher than a car and the more miles you clock up, the higher the cost for the RV. As I say, I wouldn't do it for cost, but if it's the "lifestyle" of an RV you're after then it's truly fantastic. They are not like the European campers, you have everything you need, including heating, lots of hot water, fridge freezers, showers and most have an electric push button start generator for when you have no hook ups. The campgrounds we visited also had a table and bench, fire ring and bbq grill on each pitch, great for those nights under the stars! Still unsure?
RV v's car
An RV will be slower to get around in, so you will need to add time to those mapping systems with travel times, unlike a car you won't be able to "make up time" if your falling behind schedule. If you have no experience with a larger vehicle it could seem daunting to start with, but a competent driver should soon get the feel of it, don't push to far in your first couple of days though . It is a courtesy to pull over into turn outs in an RV on mountain passes etc if you are holding up traffic behind you, in a busy period this could soak up some more time. During peak season viewpoints maybe busy and an RV isn't as easy to slot in somewhere as a car, but parking and access wasn't an issue when we visited.
So basically it's not as nimble as a car, no surprises there then!!
Once you have your RV for a couple of nights it becomes very familiar and easy to find storage and get everthing unpacked and stored, a quick visit to the shops and stock up the cupboards and your set. There is no lugging suitcases in and out like staying in hotels, you're already in it! Your "Hotel on wheels" has everything you need and in some cases a small "garden" with access to swimming pools etc, and in others a forest surrounded by mountain peaks. I know, hotels can offer this, but somehow it doesn't offer it the same. Just like your "restauraunt on wheels", somehow the air is fresher and the views are better, you can even choose your own view when and where you want, lol! For me there is something special about sitting around the camp fire under the stars having good quality family time.
Even having to go to the "dump station" to empty the tanks was'nt the ordeal I thought it would be. They are very clean and it is a relatively simple task, and one well worth doing if it means avoiding some of the parks "pit" toilets, yuk! Although the camp site toilets are very clean that we came across and used these for number 2's, if you know what i mean, ha!ha!
As I said earlier, cost should be your last consideration to make. Driving and living in an RV compared to whether you like the creature comforts of a hotel are far more important to the enjoyment of your holiday. For instance, it would get cheaper if 6 people were to share the cost of an RV, but if it's not your style of being cooped up together, along with all trying to get washed and fed in the morning in a small space does'nt appeal to you then maybe the "sanctuary" of your own room each night in a hotel becomes appealing.
Now that we had the trip coming together we needed to decide what time of year would best suit us and our trip. Winter was'nt an option and summer quickly came of the list as were not keen on crowds or heat, we wanted to do some walking, so we were left with Spring or Fall. The decision pretty much came down to Yosemite, do we see the waterfalls in spring from the valley floor, but not the highground due to road closures because of snow or the highground when the Falls are dry . We really wanted to go up to Glacier point and cross the Sierra mountains over Tioga pass to save a big diversion as well as explore this area, the decision was made, we will visit in the Fall.
The main benefit of visiting this time of year is that the crowds have gone, the campgrounds are very peacefull and there are some lovely fall colours. The days are generally dry and warm with blue skys, we loved it. The only downsides [and thats only if it bothers you] are colder evenings and shorter days. The cold isn't like in England, it's dry and crisp, not damp. With the shorter daylight it can actually turn out to be an advantage with a busy schedule. Why? Well you can witness a grand sunset, return to your RV have a meal and a chat around the camp fire and still be in bed by 10pm, ready for an early sunrise!
Budgeting and planning
Now that we had that sorted we needed to put it into place, so where do we start? We didn't have limitless funds, but as a "once in a lifetime trip" we didn't want to be to restricted. We got an idea of the exchange rates, cost of flights and searched the San Francisco area for an RV company. Now as we had started planning this in July/August, and had decided not to visit in the Spring it gave us lots of time to book and organise the trip the following october.
We found a suitable rental company that was the cheapest qoute and we felt offered the most personal service, we contacted them and after a couple of e mails sent a deposit to book the RV.
When looking at costs be sure to add all the extras up before booking. What looks to be a good deal can quickly turn into a poor one. You should be looking for the following extras: I nsurance waiver, extra mileage charge, preparation costs[cleaning etc], bedding kits, kitchen kits, generator use and pick up/drop of charges.
We saved aprox$300compared to the next rental company at that time.
We then started keeping an eye on the cost of flights for our journey through different companys. The best we had costed were aprox £1,900 for the 4 of us. On the run up to christmas the prices came down and after a bit of searching i managed to book us all for £1,520,£380 less.
I believe that when we first booked the £ would buy about $1.8. Now it doesn't seem much, but during the next 12 months everytime the exchange rate touched close to or [as it turned out]above $2 to £1 we bought either currency or travellers cheques. This turned out to give us $8000 as opposed to $7200 from our original budget. Although the original difference in exchange rates would have given us an extra $800 in reality while we were on holiday,if we used our credit card the bank gave us $1.92 to the pound, but still a difference of $320.
Total saved $1350. not bad when I havn't left the computer desk, lol!
I didn't realise how much there was to cover and, well I'm going on a bit now, but I just thought there maybe some ideas/money saving tips you can pick out from that lo, t that may help your trip.
Heres how it turned out.
san fran hotel $600 [2 rooms,4 people for 4 nights]
rv rental $2400
aprox fuel $1000/ miles travelled 2870/ mpg 9.5/ fuel cost $3.3 aprox
camp site fees $375 15 nights @ $25 aprox
Total for 4 adults $7295. aprox £3800 plus spending/eating and incidentals like park fees.[ If you are visiting several parks it will be cheaper to get an annual parks pass, available at the entrances or N.P shops.]
Of course when you have a good idea of what you want post it up on these great forums and let these helpfull guys 'n gals help and advise you on how to get your trip spot on!
You can see how our trip turned out right here.
Have a good one!!!!!!
Last edited by Southwest Dave; 08-11-2010 at 03:30 PM.
Reason: General tidying
Another excellent post -- thanks much!
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