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  1. Default Another trip: 4 weeks Oct-Nov, Baltimore to LA through the South

    Hi!
    I'm about to finish off my 1-year stay in the US with a legendary road trip, and am posting it here in hopes of getting tips and advice on what I've thought up (and more importantly on what I haven't thought of). Together with a friend from back home, I'll leave Baltimore on the 15th of October in my trusty Corolla, which I plan to sell in LA and then fly back on November 14th.
    First off, our intentions for the trip. Given that neither of us are residents in the US, we're working under the assumption that we won't get to do anything like this for a looong time. Thus, we're hoping to catch as many must-sees as we can along the way. I'd evaluate our preference for nature/cities as perhaps 65/35%. Neither of us has been in the areas we'll visit before. We're both young and ready for truck stops, camping, talking to strangers etc. We don't have a strict budget, because we won't want to miss anything just to save money, but we are going to keep costs as low as possible otherwise (again, sleeping in the car, camping...). We'd like to get off the highway when we can, but also realize that more highway hours will give us more hours at sights. We're definitely embracing the 'freedom' aspect of the road trip, so all else being equal we'd prefer not to plan more than necessary.

    Just as a disclaimer, I've been reading things online about the road trip, so I believe I'm clear on things like staying hydrated, being careful of fatigue, packing a cooler with food, having my car checked before I leave etc.

    With that out of the way, here's the rough plan: Highway from Bmore to DC; I've seen it, friend hasn't, so spend a day just glimpsing the National Mall. West on I-66 then Southwest along the Appalachians: Skyline Drive then Blue Ridge parkway, ending at Great Smoky Mountain NP. Head up the Knoxville and highway it to Nashville, which we might spend most of a day taking in. Natchez-Trace Parkway down to Tulepo, then double back up to catch Memphis for perhaps a day. Thence cruise down highway 61 (what else), taking in the blues country. Only planned stop is Natchez for mansions. Continue to New Orleans, where we'll spend a couple of days for sure, then zoom west to Houston. We have a party to attend there on the 31st, so that's our first deadline. After the party we'll head out as soon as we're sober enough, and basically haul ass through the desert. Either straight I-10 or veer off to check out Austin, with no other stops planned before we reach Las Cruces in New Mexico. Check out White Sands then keep going west to Saguaro NP and Tucson, up to Phoenix then Flagstaff and Grand Canyon, making sure to catch the Sedona drive on the way. From there's it's past the Hoover dam to Vegas, where we again spend a couple of days, then on to LA via Death Valley. Hopefully we'll have something like 5-7 days left at this point, in which case we'll do some trips from LA to Sequoia NP, up the pacific highway 1 and maybe south to San Diego. Depends on our timing though.

    So that's the rough plan, which is very much open to impulsiveness. It's my first big road trip, and new territory, so I can't say for sure, but I think this should be doable. When there's nothing we really want to see, drive hard on highways, and then enough time to relax a little at the 'destinations' while obviously not getting the full experience (could spend a week in DC alone...). Very rough timetable would be to hit New Orleans around the 26th, Houston the 31st, Vegas around the 5th, and LA around the 8th.

    Aside from requesting general tips and advice, I have a couple of specific questions:
    1. We've obviously left lodging very open. I'm thinking we'll wing it: camp if we can, sleep in the car if we have to, preferably at a truck stop. Get a motel if there's nowhere to camp or park, and in a few places get a hotel (Vegas, maybe New Orleans) or a B&B. Does this seem reasonable?
    2. On a related note, how much do we need to plan our camping spots? I've heard you can generally camp in national parks, and just from googling the sites don't seem to be filling up too much. How difficult would it be to camp outside designated sites?
    3. Any areas in particular where we'd do well to get off the highways? And conversely, places where we can really just zoom through to save time?


    Big thanks in advance for all your help! And I'm sure I'll be back with a few more questions before we leave.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
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    Green County, Wisconsin
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    13,063

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    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    I think you've got a very nice rough outline for your trip plan and you've done a nice job starting your planning.

    One thing you should know about your plan to sell your car in California is that CA has very strict smog laws, and if your car doesn't pass, it may be impossible to get rid of it for any price. Obviously, you'll also be getting a very low, wholesale, price if you try to sell it at a dealer (carmax), however, without being from LA and with your limited time there, it may be difficult to get rid of it any other way.

    For camping/sleeping, I'd be very wary of a plan to spend much time sleeping in the car. Simply put, I know of very few cars where one person can sleep comfortably, much less two people. If you're not actually getting good rest, then "free parking" could end up costing you a lot in terms of enjoying yourselves.

    Camping at national parks in particular can fill up quickly, but there are usually some "first come first served" options. There are also often private campgrounds, state parks, or other federal lands (national forests, blm, etc) that may have camping options. There are places in some national forest land where "dispersed camping" where you set up a space in the middle of the wood, with no designated site or services, is allowed, however you need to find out where its allowed first, because of that, that kind of camping can be quite a bit more time consuming.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
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    10,748

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    You might want to consider going to Sequoia and then the PCH before settling into the urban sprawl of LA, as they are both really more than day trips to see the best of them while having to contend with the traffic congestion.

  4. #4

    Default Some thoughts about camping/car-sleeping

    Hello solarhaphaeriom,

    I wholeheartedly agree with Midwest Michael on the matter of selling your car in CA and would think that aspect of your trip bears thorough investigation before you make further assumptions.

    I also can offer some information concerning camping and truck stops. First, the truck stops:

    While it's true one can generally park overnight at a truck stop and grab a sleepover (while being sure to purchase fuel, a shower, or something, and asking where they'd like you to park), truck stops are very busy, noisy places 24/7. Practically all truck stops feature dozens to over a hundred big, loud diesel engines idling all night, with dozens more entering and exiting every hour. Combining that with the general difficulty of getting comfortable in a reclined car seat and the outcome is likely very poor night's sleep, with the effects compounding rapidly after a couple or three nights of that type.

    What I'd consider is an inexpensive dome-style tent coupled with a good foam sleeping pad and a cheap sleeping bag + light blanket. I'd pair that with a Woodall's campground guide (or similar publication) and I'd augment that with some other guidebook which would cover National FOREST (emphasis intended) campgrounds and/or state and local park campgrounds. The Woodalls is good for commercial campgrounds and importantly tells you which of them encourages, or even allows, tenters, and furthermore what kind of facilities they offer. Maps and telephone numbers to call ahead and book a spot are included.

    Once you get out of TX and into NM, AZ, NV, and CA, you'll find that practically every fully or semi-forested mountain range is a component of the National Forest (NF) system. NFs are designated as multiple-use areas so are liberally sprinkled with campgrounds. Be advised that the great, great majority of NF campgrounds are primitive, meaning that typically only water, an outhouse (vault toilet), and perhaps a picnic table are provided. The advantage is that they're everywhere and cheap--somewhere between free and $6-$10/night as compared to $15-$25/night for a space at a commercial campground. It is entirely possible to roughly plan a route which would bring you close to NF campgrounds without being way out of your intended path, and as long as you're prepared to do some rudimentary outdoor meal prep and taking solar showers, it's a fine way to travel.

    Quick notes concerning Oct-Nov travel/camping in general: The Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway can be quite cold by then. Expect it to be 15-20 degrees F colder than in Baltimore. Also check ahead as to camping in National PARK (emphasis intended) campgrounds along the SD and BRP, as in mid-October, they'll be full to overflowing with "leaf-peepers" and in November, many will be closed. Also be advised of the proximity of the George Washington NF, Jefferson NF, Pisgah NF, Cherokee NF, and other NF and state parks to the SD and BRP. Generally speaking, October and November are hunting seasons in VA and NC, so one might encounter groups of hunters in NF campgrounds at any time. Similarly, hunting season in the NM, AZ, NV, and CA NF campground areas might bring some seasonal crowds out there.

    All in all, a nice idea and plan is being considered by you and your friend. I hope it all works out well for you.

    Foy

  5. Default

    Sounds like sleeping in the car should only be done when we have no other option; personally I'm mostly for camping anyway, but I figured there might be times when this wasn't likely to work. I've done a trial of sleeping in the car, so I know that it's doable but not too comfortable.
    I'll be sure to check out the campsites in the Appalachians to make sure they're not already completely full; Foy: What you're describing for the National Forest campsites sounds right up our alley. One question: it seems like we should get this pass for the national parks, will this cover the forests as well?

    I guess I should have elaborated on the car sale a little bit: I've put the car up on Craigslist and Vehix, and have been talking to several interested buyers already, letting them know the score. I'm selling for about $1000 under blue book value, which seems fine given the circumstances. For Dave, that was one reason I'd like to go to LA first, to avoid doing the sale last minute. I'll think about going to Sequoia after Death Valley though. As for the emissions testing in CA, yeah I'll look into that. I think it'll be alright, being a Toyota in good condition, but I'll have a look. I guess I can check the numbers I got here against the requirements there.

    Thanks again!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2003
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    Green County, Wisconsin
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    The National Parks Pass only covers admission fees, and it will usually pay for itself after 4-5 parks (although check the actual details of the parks you're looking, Smokey Mts for example has no fee). If you find a National Forest that has an admission fee, it will cover it, but honestly, I can't think of any National Forest where I've ever seen one. The pass does not include camping fees anywhere.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
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    As for the emissions testing in CA, yeah I'll look into that. I think it'll be alright, being a Toyota in good condition
    You need to read the certification sticker under the hood - if it doesn't say "50 state" or "California" on it, you will have issues trying to sell it in LA. Even if it does, it must be inspected and tested, and it's a lot more than just an OBD2 code scan, it must pass a sniffer test.

  8. Default

    I'd suggest looking into your area and seeing if its possible to go through DEQ/smog testing in your state before you hit the road that fulfills the Cali requirements. See if there is anywhere in your area that you can get it out of the way. If not, I'd suggest looking into the process in Cali and seeing if it can be done under your time constraints.

    However, aside from that, your trip sounds like lots of fun! I am planning a similar trip across the US in November with my roommate (MN to WA to OR to CA) and you've given me lots of ideas for places to hit up! However, as far as the camping goes, I would say, yes, it is a great idea and can save you TONS of money compaired to hotels, however, again, you should plan ahead and def purchase a guide or make reservations ahead of time since many campground, esp. commercial, privately owned ones, may not be open during much of November. Also, I wouldn't skimp on the sleeping bag. You can buy whatever little pup tent floats your boat, but keep in mind your sleeping bag is all thats keeping you warm out there in the winter. I would definately invest in a mummy bag or something thats rated at or below 0 degrees. Better safe than frostbitten!

    Oh, and also keep hostels in mind in a pinch. Cheaper than a hotel in most cases and it will be a good option near major cities when camping is scarce or the weather is too harsh.
    Last edited by Fultsm; 09-29-2011 at 08:53 AM. Reason: Forgot something!

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
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    Joplin MO
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    Thank you for your input, but I believe this trip is probably already complete - the thread is a year old!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
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    That makes me wonder, though, if he was even able to sell the car here.

    For readers who may catch this thread with the same thing in mind:

    Cars who aren't certified for sale in CA *must* be smogged by a California facility to be registered. Even if they pass a smog test in another state, it will have to be done again to register the car in CA. However, there are always buyers ready to take the car down to Mexico, where smog tests are not required.


    Donna who just brought a vehicle in from Arizona - passed AZ's smog, but it had to be resmogged here

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