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  1. Default A clueless Australian with a bunch of questions about winter road trips. Please help!

    Hi all,

    Let me preface this by saying I've never been to the USA but it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for my best mate and I. I'll start with the basic idea. We're looking at road tripping from LA > New York from November 18 - December 28. I'm aware this isn't the ideal season to road trip the states, but it's really the only chance we have to do it before we finish university and begin our careers in the corporate world! I've got a lot of questions, so I guess I'll just ask them one by one and hopefully someone can help us out. My apologies if some of these questions are naive or ill-informed :)

    We've looked around for campervans. We've found rental with Escape Campervans for about $2500 total for the period of time, which I thought was pretty reasonable and it's the cheapest rate we've found. This price includes unlimited miles and the one way fee. Our travel insurance should cover us so we don't need to pay the daily insurance cost offered by the van company. Any issues with this company that I wouldn't know about? We'll be spending a bunch of time sleeping in the van which we've been assured is warm enough for most of our route. We'd be staying in cheap hotels in places with really cold overnight temperatures (so probably Colorado, DC and New York - and of course a couple of nights in a Vegas hotel). We've been told about Walmart car parks for free spots to sleep and we're also going to get the $80 national park pass for the same reason.

    We're thinking of the following route... LA > San Francisco > Yosemite, Death Valley and Vegas > Utah > Colorado > Texas > Mississippi > Louisiana & South Coast > East Coast/Smoky Mountans/Carolinas > Virginia > DC > New York. Looking at the average temperatures, it looks like we'll be fine for most of the trip as we've done plenty of winter travel in Europe and Asia. However, I'm concerned about Utah and Colorado. Is it just going to be too cold there to be enjoyable? Will the highways be safe to drive on? Will we need chains? We'd try and stay in hotels for this portion of the trip, as it'd be late November by the time we get there. We really, really want to drive through Utah and Colorado because it looks amazingly beautiful and totally different to Australia. We're researching lots of places we'd love to see in all of the aforementioned areas as well, but any suggestions are greatly appreciated :)

    Also, we have the option of either paying a $500 one-way fee to drop the van in NY at the end. The other option is to return to van to where we picked it up in LA. However, we'd have about 7 days to drive from NY > LA in the middle of winter. The adventurer in me wants to do this so bad, but it might be way too risky considering we have to be in LA to get our flight home. Is this a bad idea or should we go for it?

    Any other general information would be great! I'm sure I'll have much more specific questions as we get closer to the date, but for now I'm just trying to make sure we're not forgetting anything serious that could get us into trouble.

    Cheers :)

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,064

    Default a few fixes

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    It sounds like you've got a great trip coming up. You will have the chance of being cold - and snow is certainly a possiblity - but that shouldn't keep you from enjoying yourselves.

    Escape Campervans has received some good reviews and recommendations from other members of this forum. They may be the only company that allows cross-country camper rentals without going up to a full-sized RV. However, I would be a little concerned about the temperatures, as it will likely be below freezing many nights of your trip. I'm not sure what they provide for heat or insulation in their vans - and you can't plan on using the van's engine for heat, because of the danger of carbon monoxide.

    You do, however, need to rethink your sleeping plans at least a little bit. First, the National Parks pass will likely be a good idea, because you plan to visit several national parks. However, the parks pass does not include camping fees, and the only place you will be allowed to park overnight is in a designated campground. In fact, for most of your trip, I'd recommend you plan to be spending your time in campgrounds. Some (not all) walmarts do allow overnight parking, but you can't appear to be "camping" which means you really will be couped up in the van the entire time you are parked. Also, since your van will not be fully contained with restrooms, a campground will provide those facilities, as well as showers in many locations.

    As far as doing a one way trip vs. a round trip, a round trip would be a great idea, if you wanted to do a big loop and have the potential to see more places.

    Having said that, if your idea was just to sprint back from NY to LA in a speed run to save $500, then that would be a poor idea. Not because of weather, though. You'll spend far more than $500 in gas to drive from NY to LA!

  3. Default

    Thanks for the quick reply Michael! Glad to hear the weather won't ruin our plans. I thought I read somewhere about free sleeping in state forests? Is that a different thing? I must be a bit confused. Either way, we can afford to spend $10-20 a night on a campground anyway, but it's obviously great to save a few bucks when you can. Would it be smart to add snow chains to our hire package? I think they're only $50 or so to hire.

    That's a good point about the fuel cost from NY to LA. We were thinking that driving may be cheaper than the one way fee AND flights back for two people from NY to LA. Is a round trip possible in around 40 days? I'm still finding it difficult to grasp the distance between things. I'd imagine we might have to give up the idea of going to NY if we did a round trip. Is it possible to even park anywhere within 50 miles of NY?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,064

    Default public lands

    I thought I read somewhere about free sleeping in state forests?
    There are actually lots of different types of public lands in the US. There are National Parks, which are most famous (Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, etc) and most regulated. There are National Monuments, which are a step below National Parks. Then are also National Forests and BLM lands which covers most other land owned by the federal government. Here is where you are most likely to find "dispersed camping." which is free, but provide no facilities at all, and there are usually regulations on where you can set up camp. Then there are State Parks and State Forests, which are run by individual states, and will have different fees and regulations for camping and other uses from state to state.

    If you can rent chains as part of your rental, I probably would just as a backup, although don't think you can use them to beat mother nature. You actually may be required to carry them when you visit Yosemite anyway.

    If you did a round trip, you could go straight from Colorado towards NY, through places like St. Louis or Chicago, perhaps Niagara Falls, and then head back to CA by heading south down through the mountains and back across the Gulf Coast. That would add relatively few extra miles vs zig zagging from Colorado, down to Texas, and back to NY. However, your point about parking in NY is a valid one too, although it is something can be done if you're willing to stay outside of manhattan and commute into the city.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,358

    Default A Couple of (Hopefully Helpful) Points

    Since, as Michael pointed out, you can't really count on Walmart to provide you free campsites and your National Parks Pass doesn't include camping fees which can be significant in some of the more popular parks, where can you camp on the cheap. State parks sometimes offer very reasonable rates, particularly if you don't need a site with 'RV hookup' that includes water and power connections. Unfortunately, each state lists their parks separately on the web, so you'll need to do a search on {Statename state parks} but once in you'll find a wealth of information for that state's park system. But perhaps the most underutilized cheap to free camping is available in the US National Forests and, in the western part of the country, the Bureau of Land Management. For general planning purposes you should get a good atlas that covers the entire country. Usually parks are denoted by a pine tree symbol, and campgrounds by a teepee.

    One place where I might disagree with Michael, or at least run my own figures, is whether or not to drive or fly back from New York to Los Angeles. First off, seven days would be enough to make the trip at a relatively unhurried pace and still have a day in reserve in case of bad weather. But you have way more than seven days. You have something like 40 days for your entire RoadTrip! Now unless there are reasons you haven't told us about that you have to be in New York right at the tail end of that time, it seems more logical to me that you do a complete loop from Los Angeles to New York and back to L.A. Why? Couple of reasons. As I look at your itinerary, I see a lot of zigzagging, being as far north as Colorado and as far south as the Gulf Coast. If, instead of going north/south on an east west trip, you were to just go mostly east/west on two separate legs, you'd get to see a lot more country for not too many more miles. You could do the eastbound leg through Yosemite, Utah, Colorado, and our Midwestern 'heartland' early in the trip when it's not as cold, and the southwest bound leg from New York down to Washington, following the Appalachians, hitting the Gulf Coast around New Orleans, across Texas and northern New Mexico and Arizona, and visit the Grand Canyon on the return to L.A.

    Now, what about the cost? Well, even if you were just comparing an 'extra' drive from New York to Los Angeles vs. flying back, it's not just the $500 drop-off fee that you save. It's also the cost of two one-way air tickets. Let's conservatively call them $250 apiece and you've saved right around a thousand dollars. That should more than cover the cost of the extra miles. You'll be paying for food and lodging in any case, so that's a wash. Meaning that as long as you van gets better than about 12 mpg on gas, it's cost effective to drive back rather than fly.

    AZBuck

  6. Default

    Firstly, what a wonderful forum! Both of you have really helped me out here, it's greatly appreciated.

    Michael, thanks for explaining the different types of parks. It looks like we'll have plenty of options. We're not planning to let the cost of camping dictate our trip too much, but it's nice to know what to look out for if we need a free area for sleeping. Looks like we'll rent some chains too, not that we know how to use them!

    AZBuck, thank you for those links! Is there any atlas/book that's seen as the bible of road tripping? We have books in Australia that are held in high regard for campers, so I'm assuming there's similar publications in the states. You and Michael both suggested that a round trip is a better idea, especially considering the one-way fee and the zig-zagging problem. It seems like a great idea to me and we'd be more than happy to see those states. Is 40 days enough to do a route like the one you suggested? It seems like we'd need more time. Would it make sense to split the trip up into two halves? I.e. spend 20 days getting from LA > NY and then spend another 20 days going from NY > LA (with the routes you've suggested). Or would one stretch take longer than the other?

    Thanks again :)

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,271

    Default

    Are you both 21 years old or older? If not, you can't rent from Escape (or any other company). At least Escape doesn't apply a surcharge for under 25 like most rental companies here.

    Note that you only get 100 miles a day free, which means 4000 miles over a 40 day rental. Overage is 25 cents a mile. This will escalate your cost if you decide to do a round trip, unless you pay an extra $19 a day for unlimited mileage.

  8. Default

    Yep, we're both 24. We'll definitely be getting unlimited mileage. The price came out at around AUD$2300 all inclusive for 40 days, which is no problem for us.
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 04-26-2013 at 11:41 AM. Reason: inline quote not needed here

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,358

    Default A Couple More (Hopefully Helpful) Points

    You can find a number of different map options here. Personally, for a general purpose planning/navigating atlas, I prefer the larger format, spiral-bound Rand McNally products. Woodalls is a generally highly regarded campground guide.

    Something roughly 50/50 (or 20/20) would be about right for the east- and west-bound legs of your loop, but you can easily slip an extra day or two from one to the other. And yes, that's plenty of time for two cross country journeys. It is quite possible to drive from one coast to the other in about six days, so you'll have lots of time for sight-seeing and wandering. One thing I would also recommend is that you plan on taking one day out of every three or four where you're not together but off exploring on your own. Even the best of friends get on each other's nerves after a while, and taking some 'time outs' will help keep the trip fresh and enjoyable.

    Personally, I wouldn't waste the money on chains unless the rental outfit requires them. I used to live in snow country near an air base with drivers from sunnier climes. It's not the chains that will keep you safely on the road, but your experience and skill as a driver. If you have no experience, the chains won't help. You'll be far better off, in the event of snow or ice on the road, to just sit it out for a while and let the road crews get out and plow/salt/sand the roads back to a safe condition.

    AZBuck

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,271

    Default

    If they only want $50 for chain rental, get them. There is a possibility you may not be allowed to enter Yosemite without them.

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