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.