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  1. #1

    Default Seattle to Seattle via colorado and the west coast, in a van as a solo traveller

    Hi All

    First off just have to say this site seems brilliant, so nice to see people contributing with such useful info and helping out fellow road trippers!

    I'm a Brit, I'm not an obvious outdoors type but after a 3 month road trip in NZ followed by a couple of months in Asia last year I've been hungry for another road trip ever since! Ilove the freedom and the adventure of it all. Thing is I'm not great at research and tend to have a fairly last minute approach to planning. I arrive in Vancouver on the 9th of August, plan to have 10-14 days doign the hoodapus pass tour then heading to seattle picking up a cheap van which I can register at a friends house. I'll either buy an existing conversion or buy a cargo van and make it habitabal (mattress and storage area). I'm thinking of then driving down through the rockies into colorado, pop by the grand canyon then get over to the west coast and drive up stopping by national parks on the way and a couple of the big interesting cities. I'm going to book my return flight around the 25th October from Seattle and my friend there will sell the car for me so I don't need to hang aroudn there at the end.

    When in New Zealand I hooked up with an american girl shortly after I got there and we travelled around in a Mazda mpv with a mattress in the back, when she went to Oz I bought the car from her, went to Wellington and stayed with some cool people I met there for a couple of weeks, then me and a new friend picked up a couple of german girls hitch hiking and we travelled with them for another month aruodn the south island. It was an absolute epic way to live, and I'm hoping to do somethign similar in the US. maybe couch surf a bit, try and boondock (not pay to sleep) in forests and national parks and stuff, will stay in the odd motel to charge electricals and have a hot shower. I plan on buying a SatNav as I'm not the best map reader either.

    I'm interested in vast wilderness, swimming in lakes, having a few drinks, hiking, kayaking, bit of fishing etc. I can do washing with a bucket, cook on a gas stove outdoors, and the odd meal out.

    What I'm looking for is tips on great spots to stop, how easy it is to do "dispersed camping" and whether the official camp sites are any good for what I'm looking for and worth going to? I have healthy potential budget but don't want to break the bank if I can do things on the cheap where possible. Also best places to meet up with other like minded travellers on the road (the road can be a lonely place!) I'm 27, sociable and love nature and general adventuring.

    Any help would be most welcome.

    Cheers

    Dave

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,358

    Default First Things First

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    The major logistic hurdle you face is the purchase/registration/sale of the van in the US. This is not as easy as it seems. In order to register a vehicle in most states, you have to be a legal resident of that state, not just have an address of convenience. Unless you can show legal residence, with say a local driver's license, utility bills, passport, or other documentation, you are not going to be allowed to register and license the vehicle. Now your friend could, but that leaves him as the legal owner and responsible for any damage and/or mayhem you cause while driving his vehicle. Are you sure you want to stick him with that responsibility?

    In any event, it is usually not cost effective to buy a vehicle for such a short period. Not only do you have to worry about the costs of registering/licensing/insuring the van - and insurance is usually sold in minimum increments of 6 months even if you only plan to keep the vehicle on the road for a few weeks. But remember, you are buying retail and selling wholesale. The loss you are going to take on the transaction is likely to be more than the cost of renting a van. For your own benefit, look into renting, especially since you're returning to the same place you'd pick it up.

    You can do fairly well finding cheep to free campsites in the west, but not in the national parks. Instead check out the national forests (USFS) and the domains of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Both offer distributed or dispersed camping where you can camp for free away from prepared campsites, but you will have to do some hiking in/out, not just pull over on the side of the road in the van. Dispersed camping is what you make of it. Prepared campsites will be 'better' in the sense that you can drive to them and stay in the van, and will let you meet other people. Typical charges in the USFS and BLM settings are fairly minimal.

    Also, at the first national park or monument you come to, buy an annual pass. This will set you back $80, but will give you free access to all parks and monuments in the system. It typically pays for itself on the fourth park you enter. It does not, however, cover any 'extra' costs such as camping, special activities, or concessions within the parks.

    Since your plans seem purposely pretty fluid, I won't offer advice about specific places to see unless there are sites you've heard of and want further info on. Enjoy the planning as well as the trip.

    AZBuck
    Last edited by AZBuck; 06-29-2013 at 05:53 PM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,270

    Default

    To expand on Buck's comments, you may want to take public transportation from Seattle to San Francisco and rent an Escape Campervan. Arrange your return flight back to the UK from there.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default Not quite so.

    Quote Originally Posted by AZBuck View Post

    In order to register a vehicle in most states, you have to be a legal resident of that state, not just have an address of convenience.
    Buck, I'm glad you said most States, because that is not the case in Washington. If someone will allow you to use their address, then you are able to register in your own name. That is how Don ran his business. Insurance however, is another matter. As you may recall from Jessica's report, there was some under the table business going on. Makes one wonder what would happen in case of a claim.

    In any event, it is usually not cost effective to buy a vehicle for such a short period. Not only do you have to worry about the costs of registering/licensing/insuring the van - and insurance is usually sold in minimum increments of 6 months ...
    It took a long tiome to find a company to insure my vehicle, and they do not sell in 6 mth increments. It is for the full 12 months only.

    The loss you are going to take on the transaction is likely to be more than the cost of renting a van. For your own benefit, look into renting, especially since you're returning to the same place you'd pick it up.
    I'd have to agree, it is not like buying and selling in NZ or OZ. There are members here (Aussies) who have rented with Escape Campervans. The reports have been good, both for price and conditions.

    As also mentioned, free campsites are not as readily available as some think. They are well known to permanent vandwellers. Perhaps if you go onto some of their forums you may learn more where to find them.

    Quote Originally Posted by daveswift View Post
    (the road can be a lonely place!)
    I respectfully beg to differ. As a senior citizen, I find it anything but lonely. A mere two weeks into my trip, I already have more than a dozen contacts as well as one invitation to come and stay. Not to mention the scores of people who have helped me out, offered suggestions and generally made this trip as wonderful as my last five have been.

    And I still have three and a half more months to go.

    Lifey

  5. #5

    Default

    Thank you Azbuck. Your advice is much appreciated. I understand there are hurdles to jump through in buying a van, but from reading various forums and speaking to contacts in the states, I understood that I could purchase a van in Seattle register it to my friends address, then insure it and cancel it when I leave receiving a refund for any months I don't use. My friend was going to sell it on craigslist for me after I leave, which means I save myself the headache of having to sell at the end. Seeing as I want the car for around 2 months, I assumed buying and selling would be the best option, especially with the stealth factor of having a converted cargo van so I can sleep in it in cities.

    And thank you for the advice in regards camping, I'll definitely invest in a national parks pass.

    Thanks again

  6. #6

    Default

    Thank you for your reply lifey. I'm going to contact some insurance agents and see if they will insure me, or even if my friend will take the risk of insuring the vehicle for me. This is unlikey though, so maybe the camper van option would be a good way to go. I like the idea of having my own vehicle, and for $65 a day on my own, renting is quite a pricey option, espeically with CDW of $9 a day on top. I was hoping to buy a basic van for around $3000, spend up to $500 on insurance and maintenance and hope to get $2500 back or even if it was $2000 back that's significantly cheaper than renting seeing as I'm renting on my own.

    Maybe if I have to do some more research.

    Great that your travels are going so well.

    Thanks again

    Dave

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default

    I think you might still be working with some ideas that aren't completely accurate.

    You certainly can't assume that you'll get back the insurance premiums after you are done, especially since you'll likely have to work with a high-risk company because of your lack of US driving record. As Lifey explained from her first hand experience, finding any company that will insure you is likely to be difficult.

    There is also the potential problem of selling your van without being in the country, because it will be difficult for you to sign over the title, without being there for the sale. There may be ways around that, but they have the potential to be another big headache for your friend - and asking a friend to sell a car for you is already putting a rather large burden on them. Speaking of burdens, if you are using their address for your insurance, it is possible that you could potentially be putting their assets at risk if you get into an accident that is beyond the scope of your insurance coverage. Just add it to the long list of legal complications that makes purchasing a vehicle as a non-resident a very challenging prospect that isn't anywhere as simple as showing up and buying a van.
    especially with the stealth factor of having a converted cargo van so I can sleep in it in cities.
    This also sounds like a potential case where this isn't going to be nearly as simple as you might think. Most cities have very strict regulations on where you can park, especially overnight. Often times you have to be a resident with a permit to park on the street (and if there aren't those regulations, there is a good chance it isn't a safe place to be spending the night!). Public lots where overnight parking is allowed, are not likely to allow you to stay with the van overnight. It might not be impossible every night, but I think this is another case where you will find far more difficulty than you expect.
    I was hoping to buy a basic van for around $3000, spend up to $500 on insurance and maintenance and hope to get $2500 back or even if it was $2000 back that's significantly cheaper than renting seeing as I'm renting on my own.
    I think your cost expectations are significantly low, especially when it comes to insurance and maintenance. I'd expect you'd pay at least $500 just for basic insurance, and Lifey can certainly tell you from her experience that it doesn't take much at all to spend $1000 for repairs, even if you find a "diamond in the rough" for $3000. Realistically, most vehicles at that price point are going to be in need of at least some repairs that will cost you time and money.

    Sorry to sound like we are so negative about your plan, because that's really not the case, we just want to make sure you are fully aware about the challenges you're likely to face.

  8. #8

    Default

    Thank you Michael. From my experience in purchasing vehicles, I would hope that I can get a slightly beaten up but mechanically sound 13-16 yr old van for 3k and provided I check that the tyres are sound, there are no leaks, the belts been changed the transmission sounds ok etc, I can't imagine spending any more than 1k on repairs, so even with 1k on repairs, $500 for two months insurance and losing $500 on the car and giving $200 bucks or so to my friend for his trouble selling it, the whole process will cost me $2200, compare this with renting a vehicle I can sleep in + potentially using more than the 100 mile allowance, + the additional CDW I will be saving at the very least 2500k and having my own vehicle is much more fun for me, and yes here and there I think I'll be able to sleep in a quiet residential street or park car park or Wal Mart with less trouble than if I had an RV or rental camper.

    I appreciate your advice, and I understand it is not a simple process but I believe the hoops may be worth jumping through in order to have my very own vehicle with an unlimited milage allowance. I've contacted a couple of insurance agencies and I'll share their feedback with you as to how easy it will be to insure a van as a non us citizen.

    Other advice I was looking for, was how reliable are SatNavs in very rural areas of the US? Is there a particular brand that's good over there. Also a good package for a mobile phone with internet data, as if I was stranded somewhere it might be nice to be able to connect to the internet and look for nearby facilities.

    Cheers

    Dave
    Last edited by Southwest Dave; 07-02-2013 at 01:27 AM. Reason: Removed off site link.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    10,748

    Default Paper Maps a must.

    Other advice I was looking for, was how reliable are SatNavs in very rural areas of the US? Is there a particular brand that's good over there.
    I don't think you will have any problems with a Sat Nav. I have a TomTom one [UK and Irleand] and purchased the US map on line prior to leaving and it was fine. It is recommended that you carry paper maps to plot your route and see exactly what is around you. Not only can a Sat Nav send you miles and miles out of your way to put you on Interstate to save a couple of minutes and miss great scenery, they can potentially put you in harms way by sending you down unmade mountain tracks/forests etc using shortest routes, and there has been more than one report of it costing lives, and even more sending people hundreds of miles in the wrong direction by miscommunication. Plotting on paper maps and entering Waypoints into your Sat Nav is a good option and then double check that the Sat Nav route is the same as you have plotted on your paper map.

    I can't help with the phone, but service does become patchy to non existant in some remote areas. Depending on how much you plan on using it, it will be worth contacting your provider and asking for details of costs for roaming charges. Sometimes it's not as bad as you might think.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default Why the need for stealth?

    Dave, why and where are you thinking of stealth camping? If you are planning on following all you read on the many vandwellers forums then you may be in for a surprise. Those posts are mostly written by locals who know their area, know the regulations (and how to get around them) and are familiar with law enforcement in their area. Without that local knowledge, or simply the 'say-so' of the internet, you would be taking a great risk.... no matter what vehicle you are in.

    I rarely pay for accommodation in cities and have never gone for stealth. Truck stops are free, are 24hr operations, have excellent security, have bathroom facilities (pay for the shower) as well as the immediately evident shop and fuel. There is also a driver's lounge at most and often an area where you can get on the internet (as I am now). Many have special parking areas for those wishing to stay overnight. You find truck stops on the outer edges of cities and along the main arteries throughout the country. You are never far from one. There is even a directory which has all this information in it.

    Why would you risk stealth?

    I wish you luck finding a 'good' van/truck for as little as $3000. But you need to remember a vehicle only sells that low when it is at the end of its tether. These have usually been used to lug cargo around the place, driven by drivers who are more intent on getting there on time than worrying about the good of the vehicle. Owned by owners intent on keeping their business through the GFC, and very likely doing no more than the very basic maintenance to keep the vehicle on the road.

    On top of that, unlike with a rental, you will not only be responsible for your own repairs, but you will be off the road, and that can be days..... days spent in a motel/hotel. If you are planning on going to more remote areas, count on towing costing hundreds (if not much more).

    Furthermore, I would heed carefully the points made by Michael as to the burden your friend may have to carry. In this litigeous society, no knowing where that could lead. The main reasons why I was not prepared to register at any of my family's or friend's addresses.

    There is another way, a legally sound and secure way, which is the way I went. There are attorneys who facilitate this for non-residents...... at a price! A price well worth paying for peace of mind and the preservation of a friendship.

    Now if you were starting in Florida, that could be a completely different story.

    As for relying on a satnav anywhere, let alone in remote areas, these stories may give you some insight. Or you could just google 'death by GPS'.

    Lifey

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