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  1. #1

    Default NYC to LA via Chicago, Vegas & SF

    Hi guys, first-time poster, long-time reader. Thanks for a great site!

    Me and a friend are planning a May (2015) trip from NYC to LA. We have a very strict 21 days to complete, minus 2 days for the flights, minus 1 day in NYC and 1 day LA. So that leaves a total of 17 days for the actual drive. We would also like to spend a non-driving day in Chicago, Denver, SF and Las Vegas, so that would bring the driving days down to 13. We are planning not to follow the I-80 all the way through; rather after Nebraska we would like to go via Denver and through the Rockies into Utah, followed by Monument Valley and Arizona, and then Las Vegas.

    My questions please, if anyone would be kind enough to consider them, are:

    1) Is it reasonable to expect to do all that in that time-frame? And more importantly, will it be enjoyable or will the driving days simply be too long and always stretching into the night?

    2) Is it boring driving on the Interstates? In particular, the I-80, which will be around half of this planned trip? This is one of my concerns. A lot of people here seem to suggest following the smaller highways, but we would surely not have enough time for that. On this trip, we would be on smaller roads for only a tiny amount of the time - would this make the whole experience less desirable?

    3) Is the Pacific Coast highway from SF to LA worth it, scenery-wise?

    4) Would you recommend driving through/visiting the Death Valley in California?

    Thank you for your time!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Quite possible.

    Hello and welcome to the RTA forums !

    You could actually drive the route described in 6 to 7 days in a business like fashion so that does allow you to spend a little time in places and perhaps mix the driving up a little to get off Interstate and see a few other sites of which there a lot to choose from. One area that has some great scenic roads and a number of National parks is through Colorado and Utah into Arizona.

    1] Yes, as long as you are comfortable with it.

    2] Boring is purely a state of mind and whether on 2 laners or Interstate there are always views and nearby places to stop at and 'smell the roses'.

    3] Yes a couple of days spent on the Pacific coast Highway is worth it.

    4] Yes if you have time, although not only would I drive across Death valley I would head north on 395 and enter Yosemite NP on route to SF, this would require an overnight stop and 2 would be better to enjoy these natural wonders. In Utah you will find the likes of Arches and Canyonlands NP and you could cut through Monument valley to the Grand canyon NP on the way to Vegas.

    Much will come down to how much driving you enjoy and what your interests and goals are for the trip, but you can certainly have a great trip. Do a little more reading and open up a good map of the US and as you your trip starts coming together keep asking questions and we will be pleased to answer them.

    Enjoy the planning.

  3. #3


    Thank you Dave!

    It is reassuring to hear that the driving should be alright. In my post I failed to mention that my friend doesn't have a driver's license, meaning that only I can do the driving. But the way you put it, one person should be able to do it.

    Yosemite NP definitely, it sounds/looks great!

    2) I get your point. I'm sure we'll see enough stuff/people as it is, even on the Interstates.

    I actually have a further question at this point (I know it's still very early days, but this trip will happen); do you think that it is worth paying the extra for the SatNav? On the car rental sites, it seems like it would cost about £200 more to have it, but does it actually work well in America? Going coast to coast, one wouldn't want to get lost too often...

    And finally, do you know which car rental company is the best/most reliable and (if possible) cheapest in terms of returning the car at a different location?

    Thank you again!


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Maps and satnav.

    Quote Originally Posted by Subman View Post
    ... one person should be able to do it.
    There are many solo drivers, myself included, who do and have done trips like this, in much less time than you have available. Enjoy!

    Quote Originally Posted by Subman View Post
    ... do you think that it is worth paying the extra for the SatNav?
    You might find that it will be cheaper to purchase a satnav on your arrival. It will work out cheaper than the rental, and you will have it for future trips. Most now come with lifetime maps. And yes, once you have been bitten.... there will be more trips. :)

    However, make sure you have good paper maps for both the trip and the planning. Do not rely solely on a satnav. If you are a member of your local automobile club, take your membership with you. It will give you access to free maps at the AAA. On my arrival I always get maps of all States and major urban areas through which I plan to pass. Or you might like to get a road atlas such as the Rand McNally. The 2014 edition will be fine to use through 2015 and for planning purposes. As well, most States publish their own maps which are usually free at their Welcome Centres along the interstates, or at tourist bureaux. The beauty of having these as well is that they often have attractions and features marked on them which are not on other maps.

    Quote Originally Posted by Subman View Post
    And finally, do you know which car rental company is the best/most reliable and (if possible) cheapest in terms of returning the car at a different location?
    From what we read on these forums, the best way to go is probably through one of the European consolidators, such as


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Paper maps are vital.

    I would purchase a SatNav for the extra it costs. I purchased a Tomtom UK and Ireland and added the US map on line direct from the TomTom site. I'm sure there are other options but this one worked fine for me. One note of caution though. Do not rely soley on the gps, in fact I only use it as a back up toll and to find physical adresses such as at the hotel/campground we may be staying for the night. Good old paper maps should be your main source of navigation and planning as you can the see clearly whats around you and go where you want to go. A Sat Nav can [and does] add many miles to a journey while only saving a few minutes of your time. This is done by keeping you on Interstates and those few minutes could cost you in fuel and cheat you out of some great sight seeing opportunitys, so know your surroundings.

    There is no single best car hire company as they all offer much the same and are competing to relieve you of your 'hard earnt'. I would certainly shop around on line and compare costs for your travel dates and make sure you check out the one way drop off fees and if you are under 25 years of age, the young drivers fee. If you are from Europe then you will almost certainly find cheaper rates booking in advance with a European consolidator, we recently got a great deal with, but like I say, shop around and make sure it includes everything you need.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Also be aware of conditions.

    Yosemite NP definitely, it sounds/looks great!
    One thing worth mentioning here is that Spring comes late high uo in the mountains and the route I described previously would need to be checked out before travelling towards Tioga Pass. This typically opens sometime from Mid May to June when they have cleared the pass of winter snow. If it were closed you can still visit Yosemite valley it would just mean you would have to go south around the mountains via Lake Isabella/Bakersfield. The waterfalls are usually around full flow this time of year and will make a spectacular site !

    If you had intentions of going into Rocky mountain NP near Denver you might face similar issues with the Trail Ridge road although much of the park will be open and offers great Alpine scenery.

  7. #7


    In answer to your questions, I would say that you should definitely fit the trip in with your time frame. In September my daughter and I drove New York to San Francisco in 23 days with 2 days in NYC, 3 days in Chicago, 2 days in Minneapolis, 2 days in Yellowstone, 3 days in Vegas, and 3 days in San Francisco. All other stops were just 1 nighters. We took a long route through Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota (I-90), Montana etc. Mileage wise it was 5000 miles in all.
    I thought it would be boring on the interstates but actually really enjoyed it. Some days we drove 9 or 10 hours. It is nice to get on the smaller roads from time to time but as you say this does take up more time.
    We did the Pacific Coast Highway and it was magnificent. We drove from LA to San Fran and stopped half way for the night at Cayucos. Don't forget to stop near Hearst Castle and see the Elephant seals on the beach there.
    We were going to do Death Valley but due to lack of time that day we drove through the Mojave instead. I would say if you have plenty of time then do Death Valley, otherwise the Mojave is a quicker option.
    We took our own SatNav from the UK and I just purchased the USA maps from TomTom at a cost of around £24. It worked perfectly and I could not have managed without it. This was a much cheaper option than hiring one from the hire company.
    National were the cheapest for us. They have the lowest one way drop off fee at $250 regardless of where you drop off. Their insurance for young drivers is also one of the cheapest.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Boredom and Pacing Yourself

    All the advice you've gotten so far has been pretty much spot on, particularly regarding maps and GPS, but there is one concern you raised which I haven't seen addressed and that is whether Interstates are boring and whether you'd have time to do significant 'back road' driving instead. The Interstates are just a tool. They are essentially the same as British Motorways. If used properly, they can be used to travel considerable distances in a fairly short period of time. But if misused, they can become boring death traps due to the relatively high traffic volume and speeds. Besides the obvious misuses like speeding or driving while intoxicated, there is another misuse that people can fall trap to. That is simply driving for hours on end in a vain attempt to 'make good time'. This can lead to boredom or in its worst form, highway hypnosis, a situation where you're not really seeing the big picture, the traffic or the scenery any more, just the few feet in front of you. The easiest cure and the way to avoid it in the first pace is simply to get off the freeway every few hours for a quick break. Besides being a safety measure, this is a great chance to see a bit of the country you'll be driving through.

    You can also, of course, mix and match Interstates and some of the older back roads to vary your driving experience. Another way to avoid boredom. But this will have to be planned out in advance using paper maps which will give you the best overview of major routes and alternatives. Here are a few suggestions of places where the old US highways or even state roads will be a good scenic choice without costing too much in the way of extra driving hours.

    Between Youngstown OH and Chicago, I-80 is a series of toll roads which not only cost money, but have limited opportunities for getting on/off. Take a look instead at using I-76 to US-224 to Van Wert OH, US-30 to Valparaiso IN and then reconnecting with I-80 via IN-49. You'll have had a more interesting drive that's a good bit cheaper, and not cost yourself too much time since for much of their lengths those highways are near-freeway quality anyway.

    Another place to get off the Interstate is through western Nebraska. I-80 is a fine road, but you'll be following the basic route of the old Oregon Trail which was used by pioneers headed west. There are lots of historic sites and landmarks along the Platte River and US-30 provides a good alternative that lets you top and see those that pique your interest.

    If you use I-70 through Colorado, I'd also suggest that you seriously consider using US-6 over the Continental Divide via Loveland Pass rather than staying on I-70 between Exits 216 and 205 and going under the mountains through Eisenhower Tunnel. Guess which route is more scenic! Having done that, you'll be a bit far south to use I-80 across Nevada, but US-50 is a good alternative. You'd pick it up in western Utah, then in Ely NV you could choose to stay on it (It bills itself as the "Loneliest Road".) or you could switch over to US-6 to head for Tioga Pass (CA-120) and Yosemite. As noted by Dave, you'll need to make sure that Tioga Pass is open before heading that way.

    Last edited by AZBuck; 12-12-2013 at 06:32 PM. Reason: Typos

  9. #9


    Am I correct in assuming you're coming from Europe? If so, and this is your first trip across the US, I think it's possible that you will find the wide-open spaces along I-80 in Iowa and Nebraska fascinating.

    As for the trip down the Pacific Coast Highway, this might help you decide if it's worth it: A Journey Down The Pacific Coast In Pictures

    Have A Great Trip!!

  10. #10


    Dear All,

    Thank you so much for all the information you have provided here - it is extremely interesting, reassuring and useful! Oh and yes, we're traveling from the UK and it will be our first such trip.

    Me and my friend will now go and buy a good quality paper map and really start looking at all the different roads and places of interest. Very excited!

    I actually have tons of other questions as well, but I will see if I can find some answers to them myself first... But I know I'll be back later to bother you guys again!



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