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  1. Default 9500 Mile Trip Around the USA

    Hi all!
    I am planning on driving more or less around the country (with spells through Canada, not sure if you will be familiar with the portion) with some friends starting from Connecticut and going south. We plan on the trip lasting 4-5 weeks, from late May to mid-late June

    Here's the basic outline with the major stops we want to hit:
    Connecticut - Savannah, GA - New Orleans, LA - Austin, TX - Tucson, AZ - Grand Canyon, AZ - Page, AZ - Zion National Park, UT - Las Vegas, NV - Los Angeles, CA - Sequoia National Forest, CA - Yosemite National Park, CA - San Francisco, CA - Portland, OR - Seattle, WA - Vancouver, BC - Spokane, WA - Yellowstone National Park - Denver, CO - Madison, WI - Chicago, IL - Montreal, QC - Connecticut

    Here are a few more details for you:
    There are four of us (all 22 years old) going in a Dodge Grand Caravan that has about 130k on it. It drives very well and has new tires and brakes. Our plan is to shoot down the east coast to Savannah quickly since we have all driven the east coast before. Ideally that will give us another day or two out west. We are trying to maximize our time out west and at the national parks. From Denver, again we will fast track through the plains and the mid west before turning up past Toronto to reach Montreal. We are bringing camping equipment, and plan on camping every night other than when we stay with family along the way. Using the gas calculator for 9500 miles at 18 mpg at a cost of $3.00 per gallon it should cost about $1500 dollars in gas.

    Some questions I have are:
    1) First of all, does this seem like a viable amount of time to accomplish such a long trip?
    2) Im having trouble figuring out how to budget for things like food and campsites. Is there a good rule of thumb or trick to calculate those numbers?
    3) Have any of you made border crossings like we are considering? Is it difficult or a smooth process? (we all have proper documentation)
    4) There are a bunch of cities on our list...i'm not really sure what my question is but advice on camping in or around them so we can still go in and have a good time would be appreciated!
    5) Also any other advice or thoughts would be greatly appreciated, since we have never made a drive of this scale before

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    4,504

    Default

    Welcome to RTA!

    Make sure that all 4 of you are on the SAME wavelength. Nothing will kill a trip before its time than to realize that somebody wasn't planning to kick in enough money, or someone wants to spend more time in a restaurant than cooking out at the campsite, or somebody would prefer to ride all the time while somebody else wants to hit the trail. Compatibility is everything! Also, ensure that you have some time separated -- maybe where two go off on a trail while the other two do something else.

    Now, to answer your questions:
    1) First of all, does this seem like a viable amount of time to accomplish such a long trip?
    Yes, it's possible. It's probably a little rushed, but you might want to start to plan out each day (but NOT to the minute) to see how it will work for you. Don't plan to drive more than 600 miles on any one given day. Starting out a trip "shooting down the east coast", if you are planning to try to do that Connecticut-->Savannah leg in one day, is another good way to kill a trip quickly. Nobody is going to sleep well while the vehicle is careening down the road.

    2) Im having trouble figuring out how to budget for things like food and campsites. Is there a good rule of thumb or trick to calculate those numbers?
    Campsites are easier than food. Public sites, such as state parks and national forests, will run about $10-15/night, while national park campsites will run $15-25 (depending on the parks).

    Food is going to be your biggest variable. If you are camping, are you prepared to cook at the campsite every night? Then it will cost roughly the same as at home. If you are going to eat at restaurants all the time, better plan on $30 per person per day. But you can save a LOT by toting some camp cooking equipment and some easy breakfast foods (like cereal and milk). If you can stay out of convenience stores and try to shop at regular grocery stores, you'll also save a lot of money.

    3) Have any of you made border crossings like we are considering? Is it difficult or a smooth process? (we all have proper documentation)
    By proper documentation, I hope you mean passports. These days, that's what they're looking for. They may also look at your vehicle registration and insurance. Don't travel with any firearms, and follow Canada's rules for what you can and cannot take across the border. I always find that smiling, being cooperative, means crossing a border a lot easier.

    4) There are a bunch of cities on our list...i'm not really sure what my question is but advice on camping in or around them so we can still go in and have a good time would be appreciated!
    There's where camping is NOT thrilling. We found that the easiest way to deal with cities on our trips, when we were camping, was to pass through them and not stop overnight. Overnights meant being out in the woods. If we absolutely had to stay overnight, it was going to be either in a cheap motel (easier on the outskirts of a city) or at a family member or friend's. Here's where you may have to find a city, county or state park with camping facilities, and commute to where you want to go every day. Sometimes an easy way to find these is to type "camping near XXXX, XX" into Google and see what pops up.

    5) Also any other advice or thoughts would be greatly appreciated, since we have never made a drive of this scale before.
    A few things come to mind:
    Since your vehicle is older, one of you (probably the owner of the vehicle) should get a AAA membership. It will do two things for you: in an emergency, you'll be able to find help and perhaps a tow, and it will also provide you with maps if you ask.

    Your budget should include a provision for car problems. Even the vehicles with premium care can break down, and sometimes that breakdown can cost a lot. (One almost sent us home early from our own trip last summer, because of the cost!)

    Third: do not be tempted to rely on your electronics in any way, shape or form, for mapping purposes. Many have done so and lost their lives, or found themselves with a BIG problem. Use your GPS/GPS apps to find things within a city, not for long-distance planning. Also, don't rely on the GPS or Google Maps to tell you a travel time. Add 20% to what they say, as the machine doesn't have 4 people that need to go to the bathroom, eat, slow down for a traffic problem or construction zone, nor does it need fuel.

    Last: decide how you're going to divvy up the finances. As long as you all agree to it, it doesn't matter if you take turns paying for the gas, or put it all in a pot and dig into it when you need it. What I wouldn't do is pay someone at the end of the trip who has charged it all. It's not a great idea, as someone often "forgets" to save money for this and then the charger gets stuck with the bill.


    Donna

  3. Default

    Hi Donna!
    This is phenomenal thank you!

    Starting out a trip "shooting down the east coast", if you are planning to try to do that Connecticut-->Savannah leg in one day, is another good way to kill a trip quickly.
    I agree, we are not planning on making the a one day trip. The 600 mile limit per day sounds just about where we are thinking!

    But you can save a LOT by toting some camp cooking equipment and some easy breakfast foods (like cereal and milk).
    Again, we are all like minded on this

    If you can stay out of convenience stores and try to shop at regular grocery stores, you'll also save a lot of money.
    I had not thought of this. Great point!

    There's where camping is NOT thrilling. We found that the easiest way to deal with cities on our trips, when we were camping, was to pass through them and not stop overnight.
    I'm sure we will want to spend nights in cities (being 22 and all ;)) so maybe every so often we will have to find a cheap place to stay

    Since your vehicle is older, one of you (probably the owner of the vehicle) should get a AAA membership.
    I have a AAA membership, but I will check to see if he has a membership as well.

    I have another question about the camping aspect. How difficult is it to find free areas to camp? I know most of the time we will have to pay so kind of fee, but avoiding that as much as possible would be nice.

    Thanks!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    12,982

    Default

    If you have a AAA membership, then it doesn't matter if your friend does. As long as you are with the vehicle, you can use your membership.

    Finding free places to camp isn't going to be easy, especially not with the list of places you've said you want to visit. Places where you can camp for free are generally National Forest and BLM lands - so basically fairly remote areas. I will say, campgrounds tend to be a little more expensive than what Donna indicated. It's rare to find a campground for under $15 these days, and most State and National Parks sites are going to run you at least $20. A positive with state parks, many times they do have shower facilities. But as Donna discussed, with your city-heavy list of places you want to visit, it's going to take a fair bit of work and research to find campgrounds that will meet your needs.

    One more addition to Donna's solid advice. Try to make sure to find time apart. 4-5 weeks in constant contact will stress even the best of friendship. I'll say to get to everything on your list, you'll need to be be closer to the 5 week mark. You listed 21 places you want to go, and you've got about 10 full days of driving on top of that, so even at a pretty brisk pace, that's about 5 weeks just to spend 1 day in each of those places.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,212

    Default

    Just to give you an example, the closest public campsites to New Orleans that I'm aware of are in Fontainebleau State Park, which is on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain. It takes about an hour each way to get into the city across a toll causeway ($3, southbound only) and campsites start at $14 a night, park admission is $2 per person. The gates close at 9pm, and I don't know how you would get to your site after a night on the town.

    These are the types of issues you are going to encounter when trying to camp near a city.

  6. Default

    Interesting. I didn't realize that it would be that difficult. NOLA's location may add to the difficulty, but i'm sure its similar near all the big cities

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,922

    Default The information is free.

    You are a member of AAA, so go there and pick up a map of each State you plan to traverse. And any others which are close by in case you divert from your planned route would also be a good idea. Then ask for a detailed map of each major urban centre you plan to visit.

    With good maps you can get a lot more information than you ever can within the confines of a little screen. Besides maps showing you the points of interest along your route (you may not have seen all the ones along the east coast), scenic routes are hilighted and there will be a small triangle or small tent to show all non-commercial campgrounds.

    Free camping is mostly available in national or state forests. Check at the local forestry office when you get to your location to find out where they are. But as already mentioned they are remote and rarely near any points of interest. Most free camping is dispersed camping and as such without facilities, requiring you to be completely self contained - including toilet.

    Once you have the maps and see all the options open to you, you will no doubt have further questions. But I would not count on 600 miles every single driving day. Example, if you want to camp in UT, you will need to visit the office in the nearest town during business hours. (Where the forestry office cannot help, sometimes there will be a BLM office whose staff are also very helpful.) It all takes time. It is not like a hotel where you can book everything before you leave home.

    Good maps are invaluable during the planning stage, and essential when on the road. Don't be tempted to rely on your electronics. Many have done so at their peril - some fatal. Standard maps should always be your primary navigational tool, backed up by a gps or similar.

    Lifey

  8. Default

    Hi there,
    I would suggest sleeping over at a Pilot station, I know with 4 guys in car is not so ideal but if you ever ran out of option.
    All the best,
    Alan

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,212

    Default

    There's not a car made in which 4 people can get proper sleep.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,922

    Default Thank you.

    Hi Alan, and Welcome to the Great American Roadtrip Forum.

    It is always appreciated when new members jump in with their first post to offer advice. However, as one who uses truck stops and particular Pilot a lot, I would not recommend it for this party. Their vehicle is not set up for sleeping. It is not possible for four people to get a good night's sleep sitting up in a car. It is actually not possible for one person.

    To be a safe driver when on the road a good night's rest/sleep is essentiall, and that really can only be achieved lying down and relaxing - which is not possible in a standard vehicle.

    Lifey

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