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  1. Default Aussies road trip the U.S. - advice / ideas welcome!

    Hi there,

    My partner and I will be in the US from about mid January to the beginning of March and are keen to road trip the journey.

    We are looking at California and western US (will be most likely flying into LA), up to Oregon, ideally with a few adventures to places like Yosemite etc.

    Any ideas on what definitely to include or what to skip - especially considering it will be winter time and that we are on a budget, any suggestions / advice welcome!

    Also, we are thinking of buying a van / campervan (renting seems pretty expensive) and have been scouring Craigslist. Any ideas / advice on where else we might find a good deal and is it difficult to sell a car in the US with interstate licence plates, eg. If we bought a car in LA and sold it in Arizona.

    Thanks all!!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    First, I'd suggest you'd be best off abandoning your plan to buy a van right now. It is next to impossible for a non-resident to buy, register, and get insurance for a vehicle. Just as important, for trip that's less than 2 months, it just doesn't make financial sense to buy - especially not when you factor that it's also a time consuming process that would take several days away from the relatively small amount of time you have for your trip. Renting really is your best option, by a longshot.

    If costs are a concern, you should also be aware that car/hotel trips generally work out to be cheaper than going with an RV/campervan.

    Beyond that, with nearly 2 months available, the list of possible places for you to go in the West is nearly endless. You will have to be aware of the weather, as some places will be unreachable in the winter. For example, Yosemite is open, but you won't be able to use Tioga Pass to drive across the Sierras through the park. Yellowstone is largely closed to vehicle traffic in winter, as are some other high-elevation parks like Crater Lake. Still, the places that are closed are still relatively small, and as you focus in a bit more on where you want to spend your time, we'll be better able to help you figure out what can work.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default To get you started.

    Michael has given you the advice against purchasing a vehicle. I would definitely endorse that. What you also need to take into account over and above what he said is that if you have your own vehicle and it breaks down or has an unfortunate accident, you are on your own. With a rental car the company covers that, and you are on your way again. (I well recall a thread on the forum of a Canadian couple who bought a second hand camper and it broke down half way through their holiday. The rest of their time was an utter nightmare.)

    Since you say you are on a budget you'd be buying a cheap vehicle and you could end up spending much more than what a rental costs.
    There are good car rental deals to be had through consolidators. I know there are Aussies on the forum who have used them and really benefited. Check this thread.

    Another way to cut down on the cost of the rental is to make sure you drop it in the same place you picked up - and avoid renting from an airport location.

    When coming off a long haul flight it is always recommended to spend 24-48 hours in LA, before hitting the road. So book your car for pick up well away from the airport. Then design a loop trip, back to LA. So long as you bring it back to LA you won't have a one way drop fee imposed, even if you drop it at the airport. I have always found Budget the cheapest so long as you put your nationality as Australian.

    By far the best thing you can do to plan your actual trip is to get hold of some good detailed maps of the US. If these are not available locally (you don't say where you live), I recommend that you purchase a Rand McNally road atlas from the RTA store at the bottom of this page. If you order it now, you will have it in a couple of weeks. This atlas has excellent detailed maps of the US showing all the cities, towns and villages, national parks, state parks national forests and monuments as well as historical attractions along the way and touristy sites.

    You will also see all the roads graded from high speed interstates to the old us highways, local roads and scenic routes. Good maps are invaluable during the planning stage and essential when on the road. As well as all that, be sure to bring your automobile club - NRMA, RACV, RACQ, etc - membership with you, as it will give you access to free maps and tourism information from the AAA. You could pick up some maps of the south west while in LA. Many of us travel with an atlas, AAA maps as well as a GPS - which is really only useful for locating addresses for hotels, restaurants, and so on.

    Enjoy the planning


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.


    Apart from the extra costs of renting an RV [Camper van] it's not an ideal time of year to travel in one. Near the coast might not be to bad, but once inland you are likely to see freezing temps and will need to drain water tanks to prevent freezing which in turn makes a lot of the convenience of a camper void. With the amount of time you have you might also consider heading to the desert southwest and explore places like Death valley, Monument valley and around Phoenix etc.

  5. Default

    Thanks so much for the wam welcome guys! Really appreciate all your advice and ideas.

    Thanks for the warning Midwest Michael! We'll have to investigate issues with non-residents buying vehicles in the US. We have several friends (non-residents) who have purchased cars throughout the years in the US as well so we'll speak to them. We'll try to narrow down our ideal locations we want to visit - really good to know about those extra road closures. From what I gather, the actual parks don't close in winter, they're just harder to access depending on the snowfall?

    We have been getting quotes for renting a van but it will cost about $4.5K or more for the duration of our trip whereas it seems we could buy a van for $2-4K and sell it at the end. It would be great to be able to make some money back, unlike with a rental, minus the travelling expenses of course. We'll have to consider those issues of potential breakdown tho and I will also have a look at the company suggested in the head you posted Lifemagician (thanks for that!) and see if there's a better deal. We are backpacking through Central / South America at the moment so will also look into some travel friendly road maps!

    I am a bit concerned about it being winter when we arrive. While we've been assured Cali on the coast should be fine, it's going farther north or inland that I'm worried about. It would obviously be ideal to be able sleep in the van depending where we are (understanding some places will be too cold or won't allow it). With a good sleeping bag / warm clothing is it possible to get by sleeping in the van in inland Cali, up to Oregon and to places like the desert southwest, Death Valley, Monument Valley and around Pheonix etc? Really appreciate those suggestions Southwest Dave. Not great about the water issues with the van during winter tho, we'll need to give that more thought.

    Thanks so much all!

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

    Default A possible compromise. [?]

    For something that you can sleep in which is not too expensive and would give you the option of nights in a motel when it's cold, or you fancy home comforts, and without feeling to penalised financially, you could look at an Escape camper van.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Escape Vans.

    Escape vans have had good reports on this forum. There is a member from Sydney - John Waters - who has used them several times with glowing reports. His trip reports are in the Field Trip Reports Forum.

    Note that you cannot just stop to sleep anywhere, and would need to add campground fees to the cost, some of which can be as much as a budget motel. It is possible to stay at places like truck stops and big box stores (with permission) but these are not always available near the major tourist attractions, or in the cities, where of course all other charges are higher. Besides, in those places where you can park overnight for free, it is not possible to 'camp'. No bbq! no chairs out! Just parking!

    Your friends may have been able to buy and sell, but most folk end up virtually giving their vehicle away as their departure day nears. It would be interesting to know which company they used for insurance, and how they went about registering the vehicle in their own names.


  8. Default

    This is a great site, thanks Southwest Dave! Here are some good rates for when we want to travel. We'll be looking at details of the locations suggested, more questions to come!
    Many thanks.

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