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  1. Default Family "gap year" - 6mths USA & 3mths Canada - first post after lots of reading!

    Hi All,

    I have been reading and enjoying many different threads and trip reports on this site and have already done quite a lot of trip planning for our family gap year (well, not quite a year) with our teenage girls. We are moving from Australia to New Zealand and are taking the once in a lifetime opportunity to do some long term travel with our kids.

    We have done a few 5-6 week trips in the US with our girls and just love the variety, history, scenery, culture and people we have met in the US during our trips.

    I will outline briefly where we have been already so that it explains some perhaps notable absences in the planning for this trip;

    . Winter 2011
    Skiing in Colorado (Winter Park), Moab (Arches & Canyonlands), Monument Valley, Sedona, Grand Canyon, Page, Zion NP, Bryce Canyon, Las Vegas, LA (Disney) & Oahu.
    . Winter 2013
    Las Vegas, Route 66, Durango, Taos & Santa Fe, Washington DC, Charleston, Savannah (very briefly), Orlando (Disney), San Francisco & Kauai.
    Winter 2015
    . Two weeks in New York City then Bahamas cruise.

    It was during our first trip when our girls were 10 & 8 and we were travelling with my 60ish parents that we realised the incredible natural beauty and variety that the US offers which isn't something that is widely acknowledged in Australia. After that first trip we were well and truly hooked :-)

    So, with our 6 month US extended holiday visas sorted but on the assumption that we will NOT necessarily get an extension to these we are planning to spend Feb - July 2017 in the US and then 3 months in Canada on a standard tourist visa before returning to begin our new life in New Zealand.

    Also of note is the fact that my husband's sister is married to an American and they live in Gig Harbor, just outside of Seattle. They will be purchasing a vehicle on our behalf and registering it in Washington and we will then use an auto shipper to transport the car down to our start point which is Dallas. I know we're really lucky in having these guys in Washington because all of my research led me to the conclusion that buying a vehicle for non-residents was almost impossible and renting a car for 9 months practically blows our road trip budget out of the water.

    Some other information of note is;
    . Whilst not big hikers as such we are happy to walk and explore and we were incredibly impressed with the state and national parks in the areas we have already visited.
    . We love driving minor roads (but are happy to take interstates for expediency when required) but particularly enjoy discovering the small towns and local sights mixed in of course with major tourist areas but don't like overly developed areas.
    . Having said this I'll now contradict myself and confess to happily spending time in Orlando (obviously extremely commercial) where we all enjoy the Disney parks (particularly our kids) and we are in fact Disney Vacation Club members and will be spending almost a month in Orlando on DVC points.
    . We will be trying to base ourselves in each place for anywhere between 3 and 7 nights depending on how far we have to push through and what is of particular interest to us around the area.
    . There will be quite a few long drives to just get from Point A to Point B but we will try and limit driving on any one day to about 5-6 hours maximum.
    . Where we've got a long distance to cover we will simply stay in a chain motel for one night and will probably sign up to a loyalty plan for a particular chain (thinking perhaps Holiday Inn).
    . The remainder of our accommodation will be self catering places booked either via Airbnb or VRBO. Where possible we will always stay in places with at least basic kitchen facilities (preferably full kitchens) as cooking "at home" and preparing lunches to take on the road will be a big part of staying on budget for this trip.
    . Budget. This is a biggie. We are budgeting on USD900 on AVERAGE per week with the realisation that we can get can away with spending less in some places but will need to spend more in others (like DC & NYC). As long as it evens out over our time away we're fine with that.
    . Our budget overall for gas / food / activities will also be around USD900/week but things like theme park tickets etc will not come out of this money, they will be bought separately.
    . We will buy a National Park annual pass.
    . State Parks are probably a bit trickier but can you buy a pass for particular states if we think we will visit quite a few parks in that state or do you have to pay individually for each one?
    . We will try and have at least one day per week where we don't spend anything (other than feeding ourselves)!
    . We will transport pantry and fridge basics from place to place and would be curious to know if there is an easy way to hook up a basic fridge in the back of our car (likely to be a Dodge Grand Caravan) so we don't have a lot of food being spoilt while we are on the road.

    OK, and now to our actual basic itinerary and this is where I would really welcome your thoughts and comments because with all the research in the world there is nothing like hearing from people who have literally already been there and done that!

    1st Feb 2017
    Land in Dallas and spend a few days taking delivery of the car, organising basic supplies (set-up) and checking out Dallas & Fort Worth.
    10 nights here which may seem a little extreme but we'll be a bit jet lagged (direct flight from Sydney) and there will be lots of basic things to sort out. Didn't want to rush this part.

    Waco - big Fixer Upper fans so we'll be dropping into Waco for a night :-)

    Texas Hill Country & San Antonio - 4 nights (staying in Boerne, Tx)

    Avery Island, LA. Stopping in at the home of Tabasco sauce - a favourite of my hubby & good stop on the road trip over to NOLA.

    NOLA - 3 days. Would like to visit Oak Alley Plantation and just take in NOLA.

    Pensacola (town) - 4 days. Hubby is a big aviation fan so will visit Aviation Museum & if he's lucky will see the Blue Angels practise.

    Crystal River, FL - 4 days. Weeki Wachee (see manatees), Rainbow Springs. Explore the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida.

    POSSIBLY we'll have time to go down to Anna Maria Island for a couple of nights. Looks like charming old-Florida which appeals.

    Orlando - end Feb to 19th March - theme parks, Discovery Cove, Disney cruise (4 nights). Meeting with my parents to celebrate my Mum's 70th birthday.

    Hilton Head Island (Disney resort on DVC points) - 5 nights. Hire bikes, explore the island, relax, visit Savannah & Beaufort.

    Charleston, SC - 3 nights. Loved Charleston last visit and although budget won't extend to charming old district B&B this time we'll still love it!

    Atlanta - stay near airport. 25th wedding anniversary gift to my husband will be doing the Porsche Experience at the new centre near Atlanta airport :-)

    Nashville - 4 nights. Visit Franklin (on way there). Just enjoy everything Nashville has to offer.

    Great Smoky Mountains (Asheville) - 3 nights.

    Raleigh (Wake Forest, NC) - 2 nights. Visiting friends.

    Richmond, VA - 5 nights. Explore historical sites and Richmond itself.

    Washington, DC - 5 nights. Perhaps a little late for blossoms :-( but loved DC on previous visit and keen to be there when it isn't quite so cold!

    Lancaster, PA. Amish Country - 5 nights.

    NYC (Brooklyn) - 7 nights.

    Boston / Harvard / Salem - 2 nights.

    Cape Cod (Falmouth) - 7 nights. Day trip to Martha's Vineyard.

    8th - 14th May - we'll take our time during this week to drive across PA (Wellsboro, PA Grand Canyon), Pittsburg (girls are major Dance Moms fans), Ohio Amish country to Ann Arbor, MI. Need some advice on this part of the trip. Could add a bit of time in here if warranted. Not sure of what to see / do in these areas.

    Ludington, MI - 3 nights. Silver Lake Sand Dunes.

    Mackinaw City / Mackinac Island, MI. Visit historic parks in the area. Day trip to Mackinac Island (staying there is too expensive).

    Munising, MI. 2 nights. Painted Rocks National Lakeshore.

    Bayfield, WI. 5 nights. Apostle Islands - kayaking etc. May take a night out before getting to Bayfield to explore the Porcupine Mountains.

    Duluth, MN. 2 nights. Attend the air show (aviation fan) for guaranteed sighting on the Blue Angels & other displays. Early June.

    O/N Minneapolis. Visit Mall of America. This will be a "necessity" for our teenage girls after all the nature they'll be "subjected" to in Michigan etc ;-) They are good and interested travellers but they are, after all, 13 & 15 year old girls!

    Sioux Falls, SD. 2 nights. Looks interesting and breaks up the drive.

    South Dakota - Custer NP, Mt Rushmore, Badlands. 7 nights. This area looks great. Any hot tips much appreciated incl. reasonable accommodation as everything is very expensive and beyond our budget!

    O/N Cheyenne, WY on our way to Colorado.

    Colorado - Rocky Mountain National Park (best place to stay)? Really like Denver (major Broncos fans) and would love to see the Rockies when not covered in snow!

    Moab - 2 nights. Will really be too hot for us by this stage (3rd week of June) in Moab BUT we love Arches NP and would look to do a rafting trip.

    SLC & surrounds. Family in the area. 4 nights.

    Jackson Hole, WY. 4 nights. Grand Teton NP.

    End June to approx. 10th July - Yellowstone NP incl. Going to the Sun Road in Glacier NP.

    Northern Montana via Spokane & Leavenworth to Washington (to stay with family) until the end of July at which time our 6 month visa for the US (if no extension is granted) will be up and we will then go into Canada.

    I really haven't done any research into Canada at this stage but think we should be able to happily spend three months exploring British Columbia & Alberta incl. Vancouver Island.

    If we get a US Visa extension (and they let us back in) we'll head back into Seattle to spend some more time with family but either way we'll be flying home to NZ from Vancouver.

    So, that's the grand plan! It has changed about 1000 times already and I know we're missing huge chunks out (like all of Utah, Arizona, California & Oregon) but we just can't do everything and whilst we'll never do a trip like this again we will come back and we have also done quite a bit through Utah etc on previous trips. It kills me to miss Zion NP (my absolute all-time favourite place) but we just can't do it all!

    I would REALLY appreciate your thoughts and advice on our basic itinerary. There are a few dates that we "need" to be in particular places (Orlando for example is not negotiable as we've booked accommodation with DVC points) and the Duluth air show is high on my husbands list as he won't get to see Fleet Week in SF as previously hoped!

    I hope I've given you enough info to give me some valid opinions and I'll look forward to hearing back!

    Thanks for your help, really appreciate it :-)


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default A grand plan with one possible flaw.

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

    I have read through most of your grand plan. However, I note one flaw, which may have you need to make a few changes.

    If you read the conditions of your visa carefully, you will note that you have 180 days in the USA, after which you will be obliged to exit the North American Continent. I am not aware of anyone getting an extension to those 180 days for tourism reasons alone.

    If you want to spend three months in Canada, you will need to do that before you enter the USA.

    That is how every 6 month visa works, according to my reading and experience of it. Before you go any further with your planning I would clarify this with the consulate at which you were granted your visa. But normally the clock starts ticking when you enter the USA, and after that, all time spent in Canada is counted as part of the 180 days.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default logistics

    As Lifey mentioned, you may need to start your trip in Canada because of visa issues. There are also a couple of other logistical issues to keep in mind.

    While it is great that you've got extended family to purchase a vehicle for you, there are some additional things to think about there too. First, if you plan to sell the car at the end of your trip, you will have to do that in the US. A US car can not easily be sold in Canada.

    Also, it is important to understand that the person who is purchasing and registering the car for you is also taking on a lot of risk. Presumably, you'll have to be added to their insurance, which could impact the rates for all of their cars. If you get into even a minor crash it could raise their rates for years to come, and if you get into a major crash beyond the limits of the insurance policy, the other person could actually go after their personal assets. These are things you both need to understand as you move forward.

    One great thing if you do Canada in 2017, admission to their National Parks will be free all year. As for your question about State Parks, each state is different, and while most of them have some sort of annual pass, the cost and policies for admission can have a huge range from state to state.

    Hooking up an actual fridge in a minivan is not going to be easy - it would generally significant electrical modifications, including adding a second battery. There are 12v Electric Coolers, but you'll still have to be careful that it is still working when the car is off, while not drawing so much power that it leaves your battery dead.

  4. Default Visa difficulties

    I have read through most of your grand plan. However, I note one flaw, which may have you need to make a few changes.

    If you read the conditions of your visa carefully, you will note that you have 180 days in the USA, after which you will be obliged to exit the North American Continent. I am not aware of anyone getting an extension to those 180 days for tourism reasons alone.

    Thanks Lifey for your response (I think)!
    The reason I haven't yet read through the fine print on the Visa is that we haven't actually got it yet although I just noted in the thread that we have a B1/B2 Visa for the sake of clarification of our Visa status. From my reading and discussion with the US Embassy I don't envisage getting a 6 month Visa to be a problem but I did not realise that we couldn't go into Canada after leaving the US. I thought that once we needed to be out of the US .ie. at the end of our US Visa we would be allowed to enter Canada under the Canadian version of the 90 day US Visa Waiver program. Just to clarify - unless granted an extension to our B1/B2 Visa WE WOULD NOT ATTEMPT TO RE-ENTER THE USA. We will have a one-way flight back to NZ booked from Vancouver.

    As much as I've just spent a significant amount of time trying to Google the answer to this there is so much conflicting information it's impossible. I understand that if we go to Canada in the middle of our B1 Visa and then want to re-enter the US that the whole time we're in Canada (or Mexico or the Bahamas etc) is counted as time spent in the US on our visa but I don't quite understand that if we are LEAVING the US and not coming back why we can't simply travel in Canada and then fly home to NZ? Maybe I'm being naive...

    You also note that we should start in Canada first (not so practical given the time of the year), we don't ski that much, but I'm at a loss to understand why we could spend 3 months in Canada before going to the US but not after?

    Is our only way around this literally to fly to somewhere like the UK (or indeed back to Aus) and then come back again? Expensive exercise...

    Any further knowledge you have would be great. It is Sunday here now so I can't really clarify this situation until tomorrow and it's doing my head in because as you say, at the moment I have one VERY MAJOR FLAW in the grand plan, in that right now we can only stay for a maximum of six months before having to leave :-(

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    You're really not going to be able to do much in line of booking until you get the Visa thing completely worked out. BTW, Monday in the US is Labor Day, so government offices are pretty much shut down.

    South Dakota - Custer NP, Mt Rushmore, Badlands. 7 nights. This area looks great. Any hot tips much appreciated incl. reasonable accommodation as everything is very expensive and beyond our budget!
    This is a lovely area, just toured it in 2014 and passed through with a stop in 2016. In the area is Custer State Park (not National), with three scenic drives that are worth the time: Iron Mountain Scenic Drive, Needles Scenic Drive, and the Wildlife Loop. Mount Rushmore -- I highly recommend seeing that in the morning when it's not so crowded. Wind Cave National Park is the first national park to preserve a cave, and has many different tours available. Jewel Cave National Monument is also nearby. Badlands is worth a half day's drive through. Within about an hour's drive of the Black Hills is Devils' Tower National Monument, the US' first national monument and quite an amazing mountain. Wall Drug is just outside of the Badlands, and quite a tourist attraction -- stop in for your free ice water, 5c coffee, and lots of walking. There are also plenty of places in there, and across the street, to eat. Up in Rapid City is a national historic place, Dinosaur Park, on the top of a hill. It's a city park full of concrete dinosaurs for kids to play on, built by the WPA in 1936.

    As for where to stay in the area -- we stayed in Custer City, in a motel that had cabins. They were cute, small, and cheaper than a lot of the other places around. This past trip, we stayed at the Econo Lodge in Wall (about 4 blocks from Wall Drug) that was budget-friendly.

    There are a number of ways to make any trip more budget-friendly:

    * If you have a smartphone, get an app called GasBuddy, and use it. You can find the less expensive fuel, sometimes saving yourselves 30c per gallon.

    * Carry a cooler in your car and fill it with your store-bought drinks and fresh snacks. A stop at Walmart or a grocery store will save you half over a convenience store.

    * For lunches, utilize that cooler. Purchasing sandwich makings and some plastic-ware and paper plates is a lot cheaper than buying a similar lunch in the national park.

    * Many US grocery stores, including Walmart, have hot foods available to purchase. This past summer, we stopped at a grocery store several times and purchased something to take back to the hotel and eat.

    * US national parks and individual state parks do not utilize the same passes. Currently, the Annual National Park pass is $80. Mt Rushmore will not accept the pass because they charge for parking, not entrance, and parking isn't covered by the pass. Wind and Jewel Cave charge for tours but not entrance, so those won't be covered by the pass, either. As MWMichael stated, Canada is offering free admission to their parks in 2017, which is a nice budget saver.

    You do need to work out the vehicle issue, too. Some very good points have been raised as to how you'd intend to get a US purchased car back to the US from Canada.


  6. Default

    Thanks guys for all your help.
    With regard to the visa we will investigate this with the US embassy in Sydney tomorrow (currently Sunday). I wonder if the real issue is that when we leave the US at the end of our B2 visa duration via land into Canada that there is no way of proving that we have in fact left the US and not over-stayed our visa. If this is the issue (and we have a flight from Vancouver back home) could we possibly ask at the US / Canadian border to have it noted that we are leaving the US?
    Given that the US and Canada have completely different systems I can only see that the issue with allowing only a maximum of 180 on the northern American continent is the fact that when you go to Canada via land that they can't prove you ever left the US and are therefore in contravention of your B2 visa.
    With regard to the vehicle, assuming we are allowed into Canada, our relatives who live in Seattle will retrieve the car from us in Vancouver and sell it on our behalf in Seattle so that won't be an issue.
    Thanks Donna for your tips on South Dakota, some great tips there :-)

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Wait for the visa and then continue your planning.

    Jenn, since you don't yet have the visa, there is no guarantee that you will get it. Until you have it in your passport, you cannot say you have it.

    I have a B1/B2 visa, and have had for a dozen years or so. I got it because some of my children and most of my grandchildren live in the US. I have not heard of it being issued for tourism purposes alone. If you have family in the US, and mentioned that in your application you have a fairly good chance, but I will not say it will be definite.


    If you get the Visa:

    All is not lost. You can start your trip in Canada - April, May and June - then spend six months in the US. April may be quite cold still in some parts of Canada, but May can be very nice, as will June be. I have on several occasions spent May and June in Canada on extended trips, including the Canadian Rockies, and much further north than you may wander. Instead of starting your US trip in Dallas, start in the north, and work down to the south. In other words, turn you current plan around. That means that the summer months in the US you will spend in the north, and as it cools, you travel down to the warmer south. Do not count on an extention, I have never heard of any one getting it for tourism.

    You could fly in and out of Vancouver, or any other Canadian port of entry. You cannot transit through the US before Canada. So if you land in Vancouver, you would need to get your family to bring the car up to Vancouver. On this point I highly recommend that you heed Michael's warnings, especially about the insurance. But there are also issues about having the ownership in family or friends' names There is however another way of going about it. It is the way I bought my vehicle. It is via a firm of attorneys in Missoula, but the car does not need to be in Missoula. Your family could purchase the car and contact the attorneys and they would see to the rest.... other than insurance, which the family/you would have to organise in YOUR name. There would not be any need for anyone to go to Missoula.

    If you do not get the Visa, you still start in Canada, spending three months there, and then three months in the US. You would have to cut back on some of the activities and time spent in some places, but in three months it still is possible to cover all the places you want to go at a fairly leisurely pace. The car situation would not change.

    I have never had any documents to enter Canada, other than my Australian passport.

    But listen mate. If I were in your shoes right now, I would not do anything any further until you have that visa in your hands. Have you been for your interviews? Meanwhile here is a link to information on the B1/B2 which I could locate on the Sydney consulate site. You might start by reading that. (I did not read it this time.)

    As for having a fridge in the car. I have always had this. At home as well as in the US. I have a Dometic 35CF. They come in many sizes, but check them out on the internet. You will need an extra battery installed, and that is trickier than getting the fridge. Auto electricians are no where near as common in the US as they are in Sydney (and Melbourne). But if you find a good one, it will be worth it. For comparison, I bought my fridge in 2012 (the year I bought the van) - $485 and had an auto electrician in PA install the battery - $600. Before I had my fridge in the US, I had a 12v cooler, which only ran while the ignition was on. It lasted a mere 4 months before it almost caught fire. The proper fridges are a lot better.


  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Quote Originally Posted by JennW1403 View Post
    I wonder if the real issue is that when we leave the US at the end of our B2 visa duration via land into Canada that there is no way of proving that we have in fact left the US and not over-stayed our visa. If this is the issue (and we have a flight from Vancouver back home) could we possibly ask at the US / Canadian border to have it noted that we are leaving the US?
    That may be part of the issue, and it actually touches on a real practical concern. If you do not have a return flight scheduled before your visa expires, the airline may red flag you and not let you board your flight to the US in the first place. If you are denied entry to the US, the airlines are responsible for sending you back at their expense, so that may be something they look at.

    Really, the important thing is to make sure you have it completely sorted out - in writing - before you are even close to leaving.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default A fact I overlooked..... but take note.

    Jenn, it is a fact, just as Michel pointed out, that you will not be allowed to board your outward bound flight without a ticket home before your visa expires. In years gone past it was the travel agents who took care of all this, and told us what we could do, how and when. Now that we are all doing this ourselves, we need to know all the rules and regulations, before we start making plans. Unfortunately many assume that they can just organise it all on the run, and think it will work. But I have to tell you that 9 times out of 10, it does not work the way someone wanted it to.

    Others quote friends/family who did it this way or that, but when queried, these were all pre 9/11. On that day all regulations changed.

    This is the very reason the visa application states not to book anything before you have their response. They will not refund bookings made hoping/assuming you would have a visa.

    You are not the first to raise a visa query this year. There have been several, and all have brought up ways they thought they could get round the rules of Border Control and Homeland Security. Not so! To them you (and I) are just tourists - they see millions every year - and your specific situation is of no interest to them.

    If you have not already been for your interviews, I would keep this in mind, and not focus on what plans you have made, and the dates and times you want to spend in certain places, or events you want to attend. Focusing on visiting family will likely be viewed more favourably.


  10. Default All sorted now - new plan in place.

    Hi guys,

    Thanks for all your advice. After the realisation that we had to leave the north American continent due to visa restrictions we have literally gone back to the drawing board and in a nutshell this is our plan;

    Use our current ESTA's to travel to the US for just under 90 days between February and April next year, finishing in New York in late April. At this time we will fly to the UK and spend 3 months (May / June / July) exploring the UK. We have previously lived in London but there is much of the UK that we haven't seen and our girls who are 13 & 15 have never been there.

    Return to NY in early August (we can stay for 6 months in the UK with no restrictions, so will spend just over 3 months there). Continue our planned trip from NY across the northern mid-west, SD, Yellowstone etc and ending up with our family in Washington in late October, so under our 90 day maximum allowed on our ESTA before returning home (obviously we will have our return flight booked so when we fly back from London to NY we won't have an issue on re-entry).

    What we love about this trip is that the second portion of our US travels - Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming -will be completed in August & September, which for these areas, is better than doing them in May / June as previously planned as I'm sure they are better as true summer destinations (particularly places like UP Michigan).

    The downside is no Canada this time but clearly due to visa restrictions this was just not going to work. Another time as they say...

    Thanks for all your help. I might post some other questions about our route as I really appreciated the detailed information I got on South Dakota earlier in the thread. It is exactly that type of local advice that is so valuable.

    Jenn :-)

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