I’m hoping to go on a road trip to the western United States over December/January and am looking for some help in relation to planning it. We’re intending to start off in LA and then doing a huge loop up via the coast to Vancouver and then inland (i.e. via Salt Lake City and Las Vegas) on the leg back to LA. Sorry for the super-long post and countless questions. I guess I'm just the type that likes to be prepared =). Apologies if some of these questions have been answered in other threads.
a) My friend and I are 21 and want to hire a car from Los Angeles. We will be driving probably around 12,000 kilometres over about 41 days. I’ve heard that there will be a surcharge on the rental given our ages and was wondering if anyone knew which company was best for youth car rentals. In New Zealand, we managed to get a hire car at 18 and on a provisional licence without a surcharge, but I don’t expect that to be the case in the US. Also, would it make much difference in terms of price as to hiring from the airport versus the suburbs? Alternatively, would buying a car be a better option and how would one go about this? Is it even possible given that we're Australian? How would insurance work?
b) We’re going to be heading north from California through Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. Given that it’s the middle of winter, I expect that it would be snowing in places. I’ve also heard (and seen clips) referring to ‘black ice’. As someone who’s never driven in the snow before (but quite a lot of gravel roads), does anyone have any tips for snow driving? And would a 4WD/SUV be better? And are there any car preparation steps I need to take before going into freezing temperatures? (e.g. anti-freeze, snow chains, etc.) Should I buy the snow chains or just rent them (taking into consideration the only place we’ll return to is LA)? The route also involves some ‘back roads’ (i.e. US routes and state routes as opposed to interstates), would these likely be drivable in winter? I realise that many national parks will have road closures (Yellowstone, etc.).
c) We’re also hoping to see Vancouver whilst we’re up Washington (state) way. Is there anything we need to do in terms of visas and such going over the border to Canada? How long are the queues for customs, typically? We’re also considering hopping over to Mexico for a bit whilst in California; however, I’ve heard stories about how it would take several hours to cross the border in a car. Would travelling over as a pedestrian be easier/faster? And are there any customs/visa issues that need to be sorted out? Also, is it safe?
d) In terms of accommodation, we’ve planned out an itinerary/route but I’m not entirely sure whether we’d be able to stick to it exactly (e.g. adverse weather, breakdowns, etc.). Do you think there’d be accommodation available if we just drove into roadside motels? And would this be much more expensive as opposed to pre-booking?
e) I currently have an iPhone 3GS (Australian models can be unlocked). I figure that the cheapest way to have a phone would be to take my iPhone and then get a prepaid SIM card. Does anyone have any specific suggestions for this? We’d probably also want internet access here and there but I’m not sure if I need a plan with data as I’ve heard free Wi-Fi spots are much more plentiful in the US. I also figured I could use my iPhone (alongside a GPS navigation app) in lieu of hiring a dedicated GPS unit. On that note, do any of the western US states prohibit the mounting of a navigation device on the windscreen?
f) Given the fourteen-hour flight, I assume that jet lag may be a significant issue—any advice? Are there any specific remedies other than just spending a day sleeping it off?
g) I’ve been checking the airlines’ websites and the sub-$1,000 (Australian) return tickets now seem long gone. I realise that my guess is probably as good as anyone else’s as to how the ticket prices which change in the coming days but at about $1,500 now, should I wait any further? Or just snap them up ASAP?
h) What would be the best way to handle money? I assume it's not wise to just carry around large piles of money.
i) I’ve checked that all my adapters are 110V compatible but it would be an annoyance having to get a head converter for each and every adapter. Would it be possible to just bring an Australian power-board and just stick a head adapter to that instead?
j) Finally, are there any other general suggestions/tips/experiences anyone’s willing to share? =)
Thanks for the help! =D Congrats for making it through my very long message :P. Hopefully the information provided here will help others out as well. :)