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  1. Default Planning First Family US Roadtrip West Coast

    Hi there, we are an active family of 4 from London UK with two boys aged 8 and 10, trying to plan our very first visit as a family to the US. We are trying to plan our trip around a set weekend we have to be in Seattle 21-23 August (for a family reunion). The other constraint is we must be back in the UK by 31 August ready for the boys next academic year.

    So we were thinking either fly into LA and take a two week road trip up to Seattle, stopping at beautiful, interesting, fun, educational stuff on the way, then have our weekend in Seattle and fly home. An alternative idea would be to fly into Seattle then after our weekend have a road trip for 6 days somewhere then fly home (not sure if that works as I have no idea what we could do or where we could go in the time).

    We were considering whether we should hire an RV for our trip or simply hire a car and stop at motels ? Not sure how well motels work for families. We have hired motor homes before and the boys loved it, but I see they are quite expensive for one way trips in the US and mileage can be a costly extra. I haven't driven in the U.S. before, but I have driven all over Europe with no problems.

    For the LA > Seattle trip, we'd like to spend some time in interesting cities or towns (like San Francisco, Portland) but also see some beautiful countryside, natural wonders (like national parks, etc). We aren't adverse to theme parks (but theme parks are all pretty similar right ?) but would prefer to try to focus more on educational interesting things to visit and food to eat for our boys to create great memories.

    I'm told the weather is good, although some of the single carriageway roads like the 1 and 101 can be a bit slow.

    Any help will be greatly received.



  2. Default

    You must first decide between RV and car.If it was me, I would prefer a comfortable car as you will get better gas mileage and make better time than you would with RV. Also, you must also decide if you would pay the additional and very expensive cost of a drop off charge for a one way rental, or just return the rental to its original location of LA or Seattle.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia


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

    The first question in my mind is, what made you choose LA to Seattle? What is the attraction, and what are the family's interests?

    If this were me with two boys the age of yours, I would plan a trip which could take in the great wonders of the natural world such as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Death Valley (even though that is very very hot in August) Zion, Bryce, Monument Valley and much of breathtaking Utah.

    The benefits I see, besides the most amazing country on the planet, is that you could do a loop trip, avoiding the inevitable one way drop fees. If you are set on an RV for the trip, it will be much more enjoyable visiting the national parks, than driving through urban areas. Be aware that a one way fee - dropping a vehicle in a place other than where you picked up the vehicle - can run into the hundreds of dollars.

    A loop trip would also give you the option to start and end in the place where you get the best combined flight/car deal. In my example above, that would be either LA, Las Vegas or San Francisco.

    As for car vs RV, here is an article which may help you decide. But keep in mind, it is rarely cheaper to rent an RV than travel by car and stay in hotel/motels, once you take in the consideration of the extras.... bedding, kitchen, low miles per gallon and campground fees (which can be as much as a budget hotel).


  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Central Missouri


    RV vs car+motel is always debated. RV's are rarely the economical choice in the US, as the costs of renting it, mileage, the extra fuel it uses and then the one-way drop off charges usually make motel/restaurant/rental car a lot more affordable. Another thought is that you won't want an RV around a city -- they are almost impossible to park somewhere.

    With a family of 4, there are two ways that people deal with motels. Most families on budgets, with two same-gender children, just share one room and get two queen or king beds. Others, whose budgets will allow, get two rooms and ask for them "adjoining" -- i.e. a door in the wall between the rooms. Some, whose children will not share a bed for whatever reason, give one the bed and get a portable bed for the other one. Most motels have them available, albeit for an extra charge. There are also motels with Suites, where there are two bedrooms and sometimes a sitting room and/or kitchen in them. They are usually more expensive than a motel with 2 rooms, but you could then do a little cooking in the room as a change from restaurants.

    As far as places to see like national parks -- Redwoods National Park has the tallest redwood trees, in Northern California. Oregon Caves National Monument is a beautiful cave, in SW Oregon, not far from the 101. Crater Lake would be worthwhile, especially in August when the park road is usually open all the way around it. (This is one road that is possible, but NOT fun, in an RV. Parking!) Mt St Helens and Mt Rainier parks are in Washington. ALL of these parks have something called the Junior Ranger program. This program, which you obtain from the visitor center, allows your children to see the park in a way that makes it more fun for them than just, "oh see the pretty waterfall," "yeah Ma". If the program is completed in the park, the child gets a badge, a patch, or similar to collect. You could also start them on a US National Park System "Passport" book, where you collect rubber stamp markings from every park (and every part of a park) that you visit.


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

    Default The loop trip.

    I have to agree that a loop trip would be most cost effective and give you a chance to see more of the country by creating a loop and not having to double back. You could start out from a City of your choice and make Seattle the turn around point, or start in Seattle a couple of weeks before your dates and spend a few days there before flying home. You could consider places like Glacier, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons NP's, the Columbia river Gorge and much more from Seattle. An RV can be a fantastic family 'Lifestyle' choice depending on your goals for the trip, they are of course suited more to the 'great outdoors' than they are the City.

  6. #6


    Hello Andy! And welcome!

    I have driven the I-5 corridor between Seattle and Los Angeles more time then I can count, along with every possible route north/south off I-5. Your first problem is that there are essentially three routes to go - along the Coast, along I-5 or inland. Each has their plusses and minuses and you're going to miss things along the line by taking one route over the other.

    The downside to an RV is that gas is much more expensive, you're going to be going slower on the boring parts of roads, they're harder to maneuver, and during that time of the year you're going to have to have a firm schedule and reserve camping spots ahead of time. If you were going to stay at a remote location for a length of time and RV is the ideal option in my opinion, but not for long trips like this.

    A car gives better flexibility to your schedule and allows you to bypass boring parts easier. Motels are fine for families, I use the Expedia iPhone App to book places about an hour or so before I get into town.

    Personally I would at least do two or three days at Disneyland while in California. Maybe one at Universal Studios. At that age your kids are going to love it and Disney is sort of a once in a lifetime thing for many people. You might also head out to the beach there if that's your thing. Other options are Car Museums, California Science Museum (where one of the Space Shuttles is located,) Griffin Observatory (both for the science, but also as a place that has been in movies multiple times.)

    I would head north to go see Yosemite for a day, then cross over to San Francisco and stay there a day or two. The waterfront is awesome for a first visit, the Zoo is one of my personal favorites. Take 101 north from there to Eureka and go through the Red Woods along the old highway. If you're into Wine at all, this is the opportunity to do some tastings. There are tons of Roadside attractions through there that are educational and fun. Continue on 101 north until Crescent City where I'd pass inland to Grants Pass and then to Crater Lake. You'll want to spend the night in Grants Pass because all camping and lodging near Crater Lake at that time of the year will be booked up. Suggest you look into eating at Taprock Northwest Grill for both the view and the food. And grab some sandwiches for a picnic at Crater Lake.

    From Crater Lake head north along 97 up to Bend. Spend the day in Bend, there are a number of educational things around there from lava caves to the High Desert Museum to the Peterson Rock Garden (showing it's age, but still cool).

    Bend to Portland is an easy day trip. Look out for the Crooked River Canyon (Peter Skene Ogden State Park) as a good rest stop. *edit* Can't add the picture for some reason go here to see it:

    Spend a couple of days in Portland. Lots of good food options, check out food carts for cheap eats . OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) is geared towards kids your age and worth it.

    From there head west along Highway 26 towards Tillamook. The Air Museum there is cool, the Tillamook Cheese Factory is cool. Head North to Astoria and try to stay the night there. Seaside is a tourist town with a bunch of things to do, and lots of cheap hotels. Depending on the day they may all be full though so it's usually easier to stay in Astoria. Astoria has several WWII Forts, the Astoria Column, and Fort Clatsop as educational options. Across the river are a couple of Lighthouses and Marsh's Free Museum in Longbeach. The stretch between Tillamook and Astoria is absolutely gorgeous with several good places to stop for view.

    From there cross the river and keep on 101. I'll be honest, there is little do along 101 between here and Aberdeen. But it's a gorgeous drive. From Aberdeen head inland towards Seattle and finish up your trip there.

    Taking it slow that trip would take me about ten days to do.

  7. Default

    Be aware that the larger the RV, the more limited your camping opportunities at the State Parks. I would suggest you not exceed 30 feet.

    You will NEED reservations at most of the State Parks along the PCH. The alternative would be one of the ridiculously expensive purivate campgrounds, some which are glorified parking lots. Even those could be sold out.

    As for driving the Pacific Coast Highway, most of the scenic pull-offs will be across the road on your left. Another reason to go with a smaller RV.

    Regarding visiting large cities with an RV, I wouldn't even try it.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default Tips for family road trips

    And here are some time-tested suggestions for involving the entire family -- especially your kids in the trip planning process.

    We've also published articles about a number of possible routes between those two cities. Here is one about the famous Big Sur... and you can find more by clicking on the map found on this page.

    Quote Originally Posted by travelingman View Post
    Regarding visiting large cities with an RV, I wouldn't even try it.
    It's really not that big a deal. Remember, your RV will be smaller than a city bus and city busses do fine in big cities. You do have to get used to driving a larger vehicle -- but seriously, it's just not that tough.

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