Advice for virgin travellers
My female friend and I are planning to meet in LA this summer. We are planning to spend about a month ideally, travelling up to Canada. no flights are booked and we are unsure as to travel on Amtrak, or rent a camper van and drive. My concerns are A) How safe for two girls to drive? and B) what is the cheaper option.
I hope someone can help, (Bob??) I have no clue as to the time it takes, what we can see and where we can stay.
So any advice would be brilliant.
There have been many threads on these boards about safety issues for women traveling solo or in pairs. In essence, if you use the same common-sense you use everyday to go to the grocery store, mall, etc., you will normally be quite safe. Don't sweat it. You might want to search through some threads here to get more specific advice.
I haven't done Amtrak but some friends did that route a few years back. They did enjoy the scenery but said that the trip was long and tedious and they missed the option of being able to pull over and stop at interesting sites. They don't regret doing it but they will never do it again.
As for time and expenses, I would suggest searching the Amtrak site for their prices and itineraries and comparing that to rental car costs that you can easily find on the various rental agency websites.
Personally, I would go with the car but I love to drive. If neither of you care to drive, then Amtrak might be a good option.
I agree on all Judy said. My only concern is that renting a "camper-van" or something like that would be pretty expensive. I would probably use a car of some sort instead and buy some basic camping equipment. I think the costs could be better managed that way. (See my next post for more information on this.)
Amtrak vs van rental
Here's a comparison I was able to quickly come up with on the internet. Think about what Judy said in terms of flexibility -- you'd have much less of that (where and when to stop) with Amtrak than you would with a camper -- you need to decide how important that is to you. Plus I've added a third option to the end...
A typical camper rental for 30 days: $94 per day = $2,820.00. Plus, extra coverage on insurance (optional) $450. Fuel for 3000 miles; the distance between LA and Bellingham WA is 1237 miles, plus extra miles for Canada = $600. I figured 10 miles per gallon over 3000 miles, at $2 per gallon (our gas prices are high right now -- don't know where they'll be in July-August -- could be higher or lower). The total is $3420 USD without the increased insurance protection, $3870 with. (It lowers your risk on the camper to $150). The web site didn't say what your exposure was without it, but the daily rate included basic coverage and all taxes. You could get the answer from them -- www.camperusa.com . I make no representation whether there is a cheaper alternative out there somewhere -- this was just one quote from one renter. So consider this a general estimate of what the costs could be and it does not include food -- preparing your own, you could easily eat for $20 per day for two -- total $600.
For Amtrak, a 30 day summer (Western region) railpass is $405 each person (if you are from another country -- not available to US citizens). Amtrak has a westcoast service San Diego to Seattle -- and connecting service to Canada. Any Canadian service, or service operated JOINTLY with Canada, is extra. You need reservations, and as far ahead as you can, for seats. The price does not include sleeping accommodations. BUT, you could get off the train in cities along the way, and rent a small car for a fraction of the cost of the motorhome, and you can find inexpensive hostels along the way. On the train, you can sleep in your seat -- many travelers do although it is not very comfortable unless you can roll up into a fairly compact "ball." In many of the cities along the way, you would not need to rent a car -- you could use public transportation (buses mostly). But your meal costs will be higher, and you'd have extra costs associated with the required transportation and accommodations during your stops and side-trips. This could drive up the costs to where they constitute almost the same amount as the camper (with car rentals, extra train tickets for Canada, motels, etc).
The trade off is cost for convenience. I think you can do this trip cheaper on the train, but it will require lots of extra groundwork and planning. The extra cost of the rented camper would give you lots of increased flexibility. But read on!
The third option is to buy some inexpensive camping gear, and rent a small car (buy the gear here and leave it when you are finished -- you could donate it to a charity thrift store or something like that). Go from campground to campground, park to park, and eat out of an ice chest. Get a room or hostel once or twice a week for comfort if you wish. Gas would be 1/4 to 1/3 the cost of the campervan. All you really need is a stove ($35), sleeping bags ($30 each) and pads (inexpensive), a couple of camp chairs ($15 each), an ice chest ($35) and a small tent ($20-$100 depending). (A bit over $200 USD total) This is probably (I'm guessing) the cheapest way to go of the three -- and you get the same flexibility you do with the camper -- plus the ease of only having to drive a small car. I suspect you can get a small car with some advance planning for a bit over $100 per week plus insurance if you aren't already covered -- maybe less if someone is having a "special." I think this is just as safe as the campervan as long as you keep your wits about you and by all means, camp where others are camped, especially families. If you do this, and it is not hard in summer, you'll be as safe as anyone. Estimated total costs for this method could be as low as $2000 USD plus your airfare. To get the cheapest car rate, you need to be 25 at least, but companies will often rent to 21+ folks for an extra charge.
If this causes more questions, post a reply. Bob
Thanks you guys for the really useful info. You have really answered all my current questions, thanks again its really exiting and the car option sounds a definate goer. Great, roll on July.