Help an Irish bloke!!
Complete beginner to the road trip thing. I am planning to go to Boston around the end of November and I'm planning on "casually" getting myself to California, taking about 6 months to do this, on my own. Any advice on routes, must see places, economical/reliable vehicles or money saving tips would be hugely appreciated!!
Six Months! That's Fantastic!
Welcome to the Great American RoadTrip Forum, Uisce Beatha!
Sounds like you've got a great adventure ahead of you -- I'm envious! Are you planning to buy a vehicle? For a trip as long as yours, it might make sense. A good book to check out is Drive USA -- a review is online at http://www.roadtripamerica.com/read/uk.htm. It's got lots of good info about renting, buying, insurance, traffic laws, licenses, etc.
As for routes, there are lots of ways to get between Boston and California -- are there any places you've already decided to visit? That might help you get started. Since you'll be starting out as winter begins, you might consider taking a southerly route. You could drive from Boston all the way down to Florida before you head west. Key West is definitely worth the journey! But hey, so are a lot of other places -- I'm just thinking off the top of my head.
The wonderful thing about the U.S.
Is that no mater where you go, there is something to see! National Parks and other Federal Protected Lands (Forests, National Battlefields, Historic Sites) make really good points, and state parks do as well. Some small towns can have nice downtown areas to walk though.
Country lanes are also great if you are into the "act of driving in spectacular area" rather than going to an actual park or place. Many paved county roads have some really great views. They are just off the beaten path.
For you, I would say stick to the Parks and Federal Lands first, then begin to wander. The best roadtrip for me is the one with no specific destination.
Here is some other advice:
These are just some tips. The rest is just common sense. Remember, the road is more relaxing than yoga, speed limit signs are not for decoration, cops are hiding just around the next bend, and hitchhikers may or may not be your friend.
- Make sure your vehicle is worthy! Get fluids and systems checked prior to long road trips.
- Maintain a communication line. Get a Cell phone, and I would greatly suggest a CB Radio (they are more reliable than cell phones, and actually cost less).
- Check into an Auto Club (AAA, etc.) or a Roadside Assistance Program (Sprint, etc.). This is great to have, just in case (for more info on AAA, please ask. I work for the Arizona affiliate.)
- Stock your car! Keep extra oil, water, fluids, and some tools in your car at all times. Make sure you have an adequate jack and the correct lugwrench for your wheels, and a good spare. Keep other emergency items (blankets, water, flashlights, spare cash, food, flares or reflective triangles, etc.)
- Get good maps! At minimum a road atlas, some state maps (availble through some state governments/Departments of Transportation, or on an AAA Membership) [for washington, free state of washington maps at www.wsdot.wa.gov]. Make sure you update them every so often.
Good luck, and welcome to the Great American Pasttime of Driving.
Last edited by RoadTripper Brad; 03-28-2005 at 08:06 PM.
Reason: hit submit too soon
Thanks for the reply guys.. great info will definitley be of use. I am planning on buying a car alright but I am slightly torn I have been looking for a car that is either completely reliable and sensible or something that I can look a complete show off.. as ya do!! My two top choices would be a Subaru Legacy Outback which I would trust completely or a Chrysler Sebring convertible which seems to be as reasonably priced a car as any. I suppose some of the sights I want to get in for sure are the real touristy ones, Fenway park, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, Detroit,Cleveland and on and on.... its the little treasures i'm hoping to find along the way!!!
Groovy VS. Reliable
I'd opt for the Subaru, personally. First, you can go off-road, which is cool in its own right. Secondly, convertibles lose a lot of their charisma in bad weather or when somebody slashes the roof. (I know -- it's a downer thing to say, but it's happened to me.) One thing you can do is rent a convertible when you want to impress someone or drive on a road like Highway 1 in California on a beautiful day. (Hey, in Las Vegas, you can rent a Maserati!)
Since you've already got a list of places you want to go, I'd recommend getting a map of the U.S., mark the spots you've already picked, and start connecting the dots. It'll really bring things to life, and you can start filling in the stretches in between with things you find out here and as you do other research.
Dang. Just thinking about this makes me wish I had a six-month road trip to plan!
Big Bend Natl Park
For a most un-Irish (scenic) experience, be sure to visit Big Bend National Park on your way westward -- it's on the SW corner of Texas, along the Rio Grande River and the border.
Megan wrote about Big Bend in a RoadTrip America journal entry -- you can read that entry here. Based on what I've read (here and elsewhere), and photos I've seen, I'd classify Big Bend (and Terlingua) as a "do-not-miss" destination -- I haven't been there yet, but my motorcycle keeps asking me to take it there.
Big Bend National Park, Texas is a must-see. Also while heading west, from there go to CARLSBAD CAVERNS National Park on the border of Texas and New Mexico. Take one or two tours there. You might need to call in advance to book tours.
When seeing Mt. Rushmore, also see CUSTER STATE PARK & MAMMOTH SITE. Both are very close to Mt. Rushmore (all three are within an hour or two of each other).
A little east of Mt. Rushmore is BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK, South Dakota. This is a very unusual & interesting scenic experience. Much different than anything you'll see in Ireland/N. Ireland. Takes about 2-3 hours to do the loop drive-through, with photo stops, no hiking.
Near the entrance to Badlands, right on the interstate is WALL DRUG. A famous touristy souvenir store. Well actually a collection of "stores" all in one long block in the middle of nowhere in the desert. What I found most interesting there was not the trinkets, but the collections of antiques and old historic photographs and paintings.
Across America in winter
Given that you're going to start from Boston in November and take 6 months (through May) weather is going to be a major factor in deciding your route, particularly if you don't have much experience in snow/ice/mountain driving. I'd definitely opt for a southern route outbound, rather than the Detroit-Rushmore-Yellowstone line you've indicated. Even if you return to Boston in May, that may be too early to see the major parks along the typical northern route. Note that Yellowstone typically doesn't open to full car traffic until mid May. November is even getting late to see the fall folliage in New England (a definite 'must see'), but you should still get a decent show if you stick to the coast of Rhode Island and Connecticut (e.g.: Newport, Mystic, New Haven).
That being said, there's plenty to see along a southern or middle route. Consider first hitting the major east coast cities (New York, Philadelphia, Washington) if history and museums are high on your list. Then head inland and enjoy the Appalachian Mountains (Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park). Back toward the coast to experience some southern charm (Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA then on to New Orleans, LA). Texas bills itself as a "whole 'nother country" - be sure to see San Antonio and Big Bend. Next is the desert southwest - White Sands National Monument - and one of the "cactus" parks -Saguaro National Parkand/ or Organ Pipe National Monument. Continue on to some of the great geologic marvels of the North American continent: the Grand Canyon and the parks of southern Utah. Las Vegas to experience a culture found nowhere else on Earth. Hit Death Valley (although you won't get its true 120+F ambience in winter) and then see where in California you want to end up - and what roads are open.
There are lots of "little treasures" along this way and from what I've seen of the habitues of this board, they'll be glad to point out their finds. Keep in touch as your trip gets closer and your plans firm up.
How about an RV
Instead of a car, you might consider renting or buying a small RV/van conversion. You might save enough in camping vs motels to make up for reduced gas mileage, and you'll have much more flexibility in picking places to stop. I'd rather stay in a National Park campground than in a motel miles outside the park.
As far as what to see, I agree with those who suggest compiling a "must see" list (no more than 25 or 30 items) then plot them on a map and connect the dots. We did that for a cross country trip of 6000 miles in 28 days and it worked great. We rented a motorhome (one way from Orlando to Seattle) big enough for 4 people and saw everthing on the list.
As for must-sees I'd include the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Mariposa Grove of big trees, Yellowstone, Organ Pipe, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capital Reef as the primary National Parks (there are many more great parks but these have things you won't see in Europe). Las Vegas is a must if you must, New York because it is NY, Washington for the monuments and museums, Boston, Salem and Plymouth for history, San Francisco for all the reasons people love SF and/or Seattle for many of the same reasons, New Orleans for fun and St. Louis for the arch and the big river. Get the book "Off the Beaten Track" published by Reader's Digest for many interesting not-so-well-known places in between.
There is so much and so little time. My wife and I are doing 6 months this summer, though we have crossed the country several times and have in mind specific places to visit and revisit. With no restrictions I don't know what I would be willing to exclude. You'll just have to do some research and then let the spirit take you. Have fun.
Van/Van conversion -- Great idea!
I definitely second CraigClint -- a van, van conversion, or small RV is a great way to go. They're still easy to park (one of my own big concerns), and they offer great flexibility because you can camp when you don't want to stay in a hotel or motel. Full-sized RVs can be expensive to buy and fuel, but a van offers savings -- and fun, because of the extra options-- all the way around.