HOW TO ORGANIZE A ROAD TRIP IN THE USA

Road trip… who, watching an American movie, has never dreamed of driving on those famous roads? Us!
To be honest, a road trip in the USA was not in our plan. We never thought about it as an option and we were not even attracted by this way of travelling. We have been travelling for more than 700 days but we have never drove a car, we were always passengers on a bus, a train, a tuk tuk… But plans can change so quickly, so here we are driving a car along the famous US roads ( when I say “we” I mean Paolo!)
We decided to organize this road trip in our own way, trying to reduce the costs as much as we could. So we have learnt some “tricks” for a low cost road trip, and we would like to share them in this article.

PRACTICAL TIPS FOR A ROAD TRIP: THE CAR

The car is obviously the most important thing when organizing a road trip.
To choose the right one, we used Auto Europe website which compares different companies to give you the best price. The website is really easy to use, you just need to select the pick up location (for us was Auto Europe San Francisco), date, time and you get many different options. With Auto Europe you can get free cancellation up to 48 hrs before the pick up date and no credit card fee.
We selected a compact car but we were so lucky to get a minivan as it was the only one available at the Hertz office on that date. We were so happy because the minivan was huge, comfy and could easily become our new house on 4 wheels!
All we needed to do was lowering the other passengers’ seats, buy a blanket for the cold nights, and maybe use a cardboard as mattress and we had our double bed!
It was the first time we slept in a car for so many nights in a row (15 all together) and we honestly didn’t think we could make it. Instead, despite the back pain and the frost wave that followed us throughout the road trip, it was a unique experience that we will not easily forget. Oh, and we also gave a name to our powerful vehicle: Van Halen.

PRACTICAL TIPS FOR A ROAD TRIP: PETROL – MOTORWAYS – CAR PARKS

Renting a car brings with it expenses that go beyond the rental fee. Here are the 3 main ones:
1) PETROL: Our joy at having found ourselves driving a minivan quickly vanished when we realized how much Van Halen was consuming: 10 km with a liter!! Luckily, however, gasoline costs much less in the USA than in Europe. At the gas pumps the prices are indicated per gallon (1 gallon is about 4 liters) and cost from 2,50$ to 4$ depending on the State where you are (California has the highest prices). One way to save money is to use the GASBUDDY website that allows you to find the gas station that has the best price in the area where you are located. (Diesel in the USA costs more than gasoline).
2) HIGHWAYS: Great news. Most roads in the U.S. are free so this expense, fortunately, does not really exist! There are only a few exceptions like the Golden Gate Bridge if crossed in the direction of San Francisco, or some stretches of highway between Los Angeles and San Diego.
3) PARKING: No expenses here either because it is quite easy to find free parking.

PRACTICAL TIPS FOR A ROAD TRIP: WHERE TO SLEEP

On our road trip, we decided to sleep in the minivan and beyond the obvious discomfort, it’s an experience we would have again. We thought it would have not been easy to find places to park for the night. We were wrong. We just needed to download iOverlander app to our mobile phone. It’s a map that contains directions to places where you can park at night, where to find campsites, showers, gas stations, mechanics… a real salvation for those who want to do a road trip in a car or camper van. Information are entered directly by those who use the app and were really sleeping in that place. And the best part is that iOverlander works offline, without internet connection. We used it every night to find a place to park and it never disappointed us.
Anyway, the last resort was always the parking lot at Walmart (the famous American supermarket chain).

PRACTICAL TIPS FOR A ROAD TRIP: HOW TO BATHE

It’s nice to live in a car or a minivan, but where do you bathe? A lot of people asked us this question when we were talking about our “van life” on Instagram and it’s actually a legitimate one.
Well, let’s just say, in those 15 days, our hygiene was a little poor. We bathe, but maybe not as much as we would have done sleeping in hotel rooms. What saved us were the public toilets that are really widespread in the USA and are generally clean and equipped with toilet paper. They can be found in all national parks, gas stations and even in fast food chains. It was not easy because washing “in parts” in a public sink is neither easy nor comfortable, but we managed to maintain a decent “level”, also thanks to the help of scented wipes.
On our side there was also the climate. Taking a road trip to the USA in November means finding very low temperatures and, in our case, snow. But it also means sweating less. Let’s say that the same trip in summer would have had a different… smell!

PRACTICAL TIPS FOR A ROAD TRIP: EATING

Eating cheaply in the US is not that complicated. Of course, you have to adapt a lot. But we’ve also discovered some little tricks to save on food. Let’s start with breakfast, or rather coffee.
Two of the most famous American chains have come to our aid. The first one is 7-Eleven, the minimart chain that in many countries of South-East Asia is almost everywhere. In the U.S. it is not so widespread but makes excellent offers. Downloading the App you can buy coffee of any size for $1. Every 6 coffees the seventh is free and you accumulate points that allow you to get more free food (donuts, pizza slices, drinks…).
The other chain that has been very helpful for us is McDonald’s. When we were in the USA they had the offer for 1 coffee for 1$ with free refill, which means you can fill it as many times as you want. The advantage of this fast food chain is that the restaurants always have free working WiFi, power outlets and toilets that are never enough when you live in a van. Another chain that makes special offers is TacoBell that sells burritos for $1. In general however, it is always helpful to look on the websites of these fastfood restaurants to find the best deals.
Alternatively, there are supermarkets. Having a car, you can buy larger quantities of food. And don’t forget to take a look at the area with the discounted food of the day… we found some super deals on those shelves.
If you choose to eat in a restaurant, prices for main courses start from $9/10 depending on the course and the area you are in.

PRACTICAL TIPS FOR A ROAD TRIP: SAFETY

I, Angela, have to admit, I wasn’t exactly comfortable sleeping in a car. After the first few nights, though, my fear vanished. The fact is that in the US, sleeping in your car or in a motorhome is quite normal… There were very rare cases where we found ourselves alone to spend the night. Usually there were always other vans or motorhomes. This certainly made me feel more relaxed.

PRACTICAL TIPS FOR A ROAD TRIP: THE NATIONAL PARKS

On our road trip we decided to visit some of the most famous national parks in the United States. To get into each of them you have to pay. The cost for each park is $35 for a car with up to 4 people. However, there is an annual pass which costs $80 that allows you to enter in most national parks. This is the site with all the information. Some parks are not included in the annual pass like the Valley of Fire (10$) or the Monument Valley (20$).

OUR ITINERARY

Here is a map of the route we followed in 15 days in the USA. We had to change our original plan because of many roads closed for snow.

road trip usa

HOW MUCH WE SPENT

And it’s now time to talk about costs. Below is a chart with everything we spent, divided into 3 items: parks, gasoline, food and others. The prices are US dollar $. We have really tried to spend as little as possible, especially on food. We spent two weeks eating bread and beans, but we also bought some giant pizza at Costco ($10, so big that it was enough for lunch and dinner!).

Gas262$ 
National Parks110$80$ for the annual pass, 10$ for the Valley of Fire e 20$ for the Monument Valley
Others105$Includes: food, blanket, water, small knife
Total for 15 days
2 people
477$

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beyond the trip ebookCiao, siamo Angela e Paolo e a gennaio 2018 siamo partiti per un viaggio a tempo indeterminato. Da allora giriamo il mondo con un budget di 10€ al giorno.

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