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Old 02-28-2006, 08:06 AM   #1
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Hey, any input on this will be much appreciated, thanks guys (and girls!).

My boyfriend and I are doing a round the world trip starting in September. Originally we planned on flying into New York from London and making our way across to LA using an Amtrak pass. However, we realised that there's not actually all that much we want to see between New York and California. So, we're figuring we might just fly into New York, stay for a few days (maybe get a bus or train somewhere if the fancy takes us) and then fly on to LA.

From LA, we thought about getting an Amtrak California rail pass. Has anyone ever used one of these? It confuses me slightly, this is what it says on the website: "Travel is limited to not more than four one-way journeys on a given route segment. "

Does this mean you can only use it for four journeys in total? I feel a bit lame being confused by this, but it doesn't take much!! Anyway, the pass is valid for 7 days of travel in a 21 day period, which is fine by me. It costs $159.

We also wanted to get over to Las Vegas at some stage. We figured we could get an internal flight from LA and back again, before we go onto the next leg of our journey. The cheapest I found was approx $120 pp. Then I got to thinking "maybe we could hire a car for a few days?". Car hire would cost around $160 in total for 4 days (unfortunately, we have to pay extra for being under 25).

My question really, is: What do people think of driving from LA to Vegas? Has anyone done it? I figure it would be a good way of seeing a bit more of the country, and even once the price of petrol has been taken into account, it will work out cheaper than flights. Is the drive a pleasant one?

Goodness me, I'm sorry, this is a MASSIVE post, my apologies!

Anyway, to sum up: Can anyone explain the Amtrak CA pass to me, and any thoughts on driving to Vegas? Thanks so much!!!
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Old 02-28-2006, 08:39 AM   #2
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Don't know the details of the amtrak Cali pass, I've only ever used the nationwide one myself. However, I have done the trip back and forth between LA and Vegas a couple of times...

Is the drive a pleasant one? That really depends on your point of view. My husband, for whom the desert is a particular wonderland and Vegas itself has a special charm, loves it. I don't know if it's the drive or the destination that he appreciates more, but he does like the desert landscape. You will see a lot of it. As for me, the first time we went I was intrigued by the sere, arid, otherworldliness of it all, but I am really not a particular fan of the Mojave and it got pretty old for me, pretty quick. I also am not a fan of Vegas, so it wasn't like I was especially motivated either. However, I think one trip there and back would be quite interesting for you, especially as you get to see such highway signs as Zxyzx (I believe that's spelled correctly!) which really is worth a photo all by itself. While it is not what I would consider a "pleasant" drive (to me that would include a bit of vegetation and perhaps a good dose of ocean), it is certainly a unique experience that I'd encourage people to see once in their lifetime. Don't know about gas prices these days, as I'm not in the States currently. By the by, a "pleasant" drive by my standards would be up the Pacific Highway (I believe it's highway 1). You can also take the train to Vegas, if you want to look at point to point fares.
(P.S. you'll probably see some of these on the road!)

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Old 02-28-2006, 10:02 AM   #3
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IMO, Amtrak isn't worthwhile. It winds up costing more than flying on budget airlines, and is slower than driving.... For just about all travel in California, I opt for the road trip. If you're going in/out of LA, check out how much a weekly car rental would be from a company like Thrifty or Enterprise, as they usually have good deals. Make sure the rental has unlimited miles.

Driving between Vegas and LA is a breeze, except for traffic coming back on a Sunday. With a leadfoot, you can make it in just over 3 hours, but there's plenty to see on the way, like the aforementioned Zyzyx Road and the world's largest thermometer (!?) at the Bun Boy in Baker. There's also the Calico ghost town as well as tons of outlet shopping, not to mention the second highest rollercoaster in the world, the El Dorado, at the stateline in Primm. You can also take the long way back and head down into California's "Inland Empire" and check out places like Joshua Tree and the iconic fields of turbine generators along interstate 10 near Palm Springs.

Or you can cut north along I-395 and go through Death Valley as you head to Northern California and check out Yosemite Nat'l Park along the way, then head upu to Lake Tahoe or cut west to the San Francisco Bay Area.. the options are many and various.

California is almost ideally set up for road-tripping (other than our relatively high gas prices, which are way less than much of the world anyway). While I love cheap internal flights, if you have the time, there's nothing like the open road and scenery on this end of the country.
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Old 02-28-2006, 01:33 PM   #4
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Thanks for your input!

Omisan, we thought about doing car hire for 3 weeks, as that's about how long we're hoping to spend in California/Nevada. This option works out cheaper than if we were to get the CA rail pass and fly to Las Vegas, however is still rather expensive. Because neither my boyfriend or I are over 25, we end up paying almost double the price!

I think definitely we will try and drive to Las Vegas, I like the idea of being able to catch the scenery and have the option of stopping off along the way.

Now we just have to work out how to get around CA! I guess we'll have to work out what sort of impact it will have on budget, etc.

Also, I hear parking can be quite hard in some cities, San Francisco for example. Is this true? Thing with a car is that if a hostel doesn't have parking available, we might get stuck for somewhere to park up!
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Old 02-28-2006, 01:37 PM   #5
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I can def vouch for the fact that parking in large cities can be a bitch. If you plan on parking overnight then I would suggest parking in a garage which can run $10-$15 USD a night.

Cali is an expensive state gas-wise (for the US anyway), so if I was making this trip I'd stick to public transportation, but if you have the money it's def worth it to drive yourself.
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Old 02-28-2006, 03:30 PM   #6
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Parking is indeed difficult in San Francisco and Los Angeles... I deal with it every day
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Old 02-28-2006, 05:31 PM   #7
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and your right their is absolutly nothing between New york and California..... in fact I don't know a single person that does not live in either New York City or in LA....... Most people want to do a round the world trip to experience the local customs So I can completly understand why you would want to travel to the largest cities in a country with very diverse cultures that misrepresent 95% of the rest of the country .... but hey that's just the opinion of a good ol' boy from Indiana What do I know...


Ps Welcome to Travel punk, Good luck with your trip and have fun
and the US rail system sucks. I recomend flying.
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Old 02-28-2006, 06:59 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by agriadam@Feb 28 2006, 08:31 PM
and your right their is absolutly nothing between New york and California..... in fact I don't know a single person that does not live in either New York City or in LA....... Most people want to do a round the world trip to experience the local customs So I can completly understand why you would want to travel to the largest cities in a country with very diverse cultures that misrepresent 95% of the rest of the country .... but hey that's just the opinion of a good ol' boy from Indiana What do I know...
Ps Welcome to Travel punk, Good luck with your trip and have fun
and the US rail system sucks. I recomend flying.
[snapback]104663[/snapback]

I def agree. ignoring the midwest and the south is a big mistake. Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta, Miami and many other cities are a big a part of america as NY and LA.
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Old 02-28-2006, 11:51 PM   #9
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Quote:
I recomend flying.
We don't call it "flyover country" for nothin'
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Old 03-01-2006, 02:34 AM   #10
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I know there is stuff between NY and LA, I never said there wasn't! I just said that there wasn't enough stuff that really interested us enough to justify spending hundreds of dollars more for a different kind of ticket. In an ideal world (ie. one where I am made of money) I would take the time to fly to a few other different places. But unfortunately, money (and time) are limited. Plus, I've been to Florida and Chicago before, so it's not like I think the US is only made up of two cities!
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Old 03-02-2006, 09:56 PM   #11
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As far as the drive between LA and Vegas goes, it's relatively short but just plain ugly (as compared to the rest of california). I personally do not recommend that you spend much time in LA. It might be just me but I dont think it is really a great spot for vacation. It's just really big and traffic can make you want to just kill yourself. I recommend going up the coast from LA. Highway 1 is gorgeous plus there are some great towns. Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz are two of my favorites before you reach San Francisco. Plus there is Big Sur Park which has some of the most beautiful coastline, hiking and camping in the USA. If you decided to take the coast you could go LA to San Francisco and then go inland and do the Yosemite in the Sierra Nevada. Its is always incredibly crowded, but it is for a reason. If the crowds do bother you there is always Sequoia, Kings Canyon and (as already mentioned) Joshua tree National Parks. I haven't been to Joshua tree but I can definately say that the others are incredible. I suppose from there you could drive to Vegas via Bakersfield (yuck! try not to stop there) party it up in Vegas and return to LA.

Hope this might be useful.

P.S. There is nothing else worth seeing in Nevada other than Vegas. There is a reason we do our nuclear tests there.
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Old 03-03-2006, 01:07 AM   #12
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Having lived a number of years in LA, I second that motion - don't waste too much time on the place And Bakersfield is to be avoided, as well. Unless you want to go and watch probably the only Ku Klux Klan rally in California. Which I guess could be entertaining.
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Old 03-03-2006, 08:41 AM   #13
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Most large American cities that I have been to have extensive suburban train service. Maybe it would cost less if you parked outside a large city like San Francisco and took a train into the city? Just a thought, someone feel free to confirm or deny this. I've never been to California or travelled independently around the us at all for that matter.

I think the idea that America is simply NYC and California is a sore spot for a lot of Americans. I've met people, from SoCal especially, who seem to think that living in Iowa I must live in a barn or something when in fact I grew up in the crowded Illinois suburbs which was probably very similar to California suburbs only with worse weather. But I have plenty of friends who the Chicago area who think that Iowa is a bunch of barns. I guess a lot of Americans don't really get out much.

That being said, I think a road trip from LA to Las Vegas would be really worthwhile because it would be a really American thing to do. Most road trip between large cities in America is going to have a lot of landscape that may be dull to some, but I find it quite relaxing.
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Old 03-08-2006, 11:10 AM   #14
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Driving around the southwest is interesting. It's a very surreal place. You might think it's beautiful or wholly depressing. But you should take that drive once.

As for Cali, if you miss the Big Sur highway, as a few other people have mentioned, you're missing one of the best parts of the state. You can really cut costs down (on parking, too) by staying in camp grounds. I camped in a state park (free parking if you're camping) in San Clemente, just a few minutes south of downtown LA and pretty close to San Diego (which is a nicer city). Then I stopped at San Simeon to see the Hearst Mansion, but there is a very cheap state park campground there, too, right along Highway 1. In downtown San Francisco there's at least one hotel (starts with "Rode" something) very close to the symphony and city hall, yet very cheap. And with free parking, again. Of course you end this little trip in San Francisco, not LA, but you get to see places much nicer than LA. San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach are both cool towns on the way to Hwy 1.

I guess, bottom line is, it's easy to cut costs way down by camping on the route, and you get to see what is, in my opinion, the most beautiful bit of road in the United States. There's really no better way to describe it. So consider adding it to your trip.

And in general, there are some great things in between LA and NY, but to do them any justice could take you weeks. Driving from Chicago to LA along the old Route 66 (even on it for a good 1/2 the way, before it gets too hard to follow) took almost a week, but I got to experience great food, meet cool people, stay in the bottom of a beautiful canyon in Texas, ... This country is relatively huge, so I'd say plan to road-trip around it some time, but don't get stuck here on a world-wide tour. You'd be here too long!
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Old 03-08-2006, 12:18 PM   #15
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Thanks for all your advice everyone!

Still a little undecided on what to do, but there's still time yet!

Futboller, yeah, one day, when I'm a little older (ie don't have to pay ridiculous amounts for car hire) and have more time and money, I think I'll definitely try and spend more time in the US!
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Old 03-08-2006, 11:57 PM   #16
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I agree with futboller that the drive through the desert is a must-do (once), and I really don't like it. But it is fascinating. The other option, though, is you could spend your driving time exploring the coast (which I would definitely favour) and then take the train to Vegas. You still get to see the bizarre landscape, but if you fall asleep you don't end up covered with sand and creosote bushes.

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