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Old 03-21-2008, 02:25 PM   #1
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Question Driving accross/around the US for up to 12mths. Advice? Experiences?

This is only a pipe dream at the moment because it's going to require quite a bit of saving up but I'm already starting to plan :D
I want to head over to the states (currently living in France), buy a van (Ford E-Series kind of thing), and travel around for as long as I can afford to (hopefully a year if not more). Starting and ending in San Fran.
I'm French but have dual French/US nationality (was born in SF) and know people living over there so I assume buying and registering a car/van shouldn't be too much of a problem.
The plan would be to sleep in the van as much as possible to save cash but I'd also bring a tent/sleeping bag/foam mattress and possibly do a bit of couchsurfing too. Would bring a gaz stove to do most of my cooking too.

So... has anyone done anything similar? Any tips, advice, stories? Anything I should definitely bring with me/buy once there that I might not think of?
So far I've thought of a prepaid mobile phone to keep in touch and for emergencies but not much else... Maybe AAA membership too in case I break down in the middle of nowhere??
Any idea how much insurance would be for a 26 year old for a van? What kind of budget I can expect to need for a year long trip? I think I can probably pick up a half-decent van for $4-5000. Is that reasonable?
Is it possible/legal/relatively safe to park up anywhere to sleep the night? What states shoudl I avoid in the winter so as not to freeze my arse off?

Not too sure of an itinary yet but I really want to go to Burning Man (which probably adds another $1000 to the budget :P). In a year I should have enough time to see quite a lot of the states though...

So yea... any advice is welcome really. I'm sure I'll think of more questions in the coming days/weeks/months but it's a start.

Thanks in advance
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Old 03-21-2008, 03:51 PM   #2
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ya thats amazing! i want to do the same thing. ive taken several road trips thorughout the us, pls let me know what questions u have for specific regions!
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Old 03-22-2008, 12:36 PM   #3
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My cousin and uncle a couple of summers ago drove around the US, and in just three weeks they set foot in every state in the continental US. Asking him how it was after he got back, my cousin said it was very busy and there is no time to see anything in that short amount of time. So you're right on for going for a long time.

Just a pointer, all Wal-Mart parking lots allow camping. You'll find Wal-Marts in nearly every city in the country, and even some small towns, except in Oregon (make other plans there!).

I would just try to make sure you get a vehicle with good gas mileage. If you're driving 4,000 or 5,000 miles, you'll want the best gas mileage you can get. You'll also want to take into account oil changes and other services you might need on the road. I would also try to find a vehicle with a better service record than a used Ford van, as they are somewhat unreliable (any American vehicle is honestly). Since you're 26, insurance shouldn't be too bad at all. I pay $1200 a year as a 19 year old, and as soon as I'm 25 it should go down to around $300 a year if that puts it into perspective.

In winter, avoid anything north. Hit up the South and Southwest states. Even then, it's not exactly what you would call warm, but that would be the best time of the year to travel there.

Burning man is quite an experience from what I hear... I live in Nevada and every year I see the usual crowd come in and out of town. Everyone I know who has gone loves it and keeps going annually, so I'm sure you wouldn't regret it despite a high cost.

Good luck.
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Old 03-22-2008, 01:53 PM   #4
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Sounds awesome. I will be doing a roadtrip around the US this summer, so I'll let you know any tips I pick up along the way. I'll go along with what petros said and get a reliable, fuel efficient car to save some money on gas and repairs.
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Old 03-22-2008, 05:17 PM   #5
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I have to agree - I've done a ton of car-tourism in the U.S., and gas is the biggest killer now.

Wal-Mart's policy generally only covers RV camping, but seldom did I ever get hassled taking a nap in a parking lot, so I'd say that's not a bad thing.

There are also a ton of campgrounds all over the country - both privately run and campgrounds in parks and places you're welcome to camp in the National Forests. (see http://www.recreation.gov/ for Federally-owned areas, reservation info and locations) If you intend to stay in an area more than a day or so, that's probably a better way to go. Those campsites are usually cheap, and many of them have running water and other services. (KOA is a nationwide chain of privately owned campgrounds that usually have pretty consistent rules - www.koa.com)

As far as inexpensive, a small station wagon or a compact sedan with fold-down rear seats may actually serve your purposes better than an E-series van. They offer space to stretch out, adequate gas mileage and lower profile than cargo vehicles. The sedan also allows you to keep your belongings out of sight, lowering your chances of having it stolen when you're enjoying your trip.



Since touring the U.S. is a pretty ambitious plan, you should do some research on what kinds of things you wish to see before you go. In larger cities, where they have more attractions, you might have a harder time finding a way to car-camp without getting harassed.

Speaking of harassment - Some ways to avoid attention that you don't want when driving around the U.S. - our Interstate Highway system was designed for the swift transport of people and goods all over the country. Some of the goods and people are illegal. To avoid unwanted police attention, some of the things you can do is keep the car clean, organized and well-maintained, it doesn't have to be pristine, but if you're in Texas and you still have Georgia mud on the tires, you're going to get stopped and searched. Police have to have 'probable cause' in order to stop your car and search it, and it may be something as simple as a minor repair (turn signal out) that does it. If you put up a big stink over getting stopped, you give the officer no choice but to document that 'probable cause' by issuing a traffic citation - expensive and usually avoidable! If your car looks too 'lived-in', with food debris, body stink and other avoidable things kicking around, you will attract more unwanted attention - you wish to be a tourist, not a vagrant!

A good attitude and a bit of housekeeping will go a long way to open doors for you and make it so you can stay longer!
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Old 03-22-2008, 06:07 PM   #6
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thanks for all your input so far, some good info there! it's true i hadn't thought too much about fuel consumption. even though your petrol is still at least a third of the price we pay in europe, your car's engines are twice the size usually so going for something a bit smaller is probably a good idea. i am 6'4 though... i'm not entirely sure what you describe as a station wagon or sedan either? any particular models i could have a look at? we don't call them that in europe. i think you mean people carrier and estate but am not sure...
good to know sleeping in car-parks is doable. and thanks for the campsite link too, it will definitely be nice to have access to proper toilets and showers once in a while
will definitely plan an itinary before i go even if it's only a vague one but i haven't got to that point yet. i have friends in san diego and new york whom i'd like to go see, i'd also like to go back to yosemite, new orleans has always attracted me too and i'd also like to see the deep south, even though i've heard there isn't much to see in texas.
keep them coming! and although i know it's really hard to say without knowing where i'm going to go and what i'm going to see, if anyone has any basic idea of what kind of monthly budget i might need to survive i'd like to hear it.
thanks again..
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Old 03-23-2008, 08:49 AM   #7
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I've attached a photo of a typical station Wagon (probably what you'd call Estate) - a sedan is simply a standard car - usually 4-door with the cargo space (trunk) separate from the passenger space.

At 6'5" (1.96 meters) tall, you're going to have issues with whatever you're going to travel in. A station wagon, like the Ford Focus below would probably be the best option.

For comparison, the Ford Wagon below typically averages 25 miles per gallon. This equals a cost of about $.14 per mile.
A typical Ford E-150 made that same year with a 4.6 liter engine averages 16 miles per gallon. The equals a cost of $.22 per mile. (it has a smaller available motor, but it actually gets worse mileage than the two larger motors.) (http://www.fueleconomy.gov has the mileage for every American vehicle back to 1985)

If you went from Los Angeles to Seattle, that trip would cost you $161 in gas for the Focus, and $253 for the Van.

The van has its advantages, however. Much easier to move around in and more comfortable to drive (especially for tall people), you have little problem getting changed in the back, and offers a bit of privacy.

Do be careful when purchasing a vehicle, maintenance can kill your trip - one unfortunate repair and you might find a month's worth of budget going into keeping your vehicle running.

As for expenses, if you live modestly (don't eat out that often), plan it out well and aren't really after typical tourist (i.e. expensive) attractions, you can live quite well on $20 - $40 per day in expenses plus gasoline. Campgrounds, hostels and restaurants will change your expenses greatly.

On the plus side - you'll be able to recover most of your initial cost from buying the car once you sell it at the end of your trip. (plan on losing about $1000 on the sale as a worst-case, assuming you don't wreck the car)

Good luck with your trip, I think you'll be able to find a nice balance between convenience and comfort somewhere in the middle of all that...:D
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Old 03-23-2008, 10:27 AM   #8
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I'm a big guy, I've traveled in Vans Cars and SUV's. Only the vans allowed for a decent night sleep.
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Old 03-23-2008, 05:29 PM   #9
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I traveled around WA & OR in a suburban with a double futon in the back. We were not equipped to camp at all. Usually I'd get myself ready for bed in one place (like a denny's bathroom, or the side of the road) then drive to another place where we could just crawl back & curl up without messing with lights & etc. that would draw attention. I would pick nice looking residential neighbourhoods most of the time & no one ever gave me any trouble.

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Old 03-23-2008, 09:28 PM   #10
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You can always look at couchsurfing.com as an option as well. Pretty amazing idea.
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Old 03-24-2008, 05:05 PM   #11
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hmmm well i'm thinking it might have to be a van after all. i can't see myself having enough space in the back of a ford focus estate, especially will a rucksack etc :\
thanks for the fueleconomy.org link, very useful.

molly - definitely a good idea getting ready somewhere else, i'll remember that.

sasquatch - i'm registered there already definitely plan on using it, if only to meet some locals for a drink once in a while.

another thing i've thought of...

getting various short-term jobs in different places while i'm there could make the budget a bit less of a strain or enable me to travel longer. how easy is it to find something without a fixed address? (and finding something full stop!?) as i said earlier i have a us passport which should make things easier, but will it still have to be under the table stuff due to not having an address or can i get around that with po boxes etc?
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Old 04-11-2008, 04:48 PM   #12
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Pretty easy if you've got a U.S. passport and Social Security card. You can do anything from grunt work - companies like Manpower hire and pay by the day http://www.manpower.com/ so there's definitely possibilities without much effort in the U.S. Day labor companies are used to people with no fixed address - they always can use people to work. If you need an address, you can use a p.o. box, or just pick a friend stateside, the only thing they need to mail you is your tax papers at the end of the year, and that can be forwarded on later.

With the tighter rein on illegal workers, the demand for unskilled work will be going up.
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Old 04-13-2008, 06:42 PM   #13
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For places to go, a lot of people miss the south east and I would defintely recommend it. Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida are all brilliant. Especially if you go down there during college football, then you will get some really great times.

Have fun!
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Old 04-13-2008, 06:56 PM   #14
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I did a month long road trip which comprised of a long, amazing loop around the US covering the south and north. Personally I think the trip through the South/Southwest was the best, very cool roadtrip sights and stops. I would definitely recommend Flagstaff, AZ if you go through that area. The city has two really cool hostels, it's close to the Grand Canyon, and Sedona. Check it out if you can.

Having AAA is really nice. Not only can you get great discounts at hotels if you need them, it really takes a weight off your shoulders for all of the stressful shit that is bound to happen on the road.

Also, if you go through the southwest it's easy to just pull over and sleep on a side road. It can be pretty desolate, but beautiful.

I was pretty disappointed with KOA. On my roadtrip we did a lot of tent camping and KOA was typically overpriced and campsites were shit. The KOA in Reno had tent sites on gravel full of broken class. We quickly got a refund and drove to the nearest national park which was a lot cheaper with better scenery. If you really need a shower I would just find a truck stop.

Couchsurfing = amazing. I totally recommend it.
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Old 05-12-2008, 12:25 PM   #15
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Thanks again for all the replies! Sorry I haven't posted back sooner.

My "pipe dream" is going to happen sooner than I thought

My original plan was to work in France for a while and go to the US once I've saved up enough but I'm now going to head to San Fran in September and look for a job there and head off on my trip once I have a bit of cash saved up for a van and for a few months of living without having to worry about finding a job.

I've been doing a fair bit of research online so rather than asking more questions, I'll post some useful links I've found so that if anyone in the future is thinking of doing something similar and finds this thread it'll save them a bit of work...

Road trip USA book with suggested routes (ordered but not yet received - looks good though): http://www.roadtripusa.com/

Road trip tips and resources: http://www.roadtripamerica.com/

Unofficial DMV site for car registration etc: http://www.dmv.org/

Official California DMV site: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/dl/dl_info.htm

Find campgrounds by state: http://www.recreation.gov/campground...ex=CampingSpot

List of free campgrounds: http://www.freecampgrounds.com/

Road Junky travel guides: http://www.roadjunky.com/
including 101 for the traveller to work abroad: http://www.roadjunky.com/guide/191/1...to-work-abroad

Labor Finders - day labour agency: http://www.laborfinders.com/

Labor Ready temp work: http://www.laborready.com/

20 favourite drives in the US: http://www.delsjourney.com/close-ups...ite_drives.htm

Advice for planning a road trip: http://www99.epinions.com/trvl-Regions-Road_Trips

Lots of info on living in cars/vans: http://www.carliving.info/index.html

More of the same: http://www.vandweller.org/everythingiknow.htm

And again: http://www.cheaprvliving.com/

Tips for packing light: http://www.onebag.com/

Scenic byways: http://www.byways.org/

Digihitch - hitchhiking and road travel forum: http://www.digihitch.com/forums.html

Map of free wifi hotspots: http://wigle.net/

Finding cheapest gas prices: http://www.gasbuddy.com/

and that's about it for now :D
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Old 05-12-2008, 06:38 PM   #16
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Thanks for the great list of sites,

I've been thinking of doing a bit of a USA road trip at the start of my OE, if i do decide on doing it these sites will come in handy!

Cheers!

Don't forget to give us updates and pictures!
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Old 05-12-2008, 07:55 PM   #17
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Will you be able to stay with your friends in San Fransisco for free or cheap? I'm curious because the cost of living is so high there! But that would also mean higher wages.

I recently drove from eastern Iowa, to Portland, to Monterey, to Las Vegas, to Albuquerque and back and points in between. I stopped in Berkeley for a night, but didn't make it to SF. And I have to say I am never doing something like that ALONE again! I'd drive to points east alone, but the west is just too sparse. I had no idea how sparse it would be. I thought rural Illinois and Iowa were sparse, but it's nothing compared to Wyoming, eastern Oregon, northern California, the southwest... I stayed at a hostel with no cell phone reception and no internet in the redwoods. It's stressful to drive really long distances day after day without help, especially on curvy roads or in bad weather, but I'm also just scared of getting stranded in the middle of nowhere with my cell phone not working!

That's just my two cents. You'll have so much time, you probably won't be rushing around quite like I was. I'd like to drive somewhere northeast of Chicago this summer, but the summer is only so long and the world is so big...
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Old 05-15-2008, 05:44 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mooloo View Post

Don't forget to give us updates and pictures!
Will do for sure!
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Old 05-15-2008, 05:48 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shineonyou View Post
Will you be able to stay with your friends in San Fransisco for free or cheap? I'm curious because the cost of living is so high there! But that would also mean higher wages.

I recently drove from eastern Iowa, to Portland, to Monterey, to Las Vegas, to Albuquerque and back and points in between. I stopped in Berkeley for a night, but didn't make it to SF. And I have to say I am never doing something like that ALONE again! I'd drive to points east alone, but the west is just too sparse. I had no idea how sparse it would be. I thought rural Illinois and Iowa were sparse, but it's nothing compared to Wyoming, eastern Oregon, northern California, the southwest... I stayed at a hostel with no cell phone reception and no internet in the redwoods. It's stressful to drive really long distances day after day without help, especially on curvy roads or in bad weather, but I'm also just scared of getting stranded in the middle of nowhere with my cell phone not working!

That's just my two cents. You'll have so much time, you probably won't be rushing around quite like I was. I'd like to drive somewhere northeast of Chicago this summer, but the summer is only so long and the world is so big...
yep will have a place to crash for free but only for a while. don't want to outstay my welcome lol. i'm hoping a month will be long enough to find a job, even a crappy one. and i'm hoping to leave with enough to buy a van soon after getting there which i plan on living in even before i head off on the road trip, while i'm working in sf.

your journey sounds like it was a bit stressful :D i'll definitely be taking my time
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