Road Tripping the USAPosted on: 14 December 2009 by Mark O'haire
Mills & Boon author Heidi Rice offers her essential dos and don'ts for anyone thinking of taking an American road trip.
Mills & Boon author Heidi Rice takes time out every couple of years (or whenever she can get away with it) to take a two-week American road trip with her best mate. They’ve been doing their Thelma and Louise thing since their college days, and consider themselves experts.
So if you’ve ever thought of doing an American road trip, here’s some of Heidi’s essential Dos and Don’ts…
Do travel off season. The USA is the can-do society, but you’ll get much better availability and rates if you’re not one of the herd. We did California in October and drove through the famously crowded Yosemite National Park without seeing another car.
Do keep your eye on the weather. Avoid the Gulf Coast and the South Eastern seaboard during hurricane season (which runs officially from June to November). Similarly the winter months aren’t a great idea in the Northern States and the Midwest – unless you fancy driving through blizzards or braving ice storms.
Do book your flights early and be flexible on dates. Websites such as www.expedia.com and www.travelocity.co.uk offer flights from a range of different airlines and can give you cheap deals it you pay well in advance.
Do watch the exchange rate. Keep your eye on the dollar rate in the run-up to your trip to get the most bang for your buck (or should that be pound).
Do consider camping! American camping, particularly near the National Parks, can be much more convenient than you might expect and can be a cheaper and more nature-affirmative way to experience the great outdoors. The KOA have campgrounds all across the States and you can book a cabin (which avoids having to transport camping equipment) with its own porch and picnic table, proper beds and a heater for cold nights, so all you have to do is buy a $10 sleeping bag and a disposable BBQ from Walmarts.
Do go on a low-fat binge before you go. America is a smorgasbord of incredible ethnic cuisine — from Soul Food in the South to Navajo frybread and pork chilli stew in Arizona — but you don’t want to come home with a butt the size of a Mac Truck.
Do check into a B&B. In the States, B&Bs are the luxury option, which have the added benefit of being run by local people in local neighbourhoods (www.bedandbreakfast.com). We once enjoyed a great karaoke night at a bar in St Michaels Maryland after a recommendation from our B&B owner.
Do take your hire car back to where you picked it up. Most hire companies will charge a huge ‘drop-off’ charge if you don’t.
Don’t forget to book your first night’s accommodation. US Immigration now require you to register the address of your first night’s stay before you arrive at the airport. And anyway, driving around in the dark, severely jetlagged, on unfamiliar roads looking for a motel can be a pain. We once arrived at Washington DC’s airport and had a ‘we’ve come on holiday by mistake’ moment when we nearly had to check into the hotel right opposite the State Penitentiary!
Don’t be boring with your travel arrangements. If you do book early you don’t have to travel to and from the same place. One year we landed in Dallas, flew from there to New Orleans, got an Amtrak train from New Orleans to Atlanta to tour the Smokies and finally flew home from there. Both Expedia and Travelocity have multi-destination facilities where you can check out your options. And Amtrak’s trains can be booked in advance on www.amtrak.com. Particularly fun are their sleeper cabins for overnight travel… And their onboard restaurants are sensational. I can still remember the Blackened Catfish Supper on the Sunset Limited from Houston to New Orleans!
Don’t book all your accommodation in advance. The real beauty of an American road trip is being free to stop wherever you fancy. And there’s nothing more wonderful than finding that hidden gem. After flying into Las Vegas one year we discovered its fabulously kitsch but much more low-key neighbour Boulder City. One of the motels did themed Honeymoon suites and we had a hoot in the Arabian Nights room with its plastic jewel encrusted ceiling and gold lame sheets!
Don’t be afraid to go native and get off the beaten track. If you’re touring Monument Valley for example, don’t drive round in your car, book one of the Navajo guides listed in the local papers. They’ll drive you through in their battered pick-up, let you get out and walk around and even show you where John Ford shot The Searchers. Big isn’t always better if you want to see the real America.
Don’t forget to tip. American services run on a tipping system, most staff are low-paid and rely on the income, so a $20 bill left for your chamber maid is a nice touch.
Don’t use a Credit Card. Most companies charge extra now for using your card abroad. American Express Travellers Cheques can be purchased from your own bank – or the Post Office - without a commission and can be used like cash in every shop, bar, restaurant, hotel, etc. I’ve ever been to.
Don’t pay the excess insurance charges on your hire car. You can get car rental excess insurance from places such as www.insurance4carhire.com for a fraction of the rate charged by car hire companies.
So now you’re all set…. Thelma and Louise eat your heart out!
By Heidi Rice
About The Author
Heidi Rice was born and bred and still lives in London with her husband, two boys and pet hamster. As much as Heidi adores ‘the Big Smoke’, she also loves America, and every two years or so she and her best friend leave hubby and kids behind and Thelma and Louise-it across the States for a couple of weeks, (although they always leave out the driving off a cliff bit).
A self-confessed romance junkie, Public Affair, Secretly Expecting is her seventh title.
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