“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars”.
Jack Kerouac, On the road
Hundreds of kilometers, lonely and immense roads, boundless landscapes. Skies of incredible blue, never seen before, crossed by white clouds. The red of the rocks, sand and sunsets over the desert. The green of the paths in the forests. For the pioneers, the Far West was the last, indomitable frontier to explore, the utopia of freedom and conquest … a hot summer of 2015, I have been myself captured by the Dream. Once again, an image drove me: in a hotel in Hiroshima, a few months earlier, I had seen myself in a motel in the middle of a desert. So, I understood where I should have gone …
Tips & tricks
I love travelling alone, but a solo trip to the West USA is difficult to manage, if you don’t have much time and high budget. The ideal is to have the opportunity to share the costs of a rental car and a motel room (perfect if you are 4 or more). In my case it was my “first time” with an Italian group travel agency: there were 15 of us, all with the same idea of a road and nature trip. A successful mix, as always you have two variables: the group and the coordinator, they can make the difference between success or failure.
In the photo, an overview of the trip: from Denver to San Francisco, with a boat trip on the ocean to go “whale watching” in Monterrey (here the link of the G-map; it’s splitted in 2 parts, but we didn’t… fly from Bryce to Las Vegas :-)).
- Days of travel: 17
- Total expenditure: 2.500 euros (flight included)
- Km traveled: about 4.000
- States crossed: Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California.
- Cars rented with Alamo
- Motel nights (4 per room, 2 per queen size bed).
Immigration issues. If you are a citizen of a Country participating to “Visa Waiver Program” (find the list here), you will not need a tourism visa to enter USA for less than 90 days, but must btw require in advance and hold an “ESTA”, Electronic System for Travel Authorization, following the application here. If you come from a Country not belonging to the program you will need a proper visa (you can find which one here). Important: restrictions apply to VWP citizens who have travelled to certain Countries (i.e. Iran / Iraq / Sudan)!
Health insurance. In USA healthcare system is private and expensive: a good health insurance is essential. Choose your own taking into consideration to cover also your baggage (personally I chose Europassistance, but luckily I didn’t have to use it).
International driving licence. Some US States require a valid license from your own country and also an International Driving Permit: to be sure, apply for it according to your local procedures, the one you need is the one ruled by 1949 Geneva’s convention.
Money. In USA people are used to pay with credit card also for small payments, so you might think not to withdraw dollars. Be sure to enable your credit credit / debit card for USA and check your bank commission. In USA I decided to ask for a WeSwap card: it’s a multi-currency debit card based on peer-to-peer currency exchange. Tipping is practice in restaurants, often is essential part of waiters’ wage: consider 20/25% (sometimes you will already find the gratuity in the bill).
Parks annual pass. When you decide to visit different parks, it’s convenient to buy the US parks pass: it costs 80 USD per vehicle, and is valid for 1 year.
Voltage, power plugs and sockets. If you are European you should bring a voltage and power plug adapter, read here for details.
Ice! Ok, I think we overdid it 🙂 It was june, it was hot, the road was long… and motel had free ice! We had one large bag for each car, full of water bottles, and we filled other bottles with a lot of cubes
This is just one of the classic “tours” in the United States, the ideal itinerary for nature lovers, who are not afraid of hours and hours of car-driving, alarm clocks at dawn – rewarded by spectacular sunrises! – extreme temperatures and discomfort of an all-day-long journey. The first name of my team’s WA group was “Midnight shower”: we were used to leave in the morning at 7, after breakfast, and to reach the motel at our destination not before midnight. Regarding accommodation, if you travel in summer (high season), one recommendation: book in advance, at least for the first few days.
Given the hugeness of the territory and the list of things to see, road trips in the USA are almost infinite. Keep in mind that if you want to save money, often a “circular” journey, starting and arriving to the same city, allows you to spend less on car rental – there is no “drop off” to pay and probably you could find a return flight at a cheaper price.
Itineraries (on the map)
Days 1-5: Arches National Park, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelley, Monument Valley (read the article here)
Days 6-8: Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park (read the article here)
Days 9-12: Las Vegas, Death Valley, Bodie, the ghost town, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park (read the article here)
Days 13-17: Carmel-by-the-sea, Monterey, San Francisco (read the article here)
Here below you can find 3 of the other most famous itineraries, linking to the website Roadtripusa:
– Route 66. “The Journey” by definition, on the road on the “main street of USA” connecting Chicago to Santa Monica in California, crossing eight states, grasslands and deserts, for a total length of more than 3.500 km. A real road-museum, symbol of the emigration of the ‘900 towards the once desert lands on the west coast, with its colored signs and typical places. The beauty of the route? A good part is no longer part of the highway plan of the United States since the 1980s, some sections are in disuse. Forget the sat nav and unfold a far more romantic map.
– The Appalachian Trail. If you love nature, a path that crossing hundreds of uninhabited kilometers from the woods of Maine to reach Dixie, coasting the real Appalachian Trail, the longest hiking-only footpath in the world.
– Pacific Coast Highway is a spectacular route that goes from Washington to Mexico along the Pacific Ocean, crossing an incredible variety of landscapes; rain forests, deserts, but also thrilling cities such as San Francisco, Monterrey, San Diego.
Itineraries (books and movies)
Thelma and Louise (movie, Ridley Scott, 1991). The sweet housewife Thelma joins her friend Louise for a fish trip. Ordinary life, but then a sudden tragic episode turns their week-end into an escape from their boring Arkansas lives, driving a 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible towards Arizona.
Easy Rider (movie, Dennis Hopper, 1969). Wyatt and Billy, two Harley-riding hippies, complete a drug deal in Southern California and decide to travel through South-West in search of spiritual truth.
Into the wild (book and movie, Sean Penn, 2007). Adaption of Krakauer’s book, it’s about the true story of Christopher McCandless, a young graduated from a rich family who decides to leave ordinary life and hitchhike all over USA to reach Alaska, where he will die by starvation (or poisoned by the wild potato?) in the famous “Magic bus”.
On the road (book, Jack Kerouac). The road trip par excellence, considered the “Beat Generation manifesto”. I have to confess: I didn’t like it 🙂 but Sal’s adventures all around US, together with his friend Dean (the “alter ego” of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy), their strive for freedom, love and inspiration, are a must-read.
The grapes of wrath (book, John Steinbeck). Set during the Great Depression, it’s the story of the Joads, a family of farmers who is forced by misery to abandon their lamd in Oklahoma in serach for new jobs, travelling on the Route 66 with thousands of other poor people looking for a better future.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (book, Cheryl Strayed, 2012). A memoir by American author Cheryl Strayed, describing her 1.100-mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mojave Desert to Washington, looking for herself after her mother’s death and her divorce.
In the next posts I am publishing the postcards from my Far West USA journey 🙂 What about you? Have you ever been on a road trip, in USA or eselwhere? Where have you been?