I recently had the pleasure to talk with an american friend and I found out they don’t have this sort of american dream about a road trip across the United States. I mean, they don’t even understand why, we european dwellers, idealize so much a simple thing like driving from a state to another. I guess that’s normal for them, like it’s normal for me strolling around buildings that have been built five hundred years ago. A time where in the US the only superpower ruling was Mother Nature.
I’m Italian, then I know for sure, here a road trip in the US it’s kind of a dream. I think the main reason why we feel so fascinated is that we watch a lot of american movies. I don’t know exactly about how the other European citizens feel about that, but I came to understand that Europeans are as fascinated by the amazing American landscapes, parks, big cities and skyscrapers, as the Americans are fascinated by the old continent for the long history, the countless and astonishing art pieces, the ancient buildings, and (in some cases) our food.
Anyway, it was a dream of mine. And after having been in most of the main American eastern cities, I finally took a road trip all around California and Arizona. It’s been the most beautiful travel of my life, so far. That’s why I have another one already planned for this summer, which will take me from Chicago to Atlanta passing through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama.
And I’m here now to give you some tips that could be useful if you’re planning to go, specially if you, just like me, travel always on a budget. But the first thing I want to tell you, is that everybody can have his own road trip in the US. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Somebody might be scared by the prospect of driving in a country where all is different, signs aren’t the same as the ones we’re used to, and so on. But trust me, it’s not difficult at all. In fact, i think it’s very easy and once you’re in your rental car driving, you’re gonna feel home. Unless you’re British though. Because you guys, really messed that up. (Special tip for my compatriots..If you can drive in Rome, you can drive anywhere).
For starters, here’s what you’re gonna need if you want to plan a road trip in the US:
How about that?!
Always depends on how much time you have available, and how many things you wanna see. But a good road trip shouldn’t be less than 10 days.
3-An Internet Connection.
If you’re reading this, I guess you got it.
4-A Debit Card
Not really necessary, but it might come in handy.
5-A Credit Card
Mandatory, unless you wanna have a road trip on foot. You can’t rent a car if you don’t have a credit card.
6-A Driving Licence
Obviously it has to be valid.
You got that? Then we’re ready!
The first step will be getting the flight ticket. To do that, you can either check the flights you’re looking for on one of the many broker websites, like Skyscanner or Kayak, or go check every website of every different airline company. Usually I take a first look at the brokers so I can have a general idea of which company goes to which place, rather than another. Then I go check the company website and buy the ticket there. It’s always convenient for prices and assistance. Keep in mind that it isn’t necessary to buy a return ticket. Several air companies offer the possibility to buy a multicity ticket, which will give you the chance to start the road trip in the city you want to see first, and then have the return from the city you’re going to end the trip. All depends on the route you decide. Some companies show the multicity option right on the main window (like Delta for instance), while on some others websites the option is quite hidden and you’ll have to manage to find it ( on the American Airlines website for example, you need to click on the voice “refine your search“). Don’t ever buy two different one way tickets, because for reasons unknown they’re going to cost you each one like a return ticket. It’s up to you to decide which one suits you more. For my first road trip, I bought a return ticket to Los Angeles, so I landed there, started the road trip that took me all around California and Arizona, and then went back to L.A. Otherwise, my next one will be a landing in Chicago and a return from Atlanta. It might also depend on the price differences from a flight to another. Check out all the different combinations and you’ll find the cheaper one.
Then it’s time to plan your route. The way I always do that, is sitting in front of my laptop with Google Maps on the screen. This way you can have an idea of all the distances you’ll have to cover. You know already the distances in the US aren’t like the ones we old continent guys are used to. But keep in mind the driving is easier. When you plan a movement between two cities it’s important to know how much time you’re willing to spend on the road. I try to cover the less I can, and that’s usually not more than 400 kilometers. My longer movement has been from L.A. to Las Vegas (436 km), and it took me almost 5 hours with a good 30 minutes halfway break. But the hours along the way run smoothly, and besides you’ll get the nice feeling of driving among wonderful landscapes.
You can’t get your road trip if you don’t get a car. So let’s pick up one! Like the case of the flight ticket, we have two different options. We can either check every different website of all the main rental car companies, or the broker websites that operate in the field of rental cars. The only difference is that in this case, I’ve found a lot cheaper renting a car by a broker. The price difference may also vary according to how much time before you make the reservation. Some of the most famous and reliable companies are Hertz (probably the best one, but also the most expensive), Alamo, Dollar Avis. Regarding the brokers, one of the most important is Rentalcar.com, but for my next trip I found out a German broker very competitive and convenient, drive-usa.de. I got a reservation with them, after I checked some reviews on a travel forum I usually go to talk about just these kind of experiences.
Very important when you book a car is making sure you get the navigator. Unless you’re old style and decide to buy a map because that way you feel you’re getting a more adventurous experience. I couldn’t do it. I’m very practical and I like keeping it simple. With a navigator you’re going to save a lot of time, and don’t have to worry about getting lost. Just set the destination and it’ll drive you. Obviously that’s an optional you have to pay for, and usually it’s going to add at least 120 dollars to the rental bill, but it’s really worth it.
And here’s a good tip. If you have a good smartphone, you can avoid paying for the navigator, and buy an American SIM card with an Internet connection. This way, either you have an iphone or an Android phone, you can use the navigator app on the smartphone, and save money. Plus you get the Internet connection all day long, and don’t have to enter in every starbucks just to get the WIFI because you’re in need of sharing a picture.
Obviously you have to check all the documentation you need to enter the US from your country, but that would be the same if you went to the US just for a classic vacation.
That said, I hope you’re gonna get your road trip. Safe travels you all!