I started my travel career with a USA road trip through the west part of America. This meant long rides in the car, a lot of take-away-food, beautiful scenery, meeting amazing people and getting to know a lot of about the American way of living. We were 4 friends ready to hit the roads of freedom.
First of all let me show you our route for your 3,5 weeks long road trip starting in Denver.
Denver – Moab – Cody – Yellowstone National Park – Salt Lake City – Reno – Sacramento – San Francisco – Yosemite National Park – Death Valley – Las Vegas – Valley of Fire State Park – Zion National Park – Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument – Monument Valley – Colorado Springs – Denver
The route was pretty long and intense for just 3 weeks on the road. If you really want to enjoy and see all the National Parks and State Parks and want to include some of the amazing hikes I recommend you to shorten the route or to bring more time with you in your backpack. We had several points were we all would have wished we could stay longer. Good thing here, mistakes are there to learn from it and this was my first big trip so believe me I never planned that tight again.
We were lucky pieces and got provided a car by some friends from Denver so we didn’t had to deal with the car rental. The next time I was in the USA we had to rent a car and there are several things you should pay attention to when renting a car in the USA.
The legal age to rent a car in the USA is 25 years. So if you are below this age limit the rental agencies might weather not rent you a car at all or will require you to pay for an additional insurance. Same is valid when the main driver of the car is 25 years old or above but you want to contract another side driver, who is below the age limit. In general driving a rental car is just allowed from age 21 years old on. Between 18 years to 21 years almost no agency will provide you a car.
You will always need your original driver license from your home country. Just a international driver license will not be enough to rent the car. If you get stopped by the police the international driver license may help you in terms of communication. So if you want to be 100% safe take your original driver license and a international one with you.
Most of the time you rent the car per day. So if you bring it back even just one hour to late, they will charge you the full day.
The big car agencies often have the contract in variouse languages. You should check with them to get the contract in your native language if you are not 100% confident with your English. This will help you to avoid any misunderstandings.
If you are planning on leaving the US check what is said about that in the contract. Often times leaving to Canada is not an issue but driving to Mexico is forbidden by almost every agency.
Also check with them if you are allowed to drive off-road or not. This can become important in the National and State Parks. In most agencies driving off-road is just allowed for a certain car class. Driving off-road will provide you with a special experience and will make you to travel unbeaten tracks, so if you are one of the adventurouse travelers you better get a car of an agency allowing you this.
The agencies offer different classes of cars. The classes vary in the prices and sizes of the car. Extra equipment such as a navigation system etc. you have to pay extra normally.
For a longer roadtrip I would recomment you to not safe to much on the car you rent. You will spend very much time in it and drive a lot through outback areas. In this areas you don’t want to have a damage as this will mean waiting a long long time for help. Some nights you even might sleep in the car. So it is definitly worth, to pay a bit more for the car so you are safe and comfortabel while living in your car most of the time.
From my personal experience check all the liquids in your car. It’s not so funny when in the middle of nowhere suddenly a warning light is turning on saying one liquid for the engine is empty and you don’t even now where the tank for that specific liquid is stored in the car, neather where to buy and refill it. 😀
(Thanks, to the guy with a workshop in his house for helping us!)
You need a credit card
Without a credit card nothing works in the US. In the USA you can pay everything with credit card so make sure your credit card limit is high enough for your trip. You can find ATM´s everywhere in the villages, towns and cities. Also on the gas stations on the road you normally can get money but most of the time a credit card is the preferred and sometimes only method to pay.
Most of the times you will stay in motels along the way. We were 4 of us but most of the times we stayed in double rooms. How that? Pretty easy. Most of the double rooms are equipped with 2 queen size beds or even king size beds. These beds are even bigger than the normal double bed we are used in Europa. So its easy for 4 people to “squeeze in” in one double room. Sometimes the motels wants a extra fee for that but thats always cheaper than getting another room. When you ask about the price, try to bargain a bit. Especially when you get there late in the evening, you can sometimes get a better price or one room for 4 persons without extra fee. Asking never kills you 🙂
Cost of accommodation
For Motels on the road or in smaller towns/ villages you can expect a price per room and night around 60$ to 90$.
In the cities you can check out hostels which will be around 30$ to 50$ per bed in a dorm for the cheap hostels. I totally recommend you to book 2 or 3 days in advance. It happened to us that we arrived in San Francisco and had to search for 3 hours to find a place we could effort as everything was booked. So check out the time you travel there and book a bit in advance so you don`t have to pay crazy prices just because the cheap places are already fully booked.
If you have a tent with you, you also can camp. In general wild-camping is forbidden in the USA. The rules are different from state to state and there are some exceptions but you are safer when you follow this rule.
In most of the National and State Parks are camping sites. They can be pretty basic, from just a field where you are allowed to build up your tent and a place with water and a two-wholer, or they can be pretty well set up with a pool, solid toilets and washing rooms, sometimes even with WIFI. The basic camping sites often just charges you a few dollars payable with the park fee. As better as the camping site gets, as more expansive it will get.
In general you can count with 18$ to 35$ per car if you stay at a decent camping site in the Parks. Make sure to not arrive to late at the National Park if you want to sleep there. When the camping sites are full they won’t let you in anymore. So also here it might be better to book in advance.
As I assume you will not travel to the US with all your camping equipment, I recommend you to just hold one day after your arrival free.
On this day you can check out the malls in your first destination and buy everything what you need for your trip. I am not going to give you here any specifics on what to buy, because that varies on the person. Just one advice: as you can make fires on the camping sites I would recommend you to buy stuff for fire making and for making a barbecue. We didn’t bought these things and caused more than one time a good laughter form our neighbors 😉
Gas stations are pretty regularly coming up on your way but keep in mind that the distances are FAR. So please don’t wait for the last drop of gas before fill up your tank. If you want to be 100% safe, just keep a can of gas stored in your car. Gas in the US is cheaper than in Europa and the prices are per gallon and not per liter like in Europa. One Gallon is 3,785 Liter.
There are 3 different gas sorts available: Regular, Mid-Grade and Premium. It’s not 100% comparable with Normal, Super and Super Plus in Europa but you can take it as a guideline. Check in advance what sort of gas to fill in your car.
Don’t mind to look for Diesel, as Diesel is not very popular in the US. You will have hart times looking for a rental car with Diesel.
Weather – what to pack
While packing, think about through which climate zones you are going to travel. In the rocky mountains and in higher areas you can have snow until may or even June in the death valley you will have up to +70 Celsius degree at the same time . As it will be warm in California in general it can freeze in San Francisco (always windy). So check where you travel and don’t pack just for one climate zone if you travel a further route with different environmental areas.
You will meet a lot of great people along the way. The Americans in general are welcoming, helpful and always open for an chat. We met some amazing people while our journey. In the USA I definitely learned that the government and the politics are not representing the people on the street. Especially nowadays (2018) I hear a lot of people in my surroundings telling me, they don’t want to travel to the US now, since they don’t like the voted government. I always can just tell everyone, that just because you might not agree with who are the politicians of a country, that does not mean that the people on the streets are the same in any means. Don’t let something like politics prevent you from travelling to a place!
A road trip in the USA is amazing. You will touch the sky, see amazing scenery, feel like you can move rock and learn to accept you limits 🙂