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6 Month USA Roadtrip - the 3 big questions

Sydney, Australia
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6 Month USA Roadtrip - the 3 big questions

So I have done plenty of looking on here and other sites, and I am tired of reading about people who attempt to do coast-to-coast USA trips in 3 or 4 weeks.

I am planning to do it right- quit my job (in Australia) and take 6 months driving around the country, taking in everything it has to offer. I am in the early planning stages, and have a few questions.

1. I am planning on going from March to August. I want to finish in New York. So where should I start? At the moment I am thinking I should start in Florida, and take advantage of the deep south when it is a bit cooler, before swinging North (via California) for the summer months.

2. What should I budget per day? Is $100 enough? I am planning on doing a fair bit of camping, even sleeping in my car. I want to do touristy things, obviously, but with 6 months I don't need to cram my day full of action.

3. I am set on buying a car, and am tempted to go with a pickup (just because it would be unique and really cool). Is their fuel consumption terrible? Because I am worried about my costs skyrocketing because of fuel and running costs. Maybe a smaller car would be a better option.

I know these questions have been answered in some form or another in a few different threads, but felt the need to ask for myself. And yes I know that I can only get a 90-day visa, but am planning on applying for a longer stay (which is possible).

I thank you for any advice you may offer me. And obviously feel free to abuse me if you think I have it all wrong...

Wednesbury, UK
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1. Re: 6 Month USA Roadtrip - the 3 big questions

Hi Hugh and welcome to the forum.

Well you have alreay picked up the first issue that you'll need a B2 Visa for a longer stay, probably involving an imterview at the Embassy or Consulate.

As for purchasing a car, a quick forum post on this will turn up lots of posts, the main issue being US address for registration and insurances, which may end up thwarting your plan in that respect.

Budget? Possible that over that period a $100 average might do it as some days you will spend very little. We budget $250 a day for accommodation, Fuel, food and sundries, and I think for a motel style trip about $150 average would be about the minimum, but they are usually much shorter durations, so you may be ok over such along period based on some low cost days.

Chula Vista...
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2. Re: 6 Month USA Roadtrip - the 3 big questions

Hi Hugh,

Welcome to the Road Trips Forum.

That's quite the plan you have! As far as your questions:

1. March through August will be a great time of year to travel. I like your idea of starting in the Southeast to escape the heat and humidity, working your way across the southern tier of states by the end of May. (It can get quite warm in Arizona and Nevada in May--upwards of 100°F already.)

That also allows the mountain passes of the Rockies and Sierra Nevada mountains to lose their snow by mid-June.

A trip across the northern tier of states in August can still be warm/hot but less so that Texas.

2. Budget. That's a tough one. Just driving from Miami to San Diego to Seattle to New York is almost 7,000 miles. You could easily drive 10,000 miles with trips to the middle of the country as well. You could easily spend $1,600 on fuel alone (at 25 miles per gallon and $4 USD per gallon cost).

Campgrounds for a tent camper could be fairly inexpensive (<$25 per night). Budget hotels (depending on location) could be in the $50 - $100 per night range.

You can save money on food by buying a cooler and grocery shopping instead of dining out all the time, but if you did eat out, expect to pay:

$5 - $12 for breakfast

$7 - $18 for lunch

$15 and up for dinner

Many grocery stores have pre-made sandwiches in their deli sections for a fraction of the cost of one in a restaurant. The larger chain stores may have a soup and salad bar where you can purchase by the ounce.

Many of the popular attractions along the way will not be cheap. Here in San Diego, the Zoo costs $44 to enter; SeaWorld is around $80; Disneyland in LA is closer to $90. You'll have to budget for those.

One thing you should do when visiting your first national park is to buy the America the Beautiful annual pass for $80. That will allow you into all national parks and monuments that charge a fee with that one pass.

3. Buying a car as a nonresident is next to impossible. In order to properly register, title, and insure the car, you have to have a permanent address and residency in the state where you intend on registering it. You may want to read this:

community.usatourist.com/forums/t/556.aspx

You may be better off renting or leasing a vehicle for your six months (if you can find someone who will agree to a six month rental/lease), but that won't be without hassles as well. If you lease a car, a lease typically has mileage limitations and those are usually pretty low (12,000 miles a year). If you exceed the mileage, you pay a per-mile overage fee. Hertz will do longer term rentals, but you may be required to swap out your vehicle at various points in the rental to allow for maintenance to be done on the car.

If you're camping, a small SUV like a Ford Escape might be in order. Better gas mileage than a pick-up truck (I have an old 1997 Ford F-150 that gets 16-17 mpg on the highway if I'm lucky).

I hope that helps give you some perspective without dashing your dreams. A bit more research will be required, especially on the vehicle part.

Zed

Edited: 04 September 2013, 06:29
Sydney, Australia
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3. Re: 6 Month USA Roadtrip - the 3 big questions

Thanks guys.

The car issue is one I have researched quite a bit, and I get a lot of conflicting advice. Some say it is impossible, others say it is easy and all you need is an address for the registration (can be a PO box or hotel even). I am aware that regardless of the answer to this it will be a complex process (including issues of insurance and maintenance) but ultimately it is one I am quite keen on doing.

I have friends who live in the USA, and I can use their residential address if necessary.

Have budgeted $2000 for fuel, I expect it to cost a lot. It is exorbitant here. Did some calculations today based on an 8,000mi trip in a 2003 Subaru Outback and came up around $1500, so can hopefully come in close to budget here.

Definitely plan on being as self-sufficient as possible, will be buying a cooler and doing breakfasts and lunch with store-bought ingredients.

Cleveland
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4. Re: 6 Month USA Roadtrip - the 3 big questions

Hugh, welcome to TA and the road trips forum!

Use the search engine at the top of this forum to search for threads on purchasing a car or on other topics.

If you're going to buy a car using your friends' address, you likely will have to begin your trip in your friends' state in order to register the car, etc. Insurance often is based the location of registration. Sales tax will be charged on the auto at the time of purchase.

You will need advance registrations in major parks, especially if not camping. Reservation books open 12 months in advance, and openings go rapidly, so you may want to plan this trip for 2015. If 2014, you'll need to firm up your itinerary ASAP and consider the lodging issue at Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone NPs.

Good planning!

Edited: 04 September 2013, 08:03
Sydney, Australia
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5. Re: 6 Month USA Roadtrip - the 3 big questions

Thanks for that, will look into the registration stuff now. Is summer peak or off-peak for the major parks (Yosemite, Yellowstone)? I imagine they would be busy, but will it be crazy busy or just regular busy??

Wednesbury, UK
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6. Re: 6 Month USA Roadtrip - the 3 big questions

Hi again.

July and August are peak visiting times, you can see the stats on the NPS website location pages.

Yellowstone is so huge you can get away from the crowds to some extent apart from the obvious places, campsites, thermal features, lodges, but Yosemite is always busy, more so in the Summer.

Edited: 04 September 2013, 09:59
Lewes, United...
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7. Re: 6 Month USA Roadtrip - the 3 big questions

Hi Hugh

Welcome to the Road Trips forum

I read your OP and was ready to jump in with a number of points, but by the time I'd read all the responses, it seems most have been covered.

You also seem to have done some serious thinking about the issues, duration and timing of your trip, for which I must commend you. As you say, those folk who wish to drive from coast to coast in just a few weeks are rather foolish.

Zed has posted up the link which has the most info regarding the buying of a vehicle as a foreigner. I too have come across statements that folk have managed it, but I've not actually met anyone who has. What I would add is that, given you say you are prepared to put in the effort to make it work, and the fact that you are on a tight budget, is to be careful with how much you are prepared to spend on the vehicle and what you will get for your money. You won't have any spare budget to cover the cost of repairs, certainly not major failures. You might also want to consider taking out AAA breakdown cover for the road, but the basic cover is pointless as that is unsuitable for your needs. The time needed for repairs over a long trip is probably not a major consideration as you can 'catch up' as long as you have no fixed commitments.

Buying a full set of camping gear and using that as much as possible is certainly a good way or keeping to a low budget. You can even order most of the stuff online and get it put aside for collection at the start of the trip. Certainly larger Walmarts and other stores offer this service. You can just donate all the gear to a thrift stores when you leave and head back to Oz.

Another thing you'll want is the $80 ATB pass to get you into all US national parks and national monuments, plus a few other federal sights you will pass as you drive.

If you book up your camping site slots now for the parks you are likely to visit for your likely dates, they can be released again when you work out you won't need them or won't be there for the planned dates, they will be readily snapped up by those who do last minute trips.

Early June to end of August is peak summer season, basically from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, both US public holidays. Do also bear in mind 4th July for when things will be busy. Otherwise, weekends are generally more crowded, but with your plans, you can possibly miss a lot of this.

You say you wish to finish in New York in August. That will be hot, with high humidity. As you won't be hiking in the city, you might find it not too bad yourself, plus you will be acclimatised, but I've heard other folk say the locals can be bad tempered then!

Overall a good plan, have a great trip, and don't hesitate to keep asking questions. This topic is all yours for the duration and the regular usually keep watching!

SWT

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8. Re: 6 Month USA Roadtrip - the 3 big questions

Car registration regulations varies from state to state. We have cabins in NM where a friend is staying. He bought a car but has not been able to register it all summer, since, with the new laws of residency, he does not have a lease, property tax statement or utility bills to prove residency. Post office box will not work. And he is a citizen.

You can google the state laws for each state. Best of luck!

Ohio
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9. Re: 6 Month USA Roadtrip - the 3 big questions

all the national parks are crazy busy in summer and lodging books up a year ahead. Once you get a feel for timing-- I'd book campsites at the parks for the dates you plan to be there. Not terribly spontaneous, but... necessary imo. Camping? you might get away with $100 a day. That's a tight budget, but .... I think you can do it with one person traveling and camping. Look for some Motel 6 type places along the way (or mom and pop places) to get off the ground occasionally :)

Our first trip out west, we spent $150 a day for the 2 of us (only gone for 17 days) We did not camp, but stayed in cheap motels-- ate out of a cooler-- cheap dinners out-- If you are careful, I think you can do the $100 a day, but... you'll need to pay attention and keep on it.

Starting in the south is an excellent idea. August will be "warm" wherever you are at the time :)

Green Valley...
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10. Re: 6 Month USA Roadtrip - the 3 big questions

The National Parks are spectacular, I'd not worry about how busy they'll be, just go with your adventurous spirit.

You'll find lovely National Forest and State Parks everywhere, all good for camping (for a fee, of course). You can Google each state and nationally for lists/locations/facilities of such parks. But, for the national parks, especially large ones such as Yellowstone, it's best to stay inside the park.

I'd play with Google Maps and lay out your routes over this time period. Is New York a "must" end point? What would be your flight arrival airport? As you plot a route, you might find yourself in a serpentine track maximizing what you can see in this large piece of real estate. :)

Re: a car, if you could get one, I'd try for the most fuel efficient, affordable vehicle that has fully reclining seats. It's highly unlikely you'd need four wheel drive. Here's a website that should help in your search. Small SUVs are good for such trips.

cars.com