After spending the past few months prattling along about the things we have gotten up to on our trip so far, we thought we would share what we hope will be helpful information to those that wish to embark on a road trip across North America. We’re saying North America since we’ll probably include Canada as well as the States.
We asked for questions on our Facebook page and after receiving zero, zip, nada feedback (no doubt a more damning indication of our blog traffic than anything else), we’ll just use our psychic abilities and write what we think you want to read.
Whatever you do make sure you book not only your flight into the country but also out of the country. Bear in mind that current visa requirements mean that if you wish to travel to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean as part of your trip, you need to ensure that all your travel is done within the same 90-day period. The only way to reset your visa is to fly to somewhere outside of the States inclusive bubble, e.g. South America, or in our case, Fiji.
Obviously the car is going to be tippy top of your list of things to sort out for a road trip, that’s just common sense. However, you really need to consider not only the distance you plan on driving but also the type of terrain you’ll be driving through.
Our specific trip across the States covered multiple types of terrain but more importantly covered a lot of distance and involved a lot of highway driving. For this we recommend you don’t book yourself the cheapest little econo-car but rather get something a little larger and more comfortable that will also have good fuel economy and also clock a decent speed on the highway. No-one wants to be “that” person dawdling along in the slow lane being overtaken by snails. Nor do you want the flash sports car that’s going to need to be re-fuelled every couple of miles or so.
For Canada, we opted for an all wheel drive vehicle since we knew we would be driving through snowy conditions up and down mountains.
The takeaway for this point is use your head, be sensible for a change.
It goes without saying that prices will range from city to city as well as from company to company. Prices near airports tend to be higher than within inner cities too. For this, it’s probably worthwhile doing your research whilst you’re planning your trip and obtaining a number of quotes before you make your final decision. Be sure to check online for voucher codes and potential cashback options too.
Make sure you are also aware of the hidden costs. Things like snow tyres cost extra but are actually a legal requirement in some areas at certain times of the year. Another cost is if you are doing a one-way trip like we did, you will be charged a one-way fee for the pleasure and they can be quite costly.
Whilst we had a rough route in mind, it wasn’t set in stone. This gave us more flexibility and meant that we discovered a few towns, like Asheville and Solvang, that were really great and we wouldn’t have seen if we’d had everything planned out.
It goes without saying to ensure that you have enough fuel in your vehicle before you head out for your day, however, there are times where you will need to fill up on the road.
The vast majority of petrol stations we went to in both the States and Canada had similar pay-at-pump options that are available in the UK. However, we found that our travel card was never accepted meaning that we had to pre-pay at the counter before being able to pump. We never found a petrol station where you could fill up and then pay like we have at home.
There are a number of apps you can download onto a smart phone to ensure you’re getting the cheapest fuel in your area. The price differences between stations, even ones next door to each other, is astounding.
Also, if you’re wanting to leave a highway for a service station you may incur additional tolls. Whilst we past a number of service stations within the centre island of the highway, there was also a greater number that we past that you had to physically leave the highway to get to. Make sure you have cash and/or coins to hand to pay the tolls.
We only pre-booked the first couple of weeks worth of accommodation as it enabled more freedom for our road trip.
When booking hotels make sure you use hotel price comparison sites like Trivago and TripAdvisor, to ensure you get the best price you can. We are also members of Hotels.com which means we get secret prices and also accumulate “nights” with each booking. The more places you book, the better the deals you get. The “nights” are actually more like a discount price off of a price per night for a future booking, not so much a free night.
Other Bits and Bobs
As with any road trip, ensuring you have everything you need for your journey is essential. Make sure you stock up on good snacks to reduce the need to hunt for items in service stations. This is especially important for all our vegetarian and vegan friends out there as well as anyone with any food intolerances.
Be warned there are road tolls in the States. We noticed the tolls were mainly on the east coast, we didn’t see many within the central States until we hit Oklahoma and then after that we didn’t see any at all. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any, it just means that we happened to be travelling on roads that didn’t have any. Most map apps will tell you if you’ll be driving along a road that incurs a toll. It is worthwhile to plan ahead and make sure that you have a number of smaller bills and coins to hand.
As with all online bookings, always hunt for voucher codes and discounts so that you get the best deal that you can. Also, using sites like Top Cashback means that you can get money back for your spending, it’s like free money but not quite.
Tipping is a big thing in the States. In the UK we tend to only tip if people have gone above and beyond, and we deem that they deserve it. Maybe that’s just us. It doesn’t work the same in the States. You need to budget for not only the tax on top of menu prices but also add in at least an additional 15% to the final bill. If you tip any less than that you will be expected to speak to the manager to explain what your server did wrong. You can always tip more if you wish but hey we aren’t made of money so stuck to c.15% as a rule for most of our meals out.
Oh and speaking of tax, the prices you see on items are not the final prices you pay. Unlike in the UK where if something is priced as £1, you pay £1 and that £1 includes any taxes and regulatory subsidies, in the States you have to add these on top. Each state has a different tax rate so when travelling across multiple states, or coast to coast like we did, it takes some getting used to but just ensure you stick to your budget.
We hope this post has proved helpful, next up will be all about our time in Fiji.