A journey through another country seems to be the ultimate adventure, am I right? But it can also be pretty intimidating. Not only do you take an unfamiliar route, you also have to figure out a set of new road rules. Needless to say, it can be quite stressful if you are not prepared! As I was lucky enough to plan not just one but two road trips in the US, I wanted to give some of my best travel advice to anyone who wants to do the same. Here are 13 key road trips for the US that will make your trip a hundred times better!
From car rental to tolls to gasoline, you'll be glad that stumbling in the US does NOT break the bank. Compared to other famous destinations such as New Zealand, Iceland or Scotland this is one of the cheapest countries for a car trip.
It goes without saying that parking in cities can be difficult. If you do not find great Airbnb with a free parking lot like this one we stayed in LA (request your Airbnb discount here), you will most likely have to pay for parking. If you find a reasonably decent parking garage with reasonable prices, that's great. If not, you must use the valet, which can be very expensive. In San Francisco, for example, most valets cost around $ 60 a night.
A better option is to think about returning your rental car before exploring the city. Use public transport or Ubers instead.
Almost all gas stations in the US use a system that pays off before pumping. There is no option to refill and then pay. You need to pull your credit card over the pump before you can use it. The annoying thing is that the machine usually asks for a 5-digit zip code. If you come from a country that does not use this format, it is difficult. If you try to enter your actual zip code and it will be declined, the device will not accept your card. Sometimes this even causes the bank to block your card (this is not even happening to us, not twice, but THREE times)!
If you have problems, you must go to the station to pay in person. But how do you know how much will fill your tank? You do not have to and you have to guess. If you guess too high, the difference will be refunded to your card. Sounds painful? It is.
Sometimes you have no choice but to take the major highways. Try to avoid this and take smaller streets instead. It may take a little while to reach your destination, but the ride will be much more enjoyable. In the US, driving on highways can be quite overwhelming, especially for travelers who are unfamiliar with these roads. With their high speeds, a large number of lanes (some are even eight lanes wide!) And lots of traffic, they are not laid back streets.
Instead of a carousel in Australia or Europe, you'll often find a 4-way stop sign in the US. What the hell is that? Here, roads that cross at all intersections have stop signs. It can be confusing to know what to do if you are not used to this road rule! How does this work? Well, everyone has to stop at the intersection and whoever has arrived first has right of way. If you're not sure, use gestures to communicate and you should be fine!
Even if your car rental company wants to convince you that you need a navigation system, you save your pennies. Buy a SIM card upon arrival (ideally one with a good amount of data) and let Google Maps guide you instead. It displays real-time traffic conditions and will not distract you from the route, as is the case with some navigation systems. Also download an offline map of the area that you drive through before you leave. If you are in the middle of nowhere and the signal fails, the instructions will still work.
On our US road trip, we noticed that the drivers really wanted to change the lane without mentioning it. People love to travel in and out of various ways, especially on the busy highways near major cities. Even if they pointed this out before changing lanes, the displays of most American cars are red and not yellow, so they are the same color as the brake lights. This means that it is less obvious when a car is showing and you really have to pay close attention to it.
Especially on the highways, people drive with very heavy feet and seem to ignore the speed limit. When you're sitting at top speed, you'll notice the cars racing past you, often at a speed of 20 miles an hour! The thing is, EVERYONE seems to drive like that. In two weeks on the road, we've never seen a single police car or a speed camera, so the speed limits are not really enforced (at least in our experience). Of course, I would recommend keeping the speed limit, but I do not expect everyone
If you are not in a hurry, we all know that it is always better to take the back roads. You avoid the daunting intermediate stations and the driving experience is a lot more relaxing. The landscape is almost always beautiful and you can cross interesting cities. If you drive through the side roads, you can really experience the character of the region and leave out a lot of traffic.
There are a number of toll roads in the US. In some cases, a toll will be charged if you cross a bridge (such as the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge), drive through a tunnel, or use a freeway. The payment can sometimes be made in cash, so it's best to always carry something with you. At other times, it will automatically be charged to your rental car company, which will then pass the costs on to you.
For us Aussies, red means that it does not matter what does not work. If you turn right at an intersection in the US, you can turn off a red signal - all you need to do is give way to oncoming traffic. We were totally shocked when we saw cars when we arrived because we thought they would burn red lights at will! Within a day we did it like the locals (though it felt like we were violating the law every time)!
If you park uphill, you must turn the wheels away from the curb. If you park downhill, you have to do the opposite and point your wheels towards the curb. The reason for this is that if your brakes fail and your car rolls, it will roll into the curb and not straight down the hill. Try to remember or you could face a fine.
When you drive, I watch carefully with school buses. Did you know that when a school bus starts flashing (signaling that it is about to stop), ALL cars will have to stop even on multi-lane roads behind the vehicle? Children getting off the bus have priority over the traffic. Therefore, all cars must stand so that they can give way. Just be alert.
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