So, we are not going to bit around the bush, obviously, one of the essential element to make your US West Coast road trip amazing will be the choice of the appropriate transportation mode – after selecting the perfect fellow travelers of course ! And when I say appropriate, I mean that you will firstly have to think about the kind of trip you want to experience and discuss with your team about your budget, the comfort you need… It will strongly influence your possibilities, and also your final choice. No worries, here is a small guide to help you making that choice ! I will essentially focus on road trips in the US, but some things can also be applied to other countries if you plan on traveling on other roads 🙂
» Roadtripping in a car
Of course, we immediately think about the car to travel and move around ! And I can only approve this choice : a road trip is not one if you are not on the road, right ? Speaking about this, you may want to rethink your travel plan if you are car sick, a public danger behind the wheel or of you hate driving… Distances are huge, and you will spend a lot of time (still wonderful times though !) on the road, so you definitely have to like this aspect ! Anyway, if you decided to take the car, you have 2 choices in front of you : buying or renting it. If you decide to buy one, I am not an expert at this, so you should do some research and talk with friends or bloggers who tried this option. However, I think that if you plan to stay only a few weeks, it is not necessary, nor easy, to buy your vehicle. In fact, you will probably loose time to find something suiting (solidity, price, size…). Also, insuring your car in the US might be very expensive, and with that many kilometers, it would not be wise to drive without an insurance.
The other option, and the one I strongly suggest, is renting your car. (Combined with any accommodation option : hotel, motel, Airbnb, couchsurfing… I will come back on that in a different article.) Just know that in the US, driving is like taking your bike in Europe (well, let’s just think about Amsterdam then) ! It is one of the reasons why renting a car is not as expensive as in Europe. So if it might look like a luxury option for us, the operation will be relatively easy in North America ! To check out the offers, I recommend going on a price comparison website. I use Carigami myself; you can try it if you speak French. The German version of this website is Billiger Mietwagen. And if you speak neither one of those languages, try Auto Europe ! Before booking (preferably in advance), here are some small things to know :
Formalities : You must be older than 21 to rent a car. Between 21 and 25, you will have to pay a young driver fee (varies according to the agency). You will only need a European driver’s license to rent your vehicle. If you are from somewhere else, you might need to check that piece of information out on your government’s website.
Insurances : Unless you want to deliberately take a big risk, I can only encourage you to take your time to select the essential insurances. The most important one is the liability insurance or third party liability – and you should take the maximum extension of 1M dollars to be covered for any accident involving a third party. I also recommend the zero collision damage waiver (CDW) deductible and the zero theft insurance deductible; you will not have to pay anything in case of damage or theft.
Options : You will also have the choice among
too many options, I will try to enlighten you about those ! The ones that I encourage you to take (it is usually the basic offer or the matter of a few bucks) are the unlimited mileage, and also the pick up full & return full option regarding the fuel tank because it is the easiest solution and most of the time the cheapest too. You will be charged for additional drivers, but unless you make more and closer stages, you will necessarily have to take turns behind the wheel. You can also choose from numerous other options like a GPS (bring it if you have one or buy it over there, it is usually more profitable) or a child seat – according to your needs. In every instance, be clear about what you want, and do not give in to what you will be offered at the agency when you pick up your car.
Additional fees : In addition to the car rental and the option, you may have to pay for additional fees. For example, if you rent your car at the airport, you will have an extra tax to pay (included in the total amount). Likewise, if you want to pick up your vehicle at one place and return it somewhere else, it is possible but you will have to pay the one way fee (more or less expensive according to the state).
Thinking about all these elements might seem scary, but you will have no trouble sorting everything out on the price comparison websites because you can easily filter the offers according to the elements you find essential. As long as we are here, do not neglect the size of the vehicle ! You might lean towards the cheapest option, but considering the time you will spend in that car, you better have a bit of space to move and to store the luggages. In any case, you will quickly see that it is impossible to rent a small car because American cars are generally bigger than ours in Europe, but do some research about the different categories before booking. Last tip, most of the rental cars have an automatic transmission. Do not be surprised and do not hesitate to ask for a short lesson when you are at the agency if you have never used one before. (There is nothing more simple, it is almost like playing Mario Kart !)
» Roadtripping in a camper van
On our side, we chose the camper van option. It obviously has all of the advantages mentioned above for the car : you are completely free to move around, you can adapt your trip as you go along and enjoy every bit of the surroundings ! And the plus is to always have your house with you ! You will be free to organize a 100% personalized road trip and to stop wherever you want. After a quick market study, we decided to rent an Escape camper van – for budget and convenience reasons. They offer 3 different types of vans, more or less spacious : the Malibu, the Ventura and the Mavericks. We chose the last model, because it was the biggest one, both for us and our suitcases. For the first part of the trip, we were 3 girls and sleeping inside the vehicle, the back seats turning into a bed for the night. When we join the guys, they had a rooftop sleeper that we could open – with some elbow grease – when we were stoping for the night. 2 of us were sleeping inside, and 2 on the roof. The maximum capacity is then 4, because you actually only have 4 spots with a seatbelt for the time spent on the road.
Escape has 3 agencies on the US West coast in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas. The advantage of Escape is that you will not have to pay an additional fee for young drivers (you still must be 21 of course), nor for additional drivers. The longer you rent, the cheaper it gets – and you can quickly do an estimate on their website. Speaking about this, you will firstly only be charged with the $200 deposit, you will pay the balance when you collect the camper. The vans are well equipped : you will have all the bed linens and kitchen stuff ready for you. And you can also complete the list according to your needs : camping table, awning, GPS… As far as the insurances are concerned, once again, I can only recommend to think hard about it – we subscribed for the third party liability and damage covers, we never know. When you will drive the beast for the first time, it might seem impressive but you will surely adapt very quickly to the size of the vehicle – especially since Americans roads are perfectly adapted. For any further question, read the Escape FAQ’s (really complete) or contact them, they are adorable ! We also saw a lot of Cruise America camping cars on the road if you want to check it out as well.
YES, I am the one driving this beautiful van just aboooove ! (Thanks Antwan for the video)
» Roadtripping in a bus
Another solution : the bus ! This transportation mode is perfect those who are not 21 yet (or who do not have a driver’s license) or if you are on a very tight budget. We tested the Greyhound buses with Marijke when we left Karolin to meet up with the guys, here is a quick return on our experience :
Advantages : Here, clearly, it is the price ! The rates are unbeatable : without booking it especially in advance, we paid less than 15$ (around 13,7€) to go from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, same from Los Angeles to San Francisco. There are very interesting Internet deals and otherwise, you can still buy your tickets at the bus station. You will also have room for your luggages, as you can load several suitcases onto the bus. If that does not bother you, you can travel by night to save some time.
Drawbacks : I am not going to lie, being in a bus for hours is not the most exciting thing. Even if the buses are not too badly equipped (wi-fi onboard, yes, that is a thing), we have seen better. Likewise for the bus stations… (We tested the Los Angeles bus station at 5am – yes, we had a 8-hour delay… – and we do not really recommend it) Of course, you will be limited in terms of departure times and destinations. You can connect big cities but you will have troubles reaching more remote places, like the parcs for example. And you will have to go around on site either by foot or public transportation (not very well developed in the US though).
Altogether, the bus might be an interesting option to do one segment or the other, but I would not recommend that you should travel by bus the whole road trip. Even if it is quite cheap, it is way too constraining to fully enjoy the trip according to me !
» Travelling by plane
Unless you are already there, you will most likely get to the US by plane of course. By the way, if you have not read the corresponding article yet, I invite you to check out the formalities you should take care of before landing on the American soil ! Whatever it be, you could potentially fly from one city to another during your trip. In fact, if you book it in advance, you might find good rates. However, going from town to town by plane is not that interesting (it is not called a road trip for nothing !) and as for the bus, you will have to find a transportation mode on site to move around. But you can choose this option to connect 2 different cities that are located far apart but that you definitely want to visit : for example, we flew from Oakland to Salt Lake City (with Delta airline) to go to Yellowstone for our last week.
» Other transportation modes for a road trip
You still have not found the perfect transportation mode for your trip ? The train is not really an option. Transporting passengers on railways is not really developed in the United States, and if it is common to travel with the train in Europe, it will most likely be replaced by the bus in the US. What about hitchhiking ? I never tried it myself, but it could be a challenge and allow you to meet with the locals. Choose this option only if you are traveling alone or with one friend, and be careful about the regulations regarding hitchhiking. It is tolerated in certain states, strictly forbidden in others (for example in Nevada). Do your research, never disturb the car drivers and do not be zealous in your way of dealing with the cops. You will find some tips on Nomadic Matt’s blog. I also have not mentioned the motorcycle ! Some may consider the motorcycle as THE transportation mode for a perfect road trip, but I really know too little about it to give you proper tips unfortunately…
Finally, I encourage you to go on your road trip in the United States in a car or a camper van, you will have the best experience and will be able to enjoy everything the US West coast has to offer, whatever your itinerary is ! I will follow up on this with an article on the driving rules and habits in the US in the upcoming weeks ! In the meantime, do not hesitate to ask me any question about the choice of your transportation mode by leaving a comment just below 🙂