Travel Blog

Advice for roadtrips around the U.S.A. for foreigners

Most of the foreign travellers I meet are fixated on a handful of places for tourism: New York, LA, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, Washington D.C, Las Vegas, and Disney World. I think this largely due to American media's over-emphasis of the large markets and the portrayal of everything in between as being irrelevant. Unfortunately these places gives a really poor insight to the United States in the same way hopping off a cruise-liner for a few hours a day gives little insight to the Caribbean.

There are a few more adventurous types that opt to road-trip across the country. This is probably the best way to see the U.S. in both richness of experience and cost-effectiveness... assuming of course you plan it well. To that regard, there are few mistakes I see many foreign travellers make in regards to the road-tripping in the United States.

The first is underestimating the time it takes to physically drive across the country. GoogleMaps estimates the driving time from New York to Los Angeles as 40 hours. On paper, it looks simple enough - 8 days of 5 hours driving. Unfortunately, most foreigners have never driven that long in their lives for reasons that include the impracticalities of owning a vehicle in some places, well developed train systems, border restrictions, terrain, or under-developed road systems.

Using GoogleMaps, here are some equivalent drives on other continents to it into perspective:
Madrid, Spain to Moscow, Russia (41 hours)
Santiago, Chile to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (43 hours)
Shenzhen, China to Harbin, China (37 hours)
Perth, Australia to Sydney, Australia (40 hours)
On top of the physical distance. You WILL have to stop for fuel, food, relieving your bladder, and stretching/walking around even if you do ZERO tourism along the way. Minimally, this will be once every day of your trip for 15 -30 minutes. Most inexperienced road-trippers also don't account for the reality that a long road-trip will likely take it's toll on you physically - especially if you do something other than sleeping on someone else's driving shift.

The second major mistake assuming the majority of the things to do are NOT in the major tourist destinations. According to the 2010 Census, the US has 17 metropolitan areas with over 3 million and an additional 12 with between 2 and 3 million. Las Vegas is 30th on that list with just shy of 2 million residents. Furthermore, most of the better natural landscapes and National Parks are far away from the large cities. So what's my point? There is a lot to see in the 40 hours driving between Times Square and Hollywood Blvd. Much of the rest of the country's culture, history, and landscapes are better experiences than the "popular" destinations. Add to this the fact that very few people are content to spend an entire week doing nothing besides sitting in a car. Who wants to spend a two week holiday spending 75% of it in transit? If nothing else, sanity and/or the need to escape your travel companions will mandate you get out of the car and do something.

If you don't allocate enough time, you wind up one of two trips:
A) vacation filled with "no time to stop" drive-by photography but no real experiences.
B) a stressful and rushed second half of your vacation when you inevitably fall behind schedule.

I generally get to meet travellers in the midwest portion of their cross-country journey. Most are already fretting about making their departing flight in time or planning drastic measures to compensate such as "we'll start driving 10 hours a day" (which compounds the problem) or "we'll skip the following 3 days of plans".

So how much time SHOULD you plan? The simple formula is take whatever time you THINK you'll need and double it. The complex formula is to plan on MINIMALLY:
1 full days spent at each major city seeing the culture/vibe and major landmarks
1/2 day for each major museum
1 full day each for large National Parks, Amusement Parks, festivals, etc.
1/2 day for each mid-size city
1 day per week for unwinding, catching up, or unplanned activities

Plan on stopping overnight rather than driving around the clock. Not only will you miss a lot of things but hours of operation will force you to do it anyways.

Related Topics

Links to related topics will go here.

newest entrynext entryno previous entriesno previous entries
All photographs are copyright of site owner. All rights are reserved.