Back in 2010, the boyfriend and I drove around the USA. We did a total of 2800 miles and barely saw a quarter of the country (and a bit of Canada). Here are a few things we learnt while planning and taking this trip.
Take the road less travelled
Driving in the USA is a pleasure as soon as you get off the main roads. There’s nothing more satisfying than taking a long winding road around the mountains, especially when you’ve spent some time on a boring highway for hundreds of miles. Although the highway might get you quickly between your destinations, it’s dull. Make the most of the driving, take the back roads.
The same goes for where you stay. If you can, stay somewhere different. Don’t choose you favourite chain. We chose little B&Bs and boutique hotels because the service is amazing and we got to meet some great people. To this day, I would rather stay in a small hotel or guest house rather than somewhere big and fancy.
Along with your passport, you’ll need to prepare a few other things if travelling to the US. Although not necessary, it is recommended to take a International Driving Permit with you. You can apply for this in your home country and it’s valid for 12 months.
You’ll also need to fill out a visa waiver form. This means that you don’t have to apply for a normal visa. We had to do this coming from the UK and there are other countries who are part of the program. Chile being the most recent.
Even if you have your own navigation system, it’s likely that it’s tailored just to your country. You can hire sat-navs from various different companies around the world. You pay a fraction of the price compared to buying one yourself and they just make a road trip so easy. Especially if you are travelling alone and don’t have anyone to map read.
Take a map
That being said, take a map. We drove through the Lincoln tunnel onto Manhattan and our sat-nav lost signal. Thank god for the map we’d brought with us.
Having a map also allows you to plan your own route in case you do want to go off the beaten path a bit.
Speak to people
Everyone we met in America was friendly and accommodating. Don’t shy away from talking to the other guests in your hotel, or your hosts. The three stand-out experiences of that trip were meeting people.
The first was in Kalamazoo, Michigan. We stayed at Kalamazoo House B&B and were invited for drinks on the porch at 5pm. We did a bit of exploring before joining our hosts and two couples around the front of the house. We were served beer and proceeded to talk about the differences in US and UK English (as one does in these situations).
The second was at Iron Mountain Inn in Butler, Tennessee. We met a South Carolinan couple who we chatted to for a while, the wife then took a phonecall and proceeded to tell the person on the other end how she’d just met people from the Ukraine… (close, I suppose).
We were also shown a great hiking route by our host and after dinner we sat down with her and some neighbours for a beer or two. We watched the sunset over the mountains and heard all sorts of stories about the area and the people who lived there.
Finally, in Chicago, we stayed in a really beautiful hotel. When we’d booked, all those months ago, the owner said he had an original painting of Queen Anne of England in his lobby and that we’d be excited to see it. Before the trip we did some research on Queen Anne so we could look like knowledgeable Brits.
When we arrived the owner said that she had been married to Henry VIII. Oh, Anne Boleyn! We had actual knowledge of her not to mention living near to her childhood home.
What advice would you give to people travelling to the US?