Monday, September 13, 2010

3 Months on the Road -- LA to NYC to Italy

Hi Jamie

We are a Kiwi couple who are planning a three-month trip across USA starting next year around April-May, in a bid to soak up as much as possible the American culture and nature. We have bought your book "Road Trip USA" on the web, it should be with us in the next few days, we are really looking forward to some enlightening reading. We are well traveled and incline to totally independent travel, but this will be our first trip to the US and we definitely want to make the most of it.

We would start in LA and most likely end our trip in NY, where we would catch a flight to Italy (our birthplace). What is going to happen in between is still a mystery to us, but we definitely want to see as many states as possible. We thought we may stop from time to time for a week or two in farms across the country, where we can get accommodation and meals in exchange for some help, but the highlight of our trip will be the road,and we are looking for advice on how to make the most of a road trip on a budget. Would you recommend to buy or rent a car? Do car-relocation deals really work or there are catches? Would you recommend a motorhome to solve our transport-accommodation dilemma? What is most convenient and enjoyable in your opinion between renting a motorhome and staying in motels/hotels? Is crossing the border to Canada and back enough to extend our visas in case we need some more time to complete our trip?
Sorry for this flurry of questions, we are now brainstorming and trying to gather as many ideas as possible, and any help or advice is greatly appreciated.

Thanks for your time

P & V


Hello P & V --

Many thanks for writing in to Road Trip --- and for buying my book, which I hope you are enjoying.

Three months on the road is a nice long time, and I hope you have a great trip. Traveling for such an extended period is more complicated than the standard 2-week trip, and renting a car for your whole trip could well prove very expensive. So buying a car could be a good idea; then again, the legalities of insurance and drivers' licenses are very complicated (and they vary from US state to US state -- California issues drivers licenses to its residents, as do all the US states, but the US government doesn't offer an all-US license...)

Then again, I think you can drive on a NZ license, so it probably won't matter. See if you can get your "home" insurance to cover driving over here -- otherwise, get a car that has been registered and is legal for your whole visit -- and try to arrange to sell it a couple of weeks before you have to leave.

And if you don't manage to buy something, the car-relocation "Auto Driveaway" deals can be very helpful, but they don't give you much flexibility -- you have to go where the car's owners want it delivered, with not much freedom to choose your route. But when it works out, it is a great deal.

I myself prefer the motel-and-car (and camping) mode of travel, since you have more contact with the places you pass through (and parking is so much easier!); but if you start in California, you may be able to buy an inexpensive VW-style camper-van, which would set you up pretty well. A good place to start looking would be , an online advertising site that is very popular.

(Try URL: )

Finally, at the risk of seeming negative, I am not sure how much work you will be able to find on US farms -- agriculture is hugely industrialized + monocultural all across the US, though I suspect you will be able to find some organic hippy -type farmers who would let you work in exchange for a place to park for a few days. (Where I live in Northern California there are a lot of small farms, but I have no idea how you might get work on them. That said, I did exactly that myself, 100+ years ago when I was hitch-hiking around the USA, so I should really say "go for it" and good luck...)

There's another option: couch surfing , where you are invited into people's homes to stay the night, as a sort of ad-hoc cultural exchange. Sounds crazy, and very cool:


OH -- one final thing -- don't try to fake out the US border authorities by nipping across to Canada. If your visa has expired, they will not let you back in. Even if you have a flight to catch. I had a friend you got caught like that, and to get over the border he pretended to be an American; the border police busted him, and confiscated the car he was traveling in )which belonged to his Canadian cousin -- ouch!)

And one more thing: do not even hint that you might want to "find some work" when you are visiting the US -- uttering those words will get you denied entry, and sent back to NZ straightaway. Not the welcome you want, I'm sure! Once you're here, Americans are very friendly, but our border officials are generally not. (I can't imagine what they make of Italian-born New Zealanders wanting to explore the USA...)

Now it's my turn to apologize, for this flurry of inconsequential non-answers to your questions. But despite all my angst & foreboding -- it sounds like you have a fantastic trip ahead of you. I'm sure you'll have a blast -- so: get to LA, buy a van you can sleep in (and maybe a tent so you can camp out in the many gorgeous natural areas of the USA; get to know some farmers at farmers markets and offer your services, or play guitars on street corners and become overnight sensations. The American Dream, comes true!

Hope this helps, and hope you have a great trip.

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA


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