Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Deep South & Route 66 -- in Deep Winter?

Hi Jamie,

i'm looking for information to organise a roadtrip from florida to california. When i saw your site, i was amazed about the useful information that's on it!

We are 2 girls, 26, from france and belgium. We've never been to the US. We're planning a road trip for 5 weeks, in January and February.

We'd like to rent a car in Florida (probably Miami), and drive to San Francisco (one way). We'd love to go to Alabama, Mississipi, New Orleans, New Mexico, Arizona, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and then drive up along the coast to San Francisco. There's only one driver. We'll have to move slowly. We don't like racing through these states, we want to see America, not just passing by in a car


Do you think 5 weeks is enough for this trip?

Have you got any idea of the budget we need per person? We plan to camp, sleep in cheap motels/hostels, make our own food,...

And do you know where we can rent a cheap car, and which model we might need?
Do you think the weather conditions are OK to make this drive through the south?

I'm sorry, i have so much questions.

If you can help us out a little bit, that would be great.

If not, still thanks a lot!


Hi there N --

Many thanks for writing in to Road Trip USA, and for your kind words about the website. If you think the website's cool, I'd like to suggest that you check out my book version, which has tons more information, as well as color photos and nicer maps. And it's on "special sale" in Europe right now, just in time for Christmas:


About your trip -- 5 weeks, coast to coast, sounds wonderful! You plan to stay in inexpensive motels sounds good -- this way you can invest in better food, and avoid all the junk (McDonald's etc) food that lines America's highways. The best thing about driving along the older roads, like I recommend in Road Trip USA, is that you get to eat at unique, local places, rather than anodyne national chains.

About the car rental, I think you might find it is significantly cheaper if you rent a car and return from the same location, rather than taking a long-distance, one-way trip. Florida is usually a good cheap to rent a car -- and it's good you are 26 years old, because that is the minimum age for a lot of car rental companies.

Weather will be winter, but nothing like as cold as Europe -- with a couple of exceptions* , it's very rare for snow to fall anywhere along your routes. The Gulf Coast area, from Florida down to Texas, is lined by lovely beaches, and it all seems to have recovered from the bad "BP" oil spill of earlier this year.

(*The one thing you should be careful about, weather-wise, is elevation -- there are some mountains you will cross where you can get hit by winter storms. Places you may want to see -- like the Grand Canyon in Arizona --are more than mile high and often covered in snow, which is pretty but potentially treacherous for driving. The rest of the way should be pretty clear. )

I don't know what you time constraints might be, but if you could take your New Orleans trip in late February, you could experience the cheerful madness of Mardi Gras, which is a blast . You also might be interested to tour some of the "Cajun Country" west and north of New Orleans, which was settled around 250 years ago by French colonists exiled from Canada when the English took that over.

As far as a budget, I think you could get a car for $1000 ($150 per week); gas would cost $500-600; motels probably $2000 ($60 a night on average -- be sure to look into staying in YHA / HI youth hostels in cities -- especially San Francisco, which has some gorgeous hostels. These are clean and pleasant and cheap, and you might meet fellow travelers.)

So, that adds up to US$3500, divided between the two of you, comes to $1750 -- about 1300 Euros (I think) each, for car, gas and lodging.

Plus food and fun (museums, Disney World, etc) -- maybe another $50 a day? You could definitely get by on much less -- if you eat breakfast and lunch and make your own dinners (like you can at hostels), you can live pretty well on $25 a day. (20 Euros a day?)

By the way, seeing as you have 5 weeks, I think you could get all the way from Florida to San Francisco and back again, and not feel like you're doing too much driving. So long as you stop the car every hours or so and go for a walk, huge swathes of America look best from the highway -- just make sure you bring enough good music with you to make the miles go past more painlessly!

OK, there are some big ideas -- hope all this helps you to plan a great trip.

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA



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