Friday, November 18, 2011

French Student on the Road, or on a Train? -- May 2012

Hi Jamie,

I have been exploring your blog and I find it really exciting !

I am a French student and I would love to travel across the US for approx 4-5 weeks in May-June 2012.
I have several questions and can't really find answers online, so I figured I could ask an expert :)

- I would be leaving from Toronto and need to fly back to Paris from New York (cheapest transatlantic flights) at the end of the trip, so what do you think a good itinerary could be ? I am not sure if I have enough time to go all the way to the West Coast and drive back !

- My second concern is obviously the price... How expensive would it be ? I think I could save $2500 to take the trip, and may have a friend with me so we could split some costs. I don't need any particular comfort, I won't need to sleep in deluxe hotels.

- What about the car ? I am only 19 so I can't rent a car, I would have to buy one. I saw cheap cars for sale on web sites such as craigslist and all... In your opinion is it the best option ? Because as you wrote on your blog, the car trip looks way more fun than the bus trip... Also I wonder if I can subscribe a monthly insurance as I won't be using the car for more than 4-5 weeks.

Thanks a lot for everything !




Hello Jean! -

Many thanks for writing in to Road Trip USA, and I hope I can help you plan a great trip.

The way you approach such a big trip is very revealing of your personality -- you sound very adventurous, which is great! Most (older...) people dream of being 19, but they tend to forget what it was like to be too young to rent cars, and to poor to stay in hotels. When I was 19, (100 + years ago...), I myself set off on a similar sort of adventure, with a backpack, a tent, a stove and $200 in my pocket, thinking I would "see the country" for 6 or so weeks, mostly by hitch-hiking).

My trip ended up lasting nearly 3 years (if indeed it ever ended...) -- and I didn't rent or buy a car the whole time. But this was a long time ago, when the world was (or at least in America, it seemed to be...) a more generous place


So even at 19, seeing the USA can be done -- and going with a friend will make your family feel a lot better about the whole thing, I'm sure.

Much as I love driving, I think maybe getting yourself a train pass would be the way to go -- you could travel around the whole country for a month, for something like $650. Without fear of having your "cheap" car break down in the middle of North Dakota, stranding you miles from anywhere.

Taking the train will give you a great overview of the US landscapes, and you can see a lot of places -- New York, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle -- without having to sit in raffic or pay $50 a day just to park. And while rural America is still very car-centered, most of the major national parks have public transportation links to the train system.

Also, there are good inexpensive HI hostels in most US cities -- $20 a night, which is $600 for your month, so you could afford to eat, too! And best of all, at hostels you'll be able to meet Americans and other travelers, which is very hard to do when you are cocooned in a car. (To buy the legal minimum Insurance etc for your own car, being a 19 year old foreigner, would cost you more than $2500 for a month, I'm sure.)

Then when you're 25, you can come back again and explore the places you like the look of. Though the world is going through some crazy times, I suspect the USA will still be here in 2020.

Hope this helps -- even if it's not exactly what you asked for. Let me know what you think, and

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA


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