Before heading to spend christmas with my family in Seattle, we had 3 weeks of time to kill. We thought about going on a cruise but decided on hiring a camper van for 3 weeks instead! And boy I’m soooo glad we did!
After 3 weeks, 15 state/national parks and many many miles later we quickly felt like we had become the camping pros! So here’s what we learnt on the way, thing we would do differently next time and any other useful tips we discovered on the way!
1 – Get unlimited mileage
There is nothing worse that having a limit of how many miles you can drive on your road trip. You will constantly be worrying about how many you have used, what you have left, where to go, where not to go etc! Plus when you’re driving you never know where you might stop and what you might find along the way. Tyler and I found heaps of cool things that we didn’t know about/originally plan on seeing that altered our plans a little, not only that but weather issues (we had to skip things or drive further for things like accomodation because of snow storms etc.) and things that are out of your control. So if you pay a little extra for unlimited mileage then you will never have to stress about paying excess for going over at the end of your trip.
2- Get an automatic car with cruise control (trust me, you will thank me later!)
Finding an automatic rental in America won’t be difficult as only 3.9% of cars sold nowadays in the states are manual (when Tyler and I rented a camper van in NZ it was manual, and it did make things a little harder). Most newer cars should have cruise control too but definitely keep an eye out and make sure you are hiring a car/van with both of these features! It makes those long 8 hour drives somewhat bearable!
3- ALWAYS pay extra for top cover vehicle & travel insurance
Now I know what you are thinking, renting any type of vehicle is expensive enough, let’s just take our chances and not pay the extra for insurance. We thought this too, until we discussed it with an employee of a rental company when we were picking up a van in New Zealand, she highly encouraged it as she said the amount of insurance claims was extremely high. Now when hiring any type of vehicle, we wouldn’t even think twice about it! Both times hiring a camper van (in NZ & America) we have had damages to the car that were not our fault! In NZ we had a sheep run across the road at night causing my partner to have an accident and recently in America we had our window smashed and a bag stolen whilst waiting inside a takeaway shop. You never ever know what can happen, the possibilities are endless and it is seriously not worth the risk (even if you think you’re the best driver in the world), especially having to pay HUGGEE amounts of money if something does go wrong and you don’t have insurance!
4- Getting a massive RV with a toilet and shower isn’t what you think it might be…
Hiring a big motor home isn’t always ideal and certainly wouldn’t have been for our trip (now that we have finished it, we realised). You kind of don’t think about it until it happens, but you can’t always find appropiate parking spots for a big RV, like buying groceries at a supermarket or arriving at a sight seeing spot you want to pull over at, there’s a high chance you will not be able to fit in a normal parking spot or even find one at all. We also encountered a lot of places and roads that said no RV’s past this point like twisty mountainous roads, dirt unstable roads, small bridges, through national parks etc. And being able to actually drive the big sucka is another thing too!
Toilet and shower you might think is an absolute necessity, but in reality it really isn’t. Majority of the time you will be able find somewhere to use a bathroom like a service station, restaurant, shop etc. whilst on the road and if you are staying in camping sites they should always provide bathrooms. Not to mention if you have a toilet in your motor home YOU are responsible for emptying its contents (ew), not only that but you can only do it in designated areas that only some camp grounds provide. I’d much rather just use the campsite facilities thanks!
5- Forget paying extra for a GPS! Download an offline maps app
The GPS we paid extra for was absolutely useless (not sure if it was just the brand/type we got?). It was hard to use the thing in general (and we are pretty tech savvy) we gave up after a few times and ended up using the free app we downloaded called “Maps.me” which we also used all through out Europe too. The app is essentially “Google Maps” but you can use it offline without having internet (not as 100% accurate as google but pretty darn good!). It allows you to search for the closest bathrooms, wifi, accommodation, attractions, food, camping grounds and heaps more which is extremely helpful and something our GPS wasn’t able to. It also came in handy when we went on hikes, because we were able to see most of the trails planned to walk, and we used it for navigating back so we wouldn’t get lost! It’s an awesome app and it has saved us many many of times throughout our 6 months of travels!
6- Get a US sim card
We kind of umm’ed and arr’ed about getting a simcard just because we were on such a tight budget but if we had more money to be lenient we definitely would have! If you plan on visiting rural spots on your trip sometimes you just need to google something like weather, if something is open, where to stay for the night etc. (things that the maps.me offline maps aren’t able to show). We did get stuck a few times because we didn’t have simcards and we always ended up figuring things out in the end but it would have been a hell of a lot easier if we did have internet in some of those sticky situations! And it possibly could have saved us time and money instead of many spontaneous decisions.
7- Bring CD’s & an AUX cord
A LOT of the time on our road trip we were out of reach for the radio, so being able to plug your phone/ipod in or have CD’s would have been a lifesaver! Oops next time!
8- Save money by driving in a loop NOT a one way trip
This can save you a tonne! By driving in a loop for example picking up and dropping off your rental vehicle at the same spot, avoids huge fees rather than driving from one destination directly to another. I have no idea why they charge a higher amount but avoid doing this at all costs! It actually worked out better for us driving in a loop and we got to see heaps more then what we would have originally planned!
9- Research what you want to see and where you want to stay BEFORE your trip
This is important because when you are on the road it’s hard to research and find places you want to see, due to lack of wifi/reception sometimes and not wanting to waste time researching all day instead of actually exploring. In saying that there always tourist information centres that you can go into and ask thing but I always like to do my own research and look at photos before! We had a day-to-day plan of what we were going to see for the day, how long the drives were and where we had to be for the night. We didn’t 100% stick to our plan but it did help us a lot! We had 3 weeks and we tried to squeeze in a lot of places, so we did end up being quite rushed and fast paced but thats how we wanted to spend the limited time we had. Also having a bit of an idea of places to stay/camping grounds before you go isn’t a bad idea (if you don’t want to buy a sim card for internet), we got stuck a few times just driving into a town praying we would see an RV site some nights we drove around for ages looking which made things a bit difficult.
Another tip, if you are interested in visiting multiple national parks in America is to buy an $80 annual pass. You only have to go to about 3 to get your monies worth and it lasts for a whole year if you plan on visiting again or are a resident.
10- Familiarise yourself with American road rules
Last but not least, familiarise yourself with American road rules to avoid unnecessary road ragging horn beeping motorists abusing you. Things like paying for fuel BEFORE filling up your car, in some states like Oregon it is illegal to fill your car yourself (you have to stay in your vehicle and someone else does it for you), remembering to pay toll fees (some online before you even get to the toll), the fact you can turn right on a red light and may more! Make sure you have an idea of basic road rules!
Our “Jucy” rental van experience:
We researched for a long time trying to find a company that rented vehicles other than massive RV’s, but in America that is very difficult to find! In Australia and New Zealand there are many small vans you can hire that still have a bed and decent kitchen facilities included. We also had A LOT of people chatting to us about the van because they had never seen such a compact rental vehicle in America, even though they are so popular in AUS and NZ. But we stumbled on www.jucyrentals.com and found exactly what we were looking for! I definitely think the positives out way the negatives and overall we loved our Jucy camper van experience. We were able to see and access a lot more places with a smaller vehicle which was a huge positive and exactly what we wanted!
I have listed below the positives and negatives of our road trip hiring a Jucy vehicle. We were willing to put up with a few of the negatives to result in having a great trip, but it does depend on what type of experience you are wanting and your own budget.
Positives: Normal car size making it easier to drive, park and explore spots you wouldn’t be able to in an RV, new model car, solar panels and extra battery for electricity, powerful motor, very cheap on fuel, decent cooking facilities including a portable stove, portable DVD player included, air-conditioning, able to turn the bedding area into a table and chairs, 2 cans of butane gas included for the stove and much cheaper than hiring a big RV. I also nearly forgot to mention when our window got smashed we took the van to the closest office to swap, and the staff were very helpful in this process.
Negatives: No actual charging points so we had to buy a cigarette to charge adapter (they had USB charging points but not a power point plug to charge laptop, camera etc.), very limited luggage space (but thats a given when you choose a smaller vehicle), no hook up at sights only runs off the solar and second battery for electricity, having to pay extra for bedding items and kitchen utensils not included in the hire cost and having to set up the bed every night as you had to slide the front seats forward for the bed mattress to fit.
*Once again, I’m not sponsored or being paid by anything I have written about, I’m just sharing my honest experience I had with them!*
Have any other tips to help travellers? Comment below!
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