The United States (or part of it) by Car

The United States (or part of it) by Car

When my hotel booking expired I packed my stuff into the trunk of a rental car and drove off to Arizona. My plan was to visit the Grand Canyon etc. Some things to keep in mind if you intend to do something similar:

  • Get a car with cruise control. When you need to go straight and at a fixed speed for 400 miles, you'll learn to appreciate it. Toyota Camry is a good car. Pontiac Grand Prix is also good.

  • You can stay at motels like Super 8[a] for $49.95 per night (+ taxes, which makes the total about $56), at Best Value Inn for $50 including taxes, or Travelodge for the same amount. None of these offer very luxurious rooms, to say the least, but the rooms will be clean, air conditioned and quiet.

  • Plan one day at a time, and bring a laptop with WiFi. Every evening, decide where you want to go the next day, and then use[b] to find a cheap hotel near that place. For example, going from Flagstaff to Palm Springs. The best rate of a hotel in Palm Springs was $97 er night (excluding taxes), and that's if you manage to find it by chance as you drive into town. More likely, you'll pull up, exhausted, at a $200/night hotel. I found a Travelodge with swimming pool about a mile from Palm Springs in the neighboring Cathedral City for $50/night.

  • You can often get a much better price by booking the hotel on the web as opposed to walking up to the reception desk. If a hotel has an internet-connected computer, you can use that one to book, and then walk six feet to the reception and check in, saving yourself about $10. Silly but true.

  • Unless you like wardriving, you can get free internet access at Diedrich's Coffee if you purchase something. Since you'll probably want a $2 espresso to start the day anyway, you might as well use it. Starbucks has T-Mobile hotspots where you have to register, blah blah, and unless you get on a subscription plan you'll pay $10 for a day of access (of which you'll only use 30 minutes), or $6 per logon. (I wish I were kidding about that last price.)

  • Watch that fuel gauge. As soon as it dips below 1/2 tank, you should start looking to top it up. Especially in Arizona, where the next gas station may well be 50-100 miles away. Always shop around for good gas prices. I've seen prices ranging from $2.69 to $3.39 per gallon of regular gasoline. Cheap places appear to be Circle-K, Love's and Chevron. Shell was the most expensive. Since you'll be using up a lot of fuel you might as well save what money you can.

  • The economics of a trip is: cost = car rent + fuel + hotel + food. If you go about 600 miles per day, you will use up one full tank per day. You will also probably want all insurances you can get one the car, just in case. So: car rent is $50 / day, insurances are $30, fuel is $40 and hotel is $50. This gives you a total of $170 per day, which is pretty much what a vacation costs. Food is cheap. You'll be sitting on your ass all day while that V6 does the job, so a $10 diner dinner will be all you need, nutrition-wise. This brings the total to $180 / day. Then comes the fun stuff - visiting a national park will cost you about $20. If you intend to visit more than one, and the total cost of the visits will add up to more than $50, you can get a pass for just that amount that will allow you to visit them all. Check the prices on the web.

    I rented a car from Hertz, but I have heard that other car rental agencies are far cheaper. Will post updates as I figure this out.

  • Google Maps is a great resource for route planning. Another reason to polish those wardriving skills. But be careful - Google often uses interpolated street numbers, meaning that the actual position of a business (or hotel) can be kilometers off along the street.