Coast to Coast

A friend recently asked me for tips about a coast to coast trip he wants to undertake with his family. My memories sadly go back a little while (too much !) but I thought the best way was to share some of the learnings.

These come from our two Coast to Coast trips, the first one (1994) going from L.A. to NYC and the second (2000) going from Baja California to Alaska and back (I know, technically it’s the same coast)

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Lessons

  • In both cases we rented a motorhome in California, but while in the first we selected a commercial organization which offered one-way rentals, in the second we had to return the vehicle to California. I would stick to the first system, as you spend your whole vacation “traveling” instead of a good chunk of it “returning”.
  • No motorhome is ever “too big” if you have to live in there with kids for three to four weeks.
  • America is f*ing large: plan for 10,000 km itineraries and don’t overestimate your ability to drive long hours, it can be exhausting. I always tell the tale of the corn field where we camped in Wisconsin (I think): in the morning we took off and drove all day. Always. In. The. Same. Corn. Field !
  • America is a friendly place; whenever we stopped for a meal, say in the Nevada desert of along the boring highways in the Midwest, a Police patrol car stopped to ask if we needed help. Always very friendly and welcoming. Mind you, we almost always slept in proper campgrounds (there are PLENTY and cheap); it might be different for those who prefer camping just anywhere.
  • You can’t take a 40-foot motorhome in a city: Los Angeles is a problem, New York next to impossible, Seattle a nightmare. We had trouble driving up to a friends house, in the outskirts of Eugene, OR. It’s just not worth it: rent a car and leave the beast in the rental office parking lot, will save you a lot of hassle and time.
  • Don’t plan: there’s so much to see everywhere it’s much more fun to spend the evening planning for the next day with your kids. Oh, and have destinations: you’re not driving though Colorado, you’re headed for the Dinosaur National Monument
  • West beats East and they both beat Center, just as simple as that. Don’t ever forget that at some point you have to drive through 4,500 kms of feckin’ nothing; we crossed into Canada on the Great Lakes where at least the scenery is better than Michigan or Minnesota but, honestly, not much less boring.
  • East Coast in general is a challenge for a vehicle that size, but if you avoid the metropolitan areas, it’s not impossible (no, we didn’t do Cape Cod, I had experience of the traffic there :-D)
  • Halfway through British Columbia don’t take paved roads for granted, about half of the “highways” are not; that said, they’re usually well kept.
  • Above Seattle, buy a copy of “the Milepost“, best 25 bucks you can spend (I still have mine); the Milepost is what guidebooks become when they grow up.
  • Alaska is feckin’ big (as in “two-and-a-half-times the size of Texas” big); they say there’s mosquitoes, but we didn’t find any; you may want to make sure you arrive there in July, summer’s pretty short there. The scenery is jaw-dropping, though. We went salmon fishing (bitter cold), flew to a deserted beach but only scratched the chin of this big State: it’s anothe 1,000 kms and back to Fairbanks. If you were thinking Alaska, I’d fly to Fairbanks, buy a second-hand truck there, sleep in lodges, drive around then sell it back in Vancouver or Seattle.

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