Travelling in the Western US
Replies: 7 - Last Post: Feb 24, 2013 1:49 PM Last Post By: studenttravelle...
Feb 18, 2013 4:16 AM
Travelling in the Western USHi, we are two male British university students looking to travel around the western USA for roughly three weeks this summer. We can’t drive so renting a car isn’t an option, we would be relying on public transport such as Greyhound/Amtrak. We don’t have an exact budget, but we are hoping to spend around $60 a day for food and accommodation – is this enough? We have already taken flights into account but aren’t sure about which mode of inter-city transport we'll use yet.
Firstly, we're looking to decide which route to take. We are fairly sure we want to finish our trip in San Francisco but we are not sure where to fly into, and are considering two options: Denver and go west to SF, or Seattle and go south down the West Coast. We have places we would like to visit on both routes:
• Denver, west to SF via Salt Lake city: This route appeals to us because we would like to see some areas of natural beauty (we were thinking Rockies but aren’t keen climbers so would this be appropriate? Would prefer a walk round a lake...), and Salt Lake City. However the major con with this route is that there are large, relatively uninhabited gaps between Salt Lake and SF and we aren’t sure what to fill these with if we choose this option
• Vancouver/Seattle to SF/LA: We would probably visit Portland, Salem, SF and possibly continue on to LA. We like the look of this because of the urban areas are perhaps more numerous and they are also closer to national parks.
Are there any compelling reasons (eg cost, distance, attractions) for one or the other that we haven’t considered or can’t research, or should we just go ahead and decide based on our relatively uninformed opinions?
In terms of what we would like to do, we realise this is vague but we are fairly flexible and would like to experience as much as possible. We are quite keen to visit national parks and walk but we aren’t climbers or strenuous hikers; we prefer relatively gentle walks with scenery. We are also both quite interested in politics and history. We are thinking that we would like to visit “small town America” as well as the big cities but we’re open to abandoning this if cost/transport will be an issue.
We also aren't entirely sure what to do for accommodation. We were planning on staying in hostels, but are aware this could be fairly costly in big hostels. Another option would be to bring a tent with us and camp; how accessible are campsites in big cities and urban areas? Would there be any hidden costs associated with this?
Which mode of transport is better? One option is Greyhound – we were previously aware of a discount pass that allowed you to visit several places at less than the cumulative cost of individual trips, but from the website this appears to no longer be around – is there a cost-effective alternative? The other possibility is Amtrak. We were thinking that a negative of Amtrak, besides the presumably higher cost, is that the train wouldn’t stop at as many small towns as Greyhound would, and we would like to stay in at least one, possibly in states such as Wyoming/Colorado.
Being from the UK, we are fairly clueless about health insurance and we don’t want to fall into a trap from an insurance website, so we would like some objective advice. Are there any potential pitfalls in shopping around for insurance? How much is a fair cost for young, healthy students for three weeks?
Thanks in advance for any advice :)
Feb 18, 2013 4:48 AM
If it's each, it's very low, but sharing accommodation makes it easier.
If it's total, you're screwed.
FAQ 262 has a list of those you can reach. This will help you determine which route to take.
See FAQ 235.
Camping is generally viewed as a way to get away from urban areas.
And you often need a car. (Sense the theme?)
As for your route, you're going to have issues because of the transit, but you'll generally have more options heading south from Seattle than wet from Denver. Save the latter for when you have a car.
Feb 18, 2013 6:27 AM
2Agree with the majority of bjookaj's responses with a few modifications:
Budget: Even $60/day each is too low in my opinion when you factor in travelling expenses which can't be shared (i.e. train and bus tickets). On that budget, forget any partying or beer consumption beyond maybe a beer per day - you'll spend your money on eating, sleeping and travelling. The mode of transportation depends on where you are going. For travel between major cities, the AMTRAK will suffice, but to reach smaller destinations a bus may be necessary.
Route: Without a car, the Rocky Mountain west would be more difficult to navigate than the west coast. Almost all national parks require a car to access them and many destinations in the mountain west aren't on the AMTRAK route. West coast cities from Los Angeles to Vancouver British Columbia are lined up and down the coast and linked together with the AMTRAK train. Sometimes regional airlines like Alaska, Allegiant, or Horizon run airfare specials between west coast cities at pretty good rates. For a west coast trip you could either land in Los Angeles and take the AMTRAK train north, or land in Seattle (or Vancouver BC depending on entry restrictions) and take the same train south. There are of course busses that do these routes as well.
Small town America: The AMTRAK does stop at some smaller places (i.e. Klamath Falls Oregon) or gets you near enough to some smaller places for bus access (Portland Oregon and then bus to Hood River or to the Oregon coast for example).
Accomodations: Most of the U.S. big cities have hostels. I'm most familiar with Seattle which has the Green Tortoise hostel right downtown and at the entrance of PIke Street market for $30/night or the nearby City Hostel, much nicer, for around the same price, maybe a little more. Then there are budget motel chains like Motel 6, Super 88, Holiday Inn Express for $55 - $75 per might double occupancy. Again, using Seattle as an example, there are a few budget hotel options in Seattle (i.e. at Seattle Center where the Space Needle is) which is about a mile or so from downtown but still in a nice area. An advantage to hostels, especially Green Tortoise, is the opportunity to network with other budget travellers and with the hostel staff to find sights to see and transportation options. Most hostels have a bulletin board of activites for budget travellers. In fact, Green Tortoise operates budget tours to some national parks or other areas difficult to reach without a car (that may be your ticket to small town America). Check out GreenTortoiseTours on the web.
Forget the tent-camping idea. Without a car it would be impracticle as there are no camping areas in urban areas and you'll need a car to reach the endless camping opportunities in the forests, mountains and deserts that surround western American cities.
Health Insurance: Most American hospitals honor international traveller's insurance like World Nomad, but remember, the American health care system is a pay-as-you-go system. So, if you have a non-emergency medical problem and do not have insurance, you must pay to see a doctor and would probably be denied a doctor if you cannot demostrate ability to pay. If you have a major medical emergency (i.e. break a leg) you cannot be denied medical attention at a hospital although they too will expect payment in full from you; however, hospitals bill their emergency room patients on an "ability to pay" basis (i.e. they will present you a bill, but if you can't pay they won't throw you in jail). Personally, I wouldn't worry about it for a three-week trip. Stay sober enough to not fall down the stairs.
Feb 18, 2013 8:13 AM
3A bed in a hostel dorm will run about $25-40, depending on the city. For example, the HI Fisherman's Wharf Hostel in San Francisco quotes $30 for a random arrival date in June. The Green Tortoise in Seattle is $29. That's half of your daily budget right there.
Health insurance is always a good idea. You cannot predict an accident--in fact traffic accidents tend to be the most common health issue for travelers. One thing to consider is how you want the insurance to work. The most expensive policies provide the most services. They usually pay all fees up front. Cheaper policies may operate on a reimbursement basis, except for major things like a visit to the emergency room or hospitalization. You pay the doctor up front to check out your possible ear infection and the insurance pays you back.
Top-of-the line will probably also include things like buying a first class place ticket to get you and your body cast home, dental insurance, consultation between your GP and some US doctor, flying someone from home to be with you, and repatriation of remains, which means shipping your dead body home.
Advice on choosing travel health insurance from the UK FCO.
Feb 18, 2013 2:48 PM
Feb 18, 2013 3:44 PM
5Consider doing a Green Tortoise trip like the one below to see western US. Then spend the remaining see SF area on your own.
Feb 19, 2013 11:18 AM
- Hostels cost $25-40 per night for a dorm bed per person. Only some places have hostels. Without a car, you need to stay in the city center wherever you are so you can easily commute. There are typically not cheap motels in those locations. So I would advise to up your budget or stick to places with a hostel.
- The coastal towns between SF and LA are a highlight. So you shouldn't miss that area. In 3 weeks, you can potentially do something like this. You can get around by bus and train. Besides Greyhound, look at Megabus.com.
3 nights Vancouver
2 nights Seattle
3 nights Portland
4 nights SF
2 nights San Luis Obispo
4 nights LA
3 nights San Diego
Feb 24, 2013 1:49 PM
I'm a British student wanting to do the exact same route as you guys over summer too. potentially have another mate on board too.
I've researched quite a bit, and think the greyhound buses are probably the easiest to do,or the Amtrak if you plan in advance.
I think booking a few set destination is the key, as its not as easy as Australia to just turn up, find some people and go wherever, hostel are not as easy to get.
when are you guys thinking of going? let me know if your up for chatting about it more, perhaps even get a group together to maybe start a little roadtrip?
San FranciscoBook now
(0 star Hotel)
From US$21.40 per night
(3 star Hotel)
From US$229.00 per night
Los AngelesBook now
(3 star Hotel)
From US$214.47 per night