USA branch FAQ
Replies: 279 - Last Post: Apr 16, 2013 10:54 PM Last Post By: nutraxfornerves
Mar 7, 2007 5:50 PM
200California and San Francisco Bay Area: here are some of the best Outdoor activities per the SF Chronicle
1. Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe
2. Donnell Reservoir, Stanislaus National Forest
3. Sardine Lake, Tahoe National Forest
4. Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park
5. Lake Sabrina, Inyo National Forest
1. McCloud River, Shasta County
2. Smith River, Del Norte County
3. Rush Creek headwaters, Ansel Adams Wilderness
4. Yuba River, Sierra Nevada
5. Trinity River, Junction City canyon
Hikes to prettiest views
1. Yosemite Point, Yosemite National Park
2. Mitchell Peak, Jennie Lakes Wilderness
3. Glacier Point to Sentinel Dome, Yosemite
4. Lookout Peak, Kings Canyon National Park
5. Mount Whitney Trail, trail crest to summit
1. Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta
2. San Diego deep sea
3. Barrett Lake, San Diego
4. Independence Lake, Truckee
5. Sacramento River, Redding to Anderson
1. Shasta Lake
2. Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta
3. Lake Don Pedro
4. Lake Oroville
5. Trinity Lake
1. Camp Richardson, Lake Tahoe
2. MacKerricher State Park, Fort Bragg
3. Lake Siskiyou, Mount Shasta
4. Lake Alpine, Stanislaus National Forest
5. Convict Lake, Inyo National Forest
Fly fishing for trout
1. Sacramento River, Redding (by boat)
2. Fall River (by pram)
3. Pit River
4. East Walker River
5. Middle Fork Feather hike-in/PCT
1. Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe
2. Lake Sonoma, Sonoma County
3. Bullards Bar Reservoir, Sierra foothills
4. Shasta Lake, Redding
5. Union Valley Reservoir, Eldorado National Forest
1. Main stem Tuolumne
2. Salmon River
3. Forks of the Kern
4. Upper Klamath
5. South Fork American
Bay Area bests
1. Skyline-to-the-Sea, headquarters to Berry Creek Canyon, Big Basin Redwoods State Park
2. Coast Trail, Point Reyes National Seashore
3. Montara Mountain Trail, San Pedro Valley County Park
4. Trail Camp Loop, Castle Rock State Park
5. Steep Ravine Trail, Mount Tamalpais State Park
1. Bay Ridge Trail, Crystal Springs Watershed
2. Skyline-to-the Sea, Rancho del Oso up Waddell Creek
3. Wilder Ridge Loop, Wilder Ranch State Park
4. Golden Gate Promenade to Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
5. Tennessee Valley to ocean, Marin Headlands
1. Tomales Bay boat-in, Point Reyes National Seashore
2. Sunset hike-in, Big Basin Redwoods
3. Wildcat hike-in, Point Reyes National Seashore
4. Sky Camp, Point Reyes National Seashore.
5. Pantoll walk-in, Mount Tamalpais State Park
1. Berry Creek/Silver/Golden Falls, Big Basin Redwoods
2. Alamere Falls, Point Reyes National Seashore
3. Cataract Falls, Mount Tamalpais
4. Black Rock Falls & Waterfall Loop, Uvas County Park
5. Carson Falls, Marin Watershed
1. Sunol Regional Preserve, Sunol
2. Point Isabel Regional Shoreline, Berkeley.
3. Fort Funston, San Francisco
4. Kent Pump Trail, Marin
5. Franklin Ridge, Martinez
1. Pierce Ranch, Point Reyes National Seashore
2. Grizzly Island Wildlife Area, Fairfield
3. Napa-Sonoma Marsh, Sonoma
4. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, Moss Beach
5. Sunol Regional Wilderness
1. Goat Rock, Castle Rock State Park
2. Rock City, Mount Diablo State Park
3. Tafoni Monolith, El Corte de Madera Open Space
4. Preserve Wind Caves, Las Trampas Regional Wilderness
5. Vasco Caves, Vasco Regional Preserve
State of grace
Some Golden State superlatives :
Best epic backpacking trip: John Muir Trail
Best mountain climb: Mount Shasta
Best deal: $10 bay boat tours at Fisherman's Wharf
Most dramatic easy hike with view: Pohono Trail, Yosemite National Park
Best wildflower bloom (when you hit it right): Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
Most difficult-to-reach wilderness lake: Little South Fork Lake, Trinity Alps Wilderness
Most dangerous kayak run: Cherry Valley, upper Tuolumne
Best mountain swimming hole: Dorris Lake out of Mono Hot Springs
Most pristine redwoods: Boy Scout Tree Trail, Jedediah Smith Redwoods
Best short backpack trip: Skyline-to-the-Sea, Big Basin headquarters to Sunset Camp
Prettiest ferns: Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Best chance to see bears: Sequoia National Park
Best bald-eagle viewing: Klamath National Wildlife Refuge
Most difficult long hike: Hat Creek Rim section, Pacific Crest Trail
Best sea-otter viewing: Elkhorn Slough by kayak
Best scuba diving: Point Lobos Marine Reserve
Worst bike expedition: California Aqueduct service road
Best RV sites: Seacliff State Beach, Monterey Bay
Finest luxury lodging: Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur
Most remote family-style ranch: Marble Mountain Ranch, Siskiyou County
Best snowshoe trip: Badger Pass to Dewey Point, Yosemite
Best cross-country ski: Badger Pass to Glacier Point overnight
-- Tom Stienstra
Mar 8, 2007 3:07 PM
201Seattle to Las Vegas in 4 to 5 Days
First day, get up bright and early. Drive to and then through Mt Rainier National Park via I-90 to WA Hwy 167 to WA Hwy 410 to WA Hwy 123 to U.S. Hwy 12. Wind up in Yakima. If you look on Mapquest, call up a map of Yakima and use your mouse to manipulate the map and it will all become clear. From Yakima, take I-82 (for about 20 miles) to U.S. 97 and drive south to Maryhill, WA. It's on the Columbia River Gorge. There's a really interesting museum there, and nearby there is a full-scale replica of Stonehenge in its original form. The guy who built these things was a pacifist, and his Stonehenge was intended as a memorial to the pointless deaths of that war. From there, drive along the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge to the town of White Salmon, where you'll come upon a bridge that will take you across the river to the town of Hood River, Oregon. That's where you'll want to spend the night.
Second day, from Hood River take I-84 east to The Dalles, Oregon. From there, take U.S. 97 to Bend, Ore. From there, take U.S. 20 east to Riley, Ore. and U.S. 395. From there, take U.S. 395 all the way south to Reno, Nevada. (Again, MapQuest will show you.) You'll be driving through some of the remotest country in the continental United States. It has a reputation for being featureless and boring, but that's a bad rap. I think it's fascinating. Along U.S. 395 you'll drive along Lake Abert, which is stark and beautiful. From Hood River to Reno is 550 miles, a long day's drive. But this one's all about the driving. There are no reasons to stop other than for food, gas and restrooms, and there aren't any cars out there so you can go fast. If you leave by 9 a.m., you'll be in Reno by 6 or 7 in the evening.
Third day, drive from Reno to Death Valley, CA, a distance of about 375 miles. Take U.S. 395 along the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which is steep, stark and utterly beautiful, to the town of Lone Pine (not to be confused with Big Pine, which comes first along your route) and Calif Hwy 136. Take Hwy 136 to Calif Hwy 190, and Hwy 190 into Death Valley. Spend the night at the Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley. This, too, is a fascinating and very beautfiful place. The drive in on Hwy 190 is stunning.
Fourth day, spend the morning walking and driving around Death Valley, and then drive to Vegas by way of Hwy 190 to Calif/Nevada Hwy 373 and U.S. 95. It takes about three and a half hours.
Detours from the route I've just given would include Crater Lake, Ore., which would entail a more westerly route toward Reno. I haven't been to Crater Lake, but I've heard all kinds of great things. Also, there is Lake Tahoe, which is near Reno and is quite beautiful. I don't think it would be realistic to incorporate Lake Tahoe into "day three" of the route I sketched out above. You'd need another day to linger there. But you've said you have four or five days. If you have a fifth day, I'd say use that day at Tahoe. As for Crater Lake, the problem is that you lose the ability to do the Eastern Oregon drive. Not having been there, I can't say whether that's a good tradeoff.
I can say, however, that I've done the whole route I sketched out above. Parts of it I've done several times. It's a classic drive, and you'd really enjoy it. You'll really get a sense of how the countryside changes between the Pacific Northwest and Las Vegas. You'll go through mountains, forests, high desert, alpine lakes and low desert. You’ll get a view of the Western U.S. seen by relatively few travelers, most of whom (understandably) focus on individual spots rather than the totality of a journey.
Mar 18, 2007 3:46 PM
202Grand Tour: California, Vegas, Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce
A frequent question here goes like this: "I’m going to be in the U.S. period of time, and I want to do the California coast, the wine country, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. How long will this take me?" This will give an answer to that question from a very experienced traveler (see my long & egotistical profile for backup of the experience claim) who has been to these places many times.
First off, you can congratulate yourself on your magnificent taste in tourism because the trip you’re planning is one of the world’s great ones. If you’re able to do all of this, you’ll be thrilled, chilled, stunned and blown away. Really, it doesn’t get any better than what you’re about to do. In this rendition, I’m going to map out a trip that starts in L.A. and ends there, but it would be just as easy to make San Francisco your start point, or even Las Vegas or Phoenix.
I’m further going to assume that you will have a rental car. See FAQ post 148 for a comprehensive guide to renting a car in the United States. As of this writing (March 2007), gas prices are between $2.50 and $3 a gallon, which translates into 13 cents a mile. If you’re thinking you’ll do this trip via public transit, you can partially accomplish it by cobbling together various options. It will be a vastly inferior if you do it that way, but it can be done.
Los Angeles to San Francisco: 9 days, about 700 miles
See FAQ post 184 for details about both cities and the drive between them. I estimated 700 miles to include driving around L.A. while you’re there, driving in the S.F. region while you’re there and driving between them. When you drive north from L.A., be sure to use the Pacific Coast Highway (a/k/a California Highway 1, a/k/a "PCH") from Santa Monica (oceanfront suburb of L.A.) northward, as opposed to taking the freeway (I-405/I-5 or U.S. 101) north out of town.
About 60 miles north of Santa Monica, CA Hwy. 1 joins the U.S. 101 for a time. This leads some givers of bad advice on the TT to equate the two routes northward. They couldn’t be more wrong! That 60-mile stretch on Hwy. 1 is incredibly scenic and is infinitely less hectic to drive, even during L.A.’s infamous rush hours. You absolutely should not miss driving north out of Los Angeles via California Highway 1. This is the highway of story and fame, and not to take it would be a real mistake.
Plan on spending three days in L.A., three days in the San Francisco area and three days for your trip between the two, which allows for seeing the Hearst Castle in San Simeon and lingering for another day and couple of nights in Big Sur and Monterey. Don’t rush yourself. All of these places are just magnificent. This is not "tag-it tourism" like, say, going to Europe and seeing this and that cathedral or Washington, D.C. and seeing this or that monument or museum. On this trip, you ought to give yourself some time so you can let it sink in.
The very best time for this section of your trip is mid-September to mid-October. That’s when California’s coastal weather is at its finest. I could speak of days and days during that season where you can stand next to that ocean and just want to float away on the breeze. There’s nothing like it anywhere.
That said, if you’re going at another time, you’ll be fine. The weather is typically dry and warm from March through October and often after that. You’re more likely to encounter rain from November through February, but I’ve done this route many a time in mid-winter. In fact, my best memory of the L.A. to S.F. route is of setting out on a clear Christmas Day that nearly convinced this non-believer in the existence of God. So, don’t assume that doing this trip in wintertime will mean you’ll be rained out.
San Francisco to Yosemite National Park: 200 miles, 3 days
For years I had avoided Yosemite altogether because of the crowds at peak season, and in the process cheated myself out of one of the great American places. It’s a magnificent (and winding) drive there (use MapQuest for directions) and a fantastic place once there. Yosemite is a bit – but only a bit – of a detour from your main route, but it’s worthwhile.
Here, the season does matter. High season is between Memorial Day (last Monday in May) and Labor Day (first Monday in September). During that period Yosemite is packed. When I went there it was in February, and there weren’t many people at all. The trade off is that you cross mountains to get to Yosemite. When it’s raining on the coast it’s snowing like hell in Yosemite. You should be prepared to use tire chains between November and April. Many times you’ll be stopped by police who will order you to turn around if you don’t have them.
Therefore if you’re planning to go during that period you should be sure to check with your rental car agency to see if they are allowed. Many rental agreements forbid them. If they’re allowed, you’ll find chains readily available for $20 or $30 at petrol stations on the way to Yosemite. Even with chains on, drive carefully. Chains turn you into a mountain goat in snow, but nothing really beats ice and there is plenty of it in Yosemite in the winter time.
Once at Yosemite, be sure to at least have a drink and lunch at the Ahwahnee Hotel, a luxury joint built there in the mid-1920s. If you can afford a room, roughly $300, go for it. I’ve stayed there and the place is fantastic. Be sure to make reservations well in advance if you’re thinking of going at anytime near or within the peak season. This applies to the rest of the accommodations there as well, which run the gamut from camping to other hotels.
Yosemite to Lake Tahoe: 190 miles, 2 days
The drive there is beautiful (see MapQuest for directions), and Tahoe itself is a stunning alpine lake. It’s worth lingering there for a day and taking a drive around it. If you ski, then you probably already know about Tahoe’s great skiing. It’s located on the Nevada border, which means that there are casinos on the Nevada side, if that’s your thing. If you skip Yosemite, then San Francisco to Tahoe is 200 miles via I-80 and U.S. Hwy. 50.
Lake Tahoe to Death Valley: 355 miles, 1-2 days
Tahoe is located in the Sierra Nevada mountains. What I wrote about snow in Yosemite is even truer of this area. In the winter time, which can start in November and run well into March and occasionally later, they measure snowfall in feet, not inches. This affects traveling in obvious ways: Chains are occasionally required, and secondary roads are simply closed for the winter. You must inquire locally if you drive through this area between November and April.
In the dry season, leave Tahoe via California Hwy. 89, a gorgeous drive over the spine of the Sierras, and take it all the way to U.S. Highway 395, another gorgeous drive along the eastern slope of the Sierras. Just past the town of Lone Pine (not to be confused with Big Pine, which you’ll pass through along the way), take California Hwy. 136 to Hwy. 190 and into Death Valley. It’s another stunning sight, especially the drive in from the California side.
From May through September the place is uncomfortably hot and you won’t want to linger. That said, there’s no need to be afraid of it even at the peak of the heat in late July, when shade temps of 125 F/50 C are common. (Park in the sun, and you can fry an egg on the hood of your car.) Just be sure to use common sense. Stop at a store along U.S. 395 and get the following: Sunscreen, a big white sheet, a couple gallons of water and some anti-freeze in case your car overheats. Chances are that you’ll never need any of this (although sunscreen is always a good idea), but if you do break down you’d be glad you had the stuff.
The place to stay is Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley. Europeans, don’t worry. At peak Euro season (mid-summer – apparently you Euros love the extremes) the restaurant adds a 15% service charge to the bill because of your notorious reluctance to leave the standard American tip. (See FAQ post 146.) While you're in Death Valley, check out Scotty's Castle
Death Valley to Vegas: 140 miles, 3 days
MapQuest it for directions. I’m not any fan of Vegas, which I think has all the soul, charm and mystery of a shopping mall, only with much brighter lights. I realize that many people want to linger there and I don’t blame you, so I assume you’ll stay for a couple of days. But I don’t really have any advice about how much time to take.
I will say this: Vegas is no longer a bargain travel destination like it used to be. It has become quite expensive, in fact. It attracts a lot of business conventions, and as a result room rates can be sky-high. I do like the Liberace Museum, a shrine to the all-time greatest star the city’s ever known and embodiment of what once passed for its glitzy soul before the Mafia made itself corporate. I also liked Smith & Wollensky’s steakhouse on the Strip not far from the New York, New York casino hotel. I once had dinner at the bar including a $300 bottle of wine and a Cuban cigar. You can still smoke in Vegas, and I appreciate that. On your way out of town, stop and have a look at the Hoover Dam.
Vegas to Sedona the Grand Canyon: 485 miles, 2-3 days
See FAQ post 131 for complete info about the Grand Canyon. You definitely want to stay overnight there. My allocation of time and mileage assumes that you drive to the South Rim, stay overnight, then drive to the North Rim and stay overnight there. This is definitely worth doing. My time estimate does not include any excursions into the Canyon. Some people ask about rafting; those trips don’t originate in the Canyon but rather upriver. If you want to do that, you’ll have to do separate research.
From the South Rim, before you go to the North Rim you might want to take a detour to Sedona, Ariz., an appealing town with beautiful and unique rock formations. Drive in one or the other direction via Arizona Hwy. 89, which goes through the mountains. This would add a day or two to your trip, depending on whether you stay overnight in Sedona.
Grand Canyon North Rim to Zion and Bryce to Vegas: 520 miles, 3 days
I’ve been to Zion and it’s magnificent. I haven’t been to Bryce but people whose opinions I trust say it’s even better. Between the North Rim and Bryce, your route will take you near the town of Colorado City, Arizona, a town founded and currently populated by a branch of the Mormons that still practices polygamy. Take a drive through the place. See those structures that look like apartment buildings? They are single family houses. Big families. But where are the children? Inside those houses, by order of the cult leader.
Vegas to L.A.: 280 miles, 1 day
Nothing remarkable along this stretch. Some people will direct you to Joshua Tree National Park, a desert preserve not far from Interstate 15. Having not been there I won’t disagree. I’ll just voice my skepticism. For one thing, when you drove from Death Valley to Vegas, you’ll have seen plenty of Joshua trees. Secondly, I’ve always wondered whether the national park’s popularity on the TT is a function of the U-2 album of the same name. I liked the album too, but I’m not sold on the park. Someday I’ll make a point of going so I can have a more informed view.
Total: 2,700 miles, 26 days
That’s if you do the whole thing and do it right. If you don't have this much time, then chop parts of the trip off. Don't go to Sedona. Don't go to Yosemite. Don't linger in Tahoe. Don't go to the North Rim. Don't go to Zion or Bryce, or go to just one of them. Fly from San Francisco to Vegas and from Vegas to L.A. But whatever you do, do not make the critical mistake of rushing through the places you do decide to see. As I wrote in the beginning, this trip doesn't not lend itself to tag-you're it tourism. You must give yourself enough time to see it the way it ought to be seen, or there's no point in it to begin with. Have a great trip!
Apr 9, 2007 5:12 PM
203A Long Weekend in San Francisco
Question: I am going to San Francisco with my husband for a 4-day weekend. I am looking for suggestions as to what area of the city we should stay in. We want to be near good restaurants and bars, as well as places to go during the day. We are in our 30's, and our budget is mid-range (anywhere from about $130-$200/night). As well, we are hoping to spend a night in the wine region, and looking for recommendations for a place to stay there. Since we only have the one night we want it to be a good place with a good restaurant either right there or nearby for dinner.
As someone who's done this many, many times (check my egotistical profile for backup) I'll give you some ideas. Use Priceline for a room in San Francisco. Check biddingfortravel.com before you do it, so you can figure out how much to pay. Aim for $100-$125. Don't stay in Fisherman's Wharf; Union Square is okay, so is the Financial District. Use the savings from the upper end of your budget to splurge on a room at the Wine Country Inn near St. Helena. Get one with a patio. Depending on the season, they go from $200 to around $350, I think. Whatever you pay will be worth it.
There are plenty of good restaurants near the Wine Country Inn. My favorites are a place called Martini in St Helena, and a place called Redd in Yountville. Martini will be somewhat cheaper, although nothing in that area can be considered cheap. For lunch in the wine country, nothing beats Taylor's Refresher, a hamburger stand in St. Helena. I kid you not, a hamburger stand. A few years ago, a winemaker took me there and it was outstanding.
In San Francisco, an excellent restaurant at a reasonable price is Sam's Grill in the 300 block of Bush St. Have the petrale, a species of sole native to the Pacific Coast. No one makes petrale like Sam's makes petrale. Sam's is the second oldest restaurant in the city; old school charm abounds. Nearby on California St., Tadich Grill is the oldest restaurant in town with similar ambiance to Sam's, but only Sam's has that petrale.
Lest you think I got mesmerized by one good meal, I had dinner there one night and it was so great that I went back the next day for a petrale lunch and it was just as good. Then I sent some friends over there and they thanked me profusely for it. As a result, I have become the Sam's Grill petrale salesman. The great thing is that, since the restaurant has been there for 150 years or so, it's unlikely that this recommendation will become dated.
For things to do in and near S.F., check these other FAQ entries:
40: "MISS ARIEL’S ADVICE FOR A FABULOUS GOOD TIME IN SAN FRANCISCO"
44: "Getting around San Francisco on Bicycles & Blades"
47: "Really detailed explanation of San Francisco’s strange weather"
154: "Highlights In and Near S.F."
172: "Nutrax’s San Francisco: This Is Why We Travel"
178: "Napa & Sonoma Wine Country"
May 5, 2007 9:41 PM
204Surcharge for car rental (under 25)
Most of the car rental agencies apply horrendous surcharges for car rentals for under 25 year olds (up to 25$/day!).
The cheapest agency I found is Enterprise, which charges "only" 10$/day...
May 13, 2007 6:11 AM
205Should I Buy a Car For My Trip?
Get ready for a good old-fashioned American-style screwing
At minimum, you should expect to tie up $3,000 worth of capital, and to take a transaction loss of at least $1,000, and maybe quite a bit more. That’s not including charges for repair and insurance. You should expect to take at least a week on the front end of your trip to buy and register a car, and at least two weeks on the back end to advertise and sell it. You shouldn’t even think of doing it if you aren’t prepared to do a substantial amount of research. And then you should get down on your knees and pray.
Therefore, it is difficult to imagine very many situations where buying a vehicle for your trip is advisable. The two exceptions that come to mind are these: First, if you’ll be here for at least three months. Second, if you’re under 21 years old and, as a result, you find rental cars either unavailable or priced so high that they might as well be. In those cases, it makes sense to consider buying a vehicle.
However, in the case of drivers under 21, you’ll likely face some difficulty getting car insurance. You should talk with your auto insurance company in your home country and ask about putting a U.S. car on that policy. If that doesn’t work, then you’ll have to do a lot of research via Google to see if you can find insurance here. As you’ll see below, it’s virtually impossible to legally register or drive a car in the U.S. unless you have automobile insurance.
The bureaucratic issues
The very first thing to say is that you should steer clear of any advice on the TT, or from any American you might meet including (and especially) the seller of a vehicle, to ignore or short-cut the law when it comes to registering a vehicle. Space doesn’t permit me to tell you all of the ways that you can screw yourself. You will just have to take it on faith: Do it "by the book," or don’t do it at all.
The second thing to say is that the licensing of drivers and the registration of motor vehicles is a responsibility of each state. We have 50 of them (states, that is), and their rules vary widely. About the only thing you can say for sure is that in every state you must register your vehicle to get a license plate, and you must have a license plate to drive a vehicle on a public road.
Beyond that, you’ll find that almost all states require that you have automobile insurance as a condition of registering a vehicle. Most states extend this requirement to drivers as well. Thus, if you are stopped for speeding or some other infraction, you’ll usually be required to produce three documents: A valid driver’s license, your vehicle’s registration certificate, and your proof of insurance. If you don’t have all three of them, your vehicle will be confiscated and you could find yourself in jail.
Legal requirements aside, it is in your interest to have insurance. In particular, you will want to get liability coverage, which covers the cost of the damage that you do to other vehicles and people in an accident. Have you heard about how the United States is a "litigious society," i.e., one where people file a lot of lawsuits? To a large degree this is an outgrowth of lawsuits over car accidents. If you lack adequate liability insurance, you are taking an enormous risk.
To research the insurance issue, start here. I don’t endorse or recommend that company, but their website looks helpful.
Because all 50 states have different rules regarding what you need to do when you buy a car, before you attempt to buy a car here you should contact the licensing agency in the state where you will buy. In most states this is called the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles), but that’s not always the case. In Washington State, for example, it’s the DOL (Department of Licensing). A Google search will help you find what you’re looking for.
Every licensing agency has a website with the information and phone numbers you will need. You should call or e-mail to find out about requirements that might apply to a foreign purchaser. In particular, ask about vehicle insurance, driver licensing, emission control regulations and procedures related to registration of the legal title. Procedures vary widely by state. It is your responsibility to be familiar with the rules.
Buying a car: Hell on wheels
Whether you buy from a dealer or an individual, the trading of used cars is the last vestige of the Wild West in America. Many tough, cynical, experienced Americans go weak in the knees at the idea of buying a used car. I am convinced that new car sales are as high as they are because a lot of people can’t stomach the thought of buying a used vehicle.
Yes, it’s that bad. There is no end to the scams and risks. It’s a jungle out there, truly a dog-eat-dog world with no rules. As long as there have been automobiles, the oily, lying used car salesman has been a fixture of American comedic lore. And guess what? If you’ve got a foreign accent, your risk of being screwed just doubled. Try reading this message thread about an American who screwed his traveling European nephew on a used car transaction. Sold the poor kid a vehicle for $3,400, and the nephew was able to get only $1,000 for it on the way out, taking a 70% loss.
But you still want to do this, right? Well, to quote an old American saying: "It’s your funeral, buddy." Don’t say no one warned you. Anyway, here’s your checklist:
- Decide where (which state) you’ll buy the car so you can familiarize yourself with the registration procedures.
- Make insurance arrangements.
- Read this outstanding guide to buying a used car. The website that publishes it, Edmunds.com, has a series of other great car-related articles, including an equally outstanding guide to selling a car.
- Shop for a car, using the Auto Trader’s website as your starting point. The growth of the Internet, a vibrant wholesale auction market and efficient cross-country shipping of cars has brought considerable efficiency to the used car market. Large price gaps between regions have narrowed considerably. Thus, the advice you’ll get about cars being much cheaper in Florida, etc., isn’t nearly as true as it once was.
- Pay for your vehicle with a cashier’s check drawn on a bank. This is typically a matter of wiring the money from your home bank to pay for the cashier’s check. There will typically be a currency translation fee of 1% plus a bank wiring fee from your home bank. Research this before you leave home. Virtually every bank in the U.S. can handle foreign money transfers with one day’s notice.
- As soon as you’ve bought your car, take care of the insurance and registration according to the law in the state where you’ll be buying the vehicle. Do not ever agree to a seller’s suggestion to bypass any rules of any kind! You will need valid registration and title documents to sell your car. Any irregularities will render your vehicle unmarketable at the end of your trip. No exceptions! Remember: It’s a jungle out there.
- As part of your shopping and buying process, you obtained the prior owner’s vehicle maintenance records. Keep those records, and save the records of all maintenance and repairs you perform while you own it. These will be vital elements when you turn around to sell your vehicle.
- Allow at least two weeks, and preferable more time than that, to advertise and sell your vehicle at the end of your trip. You could do this much faster by selling it to a used car dealer, but you will pay dearly for the privilege in the form of a shockingly low price offer. Even if you do a fairly good job of buying and selling through the private market, you should expect to lose at least one-third of the purchase price of your vehicle in the transaction, and that’s not counting the loss you will take when you convert the dollars back into your home currency.
What kind of vehicle to buy
America is the original mass car culture, so there’s no surer way to get an argument going than to talk about vehicles. Everyone has their preferences, and many people attach all sorts of moral, cultural and personal significance to their choices. We Americans are not just what we do for a living, but we are also what we drive. I’m going to try to sidestep most of those issues, and focus instead on the practical.
- Common, non-specialty vehicles are best. They are easier and cheaper to buy, maintain, repair and sell. Think hard before buying, for example, a Volkswagen Westphalia camper van, or a semi-customized van of some other make. You just might find, at the end of your journey, that it’s impossible to sell before you have to go back home. Not only that, but chances are you’ll wind up staying in hotels most of the time anyway. If you think you’re going to come here for three months and sleep in your vehicle to save money, you’d better think again.
- Four wheel drive is unnecessary. The U.S. is a big country with lots of remote places, but it’s also a first-world nation and the roads are reasonably well maintained, even in winter. It’s a standing joke in the U.S. that "off-road" vehicles never go off-road except in accidents.
- S.U.V.s are unnecessary. If you’re thinking of getting one for the cargo capacity, consider a large sedan or station wagon instead. They are safer and usually cheaper. S.U.V.s have a dirty little secret: rollover accidents.
- Gas mileage isn’t as much of an issue as you think. Most used cars will get an average of 25 or so miles to the gallon. If you buy a Japanese compact, you might get closer to 30 mpg. That’s a difference of 65 gallons in 10,000 miles, which at today’s prices is about $225. If $225 is a crucial issue to you, then you can’t afford to buy a car to begin with.
Still want to buy a car?
Okay, you crazy bastard, go right ahead and do it. I’ll tell you this much: There is nothing more American than buying a used car and getting completely screwed in the transaction. So if it happens, consider it part of your journey into our culture. I’ll never be able to prove it, but I think every serial killer was made that way by a dishonest (is there any other kind?) car salesman. Like I say, "It’s your funeral, buddy."
May 14, 2007 6:57 AM
Gas mileage isn’t as much of an issue as you think. Most used cars will get an average of 25 or so miles to the gallon. If you buy a Japanese compact, you might get closer to 30 mpg. That’s a difference of 65 gallons in 10,000 miles, which at today’s prices is about $225. If $225 is a crucial issue to you, then you can’t afford to buy a car to begin with.
...Says a man who spent $220/night to sleep in Prague.
May 14, 2007 11:05 PM
May 17, 2007 8:35 PM
208Websterella’s guide to NYC
Best walking guide book is this one
Free Central Park Walking tours
A comprehensive list of NYC Walking tours There’s something for everyone
1)MOMA – Free Fridays from 4:30 to closing
2)Jewish Museum – Free Saturdays
3)Brooklyn Botanic Gardens – Free on Tuesdays and from 12 to Noon on Saturdays
4)Metropolitan Museum Visitor fees are recommended, but if you gave what you could they’re happy with that.
5)Frick Collection - On Sundays, pay what you wish from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00
6)Whitney Museum of American Art – Friday 6–9 pm pay-what-you-wish admission
7)Bronx Zoo – Admission on Wednesdays is by donation (pay what you wish)
I'll probably add more to this.
Jun 14, 2007 6:37 PM
209Hotels in NYC don't have to mean staying Manhattan,
Try one of the Boroughs.
Jun 23, 2007 3:18 PM
210NYC Theater -
First off let me tell you that I have been going to Broadway productions since I was 7 or 8. My first production was Pirates of Penzance with Kevin Kline, and my first opera at 9 was La Boheme. I have tried to see something every year since and have seen everything from the magnificent Richard Kiely in Man of LaMancha to the real crap of this season's the Pirate Queen. I've stood in line for tickets at the Delacorte for Shakespeare in the Park and taken season seats at both the Met and NYC Operas. Theater... I love theater.
How to get tickets - I use Playbill.com and check out specials in the American Express Gold Card Events. Broadway.com is another reliable site. The TKTS booths sponsored by TDF are another excellent place to get same day tickets for shows.
How to choose a show -
1) Don't you dare see something that you don't like. If you don't like Musicals don't see one.
2) Read the reviews in Playbill.com, the NYTimes Theater section, and do a Google Search.
3) Ask about specific shows, don't ask "what should I see". How would someone who doesn't know you be able to recommend something?
4) See the classics. Believe it or not Phantom, Les Mis, Rent, Chicago... they're great shows.
And then stretch your mind and your internet searching fingers and try something unexpected ---
Opera will depend on the time of year.
NYC Opera which plays at the NY State Theater of Lincoln Center has a season that runs from September to early June
The MET Runs about the same. There are a few symposiums over the summer, but generally Opera in NYC moves outdoors for Summer
Choosing alternative venues for summer theater viewing is a great idea. If you have the patience to get up early and wait on line there is no better venue in the city than the Delacorte for outdoor theater.
River to River Festival showcases all sorts of theater, dance, Art and music at venues all over the city through September.
Most of all, if you're going to see something make it something you're passionate about. After going to a performance of one of the worst shows I've ever seen (thank god it closed) and watching people give a stand ovation where it clearly was not deserved I try to steer people to quality.
*Pay what it costs to see a really good production. Don't just go for any cheap seat so you can say "I went to a show on Broadway." Theater costs too much even for the cheap seats to see crap. *
Jul 11, 2007 5:19 PM
211NYC SUBWAY SYSTEM
How to deal with being a tourist on the subway.
Jul 21, 2007 5:13 PM
212Alaska and Western Canada -- "The Milepost", www.themilepost.com. 2007 is its 59th Edition (800 pages). Detailed maps, text details sites at mileposts along the major highways in British Columbia, Alberta, Northwest Territories, Yukon Territory, and Alaska. It shows alternate routes to the Alaska-Canada Highway, the Cassiar Highway, the Yellowhead Highway, the Dempster Highway, the Laird Highway, the Yellowknife and Mackenzie Highways, the Denali Highway, the Taylor and Rim-of-the-World Highways, the McCarthy Highway, and the Dalton Highway. It includes phone numbers and web addresses of motels, lodges, hotels, RV campgrounds, national parks and forests, stores, restaurants, gas stations, and visitor information centers. (the commercial sites pay to advertise, so not all may be listed) "The Milepost" is sold in most grocery stores, Wal-Mart, Costco, Sam's Club, and gas station stores in Alaska, and may be purchased by mail.Text*Text*
Jul 21, 2007 5:15 PM
213ALASKA and WESTERN CANADA -- "The Milepost", www.themilepost.com. 2007 is its 59th Edition (800 pages). Detailed maps, text details sites at mileposts along the major highways in British Columbia, Alberta, Northwest Territories, Yukon Territory, and Alaska. It shows alternate routes to the Alaska-Canada Highway, the Cassiar Highway, the Yellowhead Highway, the Dempster Highway, the Laird Highway, the Yellowknife and Mackenzie Highways, the Denali Highway, the Taylor and Rim-of-the-World Highways, the McCarthy Highway, and the Dalton Highway. It includes phone numbers and web addresses of motels, lodges, hotels, RV campgrounds, national parks and forests, stores, restaurants, gas stations, and visitor information centers. (the commercial sites pay to advertise, so not all may be listed) "The Milepost" is sold in most grocery stores, Wal-Mart, Costco, Sam's Club, and gas station stores in Alaska, and may be purchased by mail.
Aug 18, 2007 7:22 PM
214Free Camping in the U.S.
It is permissible to camp for free on public lands all over the United States - on Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management, and most popularly, on National Forest lands. I do it all the time out west, including California - you really only need a fire permit (free from a local ranger station, and usually good for one year), and then only if you have a stove or lantern (campfires are not a good idea outside of developed campgrounds). Rules are different in different areas, though - I suggest you figure out where you are going, then see what types of these public lands are on your route (lots of BLM land in Nevada, for example). For National Forests, simply go to the main website (National Forests), then to the specific Forest (El Dorado National Forest), then to the dispersed camping guidelines section, usually under "Recreational Activities" or some such - here is the section for El Dorado: Dispersed Camping. While you cannot simply camp whereever you want, there are extensive free opportunities, and many cheap developed places. Having a small (cartop) boat increases your access to some of the better free places. Please take everything with you, garbage included, when you go.
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