USA branch FAQ
Replies: 279 - Last Post: Apr 16, 2013 10:54 PM Last Post By: nutraxfornerves
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.
Aug 30, 2007 7:46 PM
215Here are the regulations in regards to carrying liquids, gels, and aerosals onto planes on your person. Generally they're saying if the items are at 3oz (90ml) or less then it should be OK but you want to make sure hence why I am posting this. See the below or click above for specifics as this is cut & pasted from the horse's mouth. Even if those of you originated from outside the USA and are transiting onto another international flight from the USA or domestic flight within the USA you will have to make sure that you are in compliance before boarding the next flight out especially if they didn't have such rules from your point of origin. For international arrivals, after clearing US Customs you come out into an 'unsecured area' and will have to get back into TSA screening lines to access your next flight out. For domestic arrivals you come out into the departure gates where there are other people waiting to get on. Rather you go back through security re-screening or not will depend on the particular airport layout and if such layout would require you to leave one 'secured' areas to get to another.
Air travelers may now carry liquids, gels and aerosols in their carry-on bag when going through security checkpoints.
Click here to download our
prohibited items brochure
The following rules apply to all liquids, gels, and aerosols carried through security checkpoints.
There are exceptions for baby formula, breast milk, and other essential liquids, gels, and aerosols, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines.
Please keep in mind that these rules were developed after extensive research and understanding of current threats. They are intended to help air travelers bring essential toiletries and other liquids, gels and aerosols for short trips. If you need larger amounts of liquids, gels and aerosols such as toothpaste or shampoo, please place them in your luggage and check them with your airline.
To ensure the health and welfare of certain air travelers, in the absence of suspicious activity or items, greater than 3 ounces of the following liquids, gels and aerosols are permitted through the security checkpoint in reasonable quantities for the duration of your itinerary (all exceptions must be presented to the security officer in front of the checkpoint):
You are allowed reasonable amounts over 3 ounces of the items above in your carry-on baggage, but you will need to perform the following:
We have also taken steps to ensure the security of the boarding areas after you pass through our security checkpoints. Therefore, any liquid, gel or aerosol, such as coffee or soda, purchased in the secure area beyond the security checkpoint is allowed aboard your plane. Please note that if you have a layover and are re-screened at your connecting airport the current rules (see above) for carry-ons apply. For more details, get the 3-1-1 for carry-ons.
To effectively communicate important security information, we translated these changes into a variety of languages. Security Information In Other Languages
You are permitted to bring solid cosmetics and personal hygiene items as such lipstick, lip balm and similar solids.
We ask for your cooperation in the screening process by being prepared before you arrive. We also ask that you follow the guidelines above and try not to over-think these guidelines. Please pack liquids, gels, and aerosols in your checked baggage even if you do not normally check a bag.
In addition to liquids, gels, and aerosols numerous other potentially dangerous items are not permitted in carry-on baggage. We strongly encourage travelers to read more about previously prohibited items to avoid complications during screening.
To help you understand and navigate the new security measures, please click one of the links below for a table of specific items that can and cannot be brought onto a plane.
Sep 12, 2007 6:18 PM
216"Hostels that get good reports on thi sbranch: Green Tortoise described as "lively and fun" which mayor may not be what you want."
It can be, but then I'd say that's true of any place where a large number of young people are vacationing in one spot. The question is how much the spot is contributing to the good spirits they'll show up with. In the case of the Green Tortoise, I'd say "not much".
Bad Times on the Green Tortoise
As a past customer of theirs, I would say "don't do business with these people". Oh, and actually read the article linked to before forming an opinion about it, because their fan club seems rather fond of lying about the contents. A complaint that I wasn't being allowed to leave my meal station after being stuck at it for over two hours being turned into a complaint that I was expected to work at all; that kind of thing.
Sep 12, 2007 6:27 PM
217Oh, and if there are any other questions - here's my blog, named in honor of the bizarre experience that I linked to an account of, above.
The Green Tortoise and Other Travesties
A serious debate over whether or not breach of contract is wrong? Not just absurd, but absurd in a way that makes it a perfect symbol of so very much that goes on.
Sep 20, 2007 7:06 PM
Oct 16, 2007 11:09 PM
219I'm Visiting the U.S. in the Winter: Should I Rent a 4WD Vehicle?
A very experienced driver's common-sense tips on road safety
Should you spring for that $85/day 4WD SUV? Only if money's no object and you want to make a fashion statement. Safety-wise, a 4WD vehicle rarely gives you an advantage, even in winter driving. In fact, it could be a hindrance.
Let's start with an observation and some basic facts: The United States is a first-world nation with an extensive network of modern, paved roads. Maintenance standards on all but the most remote roads are generally high. In the winter, Interstates and secondary federal and state highways (i.e., U.S. 41 or Idaho Rte. 75) are patrolled and regularly plowed. It's rare for roads to be blocked by snow; when they are, there is usually quite a bit of advance warning.
Now, let's talk about 4WD drive vehicles, i.e., those that route the engine's power to all of the wheels rather than just two of them. 4WD offers marginal help in a couple of very specific situations: getting free from mud or snow, and driving in deep snow. However, did you read what I just wrote about American roads being modern, paved, maintained, and plowed? As someone who's driven 150,000 miles here, I can tell you that fewer than 500 of those miles have been traveled in the sort of snow in which a 4WD vehicle would provide assistance. I've owned some 4WD vehicles, and can think of only a couple of situations in which the 4WD helped me get unstuck. Even then, the difference was that I could do it without needing someone to push me.
Now, let's talk about the more common weather-related winter hazards. The main one is hard-packed snow or ice, the latter often being called "black ice" because it's invisible at night. Will 4WD help with that? Nope. Not one bit. If you're going to slide on ice, or hard snow, you'll slide now matter how many wheels are being powered. I know, because I had what was nearly a close encounter with a large granite rock in Massachusetts when I overestimated the usefulness of 4WD on an icy road.
Which brings up another point, overconfidence. This is the hazard lurking if you rent a 4WD vehicle. These tend to be large pickups or SUVs with lots of glass and a high center of gravity. You sit higher than in a sedan, and you feel like the king of the road. Many an SUV driver, 4WD or 2WD, has learned otherwise. Not only are SUVs no better in dealing with slick conditions, but that high center of gravity makes them rollover risks on the highway. SUVs are starting to be equipped with electronic stability control to counteract the rollover risk, but it's far from universal and there's only so much you can do about gravity anyway.
Back to heavy snow. My other 4WD lesson was the time I thought I could push it straight through a 4-foot tall snowbank at the end of my driveway. For the next three hours, I laughed at myself as I shoveled it out. Yeah, they'll do better at getting unstuck, but 4WD is not any sort of miracle worker, even in heavy snow. Far from it.
Here's the secret to success in heavy snow. If you must be out there, or you can't help being out there, then find the nearest gas station and get yourself a set of tire chains. (If you can't afford them, then you're an idiot for being out there to begin with.) My experience with tire chains tells me that they are remarkable. Tire chains turned my old General Motors station wagon -- 2WD, rear-wheel no less -- into a mountain goat. On their worst day, tire chains are twice as effective as 4WD on its best day. Chains are cheap, easy to install, and widely available in snowy areas.
In mountain areas, such as the Sierra Nevada of California (think Yosemite and Sequoia N.P., Lake Tahoe) and other western roads, chains will be required in some areas at some times. There are gradations of chain requirements, in which case they'll let some 4WD vehicles through without chains, but you can't count on that. If there's a chain requirement and you don't have them, there will be a roadblock and you will be turned back.
Beyond what I've just mentioned, the most common winter driving hazard is reduced visibility due to heavy fog (not just limited to the winter, by the way) and occasionally heavy rain (obviously, more of a summer phenomenon), or heavy snow. If you encounter any of these conditions, which are more common in the mountains but by no means limited to those areas, SLOW DOWN and maintain a wide following distance. If you're being tailgated by the driver behind you, find the nearest exit and get off.
Hundreds of people are killed every year in massive accidents that occur during conditions of low visibility, especially heavy fog. Drivers don't take this danger anywhere close to as seriously as they should. Don't make that mistake. If we were to rank-order potential weather-related driving hazards, by far the most threatening is crashing during periods of low visibility. The error here is "get there itis," the urge to keep on going when it makes no sense.
Finally, use your common sense
Rental vehicles are very reliable, but nothing's perfect. If you break down, you'll be outside. Which means warm weather gear (coat, hat, gloves, sturdy footwear, heavy socks) in winter, and sun screen, sun glasses and a big white sheet if you're driving through the desert in the summer. Carry some extra food, just in case. In the desert, carry a couple of quarts of Gatorade, which replenishes not just water but essential salts and minerals. In the desert, carry some anti-freeze. Just in case.
Let someone know where you're going and how you'll get there. Carry a cellphone. And, if weather conditions (summer or winter) are potentially hazardous, stay off of truly remote tertiary roads. While it's true that American roads are generally modern and well-maintained, we do have some remote ones, especially (but not only) in the West. Don't be the kind of blind fools that these people were, for example. Pay attention to signs. Read the map, preferable the bible of the American road, The Rand McNally Road Atlas, available in thousands of gas stations. Listen to the radio and TV forecasts. The rules apply to you, too.
And, to repeat: the urge to keep going no matter what -- "get-there-itis" -- is truly insidious. Follow your instincts. In really hot or really cold places stick to Interstates and major two-lane roads, and know your limits. So welcome to the American Road. It's a great place to be. Use your common sense, and you'll have a great trip. In your safe, plain-vanilla, 2WD rental sedan.
Oct 16, 2007 11:29 PM
Oct 17, 2007 10:27 PM
221Erm, having competed for space on a some what winding 2 lane parkway (The Taconic) in NYS in winter, I can tell you that 4WD vehicles give people a mistaken sense of immortality. I have witnessed more than one 4WD vehicle in a ditch over there, and this is a road that receives good attention by DOT. Be sensible, and don't assume that a 4WD is going to get you out of every situation. It won't.
Nov 2, 2007 5:28 PM
222Six Hours in Boston
I'm landing at Logan airport at 5 p.m., and leaving on Greyhound at 11:30 p.m. I have a couple of big bags that will need storage. Is there anything to do for a few hours, or should I just go to the bus station and hang out with my bags and a book?
You have three constraints: time, luggage and money. The third constraint is implied by your choice of Greyhound. I'm sure that, every now and then, a rich traveler finds himself or herself on Greyhound, but I'm going to crawl out on a limb and assume that you're traveling on a relatively tight budget. So I'll give you some ideas on that basis.
I know there'll be no lockers anywhere. That's a casualty of 9/11 and its aftermath, when someone left a bomb in a luggage locker in the Philadelphia train station. These days, there are "left luggage" operations of various sorts, but they are hit-and-miss. Which is to say that I don't know of one at South Station. What to do? Take the water taxi. The fare is $10 per person. You reach it via a bus that stops at each of the airport terminals. The water taxi has a luggage storage room at Rowe's Wharf, which is located a few blocks (about a quarter-mile) from South Station, which is where you'll catch your Greyhound.
If you can't afford the water taxi, then you're out of luck and you should take the "Silver Line" bus from the airport to South Station and kill your time hanging out in the terminal. Take a good book. People might advise you to get around this in various ways, but they will cost too much in time and money to be worth serious consideration, and you can stop reading now.
So you've decided to take the water taxi. Give them your luggage and be sure to let them know that you will be back for it at 10:30 p.m., and that you have an 11:30 Greyhound bus leaving from South Station so it's important that someone be certain to be there to give you your luggage. By the time you've done all of this (debarked from the plane, retrieved your luggage, taken the airport shuttle to the water taxi, ridden the water taxi to Rowe's Wharf, and stored your luggage) it will be 6:30 p.m. and you'll have four hours to kill before getting back to Rowe's Wharf to retrieve your stuff.
Now it's time for dinner. The least you can spend is about $10 a person. This would be in the food court at the Quincy Market, which is part of the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. To get there, go through the big archway slightly to the right of where you left your luggage. You reach a curb. Across the street is a wide strip of public park where an elevated freeway used to be. Follow this pathway to your right. As you walk, ahead to your left you'll see a tower with a clock. That's the Custom House. Continue on this parkway past that tower and on your left you'll reach the back of the Faneuil Hall complex, where you can ask for directions (or easily find on your own) the Quincy Market.
If you're only semi-broke, for another $2.50 you can buy a half-dozen cookies at the Boston Chipyard, one of a bunch of stands in an alcove off the north side of the Quincy Market. If you're confused about where it is, ask someone and eventually you'll find someone who'll tell you where it is. The cookies are great.
If you can spend, say, $25 or $30 a person for dinner, or more, then head to the Union Oyster House, which you'll find by walking through the Faneuil Hall complex and wandering down a side street. If you can't find it, ask. The place is well-known and it will be easy to get directions there. They serve good seafood. A plate of clams (complete with some sand for authenticity) and a Sam Adams beer, plus tax and tip, at the bar, will run you $22 per person. If you're hungrier than that and your budget is big enough, ask the waitress to seat you for dinner. You might have to wait, but it will be worth it.
Alternatively, if you're intent on the best seafood, I think the best place in Boston is The Barking Crab. After you hand off your luggage, don't go through the big archway to your right. Instead, walk back toward the boat. You'll see a pathway along the dock leading to a different street. Hang a left at the exit and walk across the bridge. The Barking Crab will be on your right. Either the Union Oyster House or the Barking Crab is great. Some people will call the Union Oyster House a tourist trap. Pay no attention. The food is great. But I prefer the Barking Crab myself.
If you have more than a food court budget and you don't want seafood, then don't go to Fanueil Hall/Quincy Market, but keep walking along that parkway a bit. You'll want to turn right onto Hanover Street. This will lead you to the North End, a/k/a Little Italy. There are zillions of Italian restaurants there: the good, the bad, the ugly. I like Cafe Paradiso, which is a couple a block and a half into the North End on Hanover Street (the North End's main drag). I also like Artu, which is about a block past Paradiso, and down a sidestreet to the right. Artu gets mixed reviews from others, but I've eaten well there for not a lot of money.
Regardless of where you eat, you'll be done by 8:30 p.m. or so. It would be a good time to stroll around and take in the ambiance of wherever you are, be it the North End, the waterfront, or both. Remember the Custom House? That's an old government building. A custom house, to be exact. Marriott bought it and made it into a time-share resort. A little-known secret is that they have a posh little bar, called the Counting Room, that's open until 11 p.m. They don't advertise it much, I suspect because they don't want to attract the 20-something riff-raff that hangs out at the Black Rose, an Irish joint across the street.
There is also an interesting little museum in the Custom House. It's an offshoot of the Peabody Essex Museum, a frequently overlooked gem of a place located 30 miles north of the city. On the 26th floor of the Custom House, there is a fantastic open-air observatory that's open to the public for limited hours. I'm not sure what the hours are. I think your best strategy would be to go to the bar, have a couple drinks, and then ask about the observatory. The Custom House also has a luggage storage facility, but you're better off doing this the water taxi way because the water taxi landing is a lot closer to South Station.
Some people might point out that the "T" (subway) blue line Aquarium exit is about 100 feet from the Custom House and costs a lot less than the water taxi. They would be correct, but you'll still have lug your luggage all the way back to South Station from there, and if it's "unwieldy," it's not going to be pretty. So, there you have it. Depending on your budget, you can do a little or a lot. Have fun.
Nov 11, 2007 2:28 PM
223Here is a link for exciting vacation opportunities, all kinds of hotels and hostels, tours, etc.
You send an inquiry through the site and the hotel/tour/etc. responds to you directly to your e-mail.
It's very helpful and there are over 200,000 listings!
Check it out!
Nov 19, 2007 9:31 PM
Nov 20, 2007 5:02 PM
225No Sales Tax Refunds for U.S.-Purchased Goods
Foreign visitors to the U.S. sometimes want to know how to claim sales tax refunds for things they buy here. There's one problem: With the exception of Louisiana, such refunds do not exist here. Oddly enough, Louisiana's refund program illustrates this, because it applies at some stores and within that state only.
American sales taxes are not the same as the value-added duties seen in Europe, Canada, and elsewhere. Such taxes are typically imposed at the national level, while in the U.S., sales taxes are imposed at the state level. Some states further allow localities to add additional sales taxes of their own. Many local sales taxes are imposed only on some items, the most common being hotel rooms, restaurant meals, and rental cars. It's common for hotel rooms to be taxed 10%-15%. Rental tax taxes can easily reach 25%. I've seen restaurant meal taxes as high as 10%.
Thus, rather than give tourists a break on taxes, states take the opposite tack. Visitors don't vote, so a popular means of generating revenue is to impose extra sales taxes on services that are consumed predominantly or exclusively by tourists. This is something of an American sport. Complain about it to your heart's content, just as you might complain about the American custom of tipping 15%-20% on the pretax total in a restaurant. At least the tipping is voluntary, but not the sales taxes. With the exception of the program in Louisiana, you will never get a sales tax refund in the United States.
The good news is that it's rare for there to be additional sales taxes on goods; states and localities reserve these taxes for services consumed by tourists. On the contrary, some states will exclude relatively small purchases of goods (typically clothing) from taxation, with such exemptions being applied across the board without regard to the purchaser's residence. Similarly, in grocery stores, basic food items are typically exempt from sales taxes; state laws vary on prepared foods and other items. Stores themselves will often advertise that "we pay the sales tax!" That's the equivalent of a sale discount.
If you buy an item in a store and have it shipped to another state or overseas, you will not pay sales tax. But you will pay shipping costs, and if it's sent overseas then any home-country duties will apply. Therefore, having it shipped is usually only a good deal if it's a big-ticket item. All of this stuff introduces some distortions of behavior here when tax rates differ significantly between states. Two examples that come to mind are New Hampshire and Oregon, neither of which charge sales taxes on goods. At their borders, stores in those states do a significant amount of trade with out-of-state customers.
Nov 21, 2007 4:10 AM
226Willysnout got a good point on #234. Here's more specific info in addition to the above especially to those of you planning to stay put in the USA on long term basis.
Here's a Wikipedia listing of the state sales tax rates. With the exceptions of Alaska, Deleware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon the other states in the US DO assess sales tax at varying degrees.
Edited by: anyone101
Jan 17, 2008 6:49 AM
227The U.S. Highway System
By someone whose driven more than 150,000 miles on it
I am just planning a route through for my holiday and am a bit confused by the description of American roads in my guide books. I have never visited before!
America is the world's premier mass car culture, with the roads to prove it. Driving is one of the great pleasures of a trip here. It's reasonably cheap, it's easy, it's convenient, it's scenic. If you're going to confine your trip to a few cities -- New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Vegas -- then there's no need to drive. But if you're going to the countryside, the way to do it is to take your own wheels out onto the Great American Road. It's what we do, and you should do it too.
The first thing to do when you get here is to find a copy of The Rand McNally Road Atlas, the bible of the American road. It is available in thousands of gas stations nationwide. As of this writing, it costs about $12. It lists all of the highways a typical traveler will need to know about. For more detailed guidance, I highly recommend getting a GPS navigation system in your rental car. These typically cost an extra $6-$8 a day.
If you're going deep into the back country or want comprehensive, street-level maps of local areas, you'll need to look locally. In particular, for back country destinations, U.S. Forest Service ranger stations will have road and hiking maps. Additionally, most rest stops along Interstate highways will have a map posted near the restrooms, and state tourist offices near state borders along Interstates, and some local tourist offices, will offer free highway maps and other information for travelers.
Structure of American Roads
Interstate Highways are wide (sometimes impossibly wide, from a space-constrained European viewpoint) limited-access expressways with a minimum of two lanes in each direction. They are federal highways, with distinctive red, white and blue signs. Inspired by Germany's autobahn and built in the second half of the 20th Century, the Interstates go everywhere. They are generally maintained to a very high standard, although from time to time you'll encounter exceptions.
There are three reasons for occasional bad maintenance on Interstates. First is that, while the Interstates were constructed by the federal government, they are maintained by individual states, some of which pay more attention than others. Second is that heavy trucks and extreme weather conditions damage the pavement, and in the U.S. the trucks are bigger and heavier than they are in Europe and weather conditions are often more extreme. Third is that the extensiveness of the truly gigantic Interstate network resulted in roadbeds roughly 40% thinner than on the smaller German system; if the U.S. had adhered to German construction standards, the Interstates would probably still be under initial construction.
Speed limits are set by individual states. They are typically 65 mph east of the Mississippi River (except in some Southern states, where they're 70 mph or 75 mph); 70 or 75 mph west of the Mississippi River; and 80 mph in a couple stretches in Texas. With some exceptions, the Interstates offer a boring but efficient ride. A danger on the Interstates is the road zombie factor. Interstates were engineered to permit 90 mph travel by cars with 1950s suspensions and steering, but a combination of fuel economy and American puritanism have held speed limits lower, resulting in mesmerization on long trips. You'll want to stock up on coffee.
A significant percentage of Interstate traffic, especially in outlying areas, consists of long-haul trucking. Foreigners will marvel at the double- and triple-trailer rigs seen on the open road. There is a distinctive Interstate culture (lots of plastic, gigantic portions of terrible food, oddball trinkets) embodied by the truck stops, shopping malls, and generic chain hotels along the way: Think of it as "red state America" in all of its grotesque manifestations. The numbering system is as follows:
- Two digits ending in a zero denotes a major east-west route, with higher numbers in the north and lower numbers in the south. I-90 runs from Boston, MA to Seattle, WA; I-80 from New York to San Francisco; I-70 from Washington, D.C. to the Rocky Mountains; I-40 from Wilmington, N.C. to Barstow, CA, on the outskirts of L.A.; I-10 from Jacksonville, FL to Santa Monica, CA.
- Two digits ending in a 5 denotes a major north-south route, with higher numbers in the east and lower numbers in the west. I-95 runs from Maine to Florida; I-75 from Michigan to Florida; I-55 from Chicago to the outskirts of New Orleans; I-35 from Minnesota to Texas; I-15 from Montana to California; I-5 from Washington (state) to San Diego.
- Three digits denote bypasses and spur roads near cities. If the first number is even, the bypass connects to the main road (denoted by the final two digits) at both ends; if the first number is odd, the spur connects at one end. I-495 runs through the far suburbs of Boston, connecting at both ends to I-95. I-794 is a spur from I-94 in Milwaukee, WI, and I-355 is a spur from I-55 in the suburbs of Chicago.
U.S. Highways. These are two-lane roads, generally constructed and maintained to high standards. They are marked with a distinctive black-and-white shield. They preceded the Interstates, and once were the main trucking routes. The famous "Route 66" is one of them. (Note: Almost all of Route 66 has been replaced by I-44 and I-40; about a hundred miles designated "historic Route 66" remain in Arizona, along with period-era diners that attract tourists, especially foreigners.)
Two digit numbers ending in 0 were major east-west routes. They've been supplanted by Interstates for efficient, long-distance travel, but they still exist and are still well-maintained. U.S. 20, for instance, is an excellent road that runs from Boston to Newport, OR. Odd numbers are a bit different. U.S. 1, for example, was once the major road Maine to Florida; it's now paralleled by I-5. U.S. 41 was the major road from Wisconsin to Florida. U.S. 99 was once the major road from Seattle to California, now paralleled by I-95.
U.S. highways are generally my favorites. They are often very scenic, and, especially in remote areas west of the Mississippi River, lightly traveled yet well-maintained. One of my favorite U.S. highways is U.S. 12, from Washington State to Michigan. There is no better way to see the great American prairie. Another is U.S. 395, from Nevada to Washington State running just east of the Sierra Nevada mountains and onward through the high desert of Eastern Oregon, a stunning landscape made famous by no one.
I've barely scratched the surface of what you can find by looking into the U.S. highways; it's impossible to overstate how great these roads can be. In recommending them, I cite the American author John Steinbeck, who wrote that the Interstate system made it possible to travel 3,000 miles and see nothing. The U.S. highways, and other two-lane roads, are where you see America the Beautiful in all of its blue-state glory from sea to shining sea: the hills, the lakes, the small towns, the Indian reservations, the campgrounds, the sea stacks, the trout streams, the arroyos, the grazing cattle, the windmills, the dams, the amber waves of grain, the purple mountains' majesty, the fruited plains, the lighthouses, the corn fields that go forever, the cities and their sprawling suburbs, the big muddy rivers, the ocean beaches, the towering cliffs, the waterfalls, the endless forests, the empty buttes, the big skies, the wide-open spaces, the sculpted deserts, and all the oddball delights that make a car worth owning, a road trip worth taking, and a country worth being batshit crazy in love with in spite of everything. Get out on the road and see it for yourself.
I'm not a big fan of the idea that there is some hidden "real America" where everyone sits on a rocking chair on the front porch and calls you by name, but if it does exist then you'll probably find it on a two-lane road somewhere. But if you just need to get there, the Interstates do the trick. And, face it, there are times when we all need to get there.
State Highways. Numbering systems, signage, and maintenance varies widely. The most famous state highway in America is California Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway. The 250-mile stretch between Santa Monica and Monterey is one of the most scenic roads anywhere. No visit to California can be considered complete without taking that ride.
Local Roads. These vary immensely. They can be glorified residential streets, logging trails, significant routes, dirt roads -- you name it. Almost all of them are on GPS systems, but if you're out in a remote area you should have a map. In particular, you will want to pay attention to weather conditions, because local roads can be very lightly patrolled. Signage can be confusing, especially in New England. In fact, in New England, virtually all road signage below the Interstate and U.S. highway level can present real challenges. GPS is a godsend there.
Three Tips From Someone Who Knows
About GPS. I am a big fan of GPS systems. There are two major brands, Garmin and Magellan, available in electronics stores (Best Buy, Fry's, Circuit City, to name a few) and in rental cars. However, and this is important, a GPS system is not a replacement for a paper map. You should always look at a map before setting out on the road, and have one with you. Occasionally, a GPS system will get it wrong. You should have an atlas (Rand McNally Road Atlas is the best) or other map, and study your route. Use GPS as your minute-to-minute resource, but always know where you're going. To me, where GPS truly shines is in big cities.
Speeding. For a detailed discussion, see FAQ post 156: Speeding and Traffic Cops in America. The short version is that you can almost always go 8 mph over the limit on the open road. Cruise control is a godsend. Tales of speed traps in small towns are overstated, but my practice is nevertheless to drive the limit, especially in school zones. The fines can be horrendous. Oh, and do yourself a favor: Never argue with a police officer. When it comes to traffic violations, if they stop you then you're guilty. Period.
Left-Hand Drive. Occasionally, Brits and Australians will worry about driving on the "wrong" side of the road here. I say don't worry too much. I've rented cars in London and Scotland, which are a much harder transition owing to heavier traffic (especially London) and much narrower roads. Wide U.S. roads give you more margin for error, plus the universal provisioning of automatic transmissions in rental cars virtually eliminates the chance you'll have to deal with using your right hand to shift.
The biggest challenge, that a left-hand turn is the wide one rather than a right-hand turn, takes about five minutes to get used to. A GPS unit is especially helpful, although when I rented in Britain I didn't have one. Moreover, I think American road signage is a whole lot clearer for the newcomer than what you have in Britain -- with the exception of New England, sections of which might as well be Italy for all the confused signage. In any case, you'll likely do much better at reversing directions than you might think. Even in New England.
For More Information
See the following FAQ posts:
120: "Links to Willysnout’s Epic U.S. Roadtrip circa 2005"
131: "The Grand Canyon"
132: "Guide to Washington, D.C."
137: "Big Sur Diary, 2006"
141: "U.S. 395 Through Eastern CA and the Sierras"
147: "Tourist’s Boston and Environs"
148: "Tips on Renting a Car in the U.S. and Driving It Here"
152: "Willysnout's Biased Guide to Seattle"
153: "Willysnout's Favorites In Santa Monica/L.A."
154: "Highlights In and Near S.F."
155: "What About Those ‘Driveaway’ Cars?"
156: "Speeding and Traffic Cops in America"
158: "Washington State’s Amazing Olympic Peninsula"
178: "Napa & Sonoma Wine Country"
184: "Willysnout’s Pacific Coast Drive From Seattle to San Diego"
188: "Renting A Campervan in the U.S."
196: "Addendum to Post 188 on Campervans"
208: "Mansions and Grand Houses of America"
213: "Seattle to Las Vegas in 4 or 5 Days"
214: "Grand Tour: California, Vegas, Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce"
215: "A Long Weekend in San Francisco"
218: "Should I Buy a Car For My U.S. Trip?"
234: "I'm Visiting the U.S. in the Winter: Should I Rent a 4WD Vehicle? A very experienced driver's common-sense tips on road safety"
247: "An East Coast Tour: Montreal to Miami and Back"
Edited by: Willysnout
Jan 17, 2008 7:49 AM
228Addendum to Post 242 on the US Road System
For travelers planning on camping or doing extensive travel on back-roads, an indispensible resource is the DeLorme Atlas and Gazeteer. This is a book of highly detailed maps, one for each state, showing county and city roads, back roads, forest routes, public land areas, campsites, etc. Includes excellent information on established public campgrounds and detailed maps of parks and recreation areas. It has more detail than most road-trippers need, but for those camping and traveling the back roads it is a must-have. The cost varies per state, and some large states are broken up into two books. Last I checked they were about $20-$25 per book, and available in most larger highway gas-stations and many bookstores. If you can't find DeLorme, there are other brands which are slightly different but just as good - DeLorme is the original.
Los AngelesBook now
(3 star Hotel)
From US$194.75 per night
New York CityBook now
(5 star Hotel)
From US$1250.00 per night
San FranciscoBook now
(3 star Hotel)
From US$285.00 per night