Epic USA Road Trip, part 1: planning & prep

After quietly saving up money for a few years, we had enough to splash out on a big holiday. Eventually, we opted for an epic, once-in-a-lifetime road trip, taking in a number of must-see place on our bucket lists. This is roughly how we did it.

Every month we put aside a bit of cash into a holiday fund, and kept saving up and saving up. Fortunately, our hobbies and interests are cheap, and after spending some time in our early 20s travelling we know how to go without stuff we don’t need (easier to accomplish when you can’t take more than you can physically carry). So all we needed was a bit of patience, and to try to ignore the fact that since June 2016 the pound was worth about 82 pence.

We started looking for places to visit in October 2016. We drew up an ultimate dream trip including everything from the Pacific Coast to South Dakota, then cut it down to essentials – what could we realistically see in a single trip in two weeks?

The ultimate dream route ended up being cut in half (there’s always Epic Road Trip Two to look forward to): we could start in Los Angeles, visit Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks, and finish in San Francisco.


Google Maps owns the whole world. ALL OF IT.

It’s just as well we started planning the trip months in advance.

To give ourselves some flexibility, as well as saving on hotel and dining costs, we hired a small campervan from Lost Campers, which we could pick up from their LA branch and drop off at San Francisco. It was the size of a family car, with the middle seats removed and a folding bed put in. A small kitchen area with a sink and coolbox was at the back, and an awning fitted to the roof rack.

A major advantage Lost Campers has over other hire companies is the fact that none of their cars have been painted in garish colours that screamed “we’re tourists – raise your prices!” (one company offered a fleet of vehicles in fetching lime green and purple; another featured unique spray paint murals on each vehicle… eh, no, thank you…)


This was our miniature home for a couple of weeks; the views were great.

We chose to stay at Barstow (for our first night on the road), Grand Canyon, Stovepipe Wells (Death Valley), and Yosemite. Campsites in the National Parks go fast, so we booked early. In the case of Yosemite, spaces are made available about four months in advance, and sell out in less than three minutes. On the day, we had a whole bunch of browser tabs open – each to reserve a different space – as we waited for 7.00am Pacific Time to roll around, and then started clicking like mad bastards until one of us got a confirmed reservation. At 7.03am Pacific Time, we had a couple of celebratory glasses of whisky, having beaten the odds and secured a spot. (I mean: FUCK, YEAH!)

Once we knew where we were staying, we could focus a bit on details. Where would we stop for gas or lunch when driving? Neither of us fancied driving around and hoping a gas station would hove into view. Instead, we went as far as finding out the size of the gas tank and mileage of the car in order to figure out the range. For safety, we decided to tank up when it was only half-empty, which gave us a range of 200 miles, and scoured Google Maps for nearby gas stations.

So we had a good idea of the route and the pace, and took a virtual drive on Google Earth to get some idea of the roads and junctions we’d be facing. It was also fun taking exit roads from 2012 to 2007 and then to 2015, but it gave us some idea of what to expect.

Even so, there were some last-minute changes – Sequoia National Park reopened after the devastating winter storms allowing us to add it to the route, and with regret I had to take out a few places I’d like to have seen but time just wouldn’t allow – such as the roadcut through the San Andreas fault at Palmdale, or Trona Pinnacles where Captain Kirk met god in Star Trek V (hey, it was a big deal for me, all right?).


It’s a weird feeling looking down at a vast expanse of deserts and canyons, knowing you’re going to be driving across them.


Welcome to LA!
It’s a long couple of flights from Edinburgh to Los Angeles, and I tried to grab some sleep in anticipation of the eight-hour time difference. For the most part, I found myself left indifferent by Doctor Strange, highly impressed by Hidden Figures, and with the odd feeling that aside from the fantastic visuals, Pixar was following a story template for Moana.

Amid reports that visitors to the USA had to surrender every single last detail of their social media activities to hypervigilant TSA or Homeland Security agents, I was fully prepared to burn all my accounts and start over, but in the event we were just asked the usual questions (“Business or pleasure? When was your last visit?”) and waved through.

We walked to our hotel past larger and grander buildings with astroturf lawns, across to the wrong side of the tracks where twitchy homeless people sat around at bus stops, each staring into their own personal abyss.

At one junction, a driver obviously didn’t expect anyone would be crazy enough to cross the road at the traffic lights when they’re supposed to and came screeching to a halt and gesticulated angrily at us. Finally, I got to slap the hood of a car and say “Hey, I’m walkin’ here, I’m walkin’ here!” (I can’t tell you how happy this made me.)

We were then accosted by a middle-aged guy who asked if we could help out a veteran who served in ‘Nam in ’68. If true, he looked like he must’ve fought there when he was about ten years old.

I said sorry, but we came from a country that didn’t take part in Vietnam.

“Well, FUCK YOU, sir! DIE OF CANCER! I hope you ROT IN HELL!”

As he walked off, I told him to have a nice day. Then we arrived at our hotel, five seconds later. Our holiday could begin!

To be continued…


One response to “Epic USA Road Trip, part 1: planning & prep

  1. Pingback: Epic USA Road Trip, part 3: on the road (finally) | Observaterry·

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