Hi. My Mum and I are travelling to the US in 3 weeks time for a 6 week trip from LA across to New York. I have our itinerary scoped out and have booked a couple of critical flights/hotels but I have a couple of questions that I would really appreciated some help with...
1) Is it best to book all domestic flights and hotels (in major cities) prior to us departing? Or is it ok to book once we are in the country?
2) We need to hire cars during various legs of our trip and I am a little nervous about doing the wrong thing so can anyone tell me is there a hire car company that is really good to go with? I have searched on the internet and there seem to be a number of large ones that come up a lot, I'm just nervous about getting hit with unexpected fees. I assume the liability insurance is pretty standard? (and necessary).
3) We are going to Wyoming in the middle of our trip and doing Yellowstone but I am thinking of going to Mt Rushmore and the Badlands. Is this worth the trip?
Our trip is as follows...LA, Vegas, Palm Springs, San Diego, West Coast somewhere for 2 nights San Fran, fly to Denver, go to Vail, Casper (seeing a concert), Yellowstone, Mt Rushmore/Badlands, The Rockies, Chicago, Buffalo, New England, Baltimore (to see my sister) and then 5 days in New York before we fly out..
You really do have quite a plan for your US adventure. You generally do get a cheaper rate for booking 7-14 days in advance on many flight segments. If you look at Southwest Air's and US Air's website, you will see they do offer cheaper options if you prebook your flight. Of course you have to be certain about your flight times.
2. I would stick with any of the big companies; Hertz, Avis, National, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise. I would check with them via e-mail on drivers license options. Is your home countries license OK? Do I need an International DL? Check if your presnt auto insurance covers your rental car while in the US.
3. It is a pretty good drive from Yellowstone to Mt. Rushmore. But, you will really get a feel for the western part of the US by driving this segment. I do recommend you take the few days it will take to drive to Mt. Rushmore. I would include Devil's Tower while on the way. Not far off of I-90, close to the Black Hills. Include Custer State Park and Wind Cave while in the Rapid City area as well. Custer ST. Park is one of the few areas you can see buffalo roaming freely.
I have photos of all this area in my gallery. Around page 12 in the USA section. Send me a PM if you have questions.
I don't know about the latest setup, but I travelled US/Canada in 1988 and 1994 and found that it was cheaper to book flights and hire cars from Australia before leaving. We purchased United air passes before leaving. We booked our specific flights but were able to alter them later. One thing to watch - you pay for flights, but you may have to use two sections for one journey if you use two different flights. For example, to fly LA to Calgary, you might have to use two flights, eg LA to Denver, then Denver to Calgary. The major airlines like to put you through their hubs, thus taking you the long way round. As for cars, I have used Hertz, Budget and Alamo and found little difference. Make sure you understand the (sometimes) huge drop off fees if you do not return the car to the same place you rented it from. Best of luck on your trip!
Thanks very much for your replies. I am actually much more comfortable with the idea of booking ahead (I like to be organised) but my Mum was suggesting waiting until we get over there so we have a bit more flexibility in our itinerary eg if we wanted to stay a little longer or shorter somewhere. I can see her point of view because there is nothing more annoying than finding an awesome place but having to get going because you have accommodation booked in the next town. I was a bit worried about leaving the bookings until we go there just in case we couldn't find accommodation or if we ended up paying more. Decisions, decisions Thanks again (and Mike you have awesome photos that I found very helpful, can't wait to see the Badlands!)
So I have since spoken to my Mum and we have decided to extend our time in the Wyoming/South Dakota/Colorado region. In 5 days we hope to travel from Gardiner at the top of Yellowstone, across to Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse, the Badlands and the National Park, travel down to Denver and have a look around and also the Rockies. There's a bit of travel involved but I guess that's part of seeing the country and getting a better feel of the culture, can't do that on a plane. So I know this is a busy plan but any thoughts on how realistic this is? (or whether its a good idea or not?). Thanks for your help in advance.
One day in October 1988, I exited Yellowstone Park and, quite by chance, stayed overnight in a Best Western in Gardiner MT. Turned out it was the local water hole for students from a nearby University, and since I am an old student (much older now), I had the most wonderful evening! Stay in Gardiner - and take your Mum to this bar - she'll probably love it. Just check out the Best Westerns, I can't remember the name. You will have much better fun in these small towns than the cities. Enjoy!
I have actually already booked at a Super 8 (not sure how good these are) in Gardiner but we can certainly travel to where the action is!
Just a question in regard to car hire, is Fox ok to rent through? I've never heard of them before. Thanks
Sorry,Tania, I've not heard of Fox either
Gardiner is just outside of Yellowstone, so it's easy to get to if you are visiting Yellowstone itself.
As far as going to Yellowstone, then Mt. Rushmore/Badlands and then cutting south to Denver--no problem--but understand that you won't be seeing the Rockies for most of this trip.
Yellowstone is in the Rockies, and Denver is right on the edge--but when you cut east to Mt. Rushmore/Badlands and then south as far as Cheyenne and Fort Collins, it's all pretty flat (except right near Rapid City, South Dakota and the Black Hills).
On the positive side, you can make good time since the areas are pretty flat and the roads (particularly I-25 which you will take south to Cheyenne and Denver) will allow you to go fast. On the other hand, the scenic areas will be once you arrive at each of the particular spots. (Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, Badlands, last 30 miles heading into Denver)--with not so much in-between.
Considering this whole trip shouldn't take over 3-4 days, though, I'd say it's definitely worth it--and you should get a feel for the whole cowboy/explorer/midwestern American Indian experience by taking this route. (And you'll see more of Wyoming that most Americans ever will in their lifetime).
If you can before you go, get hold of Annie Proulx's short stories set in Wyoming. The most famous of these of course is "Brokeback Mountain". There are two volumes of short stories - I don't remember the titles - and they give you a really hard scrabble look at this State and its history. Another good read is Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove". Buy them and read them all the way to LAX for great background to where you are going. "Centennial" by James Mitchener is also very good, but a long read.