A friend and I plan on traveling to the States from Australia during December/January. We are planning on going for 4 weeks.
We initially thought about doing a road trip, hiring a car and starting at LA and driving across the state to NY. The plan was to make several stopovers and eventually get to NY a couple of days before New Years eve, spending about a week there, then driving back to LA.
Now we are not so sure if this is the best idea, and if we should just fly from LA to Florida for a few days before flying to NY, then driving back to LA and making several stops on the way.
We also thought we might just book accommodation from place to place, is this advisable or should we book accommodation before hand?
Any advice on which way we should approach this trip? we are aware that it will be winter during this time so will driving conditions be difficult?
We have a set date from the 19th of December till the 16th of January.
At least you're giving yourself plenty of time. I urge you to fly into SF instead of LA - a much friendlier airport and less freeway congestion (roads in S. California can be hell for someone not used to the area). I think flying one way is the way to go. Who knows what weather we'll have then - probably more rain than snow, but I would definitely suggest the southern route. Driving Xmas week will be pretty congested in the urban areas. Not all rental agencies will allow you to drive cross country - many restrict your movement to their region (most are franchised). Look into "long term" car rental for savings. Just bring lots of cash - this place gets pricier by the day!
I would only book lodging for your first few days - chances are your plans will keep changing anyway! Might need to book Xmas week hotel ahead.
[ Edit: Edited on 28-Jun-2010, at 09:32 by Daawgon ]
In answer to your question about driving conditions--yes, driving in the winter can be difficult, especially when you go through the higher elevations or when you travel through the northern states. The best way to avoid this is to be flexible with your travel plans and to drive on interstate highways through southern states (or along the western coastal regions).
Okay, let's try a route that will probably work--
(1) Days 1 and 2--spend time in either LA or SF and recoup from your long flight
(2) Day 3- Drive to Las Vegas (be aware that you will pass over mid-sized mountains either near Tehachapi--if you drive from San Francisco--or near San Bernardino--if you drive from Los Angeles). Try to leave early enough to get into Las Vegas before 7:30 or so in order to catch an 8 PM show. (Book the show ahead on the internet--but be aware that most entertainers avoid Las Vegas during the Christmas period since they like to spend time with their families then)
(3) Day 4-Spend time in Las Vegas
(4) Day 5-Drive from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, then on to Flagstaff (where it will be snowing most of the time).
(5) Day 6-Drive from Flagstaff to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Once again, be aware that it may get cold and icy on the roads overnight--so try to do your driving during the day.
(6) Day 7-Drive from Santa Fe to Tulsa, Oklahoma
(7) Day 8-Drive from Tulsa to Indianapolis, Indiana with a stop in St. Louis to see the Gateway Arch
(8) Day 9- Drive from Indianapolis to New York City
This route will put you into Santa Fe on Christmas Eve (December 24th) and have you spend Christmas day there and then on the route to Tulsa. You will then get into New York City on the night of December 27th or so.
You can then come back via Washington, DC, Nashville and Memphis (and back onto your original route at Oklahoma City)--or fly to Florida and drive from there to New Orleans, San Antonio, El Paso, and Phoenix, and into LA. (But in this case, the car rental will cost you a lot more because of "one-way drop-off charges".
You need to be aware this is a lot of driving--like 2,400 miles each way (8,000 kilometers for both ways)--but if you live in Australia, then you understand long distances and probably drive long distances often already.
December/January might be summer for you Aussies, but it's the middle of winter here in the north. If you could possibly come at another time (April, May, October would be ideal) you would see more sunshine and flowers. Indianapolis in January is not exactly pretty (often heavy snow)! The chances of rain in California at that time are very good.
It's about 3000 miles from either SF to Los Angeles, so I would certainly do just one-way. Now, technically you drive it in about 4-5 days (days are short in that period, I don't recommend driving outside of this time, why miss something?), but it's a long drive and east from the Rocky Mountains you will get bored by the landscape and it's cold.
I would leave out Florida, although obviously the weather is nice during this time. Still, with 4 weeks you have to make choices. I did a 4-week trip only visiting the western states, which still was not enough time to visit all I wanted to.
Certainly try SF instead of LA. From there follow the route either north or south from the Sierra Nevada and go to Death Valley: perfect during that time (I had 48 early June..pff). Than Las Vegas, Grand Canyon and some more parks in the south of Utah: Arches, Bryce. If you can deliver the car in Las Vegas or otherwise Phoenix or maybe Denver and fly to NY from there. Even better is a 3-week roadtrip and delivering the car in the same place: one-ways can be expensive, up to 500 dollar drop-off fees! So you could fly into LA if you like and then make your way up the coast to SF and do the route I describe above from there.
Less is more during such a trip:
Week 1: LA to SF. Budget a day near Santa Barbara, a day near Cambria and a day to drive Big Sure to Santa Cruz/Monterrey, another day to SF and 3 days in SF
Week 2: Death Valley, Las Vegas and Grand Canyon
Week 3: Northern Arizona, southern Utah, drive back to LA
Week 4: NY. Really, you want a week and remember that you have to fly there and back home again which leaves 5 days.