Wanting to make this a once in a lifetime trip

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BigTallJim

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Hi everyone,
I know this question is going to have a thousand answers and everyone will have different opinions, but I need some help.

I’ve never driven and RV before, but have a long summer break coming up this year from mid July until the end of August.

I’m British and I would love to take my whole family on a 6 week road trip over in America in as big an RV as I can afford. This is my wife, and two girls aged 6 and 8.

We would love to make the most of this time, and visit as many amazing places as possible, but without huge amounts of driving each day, as the girls are young.

The obvious choice I think would be to start in somewhere like LA and drive up through all the amazing parks, Yosemite, Sequoia maybe up to Tahoe. We could do Death Valley too.

Would you agree this is the best use of the 6 weeks, or there something else you would recommend?

I think I’ll need to start a separate thread on which RV to rent, as I know absolutely nothing about RVs. But for now I just need to know where to start and finish so I can book the flights.

Thanks in advance for your help.

James
 

JudyJB

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LA is probably one of the worst places in the world in which to drive an RV, so I would suggest some other place to fly into such as Las Vegas. More RV rentals there, also. Other cities on the west coast to avoid would be San Francisco and maybe San Diego. If you want to visit those cities, either take public transportation or rent a car for the day. Traffic in those places will be horrible and almost as bad as driving a big truck into London!!!

Also, Las Vegas is much more central to the big national parks and it also tends to be cheaper to fly into, although I am not sure about international flights.

The other place I would NOT recommend on your list is Death Valley. Traveling in July and August is going to be very hot in some places, but Death Valley is dangerously hot. Here is a site where you can look up places and determine average temperatures by month: Climate United States - Monthly Averages

By the way, I am going to be in your lovely city in late May. Have been there before several times, but going to start a 6 week trip of England and Scotland then, so will be stopping there for a few days. Love London!!!
 

emiddleb

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One question from a 5x London visitor... and not to sound negative...

Have you ever driven in the States before, or have had prior experience driving on what to you would be the wrong side of the road? You say you have never driven an RV before and want the biggest you can afford (many rentals are 30+ ft/10 meters long.) With your normal driving instincts being skewed by being on the wrong side of the road, you might be facing quite the challenge. I know that when I tried driving in England my habits worked against me (right/left turns etc.) Not to mention the darn steering wheel being on the wrong side...

Now add in driving an unfamiliar large vehicle, no experience with RV electric/plumbing/water systems, I do have to wonder if you are biting off a lot. Do you have the opportunity to rent an RV in England to at least get some basic experience in managing the onboard systems prior to your rental here?

If you decide to go ahead, one thing I'd suggest is figure out your plans and book some campgrounds/sites as soon as you can. You are traveling in what is our high-vacation time too, and popular campgrounds fill up rapidly.
 

Lou Schneider

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X2 on renting the RV in Las Vegas. Not only because of less traffic than Los Angeles but because everything's in one relatively small area instead of being really spread out. Los Angeles is a huge place, with it's suburbs it encompasses over 33,900 square miles (88,000 sq km) with over 18 million residents. The airport, your hotel and where you pick up the RV may be 20 miles or more apart, with very few places to stay in the RV once you do get it. In Las Vegas you can get a room at one of the Strip resorts for a day or two while you gather up the RV, recover from jetlag, etc. Rent a car at the airport and visit Hoover Dam and Red Rock Canyon to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road. Then pick up the RV and spend a night in a local RV park before setting out to make sure everything works, you have all you need, etc. Same for when you return. Take a day or two to unpack and return the RV, unwind, spend some time in the hotel pool, etc. before flying home. Midweek rates (Sunday-Thursday) are much lower than on the weekends.

Las Vegas has frequent international flights, again midweek tends to be much cheaper than on the weekends.

If you want to take the kids to Disneyland, the San Diego Zoo or Lego Land, I suggest flying into Los Angeles or Orange County Airport (closer) and getting a car and a local hotel room instead of trying to visit them in an RV. Do this at the beginning or end of your trip, flights to or from Las Vegas are frequent and cheap, especially if you do an advance purchase on Southwest. It might even be less expensive to fly and drive for this part of the trip instead of renting an RV for the additional days and driving it there.
 

Larry N.

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Welcome, Jim. There's some great info for you above, but on trip planning (once you're here) keep in mind that things here, especially in the western half of the U.S., are much farther apart than you are used to. In many areas you might drive for two to three hours and see very little in the way of "civilization," though some areas in California are extremely congested. So be prepared for travel to take longer than you expect, and to be more tired after driving for a few hours than you might expect.

And I fully agree that the big coastal cities are NOT the places to be driving an RV of any type, especially for one who has no RV experience.

I suspect that Tony and Jackie will be here in a while to add their 2 cents worth -- they're both from the UK -- as well as Tom, our administrator (among other things) who grew up over there.
 

Isaac-1

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My advice if going to echo the others, rent a circa 25 ft motorhome, this should be big enough to be comfortable for your family of 4, particularly considering you have smaller / younger kids that are just old enough to be semi-independent (can bathe themselves, etc.). A 25 ft coach can fit in and go lots of places that are hard to reach in a 30 ft coach, if you were buying or even if you were American and renting from your home area I might say go bigger to have room for your belongings, but since you will likely be limited in how much stuff you are bringing due to airline baggage limits this is less of an issue, ie no bicycles, BBQ grill, etc. We have a 28 ft class A motorhome, and while we can fit in most places we want to go, I will admit I sometimes envy the ability of those 23-25 ft class C's to basically fit in a standard parking space (you can see our coach in our avatar photo, backed into a standard parking space and overhanging the curb at the rear).

As to where to go, to see the most in 6 weeks, in the summer a lot depends on if you want cultural experience, scenic vistas, vast open spaces, a variety, etc. Assuming your dates of travel are limited to July-August, be aware much of the southwest US will be VERY hot, as in the kind of HOT you don't get in the UK. I have been in both Las Vegas, NV and Phoenix, AZ in July-August multiple times in the past where the daytime highs were around 115-119 (46-48C) degrees F, with lows after midnight still being around 100F (38C), sure it is a dry heat, but that is still very hot. The south is not fun either in July - August, I live in Louisiana and our July-August daily highs are in the 95-100F (35-38C) range most days, but is also miserable as we typically have 75-95% humidity.

This leaves the question where is the pleasant weather in the US in July-August, the answer is the extreme north eastern, New England states, the western mountain states, and the Pacific coastal areas. I would not advise either New England (lots of narrow roads) or the Pacific coast (lots of people,) for first time motorhome drivers.

This leaves the mountain states, and pacific northwest which potentially include plenty to see and do in 6 weeks, I personally would consider renting in Denver or possibly Salt Lake City and making a loop ending back up where started. The 2 big RV rental outfits in the US are Cruise America and El Monte, they both have similar offerings, which are basic class C RV's which are custom built for the rental market, and are rather utilitarian (less stuff for the renters to break) with no TV, no retractable steps, no awning canopy, .... There are also some other companies like B&B rv in Denver that rent more standard RV's (I know nothing about B&B other than seeing some of their units in campgrounds and speaking with a few of the people who rented them that seems to have positive things to say).

The problem with the mountain states, and for that matter much of the western US is that everything is so spread out, which means to see much you have to often drive a good ways. To put this vast amount of space into perspective for you, it is possible to drive from Amarillo, Texas roughly due north to Rapid City, South Dakota a distance of nearly 700 miles without ever passing within 50 miles of a city of over 10,000 people, and only passing through a couple of towns of over 2,000. Or just take the state of Wyoming alone, which according to google has 3% more land area than the UK, but only has a population of 578,000 people which is less than 1% of the UK population.

What I would suggest doing would be something like, fly to Denver (Denver is known as the mile high city due to its elevation at 5280 feet, so tends to be cool even in summer), it is located on the vast flat lands just east of the Rocky Mountain range which runs roughly north/south across the western US. Don't plan on going anyplace east of Denver, unless you want to see vast areas of mostly flat land much of it farmland for 500-1000 miles in any direction. Take a few days and experience Denver, the culture, either using a rental car, or simply use Uber, etc. then pick up the motorhome, and head out. I would probably go north to see Wyoming, maybe Montana go west, perhaps to Idaho, south to Utah, and back across I-70 to Denver. There are numerous national parks, many of which are in Utah, but those may be a bit hot that time of year, there is also plenty to see outside of the major national parks. There are also plenty of options you might consider taking a southerly route out of denver and looping to the west, though this may be a bit warmer, particularly if you get down to Arizona and parts of Utah.

p.s. good arguments could be made for starting in Denver, Salt Lake City, even Las Vegas or some other regional cities depending on what you want to see.
 

JudyJB

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I also like the idea of flying into LA and renting a car to do your city sightseeing there and for San Diego, then head to someplace like Las Vegas to rent your RV. ANd Las Vegas is really as far south as you will want to go, so head to Grand Canyon, which is at 6,500 ' and cooler and then places in maybe Colorado, which are also high.

It is really unlikely that you can do all you want to do in one 6-week period, especially in the busy and hot season of summer. I also agree that unless you have spent some summer time in the very south of Italy or Spain, away from the coast, you have not begun to experience some of the heat you might experience. (Think Sahara Desert in August.) Most of us avoid those places in the summer if we possibly can.

I once camped in Zion National Park in July because my son and his family was staying in a hotel near there. It was 108 degrees (42 C) and my AC could not keep up with cooling it more than down to 95 or 35 C. Never again. I then followed him to Yellowstone, which was a bit better and at least bearable. He had no choice in traveling in July because of kids and school, but I can travel at much more reasonable times. This July I will be in Colorado over 8,000' in elevation where it will be cooler.

IMPORTANT NOTE: RV air conditioning units almost never cool the unit down more than 10-15 degrees, so don't expect them to work like home AC units.

I also agree on a 25' as being tops. Do you realize that U.S. RVs are about 8" wider than the ones in the UK?

Also, one lesson I had to learn the hard way is that south does NOT always mean hotter and North does not always mean cooler. What really counts is altitude. So, check your climate charts and altitudes.
 
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Larry N.

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What really counts is altitude.
While that's quite often true, there are times when altitude isn't enough, unless maybe in the high country (8k, 9K, etc.) -- I'm thinking of 100º+ at home at 5700 ft in Albuquerque, for example. We even hit 100º+ a number of times most summers here in the Denver area, though it's not too bad in the shade. Even Billings, MT can get hot, but it's a couple of thousand feet lower than here in Denver.
 

TonyL

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Hi and welcome to the forum.
For a start, the very first RV we rented was a 36ft A class in Calgary Canada and with friends drove that across Alberta and British Columbia to Vancouver. It can be done.
Secondly, before you pick a start location, decide on what you want from the holiday. Do you want scenery that just doesn't exist in the UK, along with the chance of seeing animals that also don't exist outside of a Zoo?
Do you want theme parks for the kids and weather for sunbathing by pools? Whatever you want, it's here in abundance.
The advice to stay out of Los Angeles is good advice, and starting in Vegas is pretty sound. For a start, a couple of days on the strip to get over jet lag, get the American vibe and shop for your trips a good start. You could either hire the RV from the start and stay at a resort just off the strip and get use to the systems, or stay at a hotel where all meals will need to be bought out. Costs will probably be very similar.
Zion, Bryce canyon, The Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and Glacier National park will satisfy the scenery with abundance, but campgrounds might be difficult to find without booking pretty quickly.
A one way hire is your best option to cover as much of the US as time permits without long day journeys.
You can book a multi city flight package to fly into one city and out another, possibly into Vegas and out from Seattle, both direct from LHR.
Once you've decided on what you want, come back and all the help you need is here.
Happy planning
Tony.
 

TonyL

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Lou, that's why Vancouver and London get similar weather. As said earlier on this thread, altitude plays a big part in temperature and climate. You have to remember that the highest point in the UK is less than 5000 ft.
 

Old_Crow

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While that's quite often true, there are times when altitude isn't enough, unless maybe in the high country (8k, 9K, etc.) -- I'm thinking of 100º+ at home at 5700 ft in Albuquerque, for example. We even hit 100º+ a number of times most summers here in the Denver area, though it's not too bad in the shade. Even Billings, MT can get hot, but it's a couple of thousand feet lower than here in Denver.
We hosted at Rose Canyon Lake, near Tucson. RCL is at around 7000'. Temps there would be in the 80's when they were 105 in Tucson, just 13 miles away.
I manage in the Inyo National Forest, north of Bishop, CA. Temps at the campgrounds(lowest is 7200')stay in the 80's, while Bishop, just 27 miles away will be 100+.
Altitude absolutely makes a difference, but you have to get enough of it.
 

LarsMac

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Sounds like a lot of fun. My first question, Have you done much driving around mainland Europe?

Getting used to being on the other side of the street takes some time. Especially if you're driving a larger than normal vehicle.

It only took me a couple of days to get the hang of it when I was in London., but there were a few close calls even after I did.

Also, Picking a region to focus on is a good idea.
Denver, or Las Vegas, are far better suggestions than flying in to LA.
 

Larry N.

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...
Altitude absolutely makes a difference, but you have to get enough of it.
Certainly it does, Wally, but I was trying to clarify for some who don't know that the altitude is relative, not absolute, so that they didn't expect to find cool weather in Denver, ABQ, et al, in mid-summer -- that it needed to be higher relative to the plains, even high plains. And note that here at 5230 feet (my house) north of Denver, we hit 59º F yesterday, even in January, so while altitude is a major factor, the 5,000 foot level in the mountains just east of LA will be cooler than LA, but the 5,000 ft in Denver may well be a lot warmer than that in LA (not always, just sometimes).
 

Old_Crow

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At this point, I'm wishing I hadn't agreed to spend the winter at altitude, albeit only about 6k. I'm getting tired of highs in the 50's when l could have been in Quartzsite.
 

JudyJB

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I hope we have not discouraged you. We are making points to make sure you don't get yourself into a bad situation. There are lots of things we ALL made assumptions about when we first got started. For example, I only once drove even close to LA and will never get within 50 miles of the place in my motorhome again. Visualize freeways with 5-6 lanes on either sides, with a lot of heavy traffic and stressed drivers who just want to get home and don't want to let you change lanes. You can easily get stuck in a lane and not be able to exit where you want to. And when you do get off the freeway, the roads will be crowded and same problems with trying to change lanes or find a place to turn around. I have driven my big motorhome for 10 years and 167,000 miles, so I could manage, but that will cause panic and a very, very stressful time for a newcomer.

You would do much better to pick a quadrant of the west and see as much as you can from that quadrant. For example, northwest would be good--Northern California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, North and South Dakota, northern Utah, northern Arizona, and even northern New Mexico. That would get you a lot of national parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Glacier, Olympic Ntl Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, etc.

You could drop down to Zion, although know that it might be a bit hot, but you could stay for only a couple of days there and see what you want to. Spend your longer times in cooler places.

Also, unless you want to exhaust everyone and end up with a cranky wife and kids, take your trip a bit slowly, driving no more than 250 miles in a day and staying at least 3-4 days in most places. Otherwise, it will be the disaster of the lifetime.
 

Ex-Calif

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In my not so humble opinion here is an itinerary that I would consider (most of) the "Best of the West."

I agree with others - Land in LA, rent a one way car and explore LA and even Sa Diego (if only for Sea World) and then pick up the RV in Phoenix. By then you'll have your sea legs under you for driving on the wrong side of the road and you just have to add an RV to the mix - Not a big deal IMO.

From there you do Flagstaff and hit the Grand Canyon southern rim, Las Vegas which is now pretty kid friendly and amazing to see. Hoover Dam is in the area as well.

From there it's the "Parks and Recreation" tour of the Rocky Mountains through Utah, Montana and Idaho with the goal of getting up to Seattle.

Then it's down the amazing "Left Coast" with SFO and Yosemite as other big highlights. In the SFO area I would take a detour down the coast as far as Hearst Castle which is always a big highlight for me.

In order not to retrace your steps completely (and avoid LA) you back track slightly finish up in the central valley, through Tehachapi, Barstow and back to Phoenix. I much prefer this route than I5 into the LA basin - It's a mess.

"58" hours of driving over 42 days is about 1.3 hours a day on average. Seems a good balance of traveling vs. stopping and seeing.


Bestof the West.JPG
 

Isaac-1

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That still includes a lot of major population centers, some with known nightmare traffic levels for a first time RV driver. Personally I would stay away from the entire west coast driving an RV and stick to the major inland national parks.
 

Ex-Calif

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That still includes a lot of major population centers, some with known nightmare traffic levels for a first time RV driver. Personally I would stay away from the entire west coast driving an RV and stick to the major inland national parks.
Good point but narrower 2 lane highways also have their challenges.

Maybe some of the foreigners will chime in but a "once in a lifetime" trip to the west-coast without visiting all the "famous" attractions would disappoint.

Note I specifically said rent a car and stay in hotels for SoCal. This is Hollywood, the beaches, Disneyland etc. etc. and south to Sand Diego along the coast. An RV trying to see SoCal attractions would be a nightmare...

Another strategy that I've done is to park at Enterprise or where ever and rent a car for a day leaving the RV. I think Enterprise might even still deliver rental cars to you.

If you have two drivers and plan to spend 4 days in SFO (for example) you can pick up a rental car before settling in to wherever you are gonna camp. You can often get rental cars for as little as $35 a day.
 

Isaac-1

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I would certainly consider seeing parts of the west coast on the trip, but would be more inclined to rent an RV in Denver or Salt Lake city, perhaps flying to the west coast first or last so, perhaps fly into Los Angeles, Seattle or other points on the west coast that have direct flights from the UK, rent a car and see the major sites, then flying to Denver or Salt Lake City to rent an RV, flying will be much quicker, and most likely cheaper than rental mileage charges, plus, fuel, etc. Though regardless of how you cut it there is only so much of the US you can see in 6 weeks. The problem again here is the scale of the US, even if you have a year to travel the country that only averages about a week in each state, which may sound like plenty of time to someone from the UK, until you realize that there are 11 states that are each bigger in land area than the UK, many of them are the western states that most people on this thread are suggesting due to the potential for pleasant weather in July-August.
 
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