I am no fan of LA; I think the city is hugely overrated. For those who haven’t been essentially all there is to do is Disney (which is really snide) and Universal studios which are far better than the one in Florida, it’s a great day out. But I have been to it twice so wasn’t about to go again. The whole Hollywood thing is nothing like you would imagine and the Walk of Fame is a normal everyday sidewalk littered with cheesy and tacky shops. Santa Monica beach is nice, but it’s certainly not worth staying in LA for. So we headed straight for the desert.
100 odd miles later and we were in Barstow. Now, whilst we were fine and the drive not particularly difficult, for anyone who hasn’t driven in the US before you may find it difficult. The road out of LA (US 15) is up to 8 lanes wide at times and very busy so I suppose some may find it a bit daunting. Still it passed slightly south of the huge fires raging right now in the Los Angeles Hills, the car had ash all over it and the smoke covered the sky.
Driving in the USA
Having drove many times in the US its second nature to me now, but here are a few differences to UK driving:
Driving on the Opposite side of the road – An easy way to know if you are on the right side, or which side to pull out on is to know that you will always be sat next to the centre of the road.
Turn right on a red – 99% of the time if you are turning right and the light is on red you can turn, however look out for the odd sign which says ‘do not turn on red’
Stop sign at junctions – If you come to a stop sign you must stop, basically it works on a first there first to go basis. So if you are the first there expect the other drivers to wait for you to go, unbelievably this works the vast majority of times.
Roundabouts – There are none. In fact I think I have only ever driven on one in the entire USA and it is in Clearwater, Florida.
Speed limits – Different to the UK, usual speed limits are from 55mph on the highway up to 75mph. Generally though in most places the maximum speed tends to be 65mph on the highway and 45mph around town.
U Turns – A huge part of US driving, most are marked with an arrow light, if there isn’t one just turn.
Indicating – No one in the US indicates, but increasingly more and more insurance companies require drivers to have cameras fitted to their vehicles. If an accident occurs and you didn’t bother to indicate you will almost certainly foot the bill.
Roads – Most roads are in a very good state and often far better than the UK. However don’t be surprised if suddenly your nice tarmac road becomes a sand trail. Not all roads are paved, particularly those in the deserts and plains.
If you get it wrong
Don’t worry, before long some 5 ton pickup will be up your arse showing off how loud his horn is.
Petrol (Gas) is always pre paid in the USA. If you use a credit card they will authorize up to $100 and then about 10 days later refund the unused amount. Cash is the most common way to pay and you simply go and pay the cashier prior to using the fuel. If you don’t use what you paid then go back and get the change. If you have hired a car you can be pretty much 100% sure you use gasoline, there are 3 grades – 87, 89, 91. Just like the UK we have premium unleaded excellium street fighter two turbo (that actually makes no noticeable difference) here is the same. 87 is the cheapest and at current rates is about $2.49 per US Gallon which is about 3.8 litres. (The UK gallon is more at 4.5 gallon) So the cost of petrol is about 40pence a litre. But this varies massively, the cheaper gas stations tend to be terribles and am/pm. It is worth noting that sometimes when you use the fuel nozzle you have to lift the arm it sits on to activate it, other times you press a button. The great thing is you don’t have to hold the lever when you refuel, they handle has a lock whereby you can simply stick it in the car, lock the handle and go chill whilst you car gets filled up.
Car Hire advice
Insurance – If you have hired a car from the UK then UK law requires that the price you paid include all the insurance you need. It is basically CDW (Collision damage waiver) LDW (Loss damage Waiver) UDW (Uninsured driver waiver) which covers you for theft and a crash. The car hire companies tend to allow for a maximum of one chip per day, so don’t worry about the odd few stone chips, scratches etc. Previous experience has proven that the car hire companies couldn’t really care that much.
Ok, you’ve got off a long flight, the kids have done your head in, well get ready for the hard sell. Everything from fuel pricing plans, to a Sat Nav to accident assistance to an hour with their wife. The best thing to do is simply say “I am not interested in anything other than what I already have thanks” If you are convinced you need the sat nav, then go to Wal-Mart and buy one. You can pick a cheap one up for $89 maybe less.
You will have almost certainly prepaid for your vehicle. Increasingly in the US the car hire companies have started to levy a tourism tax upon drop off. Its a few dollars. But you will need a credit card to hire. They usually secure the cost of any extras, for instance on my current hiring they have secured the cost of the one way drop off ($250) In terms of Debit cards I am led to believe that you will struggle if you are from the UK. Cash deposits are accepted I think it’s about $500 but you should check with the hire company.
Kids under 6 in the US need a car seat and the hire company will provide these – at a cost. Well, at the time of writing this I don’t know of an airline that will not carry a Childs car seat additional to your luggage allowance and at no extra cost.
The cars always tend to be nearly new and in very good condition – In my case without exception. If you have a problem simply take the car to the nearest location of the company and they will either fix it for you on the spot or exchange it for another.
Anyway, once in Barstow we went to Wal-Mart to stock up on what we would need for the 3 week cross country journey:
Cooler (All hotels have a free ice machine)
2 Crates of water (24 bottles of water cost about $3)
Crate of Bud (32 cans cost about $20)
Portable BBQ and stuff for it ($15)
I save an absolute fortune on water and I know that if I fill the cooler with ice each morning/night my beers and water will always be cold. I have a few burgers in there and a few hot dogs/sausages and we just randomly pull up and spark up the BBQ. For instance right now as I write this we are in Laughlin Nevada, this afternoon we were sat on the bank of the Colorado River surrounded by desert having a BBQ – Amazing (will update later)
We left Barstow and headed for Vegas via Death Valley. It was a day’s drive through amazing scenery, we arrived at Vegas about dinner time and we did what I always do when I get to Vegas – The first night up at Freemont and the remainder on the strip – All the debauchery will be updated tomorrow!