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Travel newbie planning a road trip for winter break

Travel newbie planning a road trip for winter break

Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 02:32 PM
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Travel newbie planning a road trip for winter break

Hey guys,

I'm a 21 year old German exchange student currently discovering the beauty of the US (while also studying in Pittsburgh). This is the farthest I've been from home. We rarely went on holidays. Here I have done a road trip to Niagara Falls and one to Chicago with a few other exchange students and I absolutely loved it. I would love to discover the West Coast, cause I don't know when or even if I will come to the US ever again.

I have time from the 15th of December till the 15th of January. Originally, my first idea was a road trip from Vancouver to San Diego. After a little bit of googling I realized that the weather may pose a problem. While I would love the challenge, a round trip in California would also be a possibility. I've found a round route though California (that I can't link, since I don't have 5 posts yet) in a thread, but I am not sure about the locations. I've no preference in cities since I think every city has something beautiful to offer, so coming up with a route is kinda hard. Do you guys have any must-sees?

Also there is a big problem. My dreams and aspirations all aside, money is the limit. I would have to rely on the generosity of strangers for hosting me on their couch. I stumbled upon workaway, so this may be an option besides couchsurfing. Do you have any experience with it? Or other options?

When it comes to moving, I thought about car relocations. There are a few in California. Hitchhiking would also be an option, although the thought kinda scares me. But challenging yourself is what life is all about, right?

Since I have never done anything like it before, I should probably worry about what I take with me and how I carry it. I haven't thought about that yet, though. I just assume there are 1000 guides all over the internet, so I will just stick to one a month prior to my departure. Probably will buy a used backpack or small luggage.

I realize that I have to be flexible and willing to cut down on plans during my trip, since there are so many factors that I have no influence on. But I would still love to go on an adventure like this and get out of my comfort zone.
I hope you can shares your thoughts and ideas about my trip with me. I'm very happy about any input and advice I get.

Cheers,
Martin
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 02:51 PM
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Just a lot of issues you need to solve. What is your actual budget in $? It sounds like a car rental is out of the question due to your age and budget.

I wouldn't count on a car relocating service but that is a possibility.

Maybe look into the Green Tortoise (both its hostels and bus tours). https://greentortoise.com
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 03:01 PM
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Hitchhiking would also be an option, although the thought kinda scares me. But challenging yourself is what life is all about, right?

I don't consider doing something as dangerous as hitchhiking to be a "challenge"... or at least not in a positive way.

How about a shorter trip? Not a road trip? And something you can do by a combination of bus, train, or tour groups? Something that is safe and in your price range.

About how much money DO you have saved for this adventure?
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 03:30 PM
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Since you are based in Pittsburgh, take the Capitol Limited (Amtrak) to Chicago. From Chicago you have your choice of two trains to go to California. The California Zephyr takes you to Emeryville with a bus connection to San Francisco. The Southwest Chief takes you to Los Angeles Union Station.
Since you have 30 days, I would get a 30 day USA Railpass and break the trip into several rail segments. My favorite stop on the CA Zephyr is Glenwood Springs Colorado. My favorite stop on the Southwest Chief is Albuquerque New Mexico.
Another train that you could take out of Chicago is the Empire Builder which would take you to either Seattle WA or Portland Oregon. The Coast Starlight travels daily from Seattle and Portland to Sacramento and onward to Los Angeles. I always prefer train travel to buses. DO NOT even consider long distance hitchhiking.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 04:45 PM
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If the OP hopes to rely on couchsurfing and and is looking for free auto relocations and hitch hiking (Lord, NO!) I don't see how he could possibly afford cross country on Amtrak, pass or no pass.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 06:02 PM
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Hitchhiking - besides the safety issue of riding with total strangers, there's the issue of doing this in winter and potentially being stuck out in some nasty weather. It's also not a reliable way to get to any destination as you're totally dependent on others. Eliminate hitchhiking as an option.

Are you doing this trip alone or with other students? If you have a few others, that makes a car rental and hotel rooms more affordable as you're splitting costs. Alone, it will be quite difficult.

You don't mention how you're getting from Pittsburgh to California - all the talk about transportation seems to be once you arrive in California. I highly doubt a car relocation service would allow a 21 year old to drive from Pittsburgh to California, or within California from point to point. You'll have to check into the cheapest options - budget airlines, Greyhound bus or Amtrak on some discounted sale. Southwest could get you to LA for $300 round trip, I'm guessing you could find something even cheaper if you keep searching.

Luggage is the least of your concerns. How did you travel from Germany to the U.S.? You should have some luggage from that trip or a backpack for school, yes?

No money seems to be the issue - you have almost 2.5 months and that is enough time to find a temporary, very part-time job to help pay for the trip (unless school or visa restrictions won't allow for you to work in the U.S.). If you can't get any extra money, my advice would be to ask your parents for a small loan to cover the trip (key word is loan) with the agreement that you would pay them back. If that is also not an option and you have no money for lodging or transportation, you are out of luck. I can't recommend any way to get to California and tour around the state for a month with no money.

There are certainly parts of the country that are closer to Pittsburgh that are worthy of a visit. Anywhere from New Orleans to Florida would be reasonably warm and interesting, although you will still have the issue of no money to contend with.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2018, 09:07 PM
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Thanks for your thoughts guys and girls! It really helps a lot.

Okay you are right, I shouldn't consider hitchhiking. It was just an idea that crossed my mind.
I have around $900 for traveling around the west coast after paying for flights... So I can probably pay for food
I could get a round trip to LA for $173 with Spirit if I booked it right now. Loans are not an option. I'm not allowed to work here due to my student visa.

I can do it with others, I just figured finding a couch to crash would be easier alone. A few people might join me for a some time though, since I made many new friends here. I'm also fine with hostels and stuff.
I have huge Luggage but nothing really small enough that I can carry around for a whole day. My backpack is also rather small.

We have done AirBnb and splitting a car for Chicago and it still ended up to be rather expensive for me (Payed roughly $250 for 3 days in Chicago)

I know it is not an easy thing to do but I want to try. I probably won't have this opportunity any time soon again. I also might just book a one way flight to LA ($50 with Spirit), see how I can manage and worst case book an earlier flight back. Or plan a shorter trip in general. Maybe only to New Years Eve.
Florida is also an option I keep in my head. Flights to Florida are not much cheaper than flights to LA though.
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Old Oct 4th, 2018, 04:58 AM
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Perhaps you could find a student at your school who lives in California and who would be willing to host you for part of your trip to cut housing costs.

The other choice to avoid some bad weather would be to head to the southeast. Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas. Perhaps some students in this area would host you too.
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Old Oct 4th, 2018, 09:36 AM
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Using a car relocation service will require that you “wait” until the company you are dealing with has has a client that wants their car to be driven to your intended destination. You may have to wait days or even weeks to get such an assignment.

You mentioned doing a road trip from Vancouver to California. How do you plan to get to Vancouver from Pittsburgh??

You are planning you trip during the middle of winter. Snow storms can make driving somewhat of a challenging at that time of year, especially in the northern and northwestern states so it would be better to plan on taking a more southerly route.

Have you thought about what type of clothing you’ll need for your trip. At that time of year some of the areas you mentioned can be cold, even freezing and other areas will be warm so you’ll have to pack accordingly. That means more than a backpack for your luggage.

Couch surfing with strangers isn’t going to be easy without first linking up with some type of network. You’ll need an alternate plan if you can’t find a couch to sleep on at any of your destinations.

As others have mentioned you really need to come up with a budget so you can then estimate how long your money will last and how far it will take you. You’ll need money for food, some lodgings (you won’t find free couch surfing everywhere), admissions (assuming you want to actuall see some sights), incidentals, laundry, local transportation, and a host of everyday out of pocket expenses.

You should also work up some sort of set itinerary rather than just wander around aimlessly.

Without a set plan for your transportation you will use up a good portion of your available time just getting to And from California not to mention your actual dollar budget.

You need to do some serious planning in order to pull off a trip like this.

also do check the status of your student visa to see if you’d be legally allowed to work during your trip. If you can’t you’ll need another source of income or a lot more in your savings avccount.
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Old Oct 4th, 2018, 11:24 AM
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I'd forget the car transfer business.

I have a suggestion where you could explore some of California fairly cheaply. Buy cheap airfare from Pittsburgh to CA and return. For example, you can get one-way on Southwest to OAK or SFO for less than $200 in mid-Dec. Id dint' check returns, but they fly out of BUR and LAX.

Then, take Megabus within Calfornia. You can get a Megabus from SF to LA for about $50, for example, and they have some other routes also, I believe. It's a long trip versus airfare but you see some of the country that way (maybe not anything exciting if it's on the major highway, but check possible routes. It is possible some trains within CA would be done, also, to get better views, and much cheaper than taking the train cross country.

I have done hitchhiking and not that long ago, but nothing long distance. I have only done occasional hitching on roads to ski resorts from the local town when I've missed the ski bus or something like that, and cars stop with ski equipment on them to take me to the lifts with them.

Within CA, do whatever you plan to get cheap accommodations, they do have some hostels in those cities, I believe. Try Couchsurfing, you never know.
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Old Oct 4th, 2018, 11:59 AM
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Or plan a shorter trip in general.

Bingo!! That is absolutely the easiest way to up the daily budget (which you need to do) for a trip without having any more money!
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Old Oct 4th, 2018, 12:37 PM
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The term "road trip" usually implies the use of a car. You frankly do not have enough money and time. I agree with doing a shorter trip, maybe Florida where at least the water should be warm enough to swim in. They don't have very good public transport though with a few exceptions and motels are cheaper.
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Old Oct 4th, 2018, 01:43 PM
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https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-b...-travel-costs/
Look at the above website for ideas.
On a very strict budget, he still spent $50.00 per day. With your $900.00, I don't see how you can stretch to more than 2 to 2&1/2 weeks of travel, certainly not more unless you find generous people to host you.
Attend a local couch surfing meet up to get acquainted with how it works best.
Best, IMHO, would be to find students from your school who would host you for three or four days in different places.
Strongly recommend you consider the SE. Interesting cities and history and weather should not be quite the issue as the NW.
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Old Oct 4th, 2018, 01:58 PM
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Also the states are smaller back east than in the mid-west, south-west or west coast. Much easier/quicker to move from place to place on the East Coast.
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Old Oct 5th, 2018, 12:12 AM
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IF he can get cheap flights, I don't see why he wouldn't go to California. He would need to limit his trip to probably San Francisco, Los Angeles and maybe San Diego. That would be enough.

First and foremost: I suggest that you ask your friends who they know lives or goes to college in California and message them for a place to stay or even just advice.

In addition to Megabus, you should also look at Greyhound. Be aware of your belongings etc but, it's cheap--I saw $15 between Los Angeles and San Francisco; prices vary based on demand. Weekends seem to cost more.

https://www.greyhound.com/en/

If you can't make personal connections, I think you should look for one or two good friends to travel with. Ideally go to the couchsurfing website. I saw quite a few offers. Otherwise, you could share a private room in an airbnb.
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Old Oct 5th, 2018, 10:41 AM
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Once you are on the West Coast look at Bolt Bus to get around (WAY cheaper than Grayhound). Serving as far south as Fresno as far north as Vancouver BC with lots of non-major city stops in between.
https://www.boltbus.com/
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Old Oct 6th, 2018, 04:53 AM
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Students often know a lot of people in a lot of places. Tell all your friends you are looking for a place to stay and ask they spread the word. There may well be someones brother's, ex-girlfriend's, cousin - that type of thing - who just moved and would host you. That would be Step 1. Ideally you would find several people in different locations willing to do so - and let availability of a place to stay determine where you go. Then think of exploring 1 or 2 areas local to that rather than touring the country. I know taking off with time, little money and a backpack sounds exciting - but the practical issues involved are more than a little scary. (You're probably going to give your family in Germany a heart attack worrying about this trip!)

Whether warranted or not, many people in the US are very wary of picking up hitchhikers, allowing strangers in their home to crash on the sofa, etc. I suspect more so than in parts of Europe. I have a friend who routinely offers rides to people who appear to be in need (like elderly people walking with groceries in the rain) and most of us think she is crazy. In reality it is probably not dangerous, but few are willing to do it.

At age 21 don't ever think you may not visit a place again - you have undiscovered decades ahead of you and seemingly an interest in travel - see this as a starting point rather than, "I will never again ..." Good luck. Hope something works out.
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Old Oct 6th, 2018, 09:36 AM
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Well, I can tell you hostels are out. LA/SF average $50 in winter and skyrocket on holidays.

I guess I’m a bit stumped as to what you want to see. No car, transit, very, very limited options for lodging—this isn’t a road trip and you won’t be seeing much of anything. Forget the loop idea in CA. Most of those routes are highly impractical outside of summer—I think you have thoroughly unrealistic expectations of the weather. There’s a decent chance you could be delayed leaving AND coming back—spirit is not, shall we say, reliable, especially during the holidays.

And you’re going to have to organize such a trip around couch surfing. Keep it as simple as possible. I mean, one huge problem that occurs to me—even if I could give you a list of people who would let you crash, and I know people all over California—it would be of ZERO use to you.

1) you have no car, and you’re limited on where you can comfortably stay

2) people either are away or don’t want guests on their couch at Christmas.


Charleston and New Orleans have hostels. Both cheaper than CA. And Florida transit may suck, but it can’t be worse than California between cities. Miami has a hostel.

Toronto, montreal, Quebec—that would also be a good option. I mean, if you want cold weather/Christmas, then that’s what I’d go for. Otherwise I’d do New Orleans or JUST San Diego for a week or so.

have you been to dc? Another good option because so much stuff is free
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Old Oct 6th, 2018, 10:00 AM
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You have a whole month free. If you are not traveling, where would you be staying for that month? Are you in a dorm or apartment that will still be available?
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Old Oct 6th, 2018, 12:50 PM
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Good point Gail (maybe others mentioned it too). At 21 years old why approach this as a one & only trip of a lifetime to be in the U.S.A.?

It makes more sense to approach this in a way that might actually happen (IF you can get cheap airfare, use Bolt Bus, find friends who will let you stay with them or couchsurf, trim down the itinerary to just a few locations).
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