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Planning a trip to the US - Suffering From Elation
A Survivor's Tale
tania
tania
Planning a trip to the US
One or two of you know about this already, but that US trip I was always talking about? I'm actually beginning planning today at Joe's request - he's still got a couple of debts to pay and needs to put together a budget for this - and it's going to happen at the end of the year. I'm hoping to go from (ballpark) 20th Dec through to 20th Jan.

So. I've said the dates now, there's no turning back.

That said, HOLY CRAP THIS IS HARD! I'm used to the relatively simple options I'm presented with when planning for travel in Australia. We basically have three airlines. Count 'em, three. OK, four if you count Tiger. But regardless. All I have to do to find a good airfare is check each of the major websites, toss in my dates and compare.

In contrast, I don't know WHO flies WHERE as far as international airlines go. Price-comparison websites are only complicating matters further. Is that a return airfare or one-way? Who can say?

We want to work our way across the country. Should we rent a car? Or use public transport? Or rely on the kindness of strangers to link us from one couch to the next? Accomodation is pretty sorted - we follow the couches that so many of you have kindly offered!

That leads me to the next point: plotting a coherent trail throughout the continental U.S. We'll probably start out in L.A. I want to drop in on thornwolf in the San Bernardino mountains as she loves checking out the entirely awesome landscapes you guys have in the region and that's definitely some action I want to get in on! I'd also like to check out Vegas - I loathe gambling but I'm just fascinated by the idea of the place and give albylion the chance to play tourguide. After that, a longish stopover around Phoenix, where my lovely tengukun and my godson Rowan live. <3 I also want to see the Grand Canyon.

What's the deal with checking out Mexico? Would we be able to do that or is crossing the border a visa no-no? (Never travelled internationally, live in a country with no borders, forgive the ignorance.)

Anyway, after Phoenix I have NO idea. I haven't checked back on the couchsurfing entry I made at the end of '07, as I'm concerned some offers / locations could be out of date by now. But as we solidify our ideas on where we want to go, I'll check back there and see who is where, and begin to chase people up. <3

I guess we should check out one of the Disney theme parks over there? I could live without it though, it'll be costly compared to everything else we'll be doing, and Joe's not that big on theme parks. What else would you guys recommend? I like natural wonders, don't mind roughing it. I want to see New York as the biggest city I've seen is Sydney. We're not doing Canada this time; that warrants a separate trip of its own - Joe and I are considering living there for a while someday, despite sebkha's forecasts (literally) of doom!

Ooh! Yellowstone! I want to see Yellowstone! I'm a bit of a supervolcano geek. ...I just realised I don't even know what part of the country Yellowstone is in. *shame*

Oh, also - we don't really have much in the way of mountains in Australia. It is a weathered country. So I'd love to see some tall, crisp, new mountains. Maybe Colorado? That would be a logical next step after Arizona.

Joe likes natural stuff too, but he also likes getting the 'feel' for a place; going out with the people who live there, seeing the nightlife, hearing the music, eating the food, drinking the drink, getting entirely too lost, having unexpected adventures. So we want to see some cities as well as some spectacular countryside.

We're also science buffs and, to a lesser extent, interested in history. Washington is on my list for the latter; we want to see a shuttle launch in Houston if we can time things right to satisfy the former. But anything else along those lines you can think of would be fabulous. We want real memorable EXPERIENCES. We want to go the places the locals go, not the shiny well-beaten tourist track (though we'll set foot on that for certain things, like the Grand Canyon).

We're both fascinated by caves. We'll both jump off or out of high things, whitewater raft, dive, swim with (insert friendly aquatic animal here). Whilst we want to save money where we can (hence the couchsurfing and booking flights early on) we don't want to miss out on adventure just because we were a bit short on cash - so consider cost no object when you make your suggestions.

So. With all that in mind, seriously, guys - I hear you have a gorgeous country: tell us what we should do there!
91 have fought ~ fight the power!
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jeriendhal From: jeriendhal Date: January 22nd, 2009 01:43 am (UTC) (Link)
Traveling about once you get to the USA is a tricky proposition. Our national train system is nearly as expensive as flying some destinations, and doesn't go to as many places. OTOH the security restrictions aren't as onerous either. Public transport within a city can also be tricky. Washington DC and New York have got fine systems, Los Angeles not so much...

If you want to see the country though, and travel freely, renting a car might be the way to go. Just remember to drive on the right side!
spotweld From: spotweld Date: January 22nd, 2009 01:44 am (UTC) (Link)
Sounds like you want to get yourself a map and start putting in push pins.

Um... if you want to see the shuttle "launch" you would want to go to Florida.

As for Science/History stuff, can I point out the Mystic Seaport and the Mystic Aquarium.

Just a thought.

And depending on your timing, I suspect have your LJ watchers are going to try to figure out a way to get you to a scifi/anime/nerdiness-in-general convention.
tania From: tania Date: January 22nd, 2009 02:18 am (UTC) (Link)
My bad on the Florida / Houston thing... sadly enough, I actually KNEW that too. 9_9 Brainfail.

*laughs* Your last prediction was correct, someone's already prodded me about FC. I'm not sure whether that's the sort of thing I want to do on this holiday though - I'll have to talk it over with Joey. :)
alby_lion From: alby_lion Date: January 22nd, 2009 01:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Quantas comes in with the lowest fares, from what I've seen.

You don't drive as it is now, right? You could get an international driver's license, but seeing as how you're going to be on the wrong side of the road, you might as well take a Grayhound bus or rely on folks to drive you. I'd love to shuttle you from Las Vegas to anywhere you'd want. I could also show you Salt Lake City and some real mountains. I could take you up to some of the ski resorts and you could get somewheres around 11,000 feet above sea level.

I'd recomment L.A. --> Phoenix --> Grand Canyon (Arizona) --> Vegas --> Salt Lake (incl. caves) --> Yellowstone (Wyoming) --> Mount Rushmore (South Dakota) --> somewheres in the Midwest (Minneapolis?) --> Chicago --> NYC

There's not much to see in Mexico, but if you want to go, you'd have to jump through more hoops since you're not a U.S. citizen.

While you're in L.A., I'd recommend stopping by Disneyland for a day. It's a smaller version of Disneyworld, and more enjoyable for what you'd be looking for.
alby_lion From: alby_lion Date: January 22nd, 2009 02:06 am (UTC) (Link)
NYC --> Boston --> Washington D.C.
ruggels From: ruggels Date: January 22nd, 2009 01:52 am (UTC) (Link)
I'd lov e to see you when you pass through Los Angeles. I live downtown and could show yo some of the local attractions, like eats, shopping and parks. Thornwolf is more of a wilderness type, My idea of Roughing it is either a WW2 Tactical Camp, or Rabit ears versus basic cable.

As to tall mountains, Los Angeles is surrounded by them, and thorn could show you those and what is beyond.

Las Vagas should be experienced, but it's pricey, and sort of boring in the day time. (hot, bladn desert scenery, and lots of scray ugly people, in barely finctional vehicles. However they do have places where you can rent Fully automatic weapons and shoot them in indoor ranges. :-) Most of the Casinos arevery similar on the inside, but often they have interesting shopping malls within. Wynn, and those hideous Culinary Unions in Las Vegas killed the Chreap buffet I'm sad to way.

If you are going through Phoenix, go see the Grand Canyon.

In general I'd advise you to rent some sort of a cruiser, rather than rely on rides or Public transit, Rental cars are kind of cheap, and you can follow your muse. I've done a LOT of road trips, and enjoty the open road.

Other pleaces to consider, Bryce Canyon, Zion Canyon, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, There are a few museums and parks in the mid west depending on your interests. Texas is friendly. Once you cross the Mississippi, the roads change subtly and you start seeing "toll Roads and Turnpikes" which mean you hand an attendant money, which is unpleasant. On the East Coast driving gets a little more dense and difficult but not too bad, Manhattan however, is car hostile, either cab it or use the Subway. But Manhattan os worth the visit.

Hope this helps

Scott
tania From: tania Date: January 22nd, 2009 02:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Definitely helps, thank you! And I would love to check out the local attractions with you. :) I'm especially interested in firing an automatic weapon, actually, as it's not the sort of thing I'd ever get the chance to do out here. Joe has a broad interest in weaponry, I'm sure you guys would have plenty to talk about. :D OK, consider yourself added to my tentative list of stops!
arletta From: arletta Date: January 22nd, 2009 02:02 am (UTC) (Link)
Agreed on the post above. In the midwest, if you hit Minneapolis, you could go to the Mall of America.
For history you could see Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. There are some nice observatories too in AZ (Kitt Peak near Tucson - southern AZ).
http://www.noao.edu/kpno/

http://www.mallofamerica.com/
(MOA has a GREAT shark exhibit too! Lovely!)

As for NYC I've been wanting to go just to see Ground Zero before they start building on it again.

I believe you'll see some incredible mountains and forests in Colorado. Minnesota also is near Lake Superior which is HUGE.
As for caves, I believe there are some great ones in AZ, but I'm not sure. I think you can do some rafting down the Colorado (at the bottom of the Grand Canyon) too.
Be prepared though, you need to make sure you're up on the Grand Canyon's calendar. They can get a decent amount of snow in the winter (December-February...or so, I believe), and some parts of it will be shut off to tourists because of that.
If you have enough friends in the US, it probably won't be that hard to be picked up and dropped off at airports, but you might want to get a rental car too.
tania From: tania Date: January 22nd, 2009 02:09 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow, some excellent suggestions here! Everyone seems to be leaning toward the rental-car plan, so that may be the way we'll go. We don't want to do too much flying within the country as we really want to get a feel for it - the distances between places, you know?

I would LOVE to go rapting down the Colorado. OMFG yes.
arletta From: arletta Date: January 22nd, 2009 02:05 am (UTC) (Link)
Also, around and inside parts of Chicago, Illinois there are toll roads. Can be costly.
tania From: tania Date: January 22nd, 2009 02:19 am (UTC) (Link)
You're the second to mention that, so they must be bad - how expensive ARE these tolls?

We have a handful out here, but they're few and far between, and maybe a couple of dollars tops.
(Deleted comment)
tania From: tania Date: January 22nd, 2009 02:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow, good tips - thank you!

Oh right, there are also tornadoes. You won't really want to see those.

There, my friend, you are wrong. I'm sort of a geek for natural disasters. I'm sure this will get me into trouble someday, but thus far it hasn't (though Australia being what it is, the only natural disasters I've been able to observe firsthand are bushfires, violent storms, trailing-off cyclones and wild surf).

Seeing a tornado in person is actually one of my dreams. But I'm aware of how hard it'd be to swing that - being in the right place at the right time AND emerging safely - nevertheless, I certainly wouldn't let the idea of tornadoes dissuade me from visiting a place.

We'll be there in winter, Dec-Jan, which from what you're saying sounds like it could be advantageous. We're very used to the heat... part of the reason we'll be travelling that time of year is that it pays to get out of Brisbane during the peak of our summer. ;)
(Deleted comment)
From: pariahsdream Date: January 22nd, 2009 02:19 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't know if this is within your area of going places, but for what Joe seems to like 'the feeling the place and the locals' and everything, you can't get much better than New Orleans. The French Quarter just feels like you could turn around a corner and be in another century- or at least it always has in my mind. I think it's beautiful and earthy and some of the houses (if they're still there, I can't remember how far from the Quarter things survived) were just beautiful. But yeah, my 2 cents.
tania From: tania Date: January 22nd, 2009 02:24 am (UTC) (Link)
That sounds like EXACTLY what we're after. :) Consider it added... I am definitely going to need a big map and some pins. ;)
martes From: martes Date: January 22nd, 2009 02:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Don't go to Mexico. It's dangerous (lots of drug violence and kidnapping forginers for money), dirty (lots of diseases not present in US) and has nothing you'd want to go there for unless it's underage drinking, buying drugs or getting giaurdia (sp?). The Mexican towns along the US border are particularly awful in terms of violence and kidnappings.

Driving is probably the best way across country, although it might be possible to take cheap commuter flights between large cities.

Or you could always just take Greyhound buses. Cheap, and you'll get to see some very colorful people.

--But, if you're coming here in the dead of winter (Dec. -January) bear in mind you'll hit snow and very cold weather once you get north, which might making driving difficult or impossible, particularly if you're unlucky enough to get caught in a storm.

If you can at all change the dates, I'd recommend coming any time between (and including) April and June. The winter storms will be gone and it won't be too hot yet in the southwest.

Sights: I can only speak of where I've been, but I can certainly give you a tour of Los Angeles. The Getty Center, any of the beaches, Hollywood, Universal City, Melrose Ave, Santa Monica, Huntington Gardens. If you're lucky you'll even get to see a genuine Los Angeles traffic jam.

I'd also highly recommend the San Diego Zoo.

The Grand Canyon might not be possible if it's snowed in, but Hoover Dam and Lake Mead on the way to Las Vegas are cool. And there's always Death Valley.
cesarin From: cesarin Date: January 22nd, 2009 03:40 am (UTC) (Link)
hang on.. lots of diseases not present in the US? o_O
the only thing I agree with you is in therms of the drug violence, specially along the towns near the border.
but in touristic towns like Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos are pretty much calm.
justascream From: justascream Date: January 22nd, 2009 02:55 am (UTC) (Link)
One tip about Yellowstone...make sure you plan on Yellowstone and then getting outta dodge, because the thing about Wyoming is...there's nothing there. Yellowstone is pretty much it.

How do you feel about glaciers? You might want to look at Montana. Then again, you might want to save that for when you go to Canada, as it's pretty close.

I've border-hopped into Mexico for a couple hours before, which was absolutely pointless and a waste of my day. We just sorta, uh, walked across from California, but I don't know how that would work for a non-US citizen.

I am in Colorado, in the Denver metro area. I am also currently not able to offer a couch or such things, because I have no idea what my situation will be like at the end of the year.

But I will tell you this: there is always a 70% chance that if you are in Colorado from late November to mid February, you may get trapped there by the snow. However, the other 30% chance is that it will be warm and pleasant (er, by my standards) with no snow at all.

I live a couple hours drive from all the major ski resorts, and the drive itself is always gorgeous, but I do not recommend trying to afford going up there at all during the winter/ski season because they jack the prices sky-high when all the snow-craving tourists and the ski/snowboarding addicts want to be up there.

Colorado doesn't have a ton to offer in the winter, I'm afraid, because the snow blocks the routes to half of the attractions... However! Here's a list of neat stuff that you might want to look into:

--Great Sand Dunes National Park near Alamosa... We call this Giant Kitty Litter Box because it's so fucking random, a humongous sand dune of doom in the middle of otherwise not-sandy territory, squished up against a mountain.

--Forney Transportation Museum = Denver, which I recommend only because it's kinda creepy and has Amelia Earhart's car and you can dress up and sit in one of the old early Ford's (I think it was a Ford, can't remember) for fun. Nobody is ever there, it's very quiet, and if you go with the right people it's a blast.

--Mesa Verde National Park, which has the cliff dwellings. During the winter, ranger-guided tours into the Spruce Tree House, which is surprisingly well-preserved, are free. Absolute must. Amazing to be that close to such beautiful history. Unfortunately they don't do winter tours of Cliff Palace (the largest cliff dwelling), Balcony House, Long House, or Step House.

--Dinosaur Ridge = Morrison ...dinosaur tracks? That's pretty much it.



--If you afraid of heights or just like to scare the shit out of yourself, go try out the Royal Gorge bridge, look down, and do something crazy stupid that makes everyone there scream. (This is why they don't let me be a tourist guide.)

--I have recently heard there is a heavy equipment sand box (translation: you get to play with bulldozers and other such giant Tonka toys) in Steamboat Springs now, but that it's uber-expensive.

--People always insist on mentioning that The Stanley Hotel (aka, the one from The Shining) is in Colorado, but it's boring and not scary.

--My family all recommend doing the alpine slides, even though every time they come back my mother has managed to scrape flesh off another part of her body.

--If you are the sort to love awesome concerts, check out what might be in Red Rocks Ampitheatre at the time. Though personally I'd only go there in the summer, the scene and natural acoustics of Red Rocks makes any performance fifty times better.

--Okay, I really don't know about winter, but in Arizona: http://www.navajonationparks.org/htm/antelopecanyon.htm Fucking. Gorgeous.

...I'm going to think of more, just you watch.
tania From: tania Date: January 22nd, 2009 03:59 am (UTC) (Link)
Whoa, this is really helpful!

I feel very positive about glaciers. ;) I suppose we could go from Wyoming up into Montana, then catch a flight down to New Orleans and pick up the travel-by-ground there.

Couch or no couch, I'd love to meet up with you when we pass on through! Sounds like you love doing the same sort of stuff we do, plus I already know you're just generally awesome. ;)

I would LOVE to see some cliff dwellings! What a shame about some of them being closed down over winter!

What is an alpine slide?

Please do think of more, I'm loving your suggestions so far. :D
singingnettle From: singingnettle Date: January 22nd, 2009 03:02 am (UTC) (Link)
I will get back to this and say something useful, honestly...just too tired and sick right now to think it through.

Amtrak is a useful, scenic, and social way to get around the country...although not very time-effective.
singingnettle From: singingnettle Date: January 22nd, 2009 03:06 am (UTC) (Link)
Amtrak being the passenger train system.
singingnettle From: singingnettle Date: January 22nd, 2009 03:04 am (UTC) (Link)
One thing to keep in mind is that that is winter in the US...it's cold and snowy in many of the places you're looking at north of central California, and it might be more effective to take a train or plane from destination to destination and rent a car when there than to rent a car and try to drive it through the mountain passes yourself. That time of year, there is always a chance of the passes being closed and your being snowed in.
tania From: tania Date: January 22nd, 2009 03:55 am (UTC) (Link)
This is a good point, especially considering that neither of us has ever driven in snow.
cesarin From: cesarin Date: January 22nd, 2009 03:39 am (UTC) (Link)
imnot sure, but Mexico sometimes accepts people from certain countries witouth a VISA, but receently, they beefed the security ( as per US's orders )
so I think you have to get a Mexico-Australia Vista and a passport of your country to get in :O
stokerbramwell From: stokerbramwell Date: January 22nd, 2009 04:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Ooooh!!! Wherever you go, I hope you'll be passing through our way at some point! We're in the northwest corner of Louisiana, close to Texas and Arkansas. I'm sure we could arrange some way to hang (and if we have our own apartment by then, as I hope and pray to God we will, we will definitely offer you crash space). :D

As for places to go, yes, Colorado is positively gorgeous. It's my wife's home state, and she and I just got back from spending three weeks there. As for Disney parks, the only one I have experience with is Walt Disney World, having no experience with Disneyland. It is expensive, touristy, and an odd mix of coolness and tackiness, but EPCOT and the Haunted Mansion make it worth it for me.

I would DEFINITELY rent a car. As someone else pointed out, the quality of public transit varies wildly from place to place. You could probably get away with using public transit in a lot of places in, say, Colorado, but here in Louisiana you'd be SOL.

Gads, what else to tell you that hasn't already been covered...I don't know, there's just so...MUCH. This is a bigass country. XD Do you have any specific questions that somebody else hasn't hit yet?
tania From: tania Date: January 22nd, 2009 04:09 am (UTC) (Link)
There's a good chance we'll be coming through your way, as we want to work our way down to New Orleans! Right now there's a big gap in my tentatively-mapped plan... I've got a nice line through the following areas - CA, AZ, UT, (possibly) NM, CO, WY, MT... but then the next definite nearby place I want to hit is New Orleans! So that might be the point at which we hop a plane.

After that, FL, WA and NY are definitely on the list but I'm not sure where to stop along the east coast, so that's the sort of info I'll be hunting next. :)

Joe and I will brainstorm specific questions tonight. Thanks for your help!
macbeemer From: macbeemer Date: January 22nd, 2009 04:08 am (UTC) (Link)
If you come to New York City, you guys are totally welcome to stay here a night or two. I'd be more than happy to hang out and play tour guide! :D

As for adventure-type stuff, I'd also recommend checking out the Blue Ridge Mountains. Not as AH-mazing as, say, the Rockies, but still absolutely beautiful :)
tania From: tania Date: January 22nd, 2009 04:10 am (UTC) (Link)
Ohmigod, I would LOVE to! *cling* I think I'm going to step out into New York City and be all: "....OH GOD I'M LOST!!"

But yeah, NYC is definitely on the list. I would very much like to see a 'real' city. :D
91 have fought ~ fight the power!
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