USA: Road trippin'

By Shandelle Battersby

Hitting the road? Shandelle Battersby has some essential advice for an easy trip.
Photo / 123RF
Photo / 123RF

A road trip across three h-u-u-u-g-e states in America - California, Nevada and Arizona, then back again - was a major learning curve for a mate and me in July. Though we'd both driven in the US before, we'd only covered short distances and were underprepared for some of the challenges a longer trip threw us. Here are a few tips.

• Use Google Maps rather than a GPS unit for getting around - if you have access to Wi-Fi you can download areas that your device can cache, which will work offline. Google will warn of accidents, congestion, etc, and plot another route for you, if possible. It will also help you to find gas stations.

• If you're in the US for a few weeks, check with local providers for prepaid SIM cards for tourists. You'll find this much cheaper than roaming.

• Campgrounds often have better set ups than hotels or motels, with laundries, free Wi-Fi, pools, games rooms, libraries and barbecues - but bear in mind you might need heating or air-conditioning at night, and some don't have kitchen facilities.

• We found driving in the desert really tiring - something to do with the glare of the relentless sun, the monotone colours, the pale roads, and probably the effects of the air conditioning going full blast. We had to adjust our itinerary a couple of times because of this and drive shorter distances each day. We'd actually hoped to get to Utah too, but had to reassess.

• You'll probably have to pre-pay your gas. Service stations are also a good opportunity to use decent loos, though there are really good rest stop facilities off the freeways, with plenty of parking and picnic areas.

• Be prepared at certain sites, such as the Hoover Dam, to have to open everything up for inspection by the local authorities. We even had to open up the roof compartment of our campervan. Not fun in 45C+.

• Keep right! The far right lane is the slow lane too, but you'll soon hear about it if you're driving too slowly in the lanes to the left.

• A few other road rules: If it's safe, it's legal to make right turns on intersections when the light is red - sometimes a sign will tell you otherwise. And at four-way intersections, whoever gets there first has right of way, in order. If you arrive at the same time, the order is clockwise.

• It's illegal to use phones while driving, and the drink driving laws are strict.

• Speed limits are all over the place, but on the freeways it sits somewhere between 55 and 65m/h (88.5-105km/h). Urban areas are 25-30m/h (40-48km/h).

• As a matter of interest for pedestrians, whether cars stop at pedestrian crossings seems to be completely arbitrary. Just be really careful and aware. Jaywalking is illegal in some states. You can do it in New York; you'd never get anywhere otherwise.


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