USA Rent-a-Car

The car – or vey-hick-all – is a key component in the American road trip. An enormous amount of consideration went into the selection process. In the end, we went online in Deee-troit, Motor City (appropriately enough), and got the cheapest which turned out to be a red Chevy booked through Hertz. The alternatives included:

Renting an RV. Weird and interesting option i.e. a house on wheels. The main point in favour was not having to haul case and camera equipment in and out of hotels, motels and homes every night; a second was being able to ‘park up’ in the middle of the day and have the space to get some work done instead of commandeering a cafe table and getting the evil eye from mothers and small children waiting for their pumpkin pie and onion rings. Not having to decide a destination, book accommodation and then get there also appealed. We could park wherever we liked, I thought. And finally, the notion of crossing the USA in a motorhome is a zeitgeisty one. The intrepid over-65s are all at it, but it’s also a notion that’s hovering just below the Top 20 Things I’d Rather Be Doing Than Sitting Here list for desk-bound urban workers in Northern Europe. I thought it would be really nice to show what fun it was and make everyone jealous, and get them all booking trips of their own. I mentioned this bright idea to Cruise America,  tentatively suggesting they might want to make us a deal on the rate given that we’d be in the thing for weeks and weeks, it was November, no-one had any money for holidays, I was a hard-working, keen as mustard journalist, and the USA was being lashed by hurricanes. They said no.

For a 5-week trip, the kind of prices we were looking at ranged from around $4,100 for a roundtrip, picking up and dropping off from Cruise America at LA airport which I didn’t want to do, to $6,281 (all in, unlimited mileage) with El Monte, picking up in NY and dropping off in LA. Dropping off at different depots is more expensive; on the other hand, it does save the 2,789 mile drive to take it back.

Buying an RV. According to experts on forums (my favourite source of all information), once you get beyond a particular price point, it makes more sense to buy. I started looking at $2,000 rust buckets but it quickly escalated to a serious evaluation of the 41ft Safari Panther with 3 slides. I don’t actually know what that means and anyway it cost $99,900, used. I also had a good look at the mansions on wheels that people are really buying and driving at Luxury Motorhome Sales. I’d like to see one of those taking a SatNav route through Bristol. You could buy 25 really nice homes in Detroit for the same price. But look: instant savings!

RV conclusion. It’s a no to buying. I’d need to go for a cheap option because of the risk of having cash locked up in something I didn’t need post-road trip, and couldn’t sell (which reminds me: if you want a used Peugeot let me know. It’s blue). Also, in my extensive, yet ever hopeful experience, cheap things break. Also, for the time being, it’s no to renting an RV. There are overnight parking restrictions that make RVs and cities an uneasy mix, and the late afternoon stress of finding, booking and parking in RV parks, (generally outside the city limits), doesn’t seem a massive improvement on pinning down hotel-motel accommodation, although I guess you’d know how to open the curtains, work the coffee machine and stop the air-conditioning ricocheting from dry desert heat to winter in Helsinki every night. A friendly travel agent I met in a bar said to think of it as the price of renting the RV plus the cost again once you counted in RV park fees which vary but can be higher than a budget motel even though you bring your own bed and are your own cleaners.

I love arriving in American cities. I don’t really want to be hooked up to whatever, flanked by RV lifers, outside the doughnut ring of Hardee’s and Wendy’s and Shoney’s, 17 miles from bright lights and a Zagat-rated fusion diner. Who knows though. It would be ideal in Arizona and Nevada, and we did pass an old Airstream going spare . . .

Buying a car. This dream is hard to kill. Except the steering wheels are on the wrong side and they’re all automatic. But not only have I been stroking mustangs, but I’ve had my snout stuck in Carolina Bargain Hunter and have identified a few possibles:

1. 1966 Dodge Coronet, white, low miles, $4995;

2. 1965 Cadillac Ambulance, 46K miles, ‘runs great’, $12,950

3. 1957 Ford Fairlaine 500, with new black and white paint, $18,500.

Any one of these would be more the vehicle I had in mind when envisaging the road trip. I have to say the Chevy’s been a sensible choice and it’s taken us to many interesting places. Well done, Dave, well done Hotwire, well done everybody. The week’s rental looked like it was going to cost $368 but with all the ‘bits’ like insurance in case you total it, actually cost around $528. It’s been dropped off at Hertz, Atlanta airport. Dave’s on a 2-day trip to London (travelling only with his laptop) because his band’s playing. I’m going to have a look around before committing to another sensible red one for the next leg of the journey.

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