August 22, 2017

United States: Land of the Unique Road Trip Experience

The U.S. has nearly 3.8 million square miles worth of grandeur and over 157,000 miles of highway to travel. In traversing these great distances, you will find vastly different adventures very near to each other. A jaunt up to Boston will expose you to a totally different culture (and nearly a totally different language) than a junket to New York City.  Going on walkabout in the wide open spaces of Texas is like another world compared to the winding streets of San Francisco. However, if you are travelling from somewhere as far from the U.S. as Australia, you will want to immerse yourself in the total Yank experience to get your money’s worth. You need look no further than the natural landscape of the North American continent:  the world-famous American National Parks.   Once your ESTA has been applied for and your travel authorization granted, you’re just a 14+ hour flight away from a perspective-enhancing experience.   Which Season is Right for the Sights?: Real estate is all about location. Farming is all about the season. Travelling to the U.S. is all about both. When you go can at times be far more important than where. New York City in the crisp fall is a charming experience. New York City at the height of summer is a concrete sauna. September-November for much of the country is an ideal travel season. The long days of summer have not yet fully faded into nights cut short by the encroaching autumn, but their heat is actively dissipating into comfortably warm days and blissfully cooler nights.  In the Western U.S., where most Aussies will be travelling to (unless you are a glutton for punishment and exceptionally long plane rides) the high season for travel will have faded with the heat and there will be discounts galore for the discerning tourist. Additional benefits for this travel window include substantially quieter (and as a result, improved) locales. Also, in the desert Southwest, this time period is largely dry, making trips to some of America’s grander scenes an experience that carries little chance of interference from hindering forces like rain or snow. While you may not want to deal with these forces head-on, you can enjoy their effects over millions of years while viewing the wide variety of rock formations and gorges they have carved out within the numerous American National Parks.  The National Park infrastructure is actually little more than an usher to a resplendent theatre displaying the organic interaction of immovable stone and eons of gradual precipitation, chiselling away like a classical Greek sculptor. If you’d like to see 9000+ sq. miles of vast, lush forest, dotted with thermal oddities and situated atop a super caldera/volcano that stretches across three states then Yellowstone National Park may be right in your wheelhouse. If you are less fond of volcanic landscapes and more fond of seeing rivers cutting through mountains, then Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona may be more appealing to you.  Millions of years of geological history are carved into the walls of former mountains, bisected by the persistence of running water.  Both join together to create one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the world and a truly breath-taking spectacle.  Before we fully explore where you might go however, let’s further explore how you’ll get there.   Your U.S. Road Trip Experience Begins With an ESTA Visa USA: Thankfully, these majestic sights of the U.S. are just half a day away from Australia via plane. Even better news, Australia is a member state of the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP), which allows Australians access to the U.S. without the need for a lengthy Visa application process, inclusive of interviews and embassy visits. The only thing standing between you and your ultimate U.S. adventure is the Electronic System for Travel Authorizations (ESTA). The ESTA is an online application that members of VWP countries are required to fill out before making their way to the U.S. Now that you know the where, how, and why of your U.S. destination road trip, let’s explore what you can expect. You can expect getting to the U.S. to take a while. When you’ve recovered from the shock of this revelation, be aware that while a 24-hour flight sounds like a pain, many are overnight flights, making the U.S. just one (very) long nap away. Though this is a small price to pay for getting to see the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, be sure to purchase your flight at least two months ahead of time or the actual ticket price may not be so small. As long as you are being proactive, applying for your ESTA at the same time would be an excellent idea. If your trip is for pleasure and will last for less than 90 days, then being approved via this automated system is a fairly simple process that gives up-to two years of flexibility on the trip date (from the date of approval). The actual time your ESTA is authorized for is dependent on how much time is left before your passport will have to be renewed. So now, where to begin on your U.S. journey? If you are going to go, you might as well go big and you can’t go bigger in the American Southwest than the glitz and glamour of fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada.  Some 1-stop flights will have you hitting Sin City’s poker tables in less than 18 hours, while some 2-stop flights will take a bit longer, but won’t break the bank at around $1,120 AUD. You can go hopping out of Sydney at 9:30 in the morning, arrive at LAX by 6:05 AM (isn’t time travel fun?), after a short layover, be in Vegas by 10:30 AM, and be a blackjack millionaire (or have spent your life savings, individual experiences may vary) by 10:30 PM. Once you’ve reached the spectacle that is Vegas, it’s worth sticking around for a day or two. While not quite as amazing as some of the natural wonders, Las Vegas is a phenomenon all its own as well as an ode to American opulence and (sometimes poor) taste. Take your time and suspend disbelief as you absorb, and are absorbed into, this gaudy playground for adults. If Lucky really is a lady, and you manage to get her phone number, you might even break even on the cost of your trip. While there are magnificent hotels for high rollers, these are not mandatory and eschewing The Strip can give you just as interesting an experience at a fraction of the price. Reasonably-priced alternatives for lodging abound in the nearby suburbs of Henderson and Boulder City, including fantastic views of glistening lakes and gorgeous mesa scenes.  Once you’ve had your fill of the lights, bouncers and buffets, head back to McCarran airport for a rental auto and dive right into the meat of your U.S. road trip You can’t go wrong by beginning, 170 scenic miles down the road, at Zion National Park. During this season, you will have a much higher probability of being able to spend your days travelling the park’s 150,000 acres and spending your nights in the beloved traditional lodges, that are the only accommodations within the park itself.   If you are able to do so, you will be provided with a permit that will allow you the ability to drive through the canyon at the heart of the park, a route typically open to shuttle busses only. If you find the lodge prices a bit steep however, the nearby community of Springdale also offers lodging, along with a variety of quaint eateries. The lodge experience is the way to go if you have the dough though and is almost unmatchable. The appeal of taking a meal while also taking in the grandiose red cliffs cannot be adequately described with words. If you can manage to rent a wet suit, you will be prepared for The Narrows, which Conde Nast Traveller has listed as one of the “13 Best Hikes in the World”. Wading upstream while in reverence to the scenes of water reflecting onto the canyon walls is just glorious. You can also explore this national park on horseback and bike, with or without a guide. For voodoo, go to Haiti. For hoodoos go 86 miles down the road from Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park. This petrified stone forest and goblin-like environmentally-carved figures are the end result of a battle, millions of years in the making.  Rock resists weather, weather never stopping and in a flash of time- compared to the centuries that formed these stony marvels- you can be awestruck at the detail of these monuments to upraised resistance. Several of these thin, vividly-coloured spires, match office buildings in height and form their own weathered sky-line. If possible, take in these sights from The Rim, Queen’s Garden trails, and The Navajo Loop. Pack a jacket as the elevation makes for lower temps, but the view at night is like something out of a NASA brochure. Sliding down a shortcut through Canonville to our next destination, we have come to the Glen Canyon Recreational area, which surrounds Lake Powell and is located in the town of Page, Arizona. This alternate path to Page is known colloquially as Cottonwood Canyon and is home to the famous double-arched stone formally known as Grosvenor Arch. The aptly named Kodachrome Basin State Park is also a feast for the eyes that is also found along this route. Unless you like free mud baths in the middle of the road however, don’t even consider this route if rain is in the forecast. Being stranded for days outdoors, as the drops fall, by impassable roads may sound romantic, but it’s really just annoying. The regular 3-hour route to page also has its appeal and a substantially lesser chance of leaving you stranded for the totality of your time.  Once you have arrived, you can’t miss the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons as peeking luminance strikes the equally striking coloration of the naturally-formed structures. Horseshoe Bend may give you a similar sense of astonishment, and possibly vertigo as well, as it gives contrast to the Colorado River in its oft-followed journey to the granddaddy of them all, The Grand Canyon. If you are a cinemaphile, especially of the Western genre, then the buttes and mesas of Monument valley are a can’t-miss experience. Turning from Page, you can travel to Kanab, a journey of less than two hours. For this short drive you will be richly reward by venturing to what many consider “Bucket List” venues. If you were pretty lucky your first go-round in Vegas, you might consider entering the online lottery for permits to The Wave and South Coyote Buttes, as this is the only way you will get to see them. A proper guide will ensure that you are exposed to these landscapes from the best possible positions. If the permit lottery just wasn’t meant for you, then spending time in Paria Canyon and the Vermillion Cliffs area will be just as awing as the other options. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Toroweap Overlook are practically indescribable, have to be seen to be believed and are less crowded, as 90% of tourists go to the South Rim. Wonderful does not begin to adequately express the sheer magnitude and majesty of the Grand Canyon. It should be the pièce de résistance of your trip and the last scene you take in for that truly lasting impression that will have you in quiet contemplation of this astounding planet. 150 miles back to Vegas, one more try at the slots, and you are ready to return home, a changed Aussie. Your being able to experience all of this is thanks to the VWP and your ESTA application. So plan your trip, apply for your ESTA, get approved via the automated hassle-free process, and enjoy what is truly the road trip of a lifetime. Are you preparing to travel to the United States? Do you have your pre-planning checklist in order? Visit our ESTA Guide for more information about obtaining your travel permit. We’d also love to hear from you and address any comments or answer any questions you might have regarding your upcoming travel experience. Do not hesitate to contact us for travel assistance. Thank you!