‘Right on red’ is genius
In the States, if it’s safe to do so you can turn right if you’re stopped at a red light. It’s kind of the equivalent of having slip lanes to turn left in Australia but you can do it at every traffic light or intersection unless there’s a sign saying not to. It saves waiting for no reason when the way is clear to turn. Love it!
No one does the speed limit
Despite signs saying radar is being used, everybody drives at least 5-20 miles over the the speed limit. It definitely took some time to get used to this! In Australia there are speed cameras and police officers enforcing speed limits EVERYWHERE. It is almost impossible to get away with speeding so nobody does it. There are hefty fines for getting caught or you could lose your car or licence. Speed limits are definitely more of a general guide in America!
Speaking of speed limits, in some States we could barely get up to the signposted speed. We drove along a road in Montana that indicated you could do 90 miles per hour, that’s about 145km p/h! Not a comfortable travelling speed for us Aussies.
The roads have numbers, not names
In Australia we tend to call a road by its name; “Take the Hume Highway to Seymour”. I take the eastern freeway to work. I find it weird that Google Maps GPS even says the road number when I get directions here. But in the States we’d be told to “Take the I-5 north”. Which meant having to learn the road numbers a and Never Eat Soggy Weetbix (or which way is north, south, east or west). The only highway name I remember hearing was the Pacific Coast Highway, usually just PCH.
The excitement of seeing a state sign never wears off
Our state signs in Australia are really lame. The amount of dangerous u-turns we took across major highways to drive back and photograph the state sign was a bit nuts. The novelty never wore off for me, as you can probably tell by all the photos in this post.
Fuel prices vary wildly between states
Cheapest being in Texas (are you surprised?!), the most expensive being in environmentally conscious California.
Texan roads are the most challenging
Of the almost 30 states I’ve driven though, none of the roads quite compared to those in Texas. As they say, ‘everything is bigger in Texas!’ including the spaghetti-esque mess of roads. It’s annoying enough to miss your exit on a highway, but in Texas your exit will probably split into three separate roads which you won’t realise until it’s too late and hurtling down the wrong one. Our GPS literally could not keep up. Quite the adventure!
America is built for road tripping
Ever since those vacationing yanks set out to drive Route 66 in the 50s and 60s, the journey has become the destination. And they are well equipped for it. In Australia you often can’t risk leaving it too long to fill up with petrol in case you don’t see another service station for a few hundred kilometres. Not the case in the US. You’ll think you’re in the middle of nowhere, then suddenly there’s a gas station like a shining air-conditioned beacon on the horizon. There are also plenty of restrooms, motels and roadside attractions (see further down) along the way.
You meet some amazing locals along the way
Americans are super friendly, especially when they hear an accent. We had some great chats to the drive-thru attendants at Macdonald’s and Starbucks. “Are y’all from England?!” one of them asked when we pulled up to the window. Another time an elderly Idahoan couple invited us into their ginormous RV for a modest camping breakfast of blueberry pancakes, bacon and home fries. Delicious breakfast aside it was worth it just to see the inside of one of those things, with all the mod-cons who knows why they even bothered to leave home?!
The toll stations and turnpikes are relentless
Especially on the north east coast. I swear you stop every 50km to pay someone along the way. Pretty sure we paid about $15 to cross a bridge and then from New Jersey into New York. Luckily we always had cash! Also, the turnpike attendant might give you a sort of ticket thing that you have to hold onto and hand to the next attendant… I never quite understood it but always went into a mad panic trying to find where I’d put the ticket.
You’ll stop for all kinds of weird roadside attractions
The States is really made for driving holidays. And what better way to break up a long drive than to pull over and stare at a bunch of Cadillacs mounted into the ground?! Or pose next to a giant dinosaur statue?! America has plenty of odd spots (including one in Santa Cruz, literally called ‘The Odd Spot’) which will tempt you with signs dotted along the way letting you know you’re only 50 miles… 40 miles… 30 miles… 20… miles from said attraction. By the time you get there you’re so irritated by the damn signs you just have to stop and see what it’s all about. That’s how they get you.
Motels vary wildly from ‘horror movie set’ to luxury
Those aforementioned motels vary hugely in comfort. The one we stayed in in Flagstaff, Arizona was heaven. We’d just camped for something like 50 nights and then paid $50 for a motel that was modern, had great wifi and a rainfall shower. On the east coast there are two motels, one in Virginia the other in Connecticut, that will forever haunt my dreams. Actually there was another one in Mississippi that stank of cigarettes and had people open carrying their guns in the lobby… that was probably the worst!
Drive through coffee is regional
First of all, having drive through coffee everywhere; what a dream. If there’s one thing I like about coffee it’s not having to get out of the car for it. Secondly, thought it was just Starbucks everywhere? Wrong! In Northern California and Oregon you’ll probably get Peet’s Coffee. On the east coast they swear Dunkin Donuts has the best coffee money can buy. And yes, there are plenty of Starbucks shops to go around. But who knew coffee was regional in the US?! Not me.
There’s a reason the Great American Road Trip is such an iconic (if not slightly cliched) adventure immortalised in popular movies and songs over so many years. It’s some of the best fun you can have which is what kept us going for over 47,000km!
Great post, Bec, and I enjoyed following the insight from your travels around our country for a 2nd time!
Thanks Eric! How lucky were we to have Bernie’s car to go adventuring?! Still so grateful. Hope you’re well.