5 steps to help you get the most out of travelling America
We caught up with Rhi for her top tips on planning your next after-camp adventure.
Planning those post camp travels can be a bit hard. You have a vague idea of where you’d like to go but it can be tricky to know where to start and what you should be thinking of...
You need a plan and I’ve got one for you.
Through no choice of my own, I’ve always been the trip planner in the group - maybe I just look like I know what I’m doing or I give off a ‘trust me, I’m organised’ vibe (anyone who knows me really well will find this hard to believe.)
But the truth is I have planned many a trip and here is my fail safe guide to getting your plan on paper and how to map the best trip for you and your camp squad.
Where are you going to go?
I think it all begins with the final destination.
Ask yourself the question - where do you want to go?
Working backwards or with the goal in sight has always been the way forward for me. I usually sit down with a scrap of paper and make my location bucket list. The dream trip, right there, scrawled out with doctor’s level handwriting.
Maybe it’s just the one place, maybe it’s 7. Either way it’s what you want to do.
Once you have a mismatch of destinations, the best thing to do is have a look on the map. Can you make an imaginary line between the destinations - do they have a natural order? Line them up and jot it down. Sometimes the most logical route on the map might not be the most cost effective. Which leads me to point number two...
How am I going to get there?
There are lots of different ways to get from A to B in the States and it really does depend on how far you want to go.
When planning your transport it’s all about timing and cost. When you’d arrive, how long it’s going to take and can you afford it?
I know that everyone has to be careful when travelling on a budget but be realistic - booking on to that 24 hour bus to save $25 is not a decision you’re going to be happy with when you’re cramped, sweating and hating life only 5 hours in.
There are 3 different modes of transport I would recommend. When looking at each part of your journey it is often good to compare two of them against each other... sometimes those flights are a lot cheaper than you think and renting a car is a hella lot more expensive.
Travelling by bus or coach is often one of the cheapest ways to travel, especially in advance - some fares can be as little as $5.
It certainly isn’t the most glamorous form of transport and, to be honest, uttering the words ‘Greyhound bus’ will usually be met with a look of pity… but tell them not to fear, you have this under control. It’s cheap, cheerful and hey - it’s a guaranteed good story.
I would definitely say that ‘bussing’ it is good for a short trip (short in the States being about 2-5 hours distance). Any longer than that and it gets a little more uncomfortable.
A few websites I would recommend to check out are -
Trains are also good for shorter journeys, but the rail network in the USA is not always the most reliable or the quickest, mainly as many places don’t have a rail network. Have a look at Amtrak though to see if this would work for you.
If your destination is anything over a 5 hour drive, then it might be time to fly.
Internal flights in the US are among some of the best ways to travel - often cheap when booked in advance, they really do give the option for you to explore much further afield. The US is absolutely massive; to give a little perspective, a direct flight from New York to Los Angeles takes 6 hours.
6 hours in the opposite direction and you’ll have landed in France. Bonjour!
When looking for good air fares, I’ve always turned to comparison websites. My go-to being Google Flights.
- Google Flights
- Sky Scanner Most of the fares will be fairly similar on the websites, but make sure you’re not caught out. Look at the flight times, if there is a layover or more than one flight involved - and please double check the small print.
Many domestic flights do not include baggage and after camp, you may have quite a heavy bag to lug around. The majority of domestic airlines will charge around $25 for baggage check in, so either chose an airfare with this already included or make sure you add it into your budget.
For me, it was all about the roadtrip. Bucket list tick right there.
Can you imagine anything more glorious than cruising down the Los Angeles coast in a convertible cadillac or Jeep wrangler?
Renting a car is great in a group, gas is cheap and you suddenly have the freedom to move to your own schedule.
But again, watch out for the small print.
Car comparison websites are often the best for scouting those top deals…
- Rental Cars
- Kayak Cars I would also say that going to the car rental website itself is a good idea, as they can sometimes give a good deal or provide some snazzy discounts, especially if you plan to collect the car from the airport, after landing from your domestic flight.
Hertz is a reliable company found in all major airports. Plus they are often closest to the baggage reclaim… easy.
Big things to watch out for...
- One way rental - if you aren’t dropping the car off at the starting point you will need to pay the return fee. Often up to $300.
- Over priced insurance - some rental companies will say that all parts of the added insurance package are compulsory but often it isn’t always necessary or applicable to you. Always question all insurance policies suddenly added to your bill.
- Out of state mileage fees - make sure that your daily mileage is unlimited if you are travelling far and through different states.
- Under age driver - sometimes the most expensive... If you are under 25 you will be charged ‘under-age driver’ fees. This will be an additional charge added for every day of rental.
Location is often something which is overlooked.
Where do you want to be?
There is nothing worse than arriving in your top city and realising you’re absolutely miles away from everything you want to do. Do your research. Where do other people stay?
Personally, I will begin by looking at the bar and restaurant hot spots - wonder why - and then the recommended areas for tourists. You definitely should be looking at the safety of the area and other people's reviews - distance to public transport and prices of accommodation in this location.
If you’re in Miami - get close to the beach. In Vegas? Get on that strip.
Hostel or Hotel
Comfort vs Convenience.
I think the choice between hotel or hostel often depends on how far into your trip you are, your budget and what kind of experience you want to have.
First stop, a hostel is often the best choice - meet people, make friends and take advantage of the hostel’s recommendations. Hostels specialise in giving you value on your trip - they’ll be able to easily recommend a lot of things to do - like the best bars to go to (they’ll often have their own bar crawl), bike rentals, places to eat - even segway tours. If you want to do it, they’ll have the info.
In some parts of the USA hostels are definitely the cheapest option, they are clean, easy and will always provide all the linen and towels you need. For party cities like South Beach, Miami, then a hostel is where it is at.
When travelling in a large group you can squeeze everyone in no-problem. You’ll often bump into other big groups from different camps, each on their own route.
You’ll be able to request mixed or single-sex dorms, depending on your group, or if you are going solo then there is also the option for single or double rooms but they are a bit more expensive.
The best hostel comparison websites are always -
- Hostel World
- Hostel Bookers Often when booking hostels you don’t need to pay the full amount in advance, only a small percentage - so when planning, get that reservation in early at very little cost. Hostels can book up fast and you don’t want to take a risk on where you’re going to sleep.
Top tip - Hostel international offer some great hostel deals - quote EARTH2017 for 10% off with Camp Leaders.
You can get some absolutely amazing deals on hotel rooms - and after that camp bed and cabin all summer, hotel room luxury is a whole new level.
Depending on the city - a hotel might be the better option. If there are a few of you and everyone is happy to share, it can actually work out cheaper - Vegas is a great example for this.
Have a look online for deals and offers, if you are planning your trip last minute - then there’s always some great savings for those last minute rooms.
Top tip - Many hotels have a free cancellation policy, so when planning that trip - go for it, book it in and if your plans change then no harm done.
Another area to look at for accommodation is airbnb. City apartments don’t come much better and in the States there is a huge airbnb community - so you’ll always have a lot of choice and some very competitive prices.
I always use it for a quick comparison, but do be aware that the prices are always per night not the length of your stay - so that penthouse price might indeed be a little too good to be true.
How much should you set aside?
Budgeting can be tricky and is often the question that every one of your friends will ask when you pitch your amazing and detailed plan… “but how much is this going to cost me?”
In truth, every trip is different and you are the master when it comes to setting the budget.
I once went travelling after camp with friends and all we ate was a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter/jelly between 6 of us each day. Sure, it only cost us $2 but it was grim and 100% not recommended.
I was once told that you should plan for $100 a day. It sounded pretty steep to me but when you factor in travel to destination, accommodation, food/drink and of-course room for activities, it tends to be a good estimate.
So for 7 days - plan for $700.
My advice is to jot it all down, be realistic and honest with yourself. The worst thing to do is to go over your budget and be forced to live off cereal, staying in the hostel whilst your friends go out snorkeling - trust me I’ve seen it happen.
Have a little emergency fund - so if you do accidentally go over - then it’s not the end of the world. Anyway, isn’t it better to have rich memories than a rich bank account ey?
So the 5 step answer to how to plan the best ever post-camp trip...
- Choose where you want to go
- Work out how you are going to get there
- The location where you want to stay
- Your accommodation
- Set the budget
And bang, there you have it - You are the skilled maker of the trip. The creator of the plan. The leader of the wolf pack…
Now just go and do it.