driving through America







Is camping in the USA the same as Australia?

Nola and Bill our guest bloggers, spent time travelling through the States.  These two did it in the style of all other holidays in Australia – they set themselves up with an RV over there and went camping.  Refer to their  Previous blog – planning a camping honeymoon.  This couple started camping as young kids and have continued to camp to this day (in their late 70’s).  This is an honest account of their camping trip in the States and Canada.

In April 2005 we travelled to Los Angles to check this out.  In 3 months of travelling USA and Canada the conclusion was?

Well; yes, and no.

I will not attempt to detail the whole trip, but will give some experiences and impressions. This was 15 years ago and many things will be different now, so please make allowances.

Are Americans helpful?

First of all, Nola and I found American people to be unfailingly helpful and willing to go out of their way to help us, the confused and confusing Australians. Some thought their Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger was Australian. They are patriotic, proud of their country. It is contagious, and even as Australians you feel it too.

We needed to equip for our adventure. To hire an RV we were limited where you could take it, so we bought an oldish GMC van with some fittings from Ed at an RV centre in Orange County. When we arrived it was just Ed and another bloke in the office, but after a bit, Mexican workers started to appear when it was obvious we were not from Immigration.

Driving on the US roads

Driving a hire car, the trip to Ed’s place was down a freeway that made Melbourne’s Monash Freeway seem like a back road. The speed limits are treated with contempt. We got passed by a herd of police cars, sirens blaring, travelling at an alarming speed, also a flock of police helicopters overhead. At Ed’s, Nola had to peel my fingers off the steering wheel. I got used to driving on these roads, but this was my terrifying introduction.

We equipped our van with everything we needed, (so we thought), and headed off to Joshua Tree National Park Southern California for our first night.  All was going well, until we went to cook our evening meal. No matches! We were rescued by one of the many helpful Americans that we were to cross paths with giving us a gas lighter.

Desert, Snow and Firearms

Inland from LA you can be travelling in desert heat on a flat road but surrounded by snow capped peaks. Not something you can do in Australia.

Another point of difference between USA and Australia is the prevalence of firearms. Every person in a uniform seems to have a big 6 shooter on their hip; police, park rangers, the postman all have one, (well, maybe not the postman).

The Las Vegas campground we stayed at was attached to a sports store. It stocked enough fearsome looking weapons to equip the entire Australian Defence Force.  I did manage to buy a gas canister for our stove from this store, but with some difficulty, and only making some “sssss” noise realised over there Gas is petrol,  and I should have asked for butane.

Where to camp guide Hema Maps

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Border control and The Natchez Trace

As we were traveling close to the Mexican border at times, we were checked out a few times for concealed passengers (they didn’t find any).

The Natchez Trace must be one of the world’s most amazing drives. It is 440 miles long, passing through Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, some of the prettiest country you could imagine, it is steeped in history and offers lovely camp sites to complete the experience. A 50 miles per hour speed limit, (no need to hurry) and trucks not allowed (relief from the insanity of the freeways). All combining to make The Natchez Trace THE  Perfect drive.

When you state cross borders there would usually be a Welcome Centre. Often a free coke would be offered along with maps and advice on the delights of that state.  Coupons (these folk are big on coupons), often giving discounts for accommodation and tourist attractions were on offer.

In Australia often nothing much changes over long distances.  In the US you go from lush forest to desert; a big city inhabited by people in suits to a small town where you’ll witness people in bib and brace overalls wearing straw hats, (pretty much as described in John Steinbeck’s” The Grapes Of Wrath”). We found these people friendly and generously helpful, as with almost all we came across.

Sometimes we blundered into areas inhabited by rather threatening looking people. The lost and bewildered Australians (us) would be given directions and advice on the local attractions (I am not sure the local cops would be treated the same).

Robert E. Lee’s  home

Nola and I were about to be shown through the childhood home of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee with a group of other tourists. The very elegant Southern lady who was about to show us through, asking where people were from, came to us. Proudly we responded;” Australia”. With a deeply concerned look on her face, she looked at us and said, “never Mind”. The most beautifully delivered, gentle put down I have ever been on the receiving end of. I fell immediately in love with her.

Eating out in America

The meals were of generous portions and at very reasonable prices; (although you have to factor the tips in). The service was terrific (maybe something to do with the tipping). At one large, rather run down restaurant we were the only diners. The food was good and the waitress was lovely. Somehow the conversation went to the fact that we did not know what grits were. She went to the kitchen and whipped up some grits for us; no charge. We would often take out doggy bags which would see us through the next day.


Some were huge (a lot more people in US). The best spots seemed to be the State Parks. Rather amazingly to us there was an RV park in New York at the yacht club.

The not so good things in the United States

Without doubt the richest country in the world, yet you come across places that look like those photos of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped. Large buildings abandoned and rotting, litter some parts.

Baseball and Howard Hughes

I used to play baseball when younger. I would have liked to have seen an American professional game, but it was off season.

Growing up during and after the 2nd World War, with my father working for the Commonwealth Aircraft Corp. manufacturing American Mustang fighters with Australian made Rolls Royce Merlin engines, I was fascinated by the story of Howard Hughes and the Spruce Goose. We were close to where it was stored, but somehow did not go there.


Is camping and travel the same in the USA as Australia?

Yes and no.

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