Finally! After loads of planning and bookings, we were nervously looking forward to kick off the big West Coast Road Trip. After getting familiar with the USA road and rules, especially the right hand drive, on East Road Trip, we were good to go. But that was just the start. We had no idea what we had signed up for. A true adventure awaited us.
But first, how did we get here? Well, with Europe being the original plan, logistics didn’t work out and we were sort of back to square one. Just then Shruti thought out loud – would you mind living on the road? We could do a big road trip in USA.
I have to say, I was a little worried. I wasn’t sure how would we ‘survive’ being on the road for 40 days! Well, now I can say – it turned out blardy brilliant and we in fact extended our campervan booking for extra 5 days. WINNING!
Home & Car – Campervan
Growing up on main stream entertainment, West Coast USA and road trips have been featured way too many times. Some of the examples are right here, including songs! We thought, let’s end the trip on a high note. Let’s do the West Coast Road Trip by living / driving around in a campervan. It was the most budget friendly option – a mode of transport that will get us to places and a ‘roof’ to sleep and cook. Cheapness overloaded.
We looked up few options and finally signed up with Escape Campervans. The graffiti work on the cars blew my mind, actually maybe more of Shruti’s, and we had to get one of those!
We booked one of the smaller vans and got to the shop to pick it up. Turns out, they only had the bigger models available and they were ready to ‘upgrade’ us for free. Well, I was thinking – it isn’t really an upgrade cause I am not confident driving this beast. And that’s how our Starry Fox got it’s name- The Beast.
We were amazed at how the van could transform to a nice, comfortable bed! In the morning it could be a spacious ‘living room’, with a table!!!, and at night, a cozy bed. And, it came with a mini kitchen! Portable stove, solar fridge, pots and pans and basic utensils. We were so stoked when we picked it up!
West Coast Road Trip Map
Here is a map with all the places we visited. The Big Sur and ALL National Parks were a highlight. Oh, and not to forget Vegas!!
Driving over 5,500 miles (8,550 kms) in 45 days – What An Epic Road Trip!
After spending a good week in Washington DC, we were ready to move to our next destination. We wanted to see Niagara Falls and the Amish County. After quickly checking the bus options, we decided renting a car was the way to do it. Buses are expensive and at odd hours. Driving would also train us for the big road trip on the West Coast!
East USA Roadtrip
Once we agreed to drive to Niagara Falls and back, we decided to utilise our time on the road in the best way possible. We planned and booked Airbnb at various locations so we could experience more. 1000 miles (1609 kms) later, we had USA road experience. Here is the route we took –
We picked up the car from Hertz and we were on our way. Our first stop from DC was the Pennsylvania Dutch Country famous for Mennonites and Amish communities who are originally German. We had thoroughly researched how to avoid the tourist traps and were not disappointed.
Pennsylvania Dutch Country was incredibly green, beautiful and full of barns. It was picturesque. We visited farmer’s market and bought fresh apple ciders and pretzels. We enjoyed smorgasbord, which is a Amish buffet. The food was hearty and warm.
We were delighted to watch real Amish people going on with their lives in traditional ways. What a wonder! Before heading east, we visited a working museum showing the life of 19th Century Pennsylvania, especially the German influenced area. They spoke German there until the early 20th century. Who would have thought!
Our next stop was Philadelphia which is a great historic city in the eastern United States along with New York and Boston. We lived close to the Art Museum though we skipped visiting it. We’re no art aficionados and DC had spoilt us with free museums. But visiting the Rocky Steps were a must! There were lots of people around, some posing in iconic Rocky post at the top of the stairs.
The city is meant to be extremely walk-able and hell yeah it was. We walked from our Airbnb apartment to the center without any issues. We saw the Liberty Bell and the Independence Hall, both Iconic Symbols of America’s Freedom and Modern Government.
Other than sightseeing, the city had lots of bars we visited especially for SIPS. City’s bars had specials on Wednesdays and we were able to enjoy that. We even found a local bar 2 doors down from the apartment. Fancy that! Philadelphia was a great little city which has been cleaned up and is a great place to stop at.
We were slowly making our way from Philadelphia to Niagara Falls. Ithaca was a great little town on the way there. We stayed at an Airbnb house next to the woods in Ithaca.
The town is home to Cornell University which we visited for the Waterfalls and to see what an Ivy League university looks like. The waterfalls were beautiful while the University was historic and had a bunch of reunions happening.
We visited the Ithaca Lake for sunset and it was an incredible sunset. The downside was that returning from the lake we had to be extra careful of deer crossing the road. The town itself was cute and we had nice drinks and tapas. Due to the university, it was very lively even on a weekday.
The next day we visited Robert Treman State Park, Buttermilk Falls, Taughannock State Park and Watkin Glenn State Park all in one day. It was a lot of driving but we saw some incredible places and hiked beautiful trails. Watkins Glen in particular was strikingly beautiful.
The craft brewing culture is quite big in USA and Ithaca region is a wine producing region. Therefore, we were able to mix the two and taste wine and beer in the same vicinity. Wine is produced in summer after the harvest while beer can be produced all year round, it’s a fantastic idea. The beer flights were quite cheap while we found it odd to pay for wine tasting. I suppose Hunter Valley back in Australia has spoilt us there!
On our way out, we spotted at a farmer’s market to enjoy some fresh breakfast. To our delight we came across a Sri Lankan gentleman selling authentic Sri Lankan meals. Of course we had a fulfilling brunch ;)
The primary reason we took this road trip was to see Niagara Falls. Ithaca to Niagara Falls was a 3 hour drive and it was quite comfortable. We were only expecting the falls but the area around was like a carnival. Lots happening on both sides of the border.
Something we didn’t know – there are 2 falls, American and Horseshoe falls. The Canadians have the better view of both sides. However, the American side gets you closer to the brink. Its a different experience seeing a huge river get to the edge and just fall. It’s hard to put the experience in words. Although the viewing area around the Horshoe Falls was under restoration, we managed to get the glimpse of the falls.
Luna Island is a little island on the American falls where you are surrounded by the river on both sides before it falls down hundreds of feet. The wash is carried by the wind and standing close to the edge gets you and your electronics pretty wet.
After the falls we drove to Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes on the border of US and Canada. It was windy and cold but seeing Toronto’s silhouette made it all worthwhile. We were so close to Canada!
We met Shruti’s friend Neha in Buffalo, the other big city in the area. We went to Anchor Bar which is where Buffalo Wings originate. We ate, drank and chatted for several hours. Finally we drove back to DC, returned the car and killed final hours before our flight to LA with the Patel Family. It was a great end to a great trip.
After 4.5 months in South America, we were finally ready to say good bye to an amazing continent. With only 2 more months to end our epic trip, we were prepared to enjoy everyday to the fullest. And the best way to do that is by being on the road most of it! We arrived in Washington DC, with the plan of spending a week at one location and then just driving around USA. Yes, road trips!!
Europe was our intended destination after South America. We had booked flexi flights into and out of Europe. The final piece of the puzzle was getting a Schengen visa for Shruti which would allow us to visit majority of European countries.
However, no European Embassy would accept an application from a non-resident in South American countries. As a result, we cut our losses, booked cheap flights to East Coast USA and planned a crazy road trip.
Deciding Washington DC
We knew we had to visit DC because Shruti’s bestie Richa had delivered a cute baby girl, Nia, just 2 months ago! Of course we had to see her. So we started looking at various flight options from Lima, Peru. Luckily JetBlue flew to DC, via Fort Lauderdale, for a reasonable price. We knew we had to be on that flight.
Upon arriving in DC, we did a bit of sightseeing. The city has tons of museums and art galleries which are completely free and that suited us very well!
Sightseeing in Washington DC
The Museum of American History gave us great amount of knowledge on the history of USA. A lot of it involved war and conquest. The Museum of Air and Space had great exhibitions on flight, space and science in general. We did feel like bimbos there because engineering isn’t our cup of tea.
The Washington Mall was an incredible sight. The huge park was home to many of America’s Iconic Landmarks. The Washington Memorial was grand while the the Lincoln Memorial was like a temple. Several other War Veterans Memorials were moving while the Martin Luther King Junior memorial was worth a walk.
We were also able to visit the Capitol, The White House and the Library of Congress. The White House was touristy but a great symbol of power but the Capitol was mind blowing. The system had been setup so the President never outweighs the People. We got a chance to tour the precinct and saw some of the best marble architecture known to man. The dome was being repaired but the building still oozed the brilliance of USA and its founding fathers. A must must must see! The tours happen every half hour.
The Library was again a great example of marble architecture. The overlook of the reading room was a little crowded but the view was magnificent. Again, it showed the brilliance of America’s Founding Fathers who placed symbols of power next to symbol of knowledge.
It is hard to get a scale of the entire area of the mall. All the areas that I have mentioned above are based around an L shaped grassy area. It took us 2.5 days to see all of this and we skipped several museums!
We also drove to Arlington National Cemetery. Upon arriving there we were blown away! USA truly respects and honours their soldiers. The entire area was filled with thousands of tombstones. It was a sight to behold and reflect. The Tomb of Unknown Soldier and J. F. Kennedy and his family shook something deep within us. We paid our respects and left with a heavy heart wishing there was such a place for brave Indian Soldiers too.
Catching up with Friends
We spent the weekend with Richa, Nik and Nia and had a ball. First of all, Nia was the best entertainment(of course, we didn’t have to do the dirty work!). We went to several local restaurants, talked a lot and Nik and I even managed to leave the girls at home for some beers at a great local brewery. We got beer glasses, free beer and a tour of the beer making process. A great weekend definitely!
We also had dinner with Shruti’s school friend, Ashwati. She picked a Greek Restaurant and we couldn’t be happier. Oh, how we missed food variety in South America!
With the remaining bank balance and 3 months in hand, we had to do Peru in a month. Though we couldn’t visit the northern part of Peru, we are definitely satisfied with our travels to Cusco, Arequipa, Ica and Lima.
Peru is home to the most popular tourist spot in South America – Machu Picchu. But we realised there is so much more to Peru than just the Lost Kingdom of Incas. With plenty of hiking opportunities and cultural experiences, Peru is a dream location for a travelers. So much to learn and try!
The Inca Culture is really prominent in most part of the country. We had plenty of mora and chicha while chatting away with the native women. And then when we reached Lima, we were a little ‘shocked’. When we got to the Capital city, we were blown away by the development and advancement in the society. So different to the Sacred Valley of Cusco!