How a Brit travelled the USA in his own UK motorhome
In March 2003 my wife and I set off on a six-month tour of the USA in our Hymer 584, which we shipped from the UK to Jacksonville, Florida. We travelled coast-to-coast and return, 12,000 miles in all. It was a magical trip and the combination of my detailed preparations and good luck resulted in us not having any major problems.
The Internet and e-mail played a major part and some of my research led me to consult the International Camping Advisor of rversonline.org, John Daggett. He was most helpful and solved a few problems and gave reassurances on others. When I returned home I used the websites mailbox to express my gratitude for the help received. Tom Gonser, RVers Onlines leader, responded:
"We get many overseas requests for information on the basics of flying into the US, buying or renting an RV, getting the necessary registration, licensing, and insurance as the case may be, and then how to plan a trip in the US via RV. Unfortunately most of those who inquire do not have the knowledge of how to do any of this, and I suspect usually give up. What youve accomplished is a success story on this very topic - one about which little information has been made available. Ive encouraged those who run Good Sam, SKPs, FMCA etc to get active here - but only by doing the research such as you did with John do the pieces of the puzzle begin to fit together."
Tom went on to suggest that I write this article to give prospective travellers some idea of how the project was accomplished. This is the result. I have split the information into three sections:
- The Preparation
- The Journey
- A Post-Mortem
There were three major organisation aspects of this stage: Shipping, Vehicle Insurance and Health Insurance.
On the Internet I entered Shipping Vehicles Atlantic into the Google search engine and back came a wealth of information. To begin with there were two negative aspects. Firstly, in America the term shipping is used for any movement of goods, whether it be by land, sea or air. It was revealed that there is a lot of vehicle shipping within the USA itself - the Snowbirds moving south for the winter is one example of the people flying and the car being shipped. The second revelation was that a container would not be big enough to take our Hymer. They come in 20 and 40 feet lengths and we are just over the former. But the main limitation is the height. So what of RORO? There seemed to be quite a number of possibilities and the websites invited one to complete an enquiry form. These seemed a bit over the top for an initial enquiry so I sent e-mails - with the Subject Title: Initial Enquiry. The top and bottom of all this was that a courteous shipping agent, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, offered a competitive price that included all the paper work etc involved in the export and import of the motorhome. This proved to be an absolutely indispensable service. Having decided on this agent, there was a continuous flow of e-mails as all the details were sorted out.
You have to take out USA cover. Again, I bombarded the Internet for information and sent a load of e-mails to insurance companies asking if they were willing to insure and at what cost. It did reveal one major difference between UK and USA insurance. Here, at home, one can choose a company anywhere in the country. In the USA there is a tendency, as with many other things, for vehicle insurance to be State-based. It did transpire that it was as well that we insured with a company located in Florida. I cannot say positively that one cannot insure in one State and register the vehicle in another but that certainly was the impression we were given. It did also seem that, for the contentious issue of insurance and registration, that the US address, that you must have, needs to be in the State in which you are conducting this business.
On the topic of US address, this might be difficult for some we were fortunate in having USA-resident relatives and friends one in Florida! I have seen it suggested that by joining the Family Motor Coach Association one can obtain an USA forwarding address. Another suggestion is to arrange a first stop campground and liase with the owner to use that address. Whatever, some ingenuity is required UK friends with US relatives friends of friends?
I did not get a very encouraging response to my e-mail enquiries. It would seem that there is not a lot of enthusiasm to insure us Brits! But a few companies responded favourably one with a good price. One has to insure for a year and then apply for a refund of the unused time. One major battle I fought
was over vehicle registration. There is an International agreement that we visitors can drive for a year on our UK plates (and UK licence) rather like going to France, say. But, the insurance companies would not have this. We had to visit the Tag office with our paperwork. Part of this was a certificate from the Motor Vehicle Department that confirmed our Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Again, the Internet was useful for that registration in that there was a down-loadable form for people registering in Florida, having moved from another State. By completing this, it did seem that I provided all the information required.
We obviously arranged this vital insurance in the UK prior departure. It is a matter of plugging away for quotes. It was amazing how they differed. Our main difficulty with many companies was our age (69!). We eventually found an insurer who didnt seem to have a problem with this. One difficulty was that the standard maximum period allowed was six months. I assume that if one wanted longer, then it would be a matter of further negotiation and more payment.
One needs to take into account the mileage to be covered and the wear and tear. This is outside our normal UK experience where we would probably not do 12,000 miles in four years, say. I think it needs a relatively new vehicle but one that has been sufficiently used to sort out any teething problems and for tailoring to ones needs. My base vehicle is a Fiat and they have no representation in the US. So, I organised a spares pack to take with me and established that I could e-mail for other spares to be despatched by air, if required. It goes without saying that, before departure, a full vehicle and habitation service is needed. As it transpired, the only problem we had was a battery one. These, of course, are not vehicle specific, so a replacement was not a problem. One thing I didnt take into account was tyre wear but we made it just.
On the domestic side there is water, electricity and gas (propane/butane). Water is straightforward we always topped up when we could, just in case. Electricity is a major problem but it wasnt for us. I researched and bought a step-up transformer (120v to 240v, 5kVa) before departure. I also managed to get hold of a US cable and plug from a RV dealer. This worked incredibly well. The only snag was the weight of the transformer 35kg! But, because of the type of campgrounds we were using, we were without hook-up, more often than not. The key to managing was that I replaced my single, modest leisure battery with two, high capacity ones. Also I have two solar panels. So, the combination of those two factors, driving fairly regularly and summer living, we managed exceedingly well. In fact, we never had an electricity problem.
I was fortunate on the gas front too. I have a bulk tank, which of course, is the US system. All I had to do was be sure that I had the correct adapter. People with the normal cylinder system will have to leave them behind no propane allowed on the ship and they cant be refilled, anyway and buy, readily available, US cylinders and the compatible regulator.
My major concern, when considering our route, was the weather. We were obviously going to travel East to West and return. I obtained data from the Internet and determined that the optimum time to start would be mid-February. As it turned out, because of shipping dates, we couldnt start until mid-March. This was good. When we were in parts of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, we discovered that, had we been any earlier, areas would not have been open (snow). Our timing was good, weather-wise. In fact, for the whole trip the weather factor was excellent a bit hot in Las Vegas!
Perhaps I was a little over-anxious about making westward progress initially and we drove the Interstates and perhaps 200 miles on our, one in three, travelling days. But, on seeing the rate that the red line was moving across our map, we realised that we could slow down. From then on, we rarely used the Interstates, preferring two-lane highways and only moving 100 miles. We went around in circles a bit when we reached the Grand Circle (Grand Canyon (N and S Rims), Arches, Bryce, Zion etc.). So, with hindsight, this could have been better planned. One excellent, but accidental, piece of the plan was to take our time travelling the Oregon Coast. This was about our halfway mark and gave us a bit of a rest! What we were always prepared to do was to heed the advice, given by friendly Americans who knew the area, on a route to follow in the next bit of our travels. We saw some magical places as a result.
Our final destination was Newark, New Jersey, from where the motorhome was shipped home.
What did I learn? What would I change if I did the journey again? A major lesson was not to rely on shipping dates. We made a number of arrangements, assuming that the dates were set in stone theyre not! They are set on the high seas. So, stay flexible. I anticipated that State Parks would suit our needs and we werent disappointed. We used them, and National Parks, almost exclusively. The one time to use a commercial site is for laundry and modem hook-up. We did the minimum of booking ahead. One occasion to try and do so is for Public Holiday weekends, when it does seem that the whole of the USA goes camping! We coped on the two we experienced, more by good luck than good judgement. The thing is to be mentally prepared it doesnt last they all seem to go home on the Sunday.
I am a compulsive writer! This trip did not escape and I kept comprehensive notes on our preparations and day-by-day log of our journey. This is accompanied by colour photographs. On return, I analysed our preparation and how it had worked out. I am advised that rverysonline.org does not allow commercial advertising. However, I regard my writing activity as a self-financing hobby rather that a big money spinner! I hope, therefore that I will be able to reveal to you that all my notes, log and photographs are available on a CD. This equates to 600+ pages and 1100 photographs. There are numerous links to useful websites. Most importantly, an idea of cost is given. The CD is available from:
Keyham Books, Startley, Chippenham SN15 5HG UK
The price is £10.99, which includes UK postage. I am willing to airmail to the USA for an extra £2. The CD is compatible with Windows PCs running MS Internet Explorer.
I hope to be able to show my fellow countrymen that touring the USA in ones own motorhome is possible and a wonderful thing to do.
Our regards and thanks to all the friendly Americans we met on our travels.
Ed Note: David is quite right that we do not accommodate advertising here -- but when we find a source of information that many of our overseas readers have so desperately wanted we believe we're doing a service to our international readers to pass along word of the more detailed information that is available. We'd also like to extend our special thanks to John Daggett, our Online Advisor who assists overseas RVers with information about RV travels in the United States.