| Home | December-9th-2001
General Information

Sources of Information Motorhome Camping Others

In the following you will find those information which had been very helpful and useful for us for planning the journey. An early and careful preparation is very important. We experienced that not least on our tour. That the trip becomes a lasting experience one should invest enough time into planning before. After our reservation in January 2001 we spent many hours over days and weeks in front of the computer and other sources of information in order to get to know as much as possible in advance. Jokingly one can say that we even already knew where we would rent our bikes in San Francisco. Thus it does make sense to prepare the trip very carefully.

Travel Guide
Hans-R. GrundmannIn the first place there is still the good old travel guide. Basis of our preparations and also for many others was the book "Through the West of the USA" by Hans-R. Grundmann. Here one finds useful, comprehensive and practical information. The publication "California-Southwest" by Horst Schmidt-Brümmer, which was given to us by our tour operator Dertour, was rather unsuitable and so we only took along one travel guide. For our detailed planning the Internet turned out to be very helpful.

Here you can find endless information. It is again and again amazing what you can find on different homepages by now. From private homepages with very good reports and tips, over commercial ones up to public websites. You can find almost any information you need. And since the Americans are substantially more progressive concerning the internet than one knows from Germany, there are no limits of knowledge set. Thus we got to know, for example, which hiking trails and campgrounds are the most beautiful in the national parks, when guided tours to the Antelope Canyon start and at what price, how many sites on campgrounds were already reserved, which public means of transport we can use in San Francisco, what the weather will be, whether the passes over the Sierra Nevada are open and which motel has the best price for the overnight accommodation before the day of our departure to Germany. Thatīs all no problem if one finds the right page! In order to make the search a bit easier for you, you can find some links at the appropriate pages.

For the preparation and then the trip itself one needs of course also general and road maps. We got an atlas after our reservation but this one was not sufficient at all. If you are a member of the General German Automobile Club (ADAC), you can get plenty of material which is free of charge at the offices. AAA-MapThis is basically sufficient. However, the exact maps of the AAA pleased us very well. Using them was very simple because they showed all roads and the exact miles. Show Your Card & SaveSince the AAA is the counterpart of the ADAC in the USA and both associations cooperate, one also gets these maps free of charge on demand in Germany. If there are no more maps available in Germany, you can go to one of the numerous AAA-offices in the U.S. as well. You only have to proof that you are a member of the ADAC in order to get the desired material free of charge. The AAA-card "Show Your Card & Save", which you only have to show, is very helpful for it. You can get this card from the ADAC, either by internet or simply at one of the offices.

On Site
Material in rough quantities. Truly, at each object of interest thereīs more than enough. Whether private, public or administered by the Indians, everywhere you get folders, brochures, cards and much more. In particular the Official Guidenational parks offer very informative material, occasionally also in German. The visitor centers in the national parks were also for us always the first point of interest before we discovered the park. At these centers you can, for example, watch a slide show, get information about what the weather will be the next days, information about the times of sunrise and sunset and ranger programmes. Apart from the facts we already knew from the internet, these information were absolutely sufficient for our planning of the days in the national parks. Americans are very communicative people who we found particularly in the parks very helpful and friendly.

In the U.S. a motorhome is commonly called a RV (recreation vehicle). Since we have become used to this abbreviation, we will also use it in the following.

Do not rent the motorhome directly from the renter but with a tour operator (i.e. Dertour/ADAC, Canusa Touristik, Camper-Börse by internet, FTI) in Germany. That is much cheaper. There are especially three rental companies which are offered by the tour operators mentioned above: Cruise America (the largest one in the USA), El Monte and Moturis. You can book on the basis of fixed season prices or a flexible rate (the so-called flex-rate). Here the price is determined by supply and demand and can vary during the season substantially. The rate is determined weekly by the renter and one can get the information, for example, at the website of El Monte.

Interior View at Day or Night Respectively We were quite lucky when we made our reservation in January. By a prereservation we got the most favorable flex-rate and thus the lowest price level with El Monte before it went up two days later. If possible, you should always book the motorhome a size bigger than usual. We had booked a RV with four sleeping places and we even got one with five sleeping places.

Equipment and Insurance
Just with the basic price for the motorhome itīs not done yet. Convenience KitAdditionally you must book the basic equipment, the so-called convenience kit (contains tableware, cutlery, bed sheets and blankets, cleaning equipment a.o.), as well as mile-packages and the absolutely necessary VIP-insurance (Vacation Interruption Protection). We had the possibility to book an all-inclusive package. This proved to be quite useful since we drove approx. 500 miles more than planned. Without the package we would have had to pay extra expensively for these miles. Additionally we could use the generator without a limit.

Driving a RV is quite unproblematic. Only in the beginning there is a bit of insecurity especially because of the size of the vehicle (7,60 m long). Especially when you have to drive out of L.A. on a six-lane highway in the heaviest traffic as we had to, it is quite difficult to retain the necessary circumspection when driving. But the feeling of sitting like in a truck and being the king of the road is pretty unique. Driving is made easier by such things as automatic transmission, power steering and speed control. After all, driving a RV is almost like driving a regular car, only its extents are to be considered. This is only difficult in the beginning since one forgets about the extents of the vehicle and calmly drives around the curves. The scratches on our RV were a visible warning for us to watch out. The height of 3,50 m is also problematic sometimes. Low-hanging branches can become dangerous, in particular for the air conditioning system on top. Fortunately we did not have such a crash. Anke always instructed me when backing up and we stuck to it until the end of the trip since you canīt see much in the rear and the outer mirrors of the RV are not sufficient. Thus we practiced instructing on the first parking lot. What must be must be. Anke did not drive. In the beginning she still wanted to drive but in the course of the route it turned out for different reasons that driving for her would be very difficult.
Our Motorhome
In any case it is important to take your time for the taking over of the RV. Not only for the explanation of all functions of the vehicle (at first by the video and then by the renter) but also for testing these in practice. Our briefer (by the way no briefing in German as actually assured in the catalog) was not so particular about it - but we were. And so it turned out that the booster battery was turned off and the smoke detector was not mounted. We tried out almost everything, just not all as we noticed later on. More about that in our report. We also forgot some things again, so we had to learn by doing afterwards, especially because of the meager instructions for use. But that is what makes such a trip so exciting. We would recommend a prepared check list which you should process step by step. That saves you much time.

Propane, water & electricity
At the beginning we thought we would have to refuel the propane during our trip. That was not the case in the end. On the contrary, the tank was still almost half full.

Of course it was different with water and sewage. The good thing about a modern vehicle is the electronic system, as long as it works perfectly. Inside the RV above our stove was the display for all filling levels of the available tanks. But the lights of the sewage tank indicated that the tank is full although each of us had been only once on the toilet. Thus we then rather used the noise and the smell as indicators and emptied the tanks according to it. Unfortunately our sewer hose had a leak, so as I did not watch out once the sewage got on my arm. Well, I still kept my hair but itīs not very pleasant. I wore gloves as a precaution anyway. After emptying the sewage tanks you should add some chemicals in the form of a tablet to the tank so that the decomposition runs better. We usually emptied and filled up the tanks after approximately 3-4 days although the smell was already penetrant sometimes, particularly if the RV had been in the sun for a while.

Concerning the power supply we thought we could cover with the booster battery the need of power inside the RV completely. Thatīs what you think. Only the lights, the vent and the car radio worked. Both air conditioning (we knew that before), microwave and all sockets did not have power without running generator or without hook-up. For running the microwave we could turn on the generator briefly but it became more difficult when Ronny wanted to shave. It became the most difficult (see at paragraph camping - passage of hours of operation) when we had to charge the akkus for the video camera. Thus we had to let the generator run occasionally while driving.

If you travel by motorhome trough the U.S. you will also naturally need a camping site for the night. There are at least as many campgrounds in this country as there are gas stations in Germany. The idea of staying somewhere in the wilderness you should reject again as fast as possible. It may be permitted in some areas but, as far as we know, you have to be at least half a mile away from the main street. And driving a RV with its extensions into difficult terrain is quite adventurous and not to recommend. Regarding the wild animals it is not the safest way of staying overnight.
Thus one makes use of the large number of campgrounds offered. But for which type (public or private) should one decide on?

Public or Private
A general recommendation cannot be given here. On the one hand one is forced to adapt to the local specifications in some areas, on the other hand everyone should decide himself whether to use the one or the other with the respective pros and cons. We chose a nice mix. At all campgrounds you can get a site with a solid and, as far as possible, even (important because of the refrigerator) ground, equipped with table and benches, a fire place and a grill. Thatīs the basic equipment in America.

The public campgrounds (areas of the National Park Authority, the National Forest Authority and the National Administration) often have a very big advantage: they are situated in very delightful scenery, usually directly near the attractions. Also the sites are substantially larger and in further distance from each other than at the private campgrounds. They are also substantially cheaper. A disadvantage is that hook-ups are often missing, thus the connection of the RV to water, sewage and electricity. Here you have to make use of the equipment of the motorhome, which has got tanks and battery available. You only have to note that you cannot fall back on these resources for an unlimited period of time. The tanks were sufficient for us for only 3-4 days. Thus dumping and filling up fresh water is necessary and the public campgrounds mostly have a dumping station. Occasionally facilities like showers (partially against a fee), laundromat, shops and restaurants are also available.

Hook-upThe comfort usually says something for the private campgrounds: water and electricity directly at the RV, sufficient showers, telephones, occasionally a swimming pool (we never used one) and sometimes a dinner which could be reserved. However, all that has got its price. Depending on the area we payed between $13 and $46 per night. The cake took San Francisco with $46. However, the average price for a RV is approx. $20 - $25 per night.

We usually preferred public campgrounds. But when there was no public campground or when the public ones were full, we had to switch to private campgrounds. Once we even stayed on a parking lot of Wal Mart directly at the highway, next to some Americans by the way. One thing you should know. It is allowed to stay overnight with a RV on the parking lots of Wal Mart, K-Mart and the truck stops of Flying Jīs. They are completely free of charge and many Americans make use of them.

Search and Reservation
Normally you get from the tour operator the camping book of the KOA,CampBook AAA KOA Camping Plannerthe largest private provider of campgrounds. We used a KOA campground only once since we found the fees too high. Our search in advance was limited to the information in the internet on the homepage of the NPS (National Park Service). Here we could search for and partly reserve a majority of the public campgrounds in the park. The CampBook of the AAA was also helpful for the further search during the trip. All private and public campgrounds of the region are listed in it with all necessary information.

Reservations are useful and sometimes also pretty necessary. By these reservations you somehow pin yourself down to a certain route but it saves you much trouble and time locally. Before our trip we did not believe that large public campgrounds can get filled up in the low season. We were set right though. On weekends as well as starting from Memorial Day it is advisable to reserve on camping sites in popular national parks such as Grand Canyon, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Zion and Yosemite in advance. For the Grand Canyon we had booked online through NPRS (filled up at 4 p.m.), in Arches we were lucky to get a camping site at 11 a.m. (first come - first served), in Zion we had to switch to a private campground and we were lucky to get one of the last campsites near the park and in Yosemite Anke turned on all her charm so that we could stay 30 miles away from the village on a camping site for handicapped. Generally we can say that you should reserve the more attractive campgrounds, if possible by the internet or at least 2-3 days beforehand by telephone. However, most public campgrounds are assigned in the first come - first served procedure and that means arriving early in the morning.

General Tips for Camping
For larger motorhomes you should prefer the so-called pull-through sites. Here you can drive in at one side and drive out at the opposite side, thus driving through with the vehicle without ranking.

The operation of the generator is often limited to certain times, so that it can be useful to choose a hook-up site. The generator was necessary for us, in particular for loading the akkus of the video camera and occasionally for the operation of the microwave.

At the reservation you should have ready the registration number and the type of the RV as well as a credit card whose number is a necessity for a prereservation.

For covering the table at the campsite we had taken a durable table cloth with us. You will realize that this makes sense when you have seen the tables. The grills are also not the best ones. Therefore we used grill foil.

campfireGathering wood is actually almost always forbidden. However, we could also not resist to gather some wood occasionally for our campfire evenings. You may buy fire wood but it costs quite much.

The eveness of the site was also often important. In the Bryce Canyon we stood with our RV on a slightly sloped site. Not only that our refrigerator did not run properly, also sleeping proved somewhat problematic for Anke since she always thought we would roll away at night.

Roads, Parking and Orientation
The orientation on American roads is very easy, thanks to the system of Interstate Sign numbers and directions. Nevertheless, you should not take a wrong way because that can sometimes mean an additional way of many miles. The condition of the roads leaves sometimes much to be desired. The highways in and around L.A. were the worst. Non-asphalted roads you should avoid if possible since you donīt have any insurance protection for the RV on those roads. Due to the size and width of the country there is not much traffic, except for the large cities. That guarantees relatively stress-free driving. Parking lots are in general plentifully available and sufficiently large, only in the big cities it is not always very easy to find a parking space with a RV.

Food / Shopping
Food was quite expensive due to the high dollar during our trip. However, with some tricks you can save a bit. If possible, you should buy food in the larger cities and towns in the large supermarket chains. You can often find: Albertsonīs, Safeway, Wal Mart and Smithīs. Safeway Member CardItīs the cheapest when you buy the chainsī own brands and make use of the special offers. But watch out, many special offers are only for customers with a customer or member card. We easily got one for Safeway by giving a fantasy address in the USA. For the first grocery shopping you should plan a lot of time. It took us two hours - despite shopping list! We had even written our shopping list a few days before our flight in order to see which things we can still take with us from Germany.

Fast Food and Restaurants
With a dollar exchange rate of two German Marks enormously expensive. We went out for meals very rarely. With our RV we could cook for ourselves very well. But now and then we felt like trying the American kitchen. You can find more about recommendable restaurants and prices in the description of the individual stages. Usually our visits of restaurants were limited to the all-known fast food chains (Anke does not think much of them) with menus ranging from $3 - $5,50. Wendyīs was the best. We loved to have the possibility of buying a beverage once and refilling again and again (free refill) in many fast food restaurants.

The Costs
You certainly know that these journeys are not quite inexpensive. We spent approx. 5,400 German Marks per person on 3 1/2 weeks. Especially due to the high dollar exchange rate (at a maximum of 2,38 German Marks) and the for America relatively high price for gas we spent a bit more than we had planned. However, the trip is really worth the money and we also did not think about the high admission fees for the sights and attractions.


For camping, food and admission fees we spent only 25% of our budget. Nevertheless the general rule applies: everything that costs one German Mark costs $1 in the USA. 15% of our costs were gas expenses because the price for gas was at approx. 1,10 German Marks/liter at the time of our trip. You might think thatīs fantastic but a RV needs about 20-30 liters on 100 km. The remaining expenses were for the RV. Mile-packages, insurance and equipment amounted to 30%.

Cash and Credit Card
An absolute necessity if one travels to the United States. Without a credit card hardly anything works. It is the means of payment No.1 in the USA. You can also pay with travelerīs cheques and cash but a credit card is indispensable. We used it very often for getting gas and for extra expenditures that had not been planned. It becomes indispensable for any prereservations by telephone because the credit card is always required as security. We also got along very well with travelerīs cheques which are handled like cash everywhere. Especially when getting gas it was sometimes cheaper to pay cash or with travelerīs cheques than with a plastic card. Itīs wise to choose a good mix.

Telephone and Internet
Phone CardHere thereīs to say that phoning by so-called prepaid cards is the most favorable and cheapest. Simply rub free the pin number and there you go. The endless dialing of numbers like those of the operator, the language, the pin number and finally the actual telephone number was a bit problematic. Once you dial a wrong number, you have to start over again. But nevertheless, we were charged for the dialing. But there are also supposed to be cards which are charged only with the beginning of the call. We usually bought our phone cards at the supermarket but once we noticed that, in our opinion, the card was only half charged. Probably the reason was a higher price for the minute which can be calculated completely free in the USA.
Actually we had thought about sending our greetings by internet in this ultramodern country, also in order to save telephone costs. But only two or three times we saw an internet cafe and then either we did not have enough time or we did not feel like writing e-mails. Thus we kept to calling home once in a while.

Small Things
What you can take along, should be packed up, but consider the luggage weight. Before our trip we spoke with some people who had been traveling in the USA and thus got some tips. Especially things like flashlight, clothesline, tablecloth, grill lighter, candles, tape, cord, all-purpose knife and our sleeping bags were very useful for us. The sleeping bags proved to be very useful in regions where it became quite cold at night since the blankets we had were very thin. We also took along enough cosmetics because in the States even tooth paste is quite expensive.

LeathermanA combinated tool, if you can smuggle it through the security checks at the airport, is very helpful. We had a Leatherman with us which served us very well.

Concerning the clothes you should take along something of everything. We had temperatures ranging from 0°C in the morning in Mesa Verde up to 47°C in the Sierra Nevada in May and June. Itīs the best to wear several layers of clothes which you can take on or off as you like. Good shoes were enormously important for our trip because of the high demands of walking. We had good trekking shoes with us and thus perfect equipment in our opinion.

A basecap, sun glasses and sun cream were very important in that heat. Especially in the canyons one often underestimates the effects of the sun. And a severe sun burn is not a joking matter.

We also had mosquito repellent (Autan) with us but we did not need it. Somehow there were no mosquitoes at that time.

Technical equipment: with all the sights a must, in order to store memories. Our equipment: two cameras, one video camera and binoculars. Take along films and video tapes in sufficient quantities. The quality in America is not as good as in Germany, in particular with color films. We divided our cameras into one for taking pictures during the day and one for taking pictures at night. For the intensity of the colors we recommend a polarization filter.

Because of the different time zones we would advise to check the watches when crossing state borders. California has got the summer time, Arizona does not, Utah and Nevada again have it. Then Arizona and Utah are also situated in a different time zone (Mountain Time), whereas in California and Nevada the Pacific Time applies. And to top it all, in a large Navajo reservation (Monument Valley) which is situated within Arizona the summer time applies again because this area already belongs to Utah, although the border is actually not yet crossed there. Thatīs quite problematic and we also had our problems with the time zones. More about it in our travel report.