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Old 4th June 2013, 11:16   #1
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Default My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!

It was always my dream to do a longish drive across America. Roadtrip movies have always fascinated me and on previous visits to the US, taking the wheel from a friend or the occasional rental from Budget car only served to tantalize and leave me wanting more! So when we zeroed in on California as our vacation destination in May 2013, I seized the opportunity to make a roadtrip of it.

My family knows my obsession with driving but there were the usual apprehensions about adjusting to the "wrong" side, whether my Indian license/IDP would be accepted, jetlag and travel fatigue, etc. However the only real thing that bothered me was not having a backup driver. The missus drives decently enough over here but said she was not confident of doing it on American shores. When her brother and mom agreed to join us on the road, it finally solved that problem. Gautam has recently started working in the Bay Area after completing his Masters degree and when he procured his driving license in the spring we breathed a sigh of relief.

Of course I am loathe to share the driver's seat especially when some awe-inspiring trails are planned to be driven on, but it never hurts to have back-up!

So off I went, planning the trip in my usual way: looked up Tripadvisor reviews; identified good hotels en route with some basics like breakfast, wi-fi etc.; spoke to some friends and relatives based over there to get a feel of how many days to devote where...and soon we had a working itinerary ready. I started scouting websites for cheap airfares to the US. These days you can pretty much do everything online and by March I had bookings in place for BOM-SFO-BOM and almost all the overnight destinations we had planned.

The initial plan was to take a flight to Las Vegas and start driving there. SFO-->LV flights were plentiful and reasonably cheap (about $100 a head). But G had done a roadtrip to Vegas recently and was raving about how great the experience was, so I got caught up in the excitement and planned the entire trip by road. So we would drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas, spend a couple of days there, drive to neighbouring Arizona to see the Grand Canyon (which I had never seen on previous trips), then drive to LA to attend G's graduation. And, of course, see Disneyland. Ever since my 7-year old found out that we were going there, she could talk about nothing else!

From LA to SFO we figured would be a straight drive we could complete in a day. But veteran Navin advised me to take my time and slowly meander our way up the Pacific Coastal Highway, so that is what we decided to do. Viddy had done a similar trip last year and he endorsed this heartily.

After returning to the Bay area, we had friends and relatives to catch up with but I managed to find a 2-night window and schedule a drive up to Lake Tahoe. May is pretty much off-season (winter snows have melted so the skiing crowd stays away, and it's a little early for summer vacation) and I managed to get some pretty spiffy rates from the Marriott at South Lake Tahoe.

I did a rough calculation of the driving involved and figured it would be well above 2000 miles. Broke it up into manageable chunks but still ended up with two sectors (SFO-->Las Vegas and Sedona--> Phoenix-->LA) that would be around 500 miles each, to be covered in a single day. A daunting prospect but one that excited me as well.

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Passports and visas were checked and double-checked, foreign exchange and travel insurance procured, leave applied for...and we were set!

Last edited by noopster : 16th June 2013 at 18:22.
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Old 4th June 2013, 11:51   #2
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Default re: My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!

My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb004.jpg

First things first...

Would I need an International Driving Permit or would my Maharashtra-state-issued license do? The good thing is my license, though issued nearly twenty years ago, is a card type and printed entirely in English. I checked the DMV websites for all three states that we would be passing through and all of them stated clearly that a valid driving license in English could be used up to 6 months from the date of first entry. This had been a problem on previous trips in states like New Jersey and Georgia, where this is not acceptable. One condition of acquiring an IDP is that your DL and passport need to have the exact same address (mine don't) and anyway the DMV clearly indicated I didn't need the IDP so I didn't bother with that extra piece of paper. from past experience, rental car agencies in the US are only too glad to accept Indian DLs but we double checked with Enterprise just in case.

No problemo.

Next step: financial arrangements during the trip. Pretty much all domestic credit cards are globally accepted these days but I still went and procured a "Travel Card" from ICICI Bank a few days before the trip. This is a pre-paid card that you can add USD to before you leave on your first trip and top up as needed subsequently. I also had some cash and travelers checks from previous visits abroad. A tip: buy cash from any forex desk instead of TCs for about 30% of your total estimated requirement and keep the rest in plastic. Hotels, restaurants, museums etc. are glad to accept credit cards and TCs are as good as extinct in the US, as I learned.

Travel insurance- that covers your health, accident and hospitalization while abroad- was next on the agenda. I chose a policy by Royal Sundaram that covered us for about 50,000 USD each and offered cashless options. Some flight and baggage related contingencies were also included, though we hoped never to use those. I cannot overemphasize the need for travel insurance even on short trips. It costs you a couple of thou (rupees) a month but that's fair price to pay for peace of mind, in my opinion.

Last edited by noopster : 15th June 2013 at 20:35.
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Old 15th June 2013, 20:54   #3
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The first segment of our roadtrip seemed to me the most daunting. Nearly 600 miles through dry forest and desert terrain of California and Nevada, that too at the tail end of a 23-hour flight. I kept my feelings to myself, knowing that any hesitation on my part would be contagious. The last thing I wanted was our much-planned roadtrip to end even before it began.

Thankfully the flight was uneventful. Travelling West ensured that we landed the same morning we took off, date-wise.

Layover in Hong Kong was a boring 4 hours to start with, and the pilots landed more than an hour early, helped by some favorable tail winds, whatever those are. We found our gate and the rest of the family promptly collapsed into chairs in the waiting area to catch up on their sleep. I strolled around the terminal, bought a cup of coffee with my newly acquired travel card and then watched the planes taking off and land for a while.

My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb003.jpg
My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb002.jpg

The second stretch was more than twelve hours long and I used the time productively to watch as many new movies and sitcoms on Cathay Pacific's entertainment system as I could. Towards the end of the flight, exhaustion took over and I finally managed to grab some sleep. Cathay's food service was strictly average but both flight sectors were on time and the landings perfect, so overall a pleasant experience. A useful tip: do NOT order a child's meal. My kid hated it, with good reason: it was boiled meat and raw fruit for the most part.

We landed around noon at SFO International, immigration took about an hour, and shortly after we were at the Enterprise office near the airport to pick up our rental for the road trip.

Last edited by noopster : 16th June 2013 at 16:35.
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Old 16th June 2013, 16:03   #4
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Default re: My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!

Our Ride

We'd debated on whether an SUV or full-sized sedan would suit our specific needs better. Sharing the front seat would be my brother in law G- all six foot four of him. In the back were my daughter in her booster seat, the missus and her Mom. Full house. But a 7-seater SUV would cost about twice a sedan and throw our budget in a tizzy. So we settled for the latter.

The choices offered, at least on paper, were Dodge Charger, Chevrolet Impala, Nissan Altima and a few others. When we got to the Enterprise lot, we spotted only Impalas and Altimas, along with a stray Ford Focus and VW Jetta. I let the tall man do the choosing-his comfort being paramount- and we finally zeroed in on a 2013 Altima, with around 15000 miles on the odo.

My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb005a.jpg
My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb005b.jpg

A 2.5L naturally aspirated gasoline engine coupled with a CVT transmission didn't sound all that exciting to an enthusiast but with my co-passengers and a trunkful of baggage on board, I wasn't going to complain. As things turned out, it wasn't a bad ride at all.

For navigation we rented a basic Garmin unit with Google Maps on G's iPhone providing back-up.

Last edited by noopster : 16th June 2013 at 18:24.
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Old 16th June 2013, 16:47   #5
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Default re: My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!

Summer in San Francisco is a funny animal. Everyone's heard the quote about it: "The coldest winter I've spent is summer in San Francisco", attrubuted (erroneously it seems) to Mark Twain. Apocryphal or not, it is terrifically apt.

All my trips to America have originated on the West Coast. The beautiful city on the Bay has been on my itinerary every single time. But my biggest regret is that I have never seen the Golden Gate bridge clearly. Every single time it has been shrouded in fog, or rain.

Last trip my friends commiserated with me and suggested that peak summer is perhaps not the best time to visit since the fogs are worst then. This time we hoped that our late spring/early summer visit would help.

No such luck.
My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb006-2.jpg

My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb006-3.jpg

But we didn't have much time for sightseeing on that first day. After picking up the car, we drove to G's apartment in the Pacific Heights neighbourhood and the ladies started on the boring but essential job of repacking for our roadtrip. After a heavyish dinner of biryani takeaway from a Pakistani restaurant nearby, I could barely keep my eyes open anymore and excused myself, taking my little one with me to the motel nearby we had booked for one night. By the time my wife joined us a couple of hours later, having finished our packing back at the apartment, we were fast asleep.

The next morning, I awoke before dawn (no thanks to a raging jetlag!) and took a walk around the block before getting ready for the long day to come.

My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb006.jpg
My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb007.jpg

Last edited by noopster : 16th June 2013 at 18:26.
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Old 16th June 2013, 17:27   #6
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Default re: My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!

My beautiful Sony H55 point-n-shoot camera, faithfully by our side on so many of family trips, was stolen cruelly last year. We never replaced it, figuring that along the line a DSLR or equivalent would be procured. Meanwhile the Galaxy Note does duty. Its 8 MPixel camera is good enough but I do miss some of the nifty features the P&S offered. Whatever pics I am uploading to this TL are taken on the Note. There are some taken on my G's iPhone as well and a few on my JVC videocam's still feature (when my Note battery had completely conked out).

We had one slightly disconcerting experience that first day when driving from the airport to the apartment. We needed both cars because we were carrying all our baggage. The Altima managed to keep pace with the CRV in front for most of the way but things got hairy when we got into a monster jam on the 101 precipitated by an accident. My wife and I lost sight of the pilot car and took an exit into the city. We promptly landed in some downtown area filled with homeless people, prompting some anxiety. Forcing myself to stay calm, I parked at a meter, loaded about 15 minutes on it, locked the car and walked into a supermarket nearby to ask the proprietor if there was a payphone I could use. There was none, but he kindly gave me his own iPhone and I called G to tell him where we were.

Voicemail. So I left a message.

We walked back to the car and that's when I remembered the Garmin on the dash. It was clunky, unintuitive to use and had an awful touchscreen but necessity being the mother of whatchamacallit I managed to enter the apartment address into it somehow. It showed us being 7 minutes away from our destination and we breathed again.

Later we were told that San Francisco's free healthcare attracts many homeless there and that for the most part they were harmless and don't bother anybody. But it was still a slightly scary way to start our trip!

Last edited by noopster : 16th June 2013 at 18:28.
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Old 16th June 2013, 17:41   #7
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Default re: My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!

I cannot drive when tired. This is the reason so many of our roadtrips start early in the AM, when I am fresh out of bed and at my alertest. The plan was to start after an early breakfast, which would get us into Las Vegas just after sunset.

But you know how it is with the best laid plans of mouse and man...my BIL went back to work after dropping us home and only returned at 4 in the morning. Something about an upcoming product release and ensuring nothing went amiss in his absence. By the time I'd returned from my morning consitutional, had a long shower and watched half a season of Who's the Boss (that Tony Danza cracks me up ) we were starting to get a little worried.

Long story short, it was well after noon when we took the I5 South. The route was straightforward: follow the signs almost all the way to LA and turn onto the I40 East somewhere near Bakersfield.
My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb008.jpg

My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb009.jpg

My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb010.jpg

My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb014.jpg

My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb013.jpg

By the time we'd pulled into the outskirts of Las Vegas, casino capital of America, it was already dark.
My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb015.jpg

Hotel lobby was a sight for sore eyes.
My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb016.jpg

Last edited by noopster : 18th June 2013 at 10:10.
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Old 16th June 2013, 18:07   #8
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Default re: My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!

We reached our hotel, bang on the Vegas strip, at around half past ten in the evening. Nearly 600 miles driven and I was starting to run out of steam so we had to stop for a burger and coffee at an In and Out about 50 miles out of Vegas. It was the only burger I ate on the trip but also the most delicious because it was so necessary!

G, a man of discerning tastes, had planned the entire two nights in Vegas on his own and we were delighted by his choice of hotel. The Encore upgraded us to a suite on the 61st floor with a beautiful view of the strip. I didn't mind spending all my time in the suite but the rest of the gang had other ideas.
My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb017.jpg

My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb018.jpg

My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-tb022.jpg


After a nice dinner downstairs, the rest of the gang dressed up for a night at the slot machines and blackjack tables but I begged off. Ten straight hours of driving and a nagging letlag had taken its toll. The bed had never looked more inviting. I gazed at the twinkling lights of the strip as I sunk into a deep satisfying slumber.

As predicted that was the toughest stretch of the whole trip. In hindsight it would have made sense for us to break somewhere en route, perhaps on the outskirts of LA, but we were eager to kickstart our vacation and Vegas was a-waiting!

Last edited by noopster : 16th June 2013 at 18:47.
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Old 18th June 2013, 13:00   #9
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Default re: My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!

Quote:
Originally Posted by noopster View Post

Pretty much all domestic credit cards are globally accepted these days but I still went and procured a "Travel Card" from ICICI Bank a few days before the trip. This is a pre-paid card that you can add USD to before you leave on your first trip and top up as needed subsequently. I also had some cash and travelers checks from previous visits abroad. A tip: buy cash from any forex desk instead of TCs for about 30% of your total estimated requirement and keep the rest in plastic. Hotels, restaurants, museums etc. are glad to accept credit cards and TCs are as good as extinct in the US, as I learned.
Thanks for the Travel Card tip. I never knew something like that ever existed. And I am surprised at how convenient it is. This now becomes a permanent for our travels abroad!

Lovely travelogue btw. I am too dying to make a cross-country East-West US trip some time soon. Preferably in big butch SUV that is equipped to go places. Hopefully!
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Old 24th June 2013, 15:36   #10
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Default Re: My West Coast Roadtrip+

Las Vegas was, in a word, underwhelming. The casinos are exciting at first but eventually they all look the same. In any case they don't let kids on the casino floor so our movements were restricted. And frankly I don't enjoy gambling.

I spent the daytime productively getting hold of a SIM card so that we could be contactable again. Helpful tip: check the fine print carefully before you fork over. My no-name, prepaid connection from AT&T cost just $25 and promised "free talk time" up to XX hours. What that meant was that they charged me 10c a minute for both incoming and outgoing calls. No wonder then that it got exhausted in a week. Some research beforehand would have saved us trouble. In any case we were always with somebody local so contacting us was never an issue. Also my Galaxy Note would hook up to the WiFi network at our hotel in the evenings, so staying on the grid was not an issue.

After that we went swimming: the Encore has a lovely pool, three of them in fact and we got the pick of them, the private pool for hotel guests only. My daughter is a bit of a water baby and, while I am not the greatest swimmer, I find that lounging about the shallow end relaxes me. It made us hungry so we grabbed some excellent Asian food at one of the restaurants downstairs. Later that afternoon we went to a mall opposite the hotel and bought some touristy stuff.

My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-note-1315.jpg

My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-note-1318.jpg

That evening we got a pleasant surprise. G had booked all of us on a show. I had only heard of Cirque du Soleil before then and we had to dress it up for it, which was exciting. It was at the famous "O" Theater at the Bellagio and we had dress circle tickets for the 10 pm show.

Cameras were a strict no-no and anyway we were enjoying the show too much to shoot. These are some representative pics sourced from the Internet.

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My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-o-nice.jpg

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Last edited by noopster : 24th June 2013 at 16:35.
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Old 24th June 2013, 16:34   #11
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Default re: My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!

Quote:
Originally Posted by 9thsphinx View Post
Thanks for the Travel Card tip. I never knew something like that ever existed. And I am surprised at how convenient it is. This now becomes a permanent for our travels abroad!
Thanks. Just keep one thing in mind- it's better to swipe at the merchant directly than withdraw cash from it (swiping is free while withdrawal incurs a charge). Also don't check the balance too often- that incurs a charge too! I think the safest bet is to use it purely as a debit card rather than for ATM use. they may also refuse to take it at certain places where you are required to show ID (the card doesn't have your name printed on it).

Quote:
Lovely travelogue btw. I am too dying to make a cross-country East-West US trip some time soon. Preferably in big butch SUV that is equipped to go places. Hopefully!
Wow! Good luck sphinx. The US is a massive country and that kind of trip would require heaps of planning- should make for a helluva travelogue though
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Old 24th June 2013, 17:02   #12
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Default Arizona!

Our next stop was Sedona, Arizona along the US93 South and I40 East. Nothing much to see along the way, except the Hoover Dam, where we halted for a couple of hours. The Hoover Dam is located exactly at the Nevada-Arizona border.

My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-note-1364.jpg


My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-note-1368.jpg


My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-note-1369.jpg

My honest opinion as a tourist? Well, it's a DAM! We have thousands of those in our country, some even more impressive looking. But it only served to underline the obvious: tourist locations are not just about how impressive the place itself is but the stories that are created and carefully nurtured around them. Also every tourist spot we visited in the US has impeccable roads, perfect access to the old and the handicapped, park 'n' ride facilities to avoid congestion and the icing on the cake is that they are all spotless and entertaining, if a trifle bland. A lot of places around the Grand Canyon don't even sell bottled water but cheerfully offer spring water on tap free to prevent creating more plastic waste. Indians are always claiming (rightly, perhaps) that we have a richer diversity of places to attract tourists but we need to take a leaf or two out of their book if we are really serious about it. Lip service adverts with high-profile stars about "Atithi devo Bhava" won't cut it!
My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-img_0794.jpg
My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-img_0795.jpg

Last edited by noopster : 24th June 2013 at 18:50. Reason: Added more pics
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Old 24th June 2013, 17:07   #13
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Default Re: My West Coast Roadtrip+

The word "Arizona" always evoked only one image in my head: hot dry desert. I have a school friend who has been living there for the last 15 odd years and she is always complaining about the 100 deg (F) temperature, so I had no reason to doubt my impression. Add to that the fact that I am a bit of an etymology buff and was pretty sure the state got its name from the same roots as "arid" and "zone".

I could not be more wrong! Arizona is beautiful. We stayed at Oak River, just outside Sedona but also visited Flagstaff and Scottsdale, passing through Phoenix but not stopping there. Sedona has now made its way into the most beautiful cities I have ever visited list (along with San Diego, Sydney and Paris). But Flagstaff was a pleasant suprise as well. When we met my friend I accused her of not telling me it was a "hill station" and she laughed.

And as for the etymology, Wikipedia has this to say:
Quote:
The general belief is that the name of the state comes from an earlier Spanish name, Arizonac, derived from the O'odham name alĭ ṣonak, meaning “small spring”, which initially applied only to an area near the Mexican silver mining camp of Planchas de Plata, Sonora. This is supported by the fact that that area is still known as alĭ ṣonak in the O'odham language. Another possible origin is the Basque phrase haritz ona (“the good oak”)
Arid-zone-DUH!
-----------

Another interesting thing I learned about the state is that it doesn't turn their clocks back and forward to save daylight. Well most of it anyway. As a result, part of the time they are on Pacific time (including when we visited) and the rest of the while they follow Central. I am a bit of a dunce when it comes to DST and how it works so suffice to say I was thrilled that we didn't have to adjust our watches !

The more we left Nevada behind, the greener and more beautiful it got. The difference- you can see it in the pics that follow- is gradual but discernible.
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My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!-note-1394.jpg

Last edited by noopster : 24th June 2013 at 18:22.
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Old 24th June 2013, 23:59   #14
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Default re: My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!

Excellent narration Noopster! Keep it coming..

How was your experience with the Nissan?

Thanks for the info on the IDL requirements. Have always wanted to have a roadtrip in the Western parts of the world.
Was it mandatory to have your rental car insured?

Looking forward to more soon.

Cheers,
Sam
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Old 25th June 2013, 11:11   #15
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Default re: My West Coast Roadtrip **EDIT: Finally completed!

Wonderfully explained journey Noopster, it reminds me of my trip from Vancouver (WA, USA) to Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, San Diego, SFO, LA, Portland & back in 2003-04.

Coincidentally I had a Nissan Sentra that time, but we rented out a Chevy for 10 days long trip during Christmas vacation.

Last edited by hummer : 25th June 2013 at 11:13.
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