Travelling coast to coast on a USA road trip

By Mary Murtagh, a Travel Professional

Read more on New York City.

Overall rating:3.5 out of 5 (based on 4 votes)
Recommended for:
Road Trip, Budget

Watch pink grapefruit sunrises, play the slot machines in Las Vegas and camp out under a sky filled with a thousand stars. It's all part of a rough and ready but unforgettable Green Tortoise road trip

What happens when 40 people spend 11 days travelling from New York to San Francisco, on a bus? The answer is fun. “It’s like a mobile hippy commune,” someone had told me. I wasn't around in the swinging sixties, so I thought I’d give the Green Tortoise coast-to-coast adventure a try.

The vehicle was a dead ringer for the Scooby Doo bus: it was vast, green and had a papier-mâché dog strapped to the roof. The drivers were young, outdoorsy, and liberal with stories to share about every pit stop we made. With their help, everyone on the trip knew one another by name – and their background – in less than 48 hours.

Our company was a far cry from the young and restless crowd I had expected. Anna and Gideon were from Queens, spoke Hebrew and had been raised on a kibbutz; Cassandra was an art school drop-out about to join US Army boot camp to train to be a nuclear physicist. There was a Swedish student, a husband and wife celebrating their wedding anniversary, and a hard core of cash-strapped tourists who wanted to see as much of the US as they could for as little money as possible.

The trip was a lesson in keeping it simple and learning to rough it. No hot water, no toilet, no privacy. Instead of taking a shower, I paddled in the Colorado River in the Rocky Mountains, had a strip wash in a highway service station toilet and wore more deodorant. The spacious bus, with long sofas and tables to sit at, converted in just 20 minutes to a giant sleeping area, using sofa cushions for mattresses with individual sleeping bags as bedding.

Every morning guaranteed a different spectacular sunrise. The start of our ‘out West’ experience began when we watched the sun come up over the seemingly bottomless craggy caverns in the Badlands, South Dakota. Woken by people trampling over me to leave the bus, I followed them. We sat on the edge of a precipice and focused on the horizon. As the grey turned to pink, red and then orange, the light got better and you could see the canyons for miles into the distance. Once the sun was up, we hiked through this dry and arid landscape with its crystal-clear air and patches of bright coloured wild flowers.

We got a glimpse of Native American life when we visited Scenic, a settlement on the edge of the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. This cowboy town, with its saloon, wide dirt road and abandoned shells of houses, was a sorry sight.

Pulling into small sleepy towns in middle America always got us noticed. Barefoot and unwashed we queued to use the only phone box. It’s the quiet and out-of-the-way places that the Green Tortoise bus took me to that I remember most fondly. Like the hot springs that ate the elastic in my swimsuit during  a sulphuric soak in the hot salty pools adjacent to a wild and thrashing branch of the Colorado river.

In a day that would have made Huckleberry Finn very proud, we hiked through Arches National Park, Utah, with its dry, sandy and very red craters. That night ended with us camping in the Valley of the Gods, toasting marshmallows and avoiding ant hills.

During another just-because-we-can stop, we all dared each other to jump into a reservoir and its cool blue water 40ft below. In Zion National Park, Utah, we walked with 90ft-high canyon walls closing in on either side of us. Our drivers pointed out birds of prey overhead and rare flora and fauna as we hiked.

As the days slipped by and we adjusted our watches from time zone to time zone, the group gelled, with friendships formed, fierce debates sparked and dancing to Billie Holiday around a campfire. We developed in-jokes, teased each other about national stereotypes and didn’t really want the trip to end. Our final destination of San Francisco saw everyone go their separate ways - but not without fond farewells, warm hugs and a pat for the papier-mâché dog.


Where to stay in New York
The Jane
Mid-range hotel with cool vibe and funky website. Rooms are compact but the downtown location is fantastic for a wide range of restaurants, hopping on the subway and the West Village. Prices from £120.
Pod Hotel
This trendy but affordable hotel is in the heart of New York City’s Midtown East neighborhood. It is close to Grand Central Station, the UN building and Rockefeller Center, and has several subway stations within walking distance. There is free wifi throughout the hotel.
Where to stay in San Francisco
Hotel Drisco
Guests at the boutique Hotel Drisco enjoy magnificent views across San Francisco bay. This century-old hotel is conveniently located in the Pacific Heights area, which is great for getting into downtown. Prices start from £160.
Allison Hotel
Budget hotel with vintage charm, close to Union Square. Rooms have recently been upgraded and staff are helpful. Two cable car lines run very close by. Prices start from £60.


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More information on Travelling coast to coast on a USA road trip:

Mary Murtagh
Traveller type:
Travel Professional
Guide rating:
Average: 3.5 (4 votes)
Total views:
First uploaded:
6 April 2009
Last updated:
4 years 11 weeks 3 days 17 hours 22 min 1 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Road Trip
Budget level:
Free tags / Keywords:
driving, camping, National Parks, hot springs

Mary recommends


Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Pod Hotel
2. The Jane
3. Hotel Drisco Joie De Vivre
4. Allison Hotel

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Community comments (4)

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Interesting to read the reality of something I had previously considered... As it stands I think I made the correct decision.
Wanted to 'see-as-much-as-possible-for-as-little-as-possible' and this was suggested by a family member who's friend had done it- after a lot of research and a little soul searching I instead went with the trains as I didn't think I could stick the 'roughing-it', though missing out on the community atmosphere and immediate circle of travelling companions was the cost I suppose!
Your guide was detailed and lively, and made for a very attractive thinking opportunity!!

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

There's nothing like taking a road trip across the USA. Going by car gives me a greater appreciation for the vastness and wide array of parks, forests, cities, museums, beaches and cultures the United States has to offer. By taking a cross country roadtrip, I'll witness first hand the enormous differences in coasts, scenery, wildlife, architecture, and people. It's a life-changing trip I'll never forget and well worth any planning!

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

It's difficult to go into enough detail when a guide covers this much ground, though this makes for an interesting read for anyone contemplating a similar trip.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Thanks – this guide has really opened my eyes to something that I never knew existed, let alone considered before! I expected this article to be about a DIY road trip, but it was great to find something completely different. I think you’ve really summed up how it must feel to go and do something like this trip, and I can just sense how much fun it must be from your writing. It must also be really difficult to convey just how varied the things you did on this trip were, but I think you’ve got that base covered too!

The only things missing are the more practical matters; how can I find out more, are there any tips and things to look out for, that kind of thing. With those included, this would be a real inspirational and complete article, that covers a trip most would probably never consider.

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