Backpacking across the States.
So me and a bunch of friends got talking, and next Summer, we'd like to backpack across North America - I'm not excluding Mexico or Canada, but they don't seem too fond - Trouble is, none of us have ever done something like that.
Has anyone here ever done something similar?
What kind of budget would you suggest? Most of us are either students or unemployed, so the lower, the better.
Places to see? Things to do?
Any help would be great, thanks!
First off I'd write mexico off completely. It's not safe.
Secondly I'd suggest preparing extremely well, such as having a bulletproof plan and knowing exactly what route you are going to take, and not deviating from it.
Setting up contact times with family back home is a good idea as well.
I'm not a urban backpacker by any means, however I am a deep woods hunter which is similar and just as dangerous.
I'm going to second the mexico part that Reaper said. Yes, there are parts where you could be safe there, but your not going to get there backpacking.
Now, when you say that you all want to backpack across the states, I'm picturing that your meaning that your going to hitchhike your way across. If that is the case, I would seriously reconsider your idea. Highly unsafe, highly unlikely that your going to get many people to even consider picking up a group, and just all around unsafe.
There are ways you can still do this. As a group, rent a car. With all of you splitting the cost of the rental + gas, your money will go a long way. Another is to use Greyhound. It's a national bus service we have for traveling (like flying or a train). Tickets are generally very cheap and it used to be that you could get an unlimited ticket for a set price. Not sure if they still do that one though. Still, if you went the ticket route, then you wouldn't have to worry about getting lost or anything like that.
As far as places to see, there are way too many to name to be honest. It all depends on what states you really want to see/go to, and then looking at what is there. Or, picking something you want to see (like Mount Rushmore) and planning that way.
In the end, it all comes down to have a solid plan of what you want to do. And a back up plan in case of emergencies. Remember, in long trips like this, something WILL go wrong. So you need to be prepared for it.
Once you guys get an idea of where you want to go/do, I will gladly help you from there with some ideas of what to see in that area.
Stay out of Mexico. I have been there many times and I would not go there right now. I am with Loki make a plan of places you want to go or see like say the Hollywood sign and then organize it from there. You might be able to find people to take you around and show you places or give you a place to stay for the night. The greyhound bus is a cheap way to travel around the states. I have never heard of anyone trying to backpack across the states without carrying a card board sign asking for money. I would plan this carefully because it is not like in Europe there aren't any hostiles, public transportation is not that great. So renting a car or RV might be another way but if I can help I will when you narrow things down to where you want to go.
Having Backpacked across 2 States with my Army buddies I can offer a few suggestions, but most of the basic's have been mentioned above.
Know where you are going at all times. If you cannot read a basic Nautical, Topographic, or PhotoMaps make sure to bring along a reliable GPS. As suggested above have someone back home as a Contact that you can check in with twice a day. If your going in a Group make sure you know the nearest Medical Facility/Hospital near your route. Finally plan stops along the way to rest and hydrate, especially if your going in the Summer Time. Each person needs to bring a basic First Aid pack, and it couldn't hurt to have one, if not all of you, take First Aid/CPR/AED courses before taking off. Finally know the weather of the area you are hiking; bring a radio to listen to the weather stations nearbye. If your going during the hot season pack light but covering clothing (and Bug Spray, "Deep Wood" too because I cannot tell you how many times ticks bite me during those long hikes). For cold bring plenty of changes of under-armor and buy THICK gloves.
I am not sure if your just going to drive to locations and then Hike, or if your literally walking the whole way but if your doing the former make sure you bring plenty of water and Granola Bars. I found Granola to be an easy-to-eat and nutritious snack for a long walk. Camel Packs couldn't hurt either if you can afford them.
Last but not least make sure you bring some spare change with you. You never know when you'll need a taxi or restock; and many places in random America may not accept your Credit Cards. Thats it for now gents but cheers to the success of your venture. I hope you take the time to visit the sites, as it makes quite a last impression.
If you guys decide to do that and make your way through Ohio I would be willing to get some steaks and grill for ya so that you have atleast ONE hot meal that you do not have to pay for. Plus I live about 15 minutes south of the Pro-football Hall of fame, so ... that could be a destination of sorts for ya.
Hey dark Angel, everyone here has made good suggestions. I've driven across the USA but never tried to hike it. As far as I know everyone I have ever heard or read about hitchhiking it did just fine. Though everyone they met along they way told them it was very unsafe.
Unless you have a LOT of time I would stick to the driving, bussing, etc. The USA is a pretty vast country. There address good reasons we revere the settlers who went west by wagon and horse. It's a long, long journey.
Other options you might consider if you really want to do serious long distance hiking, is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, or the Appalachian Trail. All run north/south. The Pacific crest runs along the mountains from Mexico to Canada. And the Appalachian trail runs from Georgia to Maine. But keep in mind each of these runs thousands of miles.
First of all, I strongly disagree with those who are saying to skip Mexico on grounds it's "too dangerous":
Yes, some parts are swamped by drug cartel related violence, but if you exercise caution it is a fantastic country and most Mexicans are fun loving, laid back and very welcoming, even moreso if you make the effort to speak a little Spanish.
Having travelled pretty extensively across much of southern Asia, North/Central America and Africa, I can tell you that it is incredibly frustrating how people's perceptions are of supposedly "dangerous" countries. I remember people telling me I was crazy to visit Kashmir back in 2003, because the region was supposedly being shelled by Indian and Pakistani armed forces and separatists were targeting tourists. Well, when me and a German guy I met in India got there, we were so surprised at how welcome we were made and how empty of tourists the place was. The locals were delighted to see us as they said people were too scared to come due to negative press in global media.
The same thing happened when I was travelling and studying in southern Thailand a few years ago: The UK foreign office and most the western media were advising against all but essential travel to the country due to violent protests in Bangkok. However, the reality of the situation was that the whole country was abandoned of tourists because of isolated incidents in Bangkok (army shot a few civilians, but this was in a suburb far away from Khao San Road and other tourist districts...I didn't see anything).
I got the same thing in Burma: Oh but isn't it run by a military junta? Yes, but again it didn't affect anything and again I was invited into people's homes on a regular basis off the street, people were that glad to see an outsider.
That said, there are some parts of Mexico that I would consider off-limits: Border regions, northern and central interior, parts of Mexico City etc. This is where most the issues are with the violence. Also, I wouldn't get the local "chicken buses" and would instead stick to tourist ones.
You can just pick up a cheap Westjet ticket to fly to Cancun from somewhere like Albuquerque or Austin or LA, then go overland to the Yucatan peninsula, which is absolutely fine in terms of safety. This is where all Mayan Aztec ruins are, though if you want quieter ruins you are better off heading to Guatemala to Tikal.
Baja California is safe at the moment and is absolutely stunning, very laid back (even by Mexican standards) and still quite off the beaten trail.
As for the US: What do you enjoy doing? It has a bit of everything. I'll just go over general tips though from a British perspective:
- There is next to no hostel networks or backpacking guesthouses like you will find in Europe/Oz and even Canada, so it's going to be an expensive trip in terms of accommodation.
- The Cities - I personally hate them, very expensive, crap public transport and a serious issue of violent crime. People seem to go on about Mexico being dangerous but US cities are much more dangerous than European ones. Urban Sprawl a massive problem. Can be shocking to a European.
- Rural US is where most the culture is (like all countries, you get a real taste of the real culture out in the sticks, not in the cities), also accommodation is significantly cheaper.
- Best thing to do: Hire a car, camp out in places whenever you can and enjoy the natural beauty of places like Arizona: Don't bother with a guidebook, just buy a good map and go off exploring. You'll find awesome towns well off the beaten trail. Avoid the cities (though there are some exceptions, New Orleans, Seattle are quite nice).
If you want to know about Canada hit me up on PM, I am half-Canadian and know it better than the US.
Oh and I almost forgot, the couchsurfing.com network is fantastic for countries like the US. Great way to interact and understand the culture when you are in people's homes, as opposed to being shuttled around in a tourist bus where you just look at everything from a distance...Also a great way to save a lot of money.
Some really good suggestions there, Strakens fist.
I would agree about renting a car and exploring.
The nature of our infrastructure here in the states can be something of a shock. The Los Angeles metro areas for example, is basically a 25x60 mile corridor of a consistent density of development and urban sprawl. Which can be pretty overwhelming, to say nothing of the 6 or 7 lanes (per side) highways in the area.
I'd also like to make a distinction about culture. I think it's misleading to say that, "the culture is in the sticks." You will find certain aspects of American culture emphasized in the mute rural areas, often the folksy'er parts. Our major cities are under the same pressures of homogenization and globalization that the rest of the developed world are under, so that should not come as a surprise. But we still have our regional dialects, customs, and foods. Our regions don't have quite the same . . . "clarity of identity" that the regions of the UK do.
I've lived in both L.A. and Philadelphia and they are drastically different in terms of food, culture, style, climate, pace of life, and even vegetation. I like both for different reasons.
You won't do much hiking IN the cities, but if you want to experience the United states and it's people you would do yourself a disservice by avoiding them. It's a big place, and there is a lot to see.
If you make it out west I'd recommend checking out the Owens valley in California near the city of Bishop California (known for a mule festival) is the town of old Benton. In old Benton is a campground with hot springs fed hot tubs, and no light pollution. I camped there a several nights with a few friends and it was pretty amazing.
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