Sunday, June 22, 2014

Stuff I learned and observed on my USA road trip - driving in USA & road trip

Two months ago, I went for my longest vacation on my own. I spent seventeen days in Las Vegas, San Diego, Los Angeles, Yosemite National Park and San Francisco, with part of the journey driving on the Pacific Coast Highway. I'm not going to write a typical holiday blog, showing where I've been and sharing photos. Ever the practical person, I'm going to write about what I've learned and observed on this trip. For this entry, I'll sharing what it is like to drive in USA

There must be some forgetful drivers in USA if they require all cars to automatically turn on their headlights when you start your vehicle
I already find automatic headlights annoying in cars in Hong Kong. They suppose to only turn on when the brightness level goes below a certain point but they turn on when it is still bright. You see a few cars having their lights on in broad daylight and the driver is none the wiser.

In the US it is even more of a nightmare. The headlights automatically turn on when you start the car, even if it is the sunniest day on record. You have to turn the headlight switch to off to make sure your lights are not dazzling the car in front. It was bloody annoying have to do that every time I had to start the car, since most of my driving was during the day. The only way to explain this situation is there must be enough forgetful drivers in the US who don't switch on their headlights to cause enough accidents that car manufacturers have to install this function in.

I'm surprised there are not more traffic accidents in USA
My mother still worries about me, even though I'm thirty three years old. She was worried since it would be my first time driving in a foreign country and driving on the right side of the road. I didn't get into any accidents while driving in USA. Driving on the right side of the road was easy-peasy but it did take some time getting use to the gear shift and the handbrake being on the right hand side and the seat belt being on the left. I was constantly clutching at thin air, trying to grasp the seat belt when I was setting off.

What my mother should have worried about are other drivers on the road. I thought Hong Kong drivers were bad until I drove on the freeways in California. US drivers use indicators and yield to other motorists less than drivers in Hong Kong. I had to be on constant alert and checking my mirrors whenever I wanted to cross lanes.

What is even more confusing are traffic lights. I knew you could turn right on a red light as long as you yield to other traffic and pedestrians. What I didn't know is that when turning left at traffic lights at cross junctions, the opposite direction could be green as well and you had to yield to the traffic coming towards you. It makes traffic more efficient as there are less stoppages for cars. However your are more likely to have traffic accidents. Yet the system seems to work since I didn't see one traffic accident while I was driving. I would thought roundabouts would be a more efficient way to sort out this traffic conundrum. Yet I only found one roundabout in the whole of my trip in USA and I'm sure it boggles US road users.

If you are going for a long road trip, get a good car
I learnt this the hard way. I was driving for eight days, from Las Vegas to San Francisco, via San Diego, Los Angeles and Yosemite. I thought a cheap car would do, so I got a Chevy Sonic. It's a small compact car with good fuel economy.

However it was shit to drive. The handling was awful, as it didn't respond very well to the steering wheel and the balance was not quite right at high speeds. The car was so small that when there was a strong wind you could feel the car being pushed to the side. I honestly felt I was going to tip over at two points during my journey. The footbrake was very bad, especially when stopping suddenly at high speeds. I expected the acceleration to be very poor but I didn't expect I had to put my foot down all the way to get some decent speed. The Chevy Sonic would be OK for 1-2 days for city driving but a whole week drove me crazy.

Next time I do a road trip (which I plan to do in Eastern USA or Western Europe in a few years time), I'm definitely getting a sports car. At least it would be decent drive and I get a sunroof to enjoy the light.

If you are going on a long road trip, take somebody with you
Driving for long stretches is a knackering ordeal. You might not expect that, being constantly sitting own. Yet you have to be vigilant all the time and I did find myself nodding off, having to pull over and take a rest. I planned to drive for one hour and then rest. However, with my time constraints and having difficulty finding somewhere to stop, I had to stop every two hours instead.

It would be good if I brought somebody along (even though I wanted this trip to be some alone time for me). At least the other person could share in the driving. Even if the other person couldn't drive, at least he/she could keep you awake by talking to you. Blasting your iPhone or radio at full volume doesn't keep you eyes open.

The other reason you should bring somebody along is to take photos. I knew I shouldn't be operating my cameraphone while driving and I highly DO NOT recommend this practice. I only did it when I knew I didn't have any cars around me, driving on a straight bit of road and driving at low speeds. I didn't take my eyes off the road either. I just basically pointed the camera and shot photos blind. With somebody else, they could take decent photos and not blurred photos of other cars.

If you are going to take the Pacific Coast Highway road trip, go from Monterey to San Luis Obispo
The Pacific Coast Highway, or California State Highway, starts in Monterey in the north to San Clemente in the south. For most of the journey, the road goes through some towns with a lot of traffic lights, so it was quite annoying having to start and stop all the time. I started off in San Clemente and by the time I reached Huntington Beach, I was so bloody annoyed. I said to myself, "Sod this!" and used the freeway to get to Santa Monica.

From Santa Monica to Arroyo Grande (where I was staying for one night), there are a few nice beaches and views. However the best part of the trip was from San Luis Obispo to Monterey. That section of the Pacific Coast Highway is free of any traffic lights. It is a long winding road and if I had a sports car, I would have enjoyed driving along it. The views are great with big mountains, large stretches of ocean and dense forests to take photos of.

It would be better to drive from north to south than from south to north as the ocean is on your right hand side and it would be easier to stop off and take pictures. I was driving with the mountain to my right and the ocean to my left. This meant if I wanted to take decent photos of the ocean, I would have to stop off and cross the road or cut across oncoming traffic.

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