Visiting North America

by Jackie
(Devon, UK)

This year marks the 10 year anniversary of an amazing road trip that we made from Toronto in Canada, across the border into the USA at Buffalo and down to New York City.

We arrived at Toronto airport in the middle of a huge thunderstorm so after sitting on the end of the runway for about an hour and a half we were eventually able to disembark and pick up our hire car. What an experience that was!

There was some sort of strike going on so we first had to drive through a picket line of protesters. Then, once we got out of the airport, we went straight onto a 12 lane highway in the peak of the afternoon rush hour. It was my first time driving on the right hand side of the road but because the traffic was heavy, and as a result quite slow moving, it wasn't too bad. Of course, we got lost and went east instead of west but eventually we worked out how to get to where we wanted to be.

Lesson 1 - get a map and directions BEFORE you start driving anywhere then you don't end up going the wrong way.

All the time we were on the highway I was comfortable driving on the "wrong side of the road". I got hooted at by other drivers a couple of times when we were at junctions because I was extra cautious. I was used to looking the opposite way when turning but having a left hand drive car made it a bit easier because you're in the correct position on the road in relation to other drivers. Unlike driving British right hand drive cars in Europe when you are both on the "wrong side of the road" AND the wrong side of the carriage way.

After visiting the amazing Niagara Falls we had a bit of a problem getting through customs at Buffalo because we didn't have the right paperwork. After about an hour and a half of delays with a very unfriendly and not particularly helpful US customs official we were eventually allowed through.

Lesson 2 - check what paperwork you will need BEFORE you leave home, it will speed things up considerably when you're at your destination.

After spending the night in a small motel we started our drive through New York State. From our point of view lots of the smaller towns felt like we were stepping back in time. They seemed to be very laid back compared to England. Everywhere that we stopped people were very friendly and hospitable.

We were impressed by the enormous distances in America. We are accustomed to being within three or four hours of everything. Nothing prepares you for the vast size of the US. Even driving across New York State was like driving from the South West of England, where we live, to halfway up through Scotland.

Lesson 3 - allow plenty of time

I wasn't brave enough to drive in NYC so we dropped the car off at the hire company depot in Newark, NJ and then used the train and subway for the rest of our visit. We also took a trip on one of the double decker tourist buses and had a ride in a yellow taxi cab.

I'd love to go back to America one day and my dream trip would be to drive across the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific before returning back to the east on the train.

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