Oz to USA - the journey begins

by CameronM Sun, November 28 2010 19:03

Even though planes are fast, the trip to LAX from Brisbane is still long and often painful, especially in cattle-class. We had arrived at the airport very early,  partly because the drive in was quicker than expected and partly because we had wanted to get to check in early to make sure we got seated together.

We had done a bit of research into the feasibility of taking a car seat on the plane as we thought it may be far easier to encourage our active three year old to stay seated during the flight and would be more comfortable for sleeping. Thankfully the process was clearly outlined on the QANTAS website and was fairly straightforward. The main requirement being that we had to phone the airline at least 24-hours ahead to advice them that we would be taking the car seat onboard and then have the seat’s standands stickers sighted at check in.

One benefit of lugging a rather awkward car seat to the gate is that they let you on first, so you have time to get the seat fitted, and while it is a bit of a pain, in our case it certainly did what we wanted and Zane felt right at home and slept quite well.

Arriving on a relatively small terminal at LAX we were surprised by the limited resources available. There was a mobile phone rental desk and a currency conversion desk and that was all. Thankfully there was a sign pointing to the rental car company shuttle pickup point outside. Within minutes we had boarded the shuttle to Thrifty and after a short drive around a few other terminals at LAX we were taken to the off-airport dept.

Having compared different car rental companies and researched into to the various ‘insurance’ fees and charges, I thought we had covered all the bases. We had booked our Thrifty rental car online at Expedia and read enough articles to know that out travel insurance would cover excesses and public liability insurance. This didn’t seem to matter to the guy on check-in at Thrifty, who advised that to purchase the required cover we would be basically doubling the daily price of the car. Standing in the Thrifty lobby, some distance from the airport, after a long flight, having slept less than an hour in the past 24-hours, you certainly feel vulnerable. In the end, we eventually talked him down a little, but I went away feeling we certainly had wasted at least $300 on insurance we already had from our comprehensive travel insurance.

Feeling a little jaded, we walked out to the depot car park, were we could pick the vehicle we wanted (in the right class that is) and we quickly set up the Magellan GPS, fitted the car seat and loaded up the boot with our luggage.

We programmed the GPS to our hotel address in San Diego, said a quick prayer, mentally prepared ourselves for driving on the wrong side of the road and then headed off. Thankfully the road south from the Thrifty depot was very direct and with the help of the GPS we were able to easily navigate the numerous times the highway split.

The first thing you notice about driving on the freeway is the speed. Firstly the lack of speed limit signs and then the complete disregard most people have for them. Seeing as the books say the maximum on most highways is 65 m/h we were aimed at that, but soon found we were being passed by all and sundry, so we set the cruise control to 70 m/h. Even at this speed, we felt like we were standing still as most motorist drove a good 10-15 m/h faster and some sped past like they were on an autobahn.

It’s not that the roads are that great that you could feel safe speeding along either. The highway south was mostly concrete and the state of the road surface was terrible. You felt like you had at least two flat tyres most of the time. The road had also been patched so many times, that it was sometimes hard to differentiate between the line marking and the patches.

Hurtling along at 70 m/h we caught a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean on our right and much to the disgust of our GPS narrator, at San Clemente I took the off-ramp to see if we could find a nice place to stretch and take in the view.  The streets of San Clemente best resemble spaghetti, with roads winding up and down and intersecting all over the place. Worst still, the road are narrow and clogged with parked cars, making it an interesting experience to navigate, especially for someone who has only been driving on the right side of the road for less than an hour.

Eventually we found our way to the beach, but sadly the massive car park required payment, which explained why it was virtually deserted. Since we had neglected to get any money out at the airport (being focussed on getting our rental car), we only had a few dollars on us, so after a quick look at the pier from inside the car we headed off again.

Even though we had booked a non-smoking room, when we opened the door to our room at Best Western Seven Seas, we were confronted with the musty small of cigarettes. It wasn’t so bad that you would complain, just a hint that housekeeping had added the contents of a few ashtrays to the laundry. Thankfully we were able check in a little early and we headed to the in-house café/diner for lunch.

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