If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from spending the last few months in Long Beach, California, it’s that having a car is a game-changer. (When) I eventually go on my dream trip of travelling round the States, I will definitely have learnt to drive and I will definitely rent a car. I don’t have a car for this trip and while it’s still more than possible to explore most places, having a car saves some students a LOT of trouble.
So far I’ve been relying on buses, the Metro, taxis, occasionally a spare seat in someone’s car, and eventually Uber. Luckily, CSULB grant every student a free Long Beach bus pass, which is so, so useful and the Metro to LA is only $1.75, but travelling this way for long distances often involves a lot of changing, a lot of pre-planning, a bit of running for the last bus, and some hour long journeys that could easily be 20 minutes in the car. Plus, car journeys are always amazing fun when you can blast whatever music you like and the idea of cruising down open American roads just seems so appealing to me.
I’m planning a trip to San Francisco during Thanksgiving break, and while I’ll have to take a plane (UPDATE: We’re actually going to take the train, which is long but has super pretty scenery and is much cheaper!), one of my roommates suggested that a road trip is most enjoyable. I also know of a couple of other people who have used their cars to get as far as Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, which I’m dying to do, but it may have to wait until I (definitely) come back to the States! Some destinations, such as Catalina Island, require some more unique transportation to get there – in this case, a ferry or a helicopter!
One of the most important pieces of advice I’ll ever give is Uber! Uber is a phone app where you can book very cheap taxi rides and Lyft is also useful for the same reason. For the first couple of months here, Uber wouldn’t work for me when I tried to register with my travel card and nor would it work with PayPal, and only recently have I learnt that registering your English card will work and will not usually charge additional fees for exchange, and if it does it’s just pennies. A friend and I recently went to see Marina and the Diamonds in Griffiths Park in Hollywood and while we got the Metro there, we had to be back early enough the same night for our midterm the next day so we tried Uber for the first time using my English card and it worked! And I’ve been using Uber and Lyft regularly ever since. First time users can also get a free ride when you use a friend’s code, and every time a first time user uses your code, you’ll get a free ride too!
Having a car does make things a lot easier and does mean you can travel further more easily, but learning to plan trips according to public transport has been a very gratifying experience and I’ve got to see some of the more real sides of LA life. I am glad that I’m experiencing things this way now, but I’ll definitely take the extra step to make life easier for myself when I go on a proper holiday!