Driving around the Island of Oahu in a Cabriolet Rental Car

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The last few days had been spent living in a small bubble called Waikiki and before picking up our Chrysler 200 Convertible rental car, we had no idea what there even was to see at the rest of the island. The only things we had already done was the compulsory hiking trip up Diamond Head and a day visit to Ala Moana Beach Park/”Magic Island“, with much more to see of the island. When getting in our rental car at 4pm and setting the goal to Sunset Beach, we did not know what we had ahead of us. Luckily for us, we had a GPS that, impressively enough, was speaking out all that we needed to know about the places we drove past, making it easy to stop at the places that sounded interesting to us. From being a hundred percent random, it turned out to be a great driving route for a 24 hour road trip that I would easily reccomend copying if you ever have the chance:

At 4PM we were already were tired of staying at the beach in Waikiki, we decided to pick up our car early and drive non stop up to the North Shore. We skipped the famous Dole Pineapple Plantation, so if you are planning on visiting the plantation and it’s so claimed World’s biggest maze, you should consider driving from Waikiki a couple of hours earlier

At 5.30PM we arrived at Sunset Beach, just in time to see the sun set at the beach in the North Shore with the biggest waves. Some professional surfers and body boarders also gave us quite a show, riding waves several meters high just before the sun went down
At 7PM the sun had set, so we crossed the road to find the only backpacker accomodation in North Shore, simply called Backpackers. The reception usually closed at seven, so we were lucky and happy to get half of a two bedroom cabin, which we shared with a nice Argentinian couple that we stayed up and talked with until the outside had gotten quiet and everyone were in bed, ready for riding the waves early the next morning

At 10AM the next day we started driving, and just after five minutes on the road we had reach our first stop Waimea Park, kind of a botanical garden where you could walk through tropical trees divided up by countries, most of it looking like it was taking out of the movie Jurressic Park. At the end of the park we got to the famous Waimea Waterfall, which frankly was just a piss of water running down a small mountain.

At 11AM we were back into the car again, and started driving along the North Eastern shore of Oahu, seeing some beautiful beaches, an old sugar cane mill and the Polynesian Cultural Center, which is the biggest paid attraction in Hawaii.
At noon we stopped at Kualoa Regional Park to see some beautiful mountains, laying right by a beach with small islands right outside of it. A great place to go kayaking from the looks of it, and a good place for us to eat our lunch pack.
At 1PM we made a short stop at the the Japanese temple, surrounded by churches with nice cut grass and flowers. We did not stay longer here than some time to take a couple of photos before we got into the car again to drive further South down the East Coast of the Island.
At 1.30PM we got off at the Makapu’u viewpoint and did a short walk to the top to get the best view. There is also a parking lot at the bottom where you can get a good look out on the big ocean.
At 2.30PM We arrived at the Halona Blowhole, just to see a very small hole in the ground blowing a littlebit of water out every time a wave came crushing in. It was much more impressing watching a family of wales swim close to the shore, and blowing bigger amounts of water into the air.
At 4APM we returned the car at the rental office and called a cab to take us to the airport for a 28 dollar flat rate, which was way cheaper than the 52dollars that the car rental company would have asked for if we had returned it at the airport instead of the downtown location. We felt like we had gotten the most out of our time with the rental car and did not regret for a second that we took a day to drive around the island. It would have been even more perfect if we would have had two full days in order to stop at some more places that we passed along the way.

 

 

Living the Good Life in Waikiki, Hawaii

Waikiki is the most touristy city, in the most touristy island in Hawaii and is located directly by the beach just half an hour from Honlulu International Airport. The city is not that big, and Waikiki beach can easily be walked several times in a day. All these things describing a place that I normally would get sick off, restless from and eager to get away from, but for some reason Waikiki still manages to hit it off as a really laid back place and after spending five days here at the beach, could easily hang around on for another few days. The fact that the beaches are crowded and that international conglomerates have heavily penetrated the beach city market with chain restaurants and brand stores does not bother me at all. It makes it quite convenient, as all their offers are not shouted at me by pushy beach sellers and people handing out flyers. It is all just there, in a neatly organised city that it is comfortable to live in.


We spent our first night at Polynesian Hostel, located right in the middle of everything. It was our choice of accomodation since all accomodation in Waikiki is pretty expensive for backpackers, and since the other hostel right by was not open for after midnight check-ins. Since the rooms were really simple, being just a double bed, with a shared bathroom in the hallway we chose to switch to Hostelling International Waikiki the next morning. Both these hostels could not have had a better location with just one block of walking to the beach, to the restaurant area and the shopping area. They also had a daily schedule of free activities, like yukulele and hula dancing lessons, lay making classes and various cultural shows.

What we spent most of our time on was simply laying on the beach and surfing. The water is shallow far out from the beach, so even though the waves were pretty small, they stayed for long, making them fun to play in. We did have a littlebit of a swell when we were here and it is usually more waves in the winter, so I don’t quite understand how the surf board rentals manage to go all year round though.

One of the days we also took a taxi up to the strating point of the Diamond Head hike trail, not far from the Waikiki beach. Even though locals had told us that it was a steep and really tough hike that would be a full day trip, we managed to get to the top, take some pictures and get back down in just over an hour! Being well ahead of our time budget we jumped into a taxi again to see the 27th annual Great Hawaiian Rubber Duckie Race, where 20 000 rubber duckies were realeased into a narrow canal, racing for the entertainment for some and for the charity causes for others.

We also got to spent some time at Ala Moana Beach Park, more commonly known as Magic Island. Being just a walk away from Waikiki Beach, it was quite different. It seemed like a place where more of the locals were hanging out and relaxing at a more quiet beach and having barbeques that we also got invited over to. Instead of having a chartered beach holiday experience that I feared, I have found a place that I have gotten pretty fond of and that I easily would come back to if I was ever given the chance.

 

An Insiders Guide to Car Rental in the US

It is a real pitty that most of the historic “Route 66” does no longer exist. But there are many other good driving routes to follow, like the highway alternative

 

I have previously written a blog post with general car rental tips for the untrained minds, but figured that it would also be good with a bit more country specific advise. This post could just as well have been for car rental in another countries, but USA is probably the country in the world where renting a car makes most sense, so this might be the first of several posts about the topic (South Africa, Canada and Australia might come later). For customers I have probably booked more than a hundred cars in the US and have noticed the following:

 

  • The competition among the rental companies in the States is strong and most companies therefore let you cancel a car rental free of charge. It can therefore be smart to book a car if you are uncertain, and just cancel it if the price should be reduced a couple of months later or if you should find a better deal somewhere else
  • If you are planning on driving “Highway 1” in the peak season/summer months you will notice high one-way charges if you are driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles, but not the other way around. This is because everyone wish to drive from North to South in order to drive on the outer lane right by the water. In my opinion it can be worth sacrificing a little sight for a rental with little or no one-way fee.
  • The age limit for car rental with most companies is 20, but if you are under 26 you will probably be charged with underage driver fees. Age limit is also dependending on the state where you rent, and there are two states where the minimum age is 18 which is New York and Michigan. And since you follow the laws of the state where you pick up your car, that means that for people under 20, driving from Los Angeles to NYC is a “no go” while driving from NYC to Los Angeles is a “go go”
  • The tax of the car rental is also state dependent, so a drive across the country will often be hundreds of dollars more expensive when driving from east to west than from west to east. NYC-Los Angeles is much more expensive than Los Angeles to NYC.
  • Florida is the only state where it is required to have an international drivers license to pick up and drive a car. This should be collected at your local NAF office before you go
  • GPS is usually cheaper to buy than to rent, a day of GPS rental can cost the same as as downloading maps for your phone and a couple of weeks GPS rental will probably cost you as much as the price of a brand new GPS in the US (100USD)
  • A lot of American rental companies include a tank of petrol when picking up the car, which can easily be worth 50 US dollars, so in many cases it can be cheaper to divide the car rentals between the cities. Especially if you are travelling through San Fransico, where you can ride the tube and easily get between the different parts of the city or get to the airport without a car
  • “Go big or go home”. Roads in the US are good, the gas is much cheaper and most cars are bigger than here in Europe. It is highly reccomended to get the full American experience and get a car that has enough room for you to travel comfortably with all your stuff. Upgrading locally is really expensive, so doing the upgrade at the time of booking is strongly advised.

Do you have other tips for people going to rent a car in the States, feel free to share them on the comment field below.

The Windy City of Chicago

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First off, I would have to share with you something that I learned just recently: The nickname of Chicago, the Windy City, does not come from the cold winds blowing from Lake Michigan. The Windy City refers to all the wonderful things that were said about Chicago all over the United States at the end of the 1800’s, like it was carried by the wind. The name of the city was also taken in use by the media during the first half of the 20th century, because of the political changes that kept on taking place in Chicago.

chicagoToday, Chicago is home of about 9,7 million inhabitants(including the suburbs), which makes it the third biggest city in the United States. Partly because almost half the Chicago burned down in 1871, the city was restructured and rebuilt, with help from famous architects giving the city the reputation of being the most “modern” city in the US. Since then, Chicago has tried to keep this reputation, being home to huge skyscrapers and Grand Park/ Millennium Park, where the world’s biggest bands play for thousands of spectators. 

Even though Chicago is a big city, it is very easy to find your way around. The city center is known as the loop, because of the elevated metro going in a loop over the streets downtown. State Street is the Main Street and divides the city in east and west, and Madison Street divides the city in south and north, so if you get lost, you can just walk towards these two streets, navigate from there.

One of the things I would say is a must to see in Chicago is the famous Sears Tower, which is a 110 stores high building for numerous architecture firms, law firms and other big companies. The entrance ticket costs 15$, and gives you a lift up into the top floor, with a view over the city and information about  the buildings and things you can see from there. Even for someone who has almost no interest in architecture, it was very interesting to read about the different buildings and the history behind them. The Sears Tower also has four glass boxes that “hang” outside of the building, so that you can get the feeling of standing in mid air 412 meters above the ground.

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