Australians are lighting out for the open roads of America in ever-increasing numbers, and brandishing broad smiles on their faces.
There's more than 6.2 million miles of paved roads in the US to explore and everything from Harley Davidson hogs and Cadillac Coupe de Villes, to RVs the size of small villages and open-top Mustangs up for grabs.
And the deals on wheels are plentiful, many rides idling at about the cost of a back-to-basics hotel room.
The US is a veritable smorgasbord for roadies, offering up rental cars of every size, shape and description.
If it's got wheels, you'll find some outfit that's willing to rent it to you. And the prices have never - ever been more seductive.
Bargain hunting can land an Australian a basic four-door automobile, with unlimited mileage and collision damage waivers these days that idles around as little as $US33 ($39) daily. Or a sweet-suite on wheels in a Recreational Vehicle (RV for the uneducated) for about $US100 ($118.50) daily.
What the heck, hire a HUMMER.
Why the big break on wheels in the US? Rental outfits suffering from the economic melt-down are looking south with big "Drivers Wanted!" billboards beckoning.
Australia is headed for significant growth in travel to the States for 2010, at a time when many other countries (such as the UK, Germany and Japan) are showing double-digit slides in visitor numbers there.
The figures show 152,000 people from the Lucky Country secured our seatbelts, adjusted the rear-view mirror and rented something with wheels under it in the great 50 States in the past year.
With value-added and seductive offers from rental outfits that often include unlimited mileage and collision damage, Australians are honking their horns loudly.
Australians drive farther afield, traverse more "blue highways" (those little varicose veins lanes that stay clear of the big interstate super-slab) and divert from the well-worn paths more than any other nation.
Find the road-less-travelled and you'll find an Australian who's "been there and done it".
Oh, by the way, "gas" is measured in the US by Imperial gallons, and at last look at the gas pump, the cost was still idling around 50 per cent cheaper than anywhere we can buy the good juice here.
Putting a high-octane-tiger in your tank is still exceptional value in the US.
Despite the fact that the Yanks drive on the wrong side of the road, it's a lot easier than it used to be to discover the country by two-lane blacktop.
Little niceties like GPS gadgets have reduced domestic squabbles to a mere trickle and freed up thousands of shotgun-seat navigators. The loved one who spent most of their holiday buried deep in the road map has been fully liberated to look at the scenery.
We still adhere to the notion that you need to occasionally hide the GPS in the glove box, and pretend to be hopelessly lost: this way you can enjoy the locals and they'll love trying to set you on the right path, or give you the inside-skinny on what's best up ahead, or just around the fork in the road.
The place was created for cars, or Harley Davidsons or Handsome Recreational Vehicles. The roads are as smooth as a baby's buttocks, well sign-posted and the locals will absolutely love ya.
A few dos and don'ts to renting a ride in the great USA:
- Don't hire your wheels, or get behind the wheel on the very first day you land in the US. Give it a day so you can get used to looking the other way when crossing the road before getting behind the wheel.
- Do make sure you carry comprehensive travel insurance. The medical care you'll enjoy if you need it is the best anywhere but you'll be expected to pay one arm, one leg and other appendages to get it unless you have handsome health coverage.
- Do engage the locals whenever possible. Even if you know exactly where you are, fake it. Americans love, no, better make that, adore Aussies and you'll enjoy instant celebrity status when you simply launch into your best "G'day Mate!" introduction. Practise in front of the mirror before you go. This works wonders if you get pulled up by a Stater Trooper, intent on writing you up for doing 80 Miles an hour in a school zone.
- Do make sure you have a valid driver's licence before you light-out, good for at least six months before needing a renewal.
- Do make sure you've got a valid credit card, with sufficient credit limit on board to cover off the excess fee if you have a prang. Expired cards or EFPOS cards don't work.
- Don't drink and drive! This goes without saying but there, we've said it anyway.
- Check with your rental outfit to see if they boast any age restrictions to your renting wheels. Some companies have a 21 and over policy, others are more flexible.
- Don't ever-ever-ever pop across the border into Mexico with a rental car or RV unless you've been given a clear green light to do so by the rental outfit.
- Do stop solid when you see a yellow school bus with its flashers flashing; in any direction you're travelling, put your foot on the break and stop progress in full. In the US, kids getting off school buses cross the road in front of the bus, and you'll be hung from the highest tree if you violate this legislation.
- Do 'STOP' at stop signs. By law, the stop sign means just that. "Stop and Break the full forward momentum of the car." If you roll-through the Stop signs like we do in Oz, get ready for the Smokeys who'd love to have you add to their policemen's retirement fund with a fat fine for this category.