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The Open Road - the trials and tribulations of fuelling up in the USA

The great American road trip... lodged in our memories from a hundred books and films as a romantic journey of nature, new horizons and freedom. Windows rolled down, banging tunes and singing at the top of your lungs, driving through the States is many people's ultimate bucket list trip. It was certainly ours, which is why we booked a 5 week road trip around Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California for our honeymoon in 2018. One of the things we encountered a lot, and what totally threw us initially, was filling up our campervan. It's so different in the States to the UK!

Figuring out our first fill up near Hoover Dam

Back in Britain we're used to filling up with either petrol or diesel, with the option of either paying at the pump or at the kiosk. For anyone doing some serious mileage in the US, be prepared to do something completely different at each gas station. Just when you think you've cracked it, the next fuel stop will be something else again.

Most cars, campervans and RVs run on 'gas'. Diesel is a lot rarer in the States and usually reserved for heavy machinery and farm transport. So when you pull up, you'll most likely be greeted by mainly gasoline pumps. These vary in quality/refinement. We always went for the cheapest option on offer and it was fine.

On our road trip we were using a pre-loaded debit Mastercard from the Post Office, which you'd think would work at the pay at the pump option... nope, you'd be wrong. The US have a system of prepaying for your gas which works by overestimating what you think you'll spend at the pump, then pay that first. If you pay in cash in the kiosk you will get a receipt and the amount of credit you paid for will appear at the pump. Fill until full, and if there is any remaining credit then you head back to the desk (and queue again) to get your change. A quicker option is to pre pay on your card at in the kiosk, and once you have filled up, the difference is automatically refunded back onto your card again.

One thing we did like about US gas stations was that many allow you to depress the pump and leave it to auto fill - what a luxury! The perfect amount of time to wash your windscreen (or windshield as they say over there) and decide what snacks to buy from the kiosk.

Something worth noting is that gas prices vary from street to street (seriously, by quite a lot), and state to state (California was more than 3 times the cost of rural Arizona!) - we like the app Gas Buddy which lets you know what prices are like in your area so you can find the cheapest fill ups!


Where would you love to drive in the USA? Let us know below!

Read more of our USA Roadtrip articles HERE


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