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Help us plan our first road trip to the USA SW Region

London, United...
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Help us plan our first road trip to the USA SW Region

My partner and I are travelling to the USA in December and would like some help planning a road trip please.

We are arriving in San Francisco International Airport at 14:00 on the 30th December 2013 and depart from San Francisco International at 19:45 on 13th January 2014 at 19:45.

One of us is 25 years and the other 45 years and therefore we have a wide and varied range of interests. However only one of us has a driver’s licence so please bear that in mind when suggesting an itinerary.

We are both fit and healthy and enjoy a variety of activities. We would like to see as much as we can as it’s our first time in the USA. We like nature, parks, beaches, history and museums. We equally appreciate big cities and small rural towns and remote areas. We appreciate both historical sites and amusement parks and find a balance is really good.

We are willing to spend up to 8 hours in a car each day.

We have a list of “Must See” places (The Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, The Pacific Highway, Los Angeles,) and a list of “Nice to See” places (Las Vegas, Arches National Park, Monte Vista National Park, Salt Lake City, Navajo State Park, San Diego)

We appreciate that there is unlikely to be enough time to see all the things that we want, so we are open to suggestions for a sensible itinerary based on other’s experience.

We are on a budget for the trip. We are willing to spend up to $150 dollars a day. We are prepared to hire a small RV or stay in cheap hotels/motels and hire a car – whatever works out cheapest.

We look forward to your suggestions and are happy to answer any supplementary questions you may have.

Dallas, Texas...
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1. Re: Help us plan our first road trip to the USA SW Region

Is $150/day your total budget?? Or is that just for hotel?

Atlanta, Georgia
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2. Re: Help us plan our first road trip to the USA SW Region

In higher elevations such as near SLC and in Yosemite and even possibly the Grand Canyon you may likely encounter winter weather and snow.

Here is a link to info about visiting the SW-


Sedona, AZ
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3. Re: Help us plan our first road trip to the USA SW Region

You don't have enough time or money to make this work and include all of your destinations. As noted, the higher elevations will likely mean bad weather. And at that time of year, 8 hours is just about all you'll have in daylight for driving.

That said, I'd head down the coast from SF and then turn inland. I'd minimize LA. Consider adding Death Valley NP on your way to GCNP. At Mesa Verde you'll need two nights minimum to enjoy a day at the park. Move from there up to Moab and parks in southern Utah. You might need to delete Yosemite from your list as winter access can be iffy.

Oregon Coast
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4. Re: Help us plan our first road trip to the USA SW Region

A smallish car and inexpensive motels will always cost less than a motorhome. And be more practical considering the amount of winter driving you're planning.

Chula Vista...
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5. Re: Help us plan our first road trip to the USA SW Region


I put together this route / itinerary just to do a reality check:


Keep in mind that the driving times below DO NOT include stops for meals or sightseeing en route.

30 Dec – SF (recover from flight)

31 Dec – SF

1 Jan – SF (recover from New Year's Eve)

2 Jan – SF to Monterey (~3 hours driving)

3 Jan – Monterey to Cambria (~3 hours driving)

4 Jan – Cambria to LA (~4.5 hours driving)

5 Jan – LA

6 Jan – LA to Kingman (~5.5 hours driving)

7 Jan – Kingman to Grand Canyon (~4 hours driving)

8 Jan – Grand Canyon to Monument Valley (~4 hours driving)

9 Jan – Monument Valley to Mesa Verde (~3 hours driving)

10 Jan – Mesa Verde to Flagstaff (~5.5 hours driving)

11 Jan – Flagstaff to Bakersfield (~8 hours driving)

12 Jan – Bakersfield to SF (~5 hours driving)

13 Jan – Fly home

You can see that, even excluding items on your wish list, you'll be doing a whole lot of driving and will have only half a day or so to see some pretty amazing natural and historical wonders.

As already mentioned, weather will play a key role in determining what you can see and do. You must be willing to change your plans on the fly if a winter storm is approaching. That may include just staying put for a day or two until the storm passes (I got stuck for a day in Gallup, New Mexico by a big snow storm).

While that route can be technically done in your time frame, my recommendation would be to re-look your desired destinations and pare the list down. Build flexibility into your plans by making sure you can cancel lodging reservations without penalty (or know and accept what the penalty might be if you're forced to do so).


Wednesbury, UK
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6. Re: Help us plan our first road trip to the USA SW Region


Zed has given you a more realistic outline of what might be possible, but maybe forget Monument Valley and Mesa Verde for this trip and go GCNP>Page (Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend) > Zion NP> Vegas>Ridgecrest or Bakersfield through DV> SF and home.

I assume the $150 budget does not include Rental Car costs, jusr gas food and accommodation? Its going to be tight as an average on that trip, given the time in SFand LA, and you'll not be doing any fine dining.

Edited: 21 August 2013, 07:58
Uden, The...
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7. Re: Help us plan our first road trip to the USA SW Region

Count on some $ 250,-- for the 2 of you per day. Not that many cheap motels on the way. Maybe try www.airbnb.com

8. Re: Help us plan our first road trip to the USA SW Region

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