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First Time Road Tripper

Mystic, Connecticut
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First Time Road Tripper

My vacations have always been to fly or drive to one place and stay there. Never driven over ten hours from home. That said in the middle of this October I am flying to Reno to drive back to Connecticut with my son.

He drives cross country as quick as he can but I told him we were going to see as much as possible and take our time!

I want to head south on rt. 395, then head east on 40. Parks like the Grand Canyon, Death Valley and the Petrified Forest interest me. I want to see the "highlights"along the way with no hurry. Thinking about two weeks.

Some questions:

Is there a rule of thumb about how far to veer of course to see something?

Can we book hotels at the end of the day without a problem?

How detailed an itinerary do you make or is it day by day?

Have iPad, smart phone, TA and AAA for info. Can you think of any other source of material to learn about things along the way?

I quess I'm looking to hear how people have done it. Thanks

Wednesbury, UK
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1. Re: First Time Road Tripper

Hi and welcome to the forum.

Worth saying up front that two weeks is not a huge amount of time to do what is virtually a cross country trip, so no hurry will be a relative concept.

As for your questions,

No rule of thumb, there are lots of options for diversions or side trips along that route but its all about how long you are willing to drive in aday and how long you stay anywhere, its important to note that daylight hours are getting shorter in October so it cuts down what you can see anyway.

In October you will be ok in general, apart from any stops in National Park accommodation and I suggest if Vegas is on the menu you book in advance.

For intinerary both approaches work, but for that trip in that time you will need a outline plan at least.

Guide books and information provided at State tourism locations can be usefu too.

Anyway, a 13 night outline.

1. Fly to Reno.

2. To Bishop or Lone Pine exploring on route.

3. To Vegas through Death Valley.

4. Vegas to Zion NP.

5. Zion NP.

6. Zion to Page, Antelope Canyon, Horeseshoe Bend.

7. Page to Grand Canyon NP.

8. Grand Canyon NP to Holbrook for Petrified Forest NP.

9. Holbrook to Santa Fe.

10. Santa Fe/ Albuquerque area.

That leaves four days to drive the remaining 2100 miles, so basically 500 miles days along route66 equivalent to St. Louis, but not much time to sightsee on route.

In the above you could drop a night in Zion or Santa Fe and see Monument Valley or Mesa Verde and go through a bit of SW Colorado to Santa Fe missing out Holbrook for instance.

Anyway, just an idea to illustrate what is possible, there are other options obviously, such as Vegas to GCNP via Kingman and the section or route66 though Seligman, missing out Zion.

Edited: 07 September 2013, 18:07
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2. Re: First Time Road Tripper

Dp, welcome to TA and the road trips forum!

If you want to stay inside GC NP, as is recommended given the park's large size, you need to go to the GC destination forum and read the FAQ on reservations. You'll likely have to troll for a cancellation at this late date.

Lewes, United...
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3. Re: First Time Road Tripper

You say you have AAA membership. They offer TripTiks for no cost to give you an outline route. You can then add the diversions either preplanned or as the mood takes you from the direct line.

For quirky stuff to see off the highways, see this website:


As said, apart from Vegas and national parks, you can mostly wing it for lodging, but walk ups don't always get the best rates. As you cross state borders, you can sometimes pick up coupon books for various local deals.

Don't plan to drive at night, especially out west to eat the miles. The reason for this is because there can be a lot of wildlife that can rush out in front of you in the dark.


Chula Vista...
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4. Re: First Time Road Tripper

Hi dp,

One thing that I find helpful are smartphone apps from the major hotel chains like Choice Hotels (Super8, Quality Inn, Days Inn, etc.) or International Hotels Group (Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express). If you set up an account with them, you can stop in midday and do a rough calculation where you'll be for the evening, search for available rooms in that area, and make a reservation directly through the app.

The only caution with that method is that you may be making a reservation inside their cancellation window, so if you don't show, you may get charged for the room anyway.

Here's Valiant's route mapped out on Google Maps:


Remember that Google Maps uses speed limits along the route to calculate driving times. It doesn't account for stops for food, fuel, rest breaks, or sightseeing, nor does it account for delays for traffic, weather, or construction. So depending on your driving style, you can add 15% - 25% to those driving times for a more realistic estimate.

Also remember that you'll lose an hour each time you cross into a new time zone.

I put Indianapolis on the route as I think there's a lot to see and do in its vibrant downtown area (used to live nearby). But if you want to make your last travel day a little shorter, I'd continue from St. Louis to perhaps the Dayton or Columbus area.

Finally, you don't mention when in the middle of October you'll be traveling, but the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is happening 5-13 October. I'm guessing you'd miss it, but it could make finding lodging in and around Albuquerque a bit more challenging that week.


Enjoy your trip.


Edited: 08 September 2013, 17:16
Penticton, Canada
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5. Re: First Time Road Tripper


I did a couple of cross country trip with no fixed destinations and got to see whatever happened to be on the route; on a motorcycle; before the days of gps and internet. So there are people that go on in life without planning every turn on the journey. It just means a different experience.

I used AAA maps and had a North American Atlas to see the overall picture. I always found a motel/hotel at the end of the day. . I would just roll up and ask for a room for the night. Today with free wifi somewhere on any route I just look for a hotel as soon as I know where I will be that night and see what is available and may book if I am certain I want to be there that night.

On a recent trip we were on route to a city where is looked like everything was all booked for the night we wanted, but we were committed to visiting - when we got there we rolled in to the Marriott and asked for 2 rooms - 15-20 min later 2 rooms were available even though nothing showed up online. Single rooms are even easier to get.

Triptiks are great but you need to give them the route in advance - or you can do your own and print on the AAA trip planning application. https:/… you can use your IPad as a GPS. or if you have a Garmin or TomTom for the car you can do route planning using http://www.tyretotravel.com/ and save to the device. It uses google maps so not too hard to learn.

Oregon Coast
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for Crescent City, Oregon Coast, Oregon, Redwood National Park
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6. Re: First Time Road Tripper

Strongly recommend AAA paper maps. Get the state level ones plus any for areas that are more specific that you think you'll be passing through.

(For example, they have one just for Death Valley although I know you're not going there!)

Keep in mind cell phone reception will be spotty / nonexistent in some rural areas.

Buy an inexpensive cooler and take snacks and beverages.

Aubrey, Texas
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7. Re: First Time Road Tripper

My suggested route is different from Valiants', but there is no best route. Any itinerary omits scenic or interesting spots which you might like to include. In the end you'll have to decide what you're interested in seeing.

For planning resources, every state has a tourist office website where you can order free brochures and state road maps. Some states have this information online which can be downloaded and saved in pdf format. You should get a guidebook to the Southwest with information about all the scenic spots in the region. Rough Guide and DK Eyewitness guidebooks are excellent.

Here's an itinerary from Reno that mostly allows the planning of lodging and dining choices in advance each night. The older I get the more important the dining factor becomes.

Furnace Creek, Death Valley - 1 night

Grand Canyon Village, South Rim - 2 nights to allow a full day to explore GC

Monument Valley Tribal Park - 1 night

Mesa Verde National Park, CO - 1 night

Gallup, NM - 1 night (visit Canyon de Chelly NP at Chinle, AZ, Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site at Ganado, and Petrified Forest NP on the way)

Santa Fe - 1 night (stay on or near market plaza)

From Santa Fe you have six or seven nights to get to Mystic which is 2100-2200 miles depending upon your route. One way to go is

Amarillo - Palo Duro Canyon State Park south of Amarillo

Oklahoma City - Oklahoma City National Memorial and the National Cowboy Museum

St.Louis - Gateway Arch

Springfield, IL - Lincoln tomb, home and library

From Springfield, Gettysburg is convenient to the route to Mystic.

Or from OKC another way is via Memphis, Nashville, Smoky Mountains NP, Shenandoah NP. Williamsburg is a possibility.

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8. Re: First Time Road Tripper

I'd also suggest buying the Lonely Planet USA guide. There are lots of things to see along the way that you will not find out on these boards, but will be in guidebooks such as these. Especially about small town attractions, restaurants, accomodations.

Salt Lake City, Utah
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9. Re: First Time Road Tripper

It's nice to have an iphone or something to google info about the areas you're passing through. All of those relics from school you forgot about will come to life as you see them in person. If you are doing a cross country road trip in two weeks, I wouldn't stray more than a couple of hours off course. I tire of driving for more than 30 hours in a three day period. This is just me, but I always load the bulk of my time West of the Rockies and then just spend a couple of days in the Midwest and East. This would be flying through each area, but give you a small sampling. You'd have to get up early and get on the road to see each place.This itinerary is heavy on the driving and amount of places to visit.

I might do something like this:

1) Death Valley

2) Zion National Park- hike Angel's Landing or a couple of shorter hikes: Canyon Overlook Trail & River Walk

3) Grand Canyon

4) Sedona, AZ

5) Petrified Forest

6) Monument Valley

7) Mesa Verde

8) MIllion Dollar Highway to Sante Fe - Telluride-Ouray-Silverton-Durango to Santa Fe

9) Santa Fe - Galleries and food

10) Oklahoma City - Visit Bombing Memorial

11) Memphis - Biel Street, Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel.

12 Asheville, NC - Biltmore Estate, downtown food and micro breweries

13) Washington DC - Dupont Circle or Georgetown for dinner.

14 Home

Or you could stay longer at each destination and eliminate the number of stops.

Edited: 11 September 2013, 06:05
10. Re: First Time Road Tripper

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