Last Updated on August 22, 2021
Massive in size, covered in incredible scenery and dotted with tiny towns and major cities, the United States is truly a road-trippers dream, and after our experience, we think that everyone should go on an American road trip at least once in their lives.
Every time we visit we try to fit in at least one road trip and have driven thousands of miles driving up and down and across the country. Our last road trip, NYC2NOLA, spanned from New York to New Orleans, and our whole GlobtrotterGirls experience essentially kicked off with a trip up and down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to San Diego. We followed that up just a month or so later with the mother of all road trip roads, Route 66, complete with its cowboys, the Grand Canyon and riding through the Wild, Wild West.
For Dani, driving across America is super inspiring as she has wanted to live in America for over decade. Although she can never experience high school or what it could have been like to be a cheerleader, her dream of living the American Dream doesn’t fade. In fact, she has even entered the annual Green Card Lottery a handful of times, hoping to be one of the 55,000 lucky ones who win a green card ever year.
Part of what fascinates Dani and also myself, is the incredible variation of landscapes across the country. Glaciers in Alaska, the Rocky Mountains, the desert. In fact, the state of Arizona incorporates so much of that variation within the borders of that one state. The moonscape of the Painted Desert, the unique boulders and rock formations of Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, the lesser known but seriously stunning Canyon de Chelly as well as the jaw-dropping Antelope Canyon.
We saw the wild Sonoran desert, visited a ghost mining town and Indian Trading Posts, experienced a rodeo in Prescott, marveled at the red rocks of Sedona, and finally drove along the iconic Route 66 before heading west to Nevada.
If you want to follow our route, you can have a look at the over 1,200 miles we drove in Arizona here:
This Travel & Leisure article also features the ultimate Arizona road trip itinerary.
A week or longer on the road can be stressful, and we made several ‘rookie mistakes’ on our first big road trip – and because we make mistakes so that you don’t have to, we have put together our five main tips for a successful road trip:
Our Arizona road trip tips:
1. Map out your route before you go
Knowing exactly what was on our agenda for the next day and the day after helped us to stay focused and plan our exact route, which was extremely helpful when booking hotels and motels – which brings us to #2…
2. Book your motels and hotels in advance
It seems romantic to just pull up, park and check-in, but accommodation fills up quickly, leaving you with some of the less-desirable options especially in popular spots like Flagstaff, the base for Grand Canyon explorations, where hotels and motels tend to fill up quickly, especially during vacation times. In Chinle, the closest town to Canyon de Chelly, there were only a couple of motels with the next accommodation hundreds of miles away – we ended up overpaying A LOT there because we hadn’t booked in advance. In the towns where we booked prior to arrival, we always got a better deal using hotel comparison websites.
Also, don’t rule out vacation rentals. Whether you’re traveling alone or with a couple of girlfriends, this option can easily rival the price of hotels, but with much more space and amenities. With some of the great available rentals in Arizona, you might even want to pause your road trip for a weekend, just to enjoy all they have to offer. And if you’re planning to go out at night, leave the car at your hotel / Airbnb and use a local taxi service. If you’re taking the trip to celebrate a special occasion, a birthday or a bachelorette party for example, consider living it up and renting a party bus in Mesa AZ for an evening to hit the town in style.
3. Plan in an extra couple of hours for each day of driving
Booking some accommodation in advance doesn’t mean you’ll have to rush through places if you plan in extra hours on the road from the start. We found ourselves stopping at scenic lookouts or just on the side of the road in little towns much more often than we had thought, which extended our driving time extensively. We spend some days entirely in the car.
4. Have your documents on you at all times
This is true especially in border states. In Arizona, it is state law that foreign visitors have to have a valid I.D. on them at all times. Dani didn’t bring her passport on one of our explorations and almost got in trouble with the border immigration control because of it. Expect to be stopped by police several times, particular in the south of Arizona, even 100 miles north of the Mexican border.
5. Pack some healthy snacks
We found that on several of the long drives, between Monument Valley and Page for example, or Page and Flagstaff, there was a noticeable absence of restaurant and stores, except for mini marts and fast food chains – not the healthiest food for a road trip. Having enough apples, nuts and water in the car was a lifesaver on several occasions.
Monday 28th of January 2013
We did a fantastic road trip around the Southwestern states of America a year ago. We didn't get too far off the beaten path - just the grand canyon, Sedona, Flagstaff and Scottsdale/Phoenix. I'd love to see more.
Wednesday 30th of January 2013
Bethaney - isn't it just such a beautiful part of the U.S.? I love the South West! I am already looking forward to going back :) We tried to see the Wave (google image search The Wave Arizona, it's stunning) but they limited the daily visitors and you can win a day pass to hike there - we drove two hours out there and took part in the lottery but didn't win. I was heartbroken but I hope that next time we'll win a ticket :-)
Monday 28th of January 2013
"I have this to say about that:" (from experience)
If you are a long term traveler and are doing a road trip, plan ahead by owning your own wheels and house on your back.
I've driven around Europe for six months in a VW camper van that I owned. I've also taken a year to drive to Costa Rica, R/T from California in a pick-up truck with a camper on the back.
If you're thinking of a year or so, you can easily sell your rig for near what you paid for it at the end of your trip. That equals zero cost! Compare what you pay for all your lodging, transportation costs and eating non-home cooked meals to: the cost of your vehicle (gas, a few oil changes, a flat tire or two, license and insurance), no lodging except for maybe paying for Campgrounds with hook-ups for half the time (way cheaper than motels) and the ability to buy good food and cook your own meals.
Plus, you have the freedom to go where you want, when you want, always knowing that wherever you are, you're home. You don't have to make reservations ahead of time and then have to meet a schedule to be there.
I've done this and kept track of costs. It's a no-brainer! The only downside is that you'll have to have the up front money required to buy your home on wheels.
It's interesting that this mode of travel is not covered in any travel books, guides or blogs. So, if you're thinking about a long term road trip, be smart and do the math and maybe work and save a little bit longer for the time of your life. I did.
Wednesday 30th of January 2013
Steve - you have done some amazing road trips! Driving a camper van through Australia is on our bucket list :) You are right about the costs, too - when we rented a car for the first time for a month, it was only $520 - when we tried to find a deal like that the second time around, we had no success and paid double that rate! With gas and motel costs it really adds up and I think a camper van is just perfect to save on accommodation costs and to stop where ever you want for however long you want. I hope we'll get to do this one day in the U.S., too - there is just so much to see!!