Planning our summer road trip through New Mexico

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Last Updated on July 2, 2013

After three amazing road trips in the U.S. – California’s Pacific Coast Highway and Northern Arizona in 2010 and New York to New Orleans in 2011 – it is just about time for another great American road trip!

We will be house and pet-sitting for one of our favorite families in Tucson for the third time next month, so while we are in the South West, New Mexico seems like the most logical place to spend a while on the road stopping in places like Carlsbad Caverns, Santa Fe and Albuquerque, the White Sands dunes and Native American pueblos in mid to late September.

There are five major aspects to getting the most out of any road trip, so as we get ready for our New Mexico Road Trip 2013, we wanted to break down the anatomy of road-trip planning for you as well.

car in saguaro national park

1 Find an affordable rental car

Being owners of nothing more than one large and one small backpack each, we obviously do not possess a car, but this is a key element on any road trip. During our last three road trips we were very successful in scoring a great deal for a rental car, which takes some time, but is definitely worth the effort. We usually use car rental comparison websites to see which rental companies have the best deal. For our first U.S. road trip in 2010, we found an amazing deal for only $520 for the whole month, which came down to $17.33 per day. Monthly rentals are often much cheaper than renting per day, and it can even work out cheaper to rent for an entire month, even if you only plan on road-tripping for three weeks and / or are dropping the car off in a different location than where you picked it up.

rental car tucson

2 Mapping out your route

The United States is a massive country and driving distances can be deceiving. We often underestimated the distance we could cover in one day, either because of difficult terrain like mountains or coastal curves, or because of the exact opposite – hours of monotonous cornfields seriously take their toll after a while. On our big NYC2NOLA road trip in 2011 we were much more careful about planning out each day, and while we strayed occasionally from that plan, having the plan allowed us more downtime than when we were pushing through at the end of a long drive just to make it to a town, eyelids held up by toothpicks. That’s no fun, but neither is sleeping in a car or at a dingy roadside motel just because of poor planning. Remember also that America’s highways are seemingly always under construction, so it is definitely worth it to check for any major construction on the interstates you plan to drive on as roadwork and detours in the summer months can be a true hassle. There is nothing like taking the open roads, so plan in some alternative back roads if possible during the summer months.

Route 66 nostalgia

3 Planning your activities

Changes happen all the time on road trips, and while it is fine to roll with the punches, we find that it works out best when you’ve done all your research first about what is in the area and what the alternatives if anything doesn’t go as planned. Make sure the sights you want to see are open the day or two you plan to be in town.

4 Booking accommodation in advance

While there is definitely something romantic about pulling in to a hotel on the road, seemingly without a care in the world, there are definitely some places where booking in advance can make or break your stop in town. We learned this the hard way. When we visited Canyon de Chelly in northern Arizona, we arrived just hoping to get a motel somewhere easy peasy. Chinle, the closest town to the canyon, is very small with only basic amenities, which meant we were forced to stay at the overpriced Holiday Inn when the two other motels were booked up. If you’re road tripping during summer vacation or even if it’s just a popular stop, book your hotels in advance – this is another reason why mapping out your route as suggested above can be key. There are plenty of websites and apps to compare prices, but standard road-trip style motels often offer big discounts when booked in advance.

Wigwam Motel, Route 66

5 Making a detailed packing list

Another crucial aspect of a successful road trip is to pack everything you need. When we drove through the southern states of the U.S, we had huge problems finding anything but fast food and drove for miles without passing bigger towns with proper grocery stores. Much of the time we were either starving or eating unhealthy fast food, wishing we had packed enough healthy snacks like nuts and fruit. Entertainment is also a key element of any fun road trip. Get music loaded up onto iPods and possibly USB sticks, depending on the car the rental agency gives you. We don’t like to leave our ability to listen to good music to chance (there is only so much Top 40 and country music one can stand after a week in the car), which is why one of our most important accessories is a Car Audio AUX Cable for iPhone/iPod that connects our iPods with every car radio and lets us choose the podcasts we want to listen to, or our own music.

road trip vermont duskWhat are your planning tips for a successful road trip? What do you recommend for a New Mexico road trip? 

Tags : South West Road trip 2010


  1. You’ve already made the first monumental mistake. You’re doing your southern US trip during the summer! I guess you know how hot it will be. Records are being set as we speak.

    There are two cardinal sins for long term travelers. Going too FAST, and going in the wrong time of the year. Although, I think you’ve shifted gears out of the long term travel club and into the “Vacationers” club. You’re doing the quintessential All-American Vacation! Cramming and planning too much stuff into a finite time period. The only thing different with you guys is that you won’t be going back to work when you’re done! That’s the good part!

    However, the understanding kind of guy that I am, you have probably already weighed all your alternatives and come up with this plan. You love to sweat and stand in long lines.

    I’d wait until after school starts and head for the higher elevations. Sorry for being so blunt, but it was 103 degrees F ( 39.4 C ) here the other day (an all time record) and I think my brain is half fried. 🙂

    1. Hi Steve, you MIGHT be right about the heat, but we were hoping that it would be cooling down a bit by mid-September when we’ll actually hit the road. If not – at least it’ll be drier than in the South East where we road tripped in August two years ago and almost died of the humidity (Georgia, Louisiana) 😀 But we are housesitting for the third time in the heat of the summer in Arizona, this time will actually be the first time that we’re not there in the hottest month (June, when it was around 110F almost every day)… we just love the heat 🙂 I am trying to plan the trip in a way that we don’t feel like we’re moving too fast, allowing more time in each stop. We did it that way on our NYC2NOLA trip and it worked out well, but still, road trips are always exhausting in a way. I hope that the kids are back to school mid-September and we can avoid long lines though! Have you been to New Mexico?

      1. Of course you know that I’m just having fun with you. You know, wherever you go, whenever you go, it’s always something! I have yet to find nirvana.

        I have been to New Mexico, but only a pass through on my way back from one of my many trips to Mexico. It was just a fleeting freeway view, but after just coming up through Texas, anywhere would be better. (note the disdain for Texas from a Californian?) As travelers, it’s always good to remain A-Political, but holey-cow, our country is careening out of control!

        Weather wise, my mind is stuck in the present as it will be over a hundred here again today. If you’re starting mid-September, you should be OK if you head north, especially after spending a month in Tucson in the summer. It’s a good gig, (free is always good), but you’re gonna hafta broaden your horizons and find another house-sitting location. Hey, I know of a great book on the subject! 🙂

        With several US road trips under your belt now, you should be quite the experts at how to do them. Your above blog indicates that. I always try to travel “no-reservations”, but that just doesn’t work here in the US.
        When in Rome ……………..

        Also, the part about packing ‘good’ food; It’s just plain embarrassing how so many places can only offer JUNK FOOD in this country. Go figure.

        1. It’s actually our favorite housesit – we’re returning for the third time this year 🙂 It’s not necessarily going to save us any more (considering the prices of flights during the summer months) but we couldn’t say No! We were going to housesit in Abu Dhabi this summer (for exactly the reason you mention – to broaden our horizons! Even though it’d be even hotter than Arizona 😉 ) but we just love the desert scenery around Tucson and couldn’t turn it down 😀

  2. We absolutely loved Santa Fe ladies, hope you do too!
    We have finally decided on our end of year destination! The plan is to head to Mexico! The Yucatan in particular for our first visit it seems to be just perfect! We will have almost 3 months to explore and enjoy! Exciting times 🙂

    1. We’re excited to go and if you have any specific recommendations – places to eat/drink, what not to miss – we’d be happy to hear them 🙂 Awesome news about Mexico – the Yucatan is the perfect introduction to Mexico!! Don’t miss Isla Mujeres, Akumal, and Valladolid!!

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