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  1. Default 2 Week Western Road Trip Advice Needed Desperately

    I'm trying to plan a last minute road trip out west with a friend - starts around Aug 11th! There are several complications that are just stumping me - and any advice would be appreciated.

    First, I'm in Boston and my friend is in Albuquerque without a car and we both need to end up in Boston at the end of the trip (most likely by plane).

    The destinations we are interested in are:
    * Grand Canyon (hi priority)
    * Yosemite
    * Yellow Stone
    * Glaciar Nat Park
    * San Francisco (hi priority)
    * California coastal road trip (hi priority)
    * Giant Redwoods

    Activities we are interested in:
    * Half to whole day hikes in parks (but we are not experienced hikers)
    * Camping in one or more parks
    * Swimming in a lake
    * Seeing a waterfall
    * Rafting or Kayaking (white water or lazy floating)
    * S.F. Nightlife/Tourism
    * Swimming in the Pacific

    First Question: We understand we can't see and do everything we want, but what route can give us the most bang? It may seem we are gung ho on all the parks, but not necessarily. Our goal is to see and experience as much as possible and the parks just seemed like obvious choices when looking at a map.

    Second Question: How to kick off the trip? I could fly to ABQ from Boston and we could rent a car or RV for the trip or we could both fly to a more central destination to start the trip. I know we're gonna get killed on the one way vehicle rental, but what other options are there? Is there any route that would result in finishing at the start point to return the rental?

    Third Question: Would renting an SUV or MiniVan be a good trade off (greater gas consumption to allow sleeping in the vehicle versus a car and cheap hotels)? Camping in a tent would be ok as well, but would need advice on where to find campgrounds/showers - would that be a better way to go?

    Fourth Question: Either way, we would probably need some comfy breaks so any suggestions for places to stop over? Interesting or cheap towns/hotels to spend the night in along the way?

    Any ideas on total cost? We are 2 grad students looking to minimize expenses to any extent possible and can make sacrifices as needed.

    BTW, when doing the California coast, is driving North or driving South the preferred way to travel?

    Thanks for any help, advice, links, pointers, etc...

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Western/Central Massachusetts
    Posts
    1,703

    Default Hi there!

    Welcome to the RoadTrip America forum!

    All of the places you listed are great places (some from experience, others from the experiences of others) and you are sure to enjoy yourselves.

    As for cheap lodging, you can check here and here for a good start.

    I would recommend flying out to ABQ just to save yourself some time so you can do most, if not all, of what you want.

    Quote Originally Posted by SummerB
    * Seeing a waterfall
    Yellowstone & Yosemite will definitely deliver on that one!

    Since you are interested in the National Parks, consider getting a pass to save yourself some cash.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,358

    Default Decisions, Decisions

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America forum.

    OK - first things first. I think the way to plan this is to solve the big problems first and then solve only those smaller problems that fit into your bigger solution. Your biggest problem is getting you and your friend together cheaply to start the road trip, and to minimize costs along the way. The best way to go about this is to just get the two of you together in Albuquerque and do a loop trip that starts and ends there. That minimizes the flying and car rental fees. Still, at this late date, the really low cost tickets are gone and you're looking at around $500+ for your round trip and $250+ for your friend's one-way, depending on the exact dates, times and carrier you end up flying. Be sure to look at satellite airports like Providence and Manchester as well. You might find a better deal.

    I personally would just go with a standard rental car, probably an intermediate or midsize. My experience has been that this sized car is not much more expensive than a compact, but that there is a big price jump to the next size up. You can look at what an SUV or mini-van will cost but I suspect you'll find that the price jump is huge - and don't forget to factor in the extra gas to run the less efficient vehicle.

    For a two week, cost minimizing trip, Yellowstone and Glacier are out from the get go. They're just too far. But you can do everything else on your list with an itinerary that goes: Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Death Valley, Yosemite, San Francisco, Monterey, Big Sur, Los Angeles, Tucson, Albuquerque. That would run just under 3000 miles total which is very doable in two weeks and leaves time to actually engage in the activities you want.

    Now cost. In very round numbers, $300-400 for a car rental, $450 for gas, $1000 for a decent motel room each night, and $700 for good but not extravagant restaurant meals. That leaves you looking at around $3500 as a baseline (including the airfares). Now you can pare that down by camping, eating out of a cooler, and other cost saving tricks. But then you have to add the cost of checking out the local night life or fees not covered by your Parks Pass.

    Finally, the loop I suggested has you driving the coast road from north to south. This is the way I like to go since it means the view is on your side of the road, but more importantly, so are the pull-offs, and you only have to worry about one lane of traffic in getting on and off the highway.

    Good Luck!

    AZBuck

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula
    Posts
    3,318

    Default Judy's Expert Tips

    The destinations we are interested in are:
    * Grand Canyon (hi priority)
    * Yosemite
    * Yellow Stone
    * Glaciar Nat Park
    * San Francisco (hi priority)
    * California coastal road trip (hi priority)
    * Giant Redwoods
    You don't say the time you have. Unless you have several weeks, at least 3, I really don't see how you are going to get to Yellowstone and Glacier on this trip.
    First Question: We understand we can't see and do everything we want, but what route can give us the most bang? It may seem we are gung ho on all the parks, but not necessarily. Our goal is to see and experience as much as possible and the parks just seemed like obvious choices when looking at a map.
    From Albuquerque, it's easy to swing up to the Grand Canyon and then head west to California. Take I-40 to Flagstaff, then go north on 89 to Cameron, then west on 180 to the Grand Canyon area. You will enter the east end of the park and there are numerous wonderful viewing spots along the way to Grand Canyon Village. After enjoying the Big Ditch, go south on 180 back to I-40 and continue west toward CA.

    At this point, you might want to check out Yosemite first. I'm not a real expert on this route. I can tell you that if you do a search on Yosemite, you'll find numerous posts about this. And I'm sure others will chime in with the best route to take from the GC to Yosemite. If not, you might want to start a new thread with that specific request.

    From Yosemite, I would go to I-5 and zip up I-5 to Redding. From there, go west on 299 to the coast and you'll be in Giant Redwood Country. Explore there, enjoy, and then head south toward San Francisco on 101 to Leggett (don't forget to stop in gorgeous Eureka, CA, along the way), and then take CA-1 into SFO.

    At least this is how I'd do it. This route is roughly 2000 miles.

    Second Question: How to kick off the trip? I could fly to ABQ from Boston and we could rent a car or RV for the trip or we could both fly to a more central destination to start the trip. I know we're gonna get killed on the one way vehicle rental, but what other options are there? Is there any route that would result in finishing at the start point to return the rental?
    Well, if you have time, you could certainly drive back to Albuquerque. It's roughly 1100 miles from SFO to Albuqurque on the quickest routes (I-5 and I-40). Could be done in 2 long days, preferably 3 days.

    Third Question: Would renting an SUV or MiniVan be a good trade off (greater gas consumption to allow sleeping in the vehicle versus a car and cheap hotels)? Camping in a tent would be ok as well, but would need advice on where to find campgrounds/showers - would that be a better way to go?
    Personally, I don't sleep in my car unless I'm stumped for lodging for the night. I would much rather stretch out in my comfy tent. I get all the gear I need for camping, clothes, other essentials for 2 people for 2 weeks in my New Beetle. I see no advantage to paying more for the vehicle rental itself plus more for gas unless you hate tents and prefer sleeping in a car.

    Campgrounds are easy to find. Except for some state/national park campgrounds that are for primitive camping, virtually all have showers of some kind. Just invest in a good campground guidebook. If you are a member of AAA, you can get them for free. Or go to the bookstore and check them out until you find one you like. Woodall's Tent Camping Directory is a good one as it focuses on campgrounds with tent sites. The Frommer's Guide is another good one.
    Fourth Question: Either way, we would probably need some comfy breaks so any suggestions for places to stop over? Interesting or cheap towns/hotels to spend the night in along the way?
    You might want to invest in this California 1 guidebook. The editors rate is highly. Since I rarely stay in hotels, I'm not much help here with specific suggestions. But I know a search on this forum will yield some great recommendations. Just poke around.
    Any ideas on total cost? We are 2 grad students looking to minimize expenses to any extent possible and can make sacrifices as needed.
    Here's a link to a post I wrote before on budgeting. People tell me that it is a helpful post. It should give you a lot of hints on how to determine your expenses. If you have any other questions after working through the suggestions there, just ask.
    BTW, when doing the California coast, is driving North or driving South the preferred way to travel? Thanks for any help, advice, links, pointers, etc...
    I suggested the route above because I much prefer driving south. You're on the side of the road right next to the cliffs and the views are awesome. Of course, if heights scare you, you might want to drive going north.
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 07-28-2006 at 10:22 PM. Reason: added link to RTA's review of the Frommer's Guide

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