September and October are the perfect months for US roadtrips. Here are my recommendations on where to go, what to see and how to plan the perfect roadtrip.
How much time does a great USA roadtrip take?
You should plan at least 2 weeks, the more, the better. From 3 weeks onwards you can consider seeing both coasts when taking some cross country flights. Honestly, it’s all about prioritising given your time and budget constraints. However, you might not appreciate it as much after a while anymore, so keep your roadtripping habits in mind when planning this.
How to save money on a US roadtrip
Just take your 3 best friends with you. Car costs and motel costs will be divided by 4.
Fun fact: our personal record of how many people can sleep in a motel room is 10. We went on a camping weekend and it got colder than expected. 😂🙈
Make sure you choose people who are fun, because you’ll be spending a whole lotta time together. 😉
Get a fuel-efficient car that has also enough space for all your bags. I know Mustang Convertibles look great on pictures but they might not be the most rational choice.
You can consider camping or a camper van to save some extra bucks and avoid packing/unpacking and eating out. Pack accordingly.
Where to go for the best US roadtrip
Personally, go for the wild wild west. Not only are some of the most iconic cities on the west coast (San Francisco, LA, Las Vegas) but also countless stunning national parks (Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Bryce Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley,…)
New York, the New England states, DC and Florida are also worth a roadtrip. I recommend though taking a flight down to Florida. The northern East Coast has a well developed long distance bus system if you’d rather not drive there by yourself.
Perfect US roadtrip Routing
Fly to SFO, enjoy the city, Lombard St, Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf,..
if you have time:
- Painted Ladies
- Twin Peaks
- Barker Beach (view on the Golden Gate Bridge)
- drive, ride over the Golden Gate Bridge or sail a boat underneath and take pictures on the other side
- enjoy the sunrise from Sausalito,
- learn sth new on Stanford campus
- feel the innovation by checking out the Tech headquarters (ride a bike over the Google campus if they let you, Facebook headquarters, Apple,…)
- see Teslas and homeless in the same street. Extreme rich or extreme poor – does this country really give equal chances no matter in which family you were born into and the ups and downs life had for you. This topic is especially touching for me as I found myself without working credit card or any other cash equivalent there and experienced first hand how being broke and without a place to sleep feels like. Fun fact: I can tell you some tips and tricks about sleeping at airports or in cars. Let me know if you want to hear my tips and tricks how to escape these travel horror stories.
Drive down the coastal highway 1 as much as you can. It takes longer but the view is worth it, especially when approaching Big Sur.
Enjoy the ride along the cliffs until Malibu. Dream of living there while trying to access to mostly private beaches.
LA is huge. For me it was a big disappointment. Hollywood Boulevard is not as shiny as you’d imagine but is also home to the homeless and sex shops. The Hollywood sign is incredibly small and hard to find. Instead, head over to West Hollywood, e.g. Melrose Avenue (where the typical angel pictures are taken). One of the few areas you enjoy walking around in. Enjoy some nature and hiking in Runyon Canyon. Go to the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel to run into some “Influencers”.
While parking in LA is a nightmare, public transport is not convenient. I tried the subway for a day, but the frequency and network is too little to make the most of your time as a tourist.
Head to Santa Monica Pier for sunset and enjoy the beaches for some muscle building, palm trees and roller blading. The beaches are wide, have a few palm trees, but be aware that the water is colder than you might think.
2-3 days is enough for LA. Unless you have the money to spend in Universal Studios or Disneyland.
I found the beach towns around Santa Ana more enjoyable than LA. If you have time, you can continue south towards So Cal up to San Diego.
If not, fly or drive to Phoenix, Arizona. From there, head north towards the incredible nature in Sedona.
Go hit the gym on the NAU campus in Flagstaff (I am biased because I lived there). Flagstaff like many of the natural parks is situated on the Colorado plateau at 2100m elevation. Get used to the high elevation and get fit there.
Get some cheap college drinks downtown.
Hike in volcano tubes in the middle of the forest.
Go skiing or snowboarding on the Arizona Snowball and enjoy views over the Grand Canyon. Who would have thought that there is snow in Arizona…
watch the stars in the Planetarium where Pluto was discovered. There’s hardly any light pollution around Flagstaff. You’ll see the difference when approaching Vegas.
visit an Indian reservation. Head to Havasupai for turquoise waterfalls.
Then, go to the Grand Canyon. The dimensions will inspire you. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon has fewer crowds than what you see closer to Vegas.
However, my favourite places in the area around Page, AZ are
- Antelope Canyon (that’s where the calendar photos are taken)
- Lake Powell for some jetski or boat rental
- Havasupai Falls. You need to get a permit to hike there. Plan more than a day.
Zion Canyon is also nice for a hike if you have more time left (quite a detour). Angel’s landing is a crazy hike. Deers might greet you at your camp ground.
If you have more time, head to Monument Valley. Or see the ballon festival in New Mexico and check out the music in Santa Fe.
Go camping in the Big Staircase Escalante National Park, but make sure you have enough water, food, fire, camping equipment, warm clothing and bedding, etc. with you. BTW alcohol is not sold in Utah. There is no infrastructure, not even phone signal up there. Sign up at the tourist bureau before you get lost. One of the best cookies ever has been sold at one of the gas stations along the way there.
Then, head to Vegas. There are hot springs just out of Vegas in the mountains. Go hiking, skinny dipping and camping there if you dare.
I had little expectations about Vegas but I loved it.
Get an accommodation centrally on the Las Vegas Strip (with the centre I mean around Bellagio, Caesars Palace). Parking is usually included. We stayed at Travelodge (super cheap with a group of 4, perfect if you dont spend much time there anyway and want to make friends with your neighbors). For the best room ever, I can recommend the Venetian. Rates are cheaper during the week (we payed half price). Caesars Palace is worth to stay at for the pool ( either you sneak in or you actually pay for it).
Get lost in the casinos and shopping malls when walking around the strip. The hotels are really worth seeing themselves. Dress for sightseeing in a way that would get you into a club but also comfortable enough to walk a long way. Dress for the freezing cold AC but also the heat outside. Bring your ID.
Check out some of the best pool parties (seasonally March-October with some of the best DJs worldwide). Get free entrance (and perhaps drinks) to parties by getting numbers of promoters who usually start talking to you at the Bellagio fountains (creepy, I know). Enjoy the fountains especially at night and check the time before waiting for too long.
Clubs we’ve been to: at the Paris Paris hotel on the Eiffel Tower with a view over the Bellagio fountains
Aria (crazy how many free drinks you can get there as a girl in the VIP area)
Or go there for festivals (well this now has a bad taste to it after the shooting)
Don’t miss some shows:
- Cirque du soleil, …
Plan at least 2-3 days for Vegas (cheaper and less crowded during the week unless there are many conferences – yes some business man actually pretend to go there for conferences haha)
Fly back if you’re short on time and money.
Otherwise, do some survival training in death valley. Seriously, if you plan on taking this road, plan ahead.
Yosemite and Sequoia are natural wonders you shouldn’t miss out on.
How to find the best and cheapest car for a US roadtrip
I checked on kayak.com but you can also try to negotiate with a local (like we did in Flagstaff since they knew we were coming back often for weekend trips).
They might offer an upgrade, a waiver of the under-aged fee, free GPS. Make sure to get free mileage, full-full return, and agree on a drop-off location.
BTW did you know that with a German license you don’t need an international driving license? Hooray 🙂
How to plan your US roadtrip
Take the google map above as a base and plan your individual trip. Download offline maps in google just in case even if you got a GPS and paper maps.
Perhaps get a data plan for the US but be aware that there might not be coverage in many natural parks.
Find cheap flights to the US
- Multi-stop flights kayak.com or flights.google.com
- Try to use the same airline alliance for best rates
- Book months in advance, especially when going during the main season (August-October)
Tired of organizing? Book a fly&drive holiday
For example on arke.nl and take accomodation as you go. Just enjoy the moment and stay where you like it the most 🙂