Road Tripping in the USA

For the last 5 weeks, we’ve been road tripping across the USA. We tried to keep a running dialog of our trip on Twitter and Facebook, so make sure to follow us on those channels. We didn’t post much on here, since most of our readers are from the US, but I thought I’d share a short summary of our trip, some highlights, and some comparisons with traveling in other parts of the world. Pictures will be added on Facebook soon.

Our Route

Between Christmas and Presidents’ Day, we visited 12 states (not counting Idaho, Wyoming, and Iowa, where we drove through each briefly). Here’s a map of the route we took:

USA road trip map

As you can see, it’s pretty busy! The main goal of our trip was to see friends and family out west that we hadn’t seen in a while, and visit a part of the country we hadn’t had much opportunity to explore. We actually made two trips: one shorter trip to Dallas via Oklahoma City for New Years, and another that started in Denver and ended in Seattle.


The best part of our trip was easily visiting all our friends and family. We called in a lot of favors and slept in a lot of guest bedrooms (and living rooms – we brought our airbed), and couldn’t be more grateful for everyone hosting us. So, thank you to Liz+Pat (Dallas), Katie+Andy (Dallas), Wes+Katie (OKC), Ayrel+Ben (Tuscon), Lisa (Phoenix), Marilyn+John (SD), Gabe+Kelly (LA), Terry+Emily (SF), Jessica (Cazadero), Gary+Barb (Redding), and Erin+Brian (Seattle) for hosting us! And also to everyone else who met up with us along the way and showed us their great cities.

USA road trip map

Grand Canyon NP

Two of the biggest highlights for us were visiting many National Parks, and also driving up US Route 1 (Highway 101). We made it to the following National Parks:

  • Arches NP, Moab, UT (we were basically the only ones there – while cold, it was nice to have the place to ourselves)
  • Grand Canyon NP, AZ (bigger than anything you can imagine; some nice hiking but got a big boring after a while)
  • Saguaro NP, Tuscon, AZ (we actually went to the nearby Desert Museum, but it was cool to learn about cactus and desert animals that we definitely don’t see in Missouri)
  • Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, CA (both way cooler than we expected, despite being super touristy; we also rode the cable car and drove down Lombard Street – we had a blast here!)
  • Redwoods NP, CA (absolutely incredible and majestic)
  • Mt. Rushmore, SD (pretty impressive; Sara had never been so we drove home this way – she says it was worth it)

We had hoped to make it to Yellowstone on the way back, but pesky jobs required us drive straight through. Another time! Luckily, we did make time to drive up historic US Route 1 (Highway 101), the coastal road that winds up the entire west coast. We did the sections from Santa Barbara to Monterrey, and from Redwoods NP to Bandon, OR (we’d hoped to do more but were slowed down by mudslides one day). The drive was incredible. The coast changes from beaches to steep cliffs to massive rocks as you head north, and made for some incredible views. Plus we got to see sea lions (mating) and lots of tasty seafood along the way. Definitely an experience we’ll never forget.

Cheers for beers!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention beer. We had local brews in OKC, Denver, Phoenix, San Diego, LA, San Fran/NoCal, Portland, Seattle, and Billings, and loved every minute of it. Special thanks to Sara (Denver), Marilyn+John (San Diego) and Courtney+Joey (Portland) for organizing brewery crawls for us!

Also, we went to a Jeopardy taping, and that was awesome. Maybe I’ll do a separate post on that one day. We are in the audience of the shows that will air on April 9 and 10 – tune in! Just don’t watch it with us, we already know all the answers!

Lessons Learned

I think there are two big lessons we learned on our road trip. First is that the US is really big and really diverse. We spent way more hours in a car then we’d initially imagined. Who knew it took 5 hours to drive from Phoenix to San Diego? Or 9 hours from Moab to the Grand Canyon? Or 29 hours from Seattle to Columbia? It looks so close on the map! In covering so much distance, we also were really surprised by how diverse the landscape in the western US is. We drove through deserts, mountains, canyons, beaches, forests, hills and towns of all shapes and sizes. Every day was different. We also realized that a month was no time at all to see the west – there is just so much to do! We treated this whole trip to get a taste of what we want to go back to (which, unfortunately, is pretty much all of it). For anyone planning a trip on this scale, I think at least 2 months, maybe 3, would be needed to really see everything.

Beautiful coastline on CA Hwy 1

Beautiful coastline on CA Hwy 1

The other big thing we learned was that the US is a great place to travel in! It was soooooooo nice to understand everything that was going on, to be able to communicate with everyone, to easily book hotels at the last minute, to find good nearby restaurants, etc. And having a car gives you so much freedom to come and go as you please. The corollary to this is that I think traveling in the US would be really difficult if you don’t speak English and you don’t have a car. Public transit in most cities we visited was abysmal, and if you wanted to get to a national park like Redwoods or Arches, good luck. You could take the train between big cities or maybe the Greyhound, but you would still miss a lot of the hidden gems. Plus most international tourists probably skip a great city like Portland in lieu of Disneyland, which is unfortunate. But overall, people were helpful, everywhere we stayed had fast wifi, it was all well signed, and every day wasn’t nearly as much of a challenge compared to when we were traveling overseas.

So, overall we had a fantastic time, and we would recommend everyone, young or old, take the time to drive around the US and see all it has to offer. When we started our trip 18 months ago, the US was not on our list, but after our road trip, I think we can safely say it was one of our favorite destinations. It’s good to be home.

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One Response to Road Tripping in the USA

  1. Judy Barnes says:

    Great blog. It is amazing that you really don’t know what is actually in your own backyard until you go out at look!