Hey Fellow Bloggers
Apologies first of all for being MIA for the last couple of months and not really engaging in my travel blogging. Yes I know I have a hell of a lot to catch up on.
It was May last year that we had our epic journey to the States and I’ve been dipping in and out of my blog over the last 8 months (which basically means I have achieved nothing). I’ve been so focused on trying to work off the amount of dollar I spent in the States. Yeah….. not the cheapest way of doing things but I had the best time so it was totally worth it.
Now my travel buddy was working away on cruise ships. So he literally entrusted me with absolutely everything. The flights, tickets, hotels, cars and money! Wes trusted me with everything. He didn’t know until a week before we headed off on our crazy adventure what we were actually going to do.
I am going start a series of blogs for each of the places that we visited separately, so this blog is the architecture of the entire trip. It took about 2 months in the making overall which included booking absolutely everything.
I am a little bit OCD in a lot of things that I do so this really helped…. From check lists, to reminders, to writing everything down on a huge mind map and my entire living room being covered with pictures and plans.
First things first
We had two weeks for our adventure. We set ourselves a budget of £2,500 for the trip itself, it was a big trip and we wanted to keep costs to a minimum but also get the most out of our trip.
I started with making lists for each of the 3 destinations of what exactly we wanted to do in these places.
Our hit list: San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas
Order: The reason why we chose to travel in the order we did was due to the price of the flights. It worked out cheaper to fly to and from San Francisco.
The main things we wanted to see whilst exploring these places:
ALCATRAZ – Booked the behind the scenes tour online (cheaper and definitely worth booking in advance to get the best availability). The tickets are not available on Sundays or Mondays. We had to change a few things around to accommodate the tour.
YOSEMITE – Booked a hire car (you get the national park tickets and brochures at the entrances)
HOOVER DAM & GRAND CANYON – Booked a hire car to drive to the Hoover Dam and the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. Hoover Dam is on the way to the Grand Canyon. One way it was about a 4 hour journey.
VALLEY OF FIRE – Same car used for the Grand Canyon. Valley of Fire is 1 hour outside of Las Vegas.
What do you do first? That was the main question….
What about our Hotels?
I booked everything in a really odd order, I decided to leave the flights for a while and have a look into the hotels needed for the trip.
I am not going to lie, I am little bit of a snob when it comes to hotels. I looked on Airbnb, Hostelworld.com, TripAdvisor, literally everywhere to try and find the best places, with the best locations on a budget. But after a while we thought nahhhhhh… let’s just go big. Typically the best locations come with a price tag.
Booking.com was literally my bible throughout the planning of the trip. I looked on the app every single day to try and find the best deals out there. I was focussed on a couple of hotels that we loved, making sure I noted down the price every single day, and when they were at the best deal I booked them. All of the hotels were booked before the flights. I know this is a very unusual thing to do. I only chose this method knowing that there were lots of flights headed out to San Fran on a daily basis.
- Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf Hotel San Francisco – this hotel was in the most amazing location. This was 30 mins from the airport and 5 mins from Fisherman’s Wharf which is where we wanted to stay as this was where we docked when we were onboard ships.
- The Dream Hollywood Hotel ( LA) – this was located just round the corner from the main drag, Downtown Hollywood (Walk of Fame etc.). This was the perfect location for everything we needed. Also was only 30 mins from Santa Monica.
- MGM Grand – Las Vegas – this was a bargain in itself, £350 for 4 nights in a Tower Suite Spa room (it was the most amazing room ever). This hotel was the very first thing I booked. And of course the MGM was located on the main strip, I didn’t realise how massive this hotel room was but it was stunning.
- Comfort Inn & Suites San Francisco Airport – This hotel was just for the basis of flying home and somewhere to kip for the night with free shuttle to the airport which was very handy. Very comfortable but compared to where we stayed with the previous hotels, was a little bit of a downgrade to say the least.
Hotel Tips in the USA
- I would suggest taking a credit card with you, or enough money on your debit card. The reason I say this is because in the USA the hotels take £100 a day pending charge for any incidentals you may incur. This is not something that I realised when booking the hotels until I got there. Lucky that I had a few credit cards with me.
- Make sure you have the card that you booked your hotels with as well as all the of your documents.
Our Flight plan journey
The next step was to figure out the cheapest flights. Which UK airport would be the cheapest to fly from? What would be the cheapest way to get to that airport? With all these questions I just had to find a place to start.
The internet became my best friend, I must have combed through pages and pages for two days straight to discover the best direct flights to San Francisco, I think I looked at every flight company possible. So I gave up and casually typed into Google my flights and Google itself found me the cheapest ones possible which were about £480 for return, which was very good I thought. That was the return flight booked.
I know what you’re thinking? Return flight? On a road trip?
We had worked out that it was cheaper to get a flight back from Las Vegas to San Francisco than it was to fly back from Las Vegas to the UK. We were going to drive back to San Francisco but we then realized; 9 hour drive?? ‘No thank you’ and frankly after 2 weeks of ‘USA-ing’ it up and knowing our itinerary we wouldn’t have had the time or the petrol money. We wanted to get from A To B in the most cost effective way but also having a little bit of fun on the way. So this was our plan………….
Our flights We Booked:
UK Heathrow –> San Francisco
San Francisco -> Los Angeles.
Las Vegas –> San Fran –> Toronto (connection) –> UK Heathrow
Now our flights altogether cost us about £700 with luggage. Don’t forget to book your suitcases on your flights as they are not done automatically these days. Also make sure this includes hand luggage.
So after we booked our flights we were missing 1 vital link….. how do we get from LA to Las Vegas. Ladies and Gentleman, there is one way and one way only that we wanted to do this. Yes we rented a soft top Mustang to drive from LA to Las Vegas. So no flight needed.
- Although we printed out our boarding passes it was much easier electronically.
- The USA airports are very busy. So just be prepared to wait a while to go through USA immigration. (after working on cruise ships we knew what an absolute pain this can be) so I suggest grabbing a bottle of water and a snack before you land just in case.
- Make sure you know what terminal you are in, the taxi drivers normally know but it’s always good to have the comfort of knowing where you’re going.
- The great thing about American airports is that many of them have automatic luggage tagging machines. Where you put your luggage on a scale, scan your passport and boom you have luggage tags.
The car rental app (Rentalcars.com) was the best. It has all the best car rental places in the USA. Also, all of the cars over there are automatic. I had never driven one so that was very interesting. Wrong side of the road too, let’s just say I had to get used to it very quickly (as she screams the whole way until she gets onto the freeway). Not going to lie, I came to love the USA roads.
We needed 3 cars for our trip.
1 to travel from San Fran to Yosemite in – This was a very nice car that we upgraded (a nice Hyundai Tucson 4×4) which we paid a little more for. It was about $120. This included cover. For a round trip of 7 hours it was definitely worth it. The petrol lasted the whole day and we got a free tank with our deal so we didn’t have to fill up.
1 to travel from LA to Las Vegas – Yes we did it! A convertible Mustang the most beautiful drive ever. This was $90 a day. This included damage and lost or stolen cover.
1 To travel to Hoover Dam, Valley of Fire and the Grand Canyon – This was just a simple Toyota auto car and I tell you what; it was amazing and just what we needed. $130 for 4 days and we only filled up once which was great.
Car Rental Tips in the USA
- As I was only 24 at the time, I had to use the young driver certificate which did add on about $50 Dollar each time unfortunately.
- All automatic cars. So maybe take a test drive before you head to the States. Easy enough when you have the hang of it, but after driving a manual car your foot is going to be extremely heavy on the break (Wes nearly got ejected through the window screen).
- DO NOT FORGET YOUR DRIVING LICENSE
- I would suggest bringing your passport with you too for extra ID.
- Print off all paper work as it is much easier to give over to the cashier.
- You also need to have with you the credit/debit card that the cars were booked on.
- Make sure the car has enough space for your luggage (suitcase space). In the Mustang we had to put the suitcases on the back seat. They were strapped In like excited children in the back.
- Please DO NOT SPEED. I wanted to get home (the hotel) from the Grand Canyon in good time so I put my foot down a little bit. It was a good job that I watch USA true crime programs as I saw a big black 4×4 waiting in the desert up ahead, it was ‘The Fuzzzz’. I slammed my foot on the break and went past slowly. I saw the lights and panicked. The “Cops” pulled over the car behind us! Woop! Sucks for the other guy though.
Uber was the biggest help on our trips, but also one of the most expensive parts of our trip. We walked as much as was possible or as much as we could with the time that we had in a day. USA is a big place!
But UBER was especially helpful in San Francisco and Los Angeles, we didn’t really have to use them in Las Vegas as we had the car (unless we were drinking of course) which to be honest was most of the time.
I would suggest booking a lot of your pre planned events:
MJ The One Show, Las Vegas – this was pretty cheap and we got the best seats. This was booked before we headed out to Vegas. This was booked through: https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/michael-jackson-one
Alcatraz – This was better to book in advance as we got a cheaper price. It might be sold out on the day. We also bypassed the queue which was great.
USA National Parks – Tickets are available to purchase when you arrive at the parks. These places are so beautiful, make sure you save some money for these parks, they range from $15 to about $35 for entry.
ESTA USA Visa Application: This is very easy to complete online at this site: http://estavisaapplicationform.com/
It currently costs $14 if you do it directly via the ESTA website. You’ll probably pay more if you do it through a travel agent. If you’re refused entry to the United States you’ll only be charged $4.
The ESTA takes a max. of 72 hours to be approved but a lot of the ESTA applications take just a few minutes to get approved. Keep an electronic copy and print this out to take with you. FACT: You now have to log back into the website to check approval.
Please triple check your ESTA details before submitting the application. The application asks for a lots of personal data so be prepared to answer very in-depth things.
This was our only mistake on the trip, my fault entirely as I didn’t check.
Sat in San Fran airport ready to get on our flight home via Toronto when I was casually checking our flight info. Not realising we needed a Canadian Visa just to transit through Canada on our way home (the cheaper flight option). It was only $7 and it was confirmed in an hour which was amazing and very lucky for us. Please do this beforehand if you have a flight layover.
This was definitely the best part about planning this trip. I got to plan day by day exactly what we were going to be doing. I did this all by PowerPoint. First I had to plot each day’s hotels, flights and car rentals. Then plotted around that including booking tickets and tours.
Best Tips for planning a big road trip/adventure:
- Get a big A4 document wallet. This will help even if you have the electronic versions. I had both and this was really useful as a lot of documents need to be printed out.
- Make sure you check all of the countries you are visiting to check if there are any Visas or special documents you need.
- Plan Plan Plan Plan your hand luggage with all the essential things needed for a long haul flight. I have written a blog on this. Please see the previous one blog.
- Make sure you have planned you itinerary. This really helped me – knowing what we were doing every day. Was so much fun and probably the 2nd best bit of any trip (the best being the actual trip).
- As tight as us English are (well me anyway) you are expected to TIP in the States and tipping, again, is where most of our money went. Please make sure you have low $ notes on you for this reason.
- Bring comfortable walking shoes, especially If you are going to go to San Fran, there are an extreme amount of hills.
Thank you all for reading this! It was a very stressful but rewarding and fun time, stay connected for my next Blog post about the wonderful San Francisco.
Stay safe! Big Love and Peace out