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A beginner’s guide to planning a US road trip:

Last fall, my mom and I took a 6 day road trip starting in Las Vegas and ending in Salt Lake City, UT. The purpose of the road trip was to get to 5 of the best national parks in Utah.

About the trip:


Flights- For this trip, we booked 2 one-way flights. One from Boston to Las Vegas and the other from Salt Lake City to Boston.

Car- We decided to rent a car at the Las Vegas airport for our road trip. We then dropped it off in Salt Lake when we were returning to Boston. We researched the best type of car for this trip and the overarching answer was a 4WD SUV. Tip: It’s easy to lose cell service in the middle of UT, so make sure your car has OnStar just in case.


We booked all of our hotels through because if you collect 10 nights of hotel stays, you get a night free. They also have great customer support that you can call if anything goes wrong with your reservation. I think we had to call them twice during the trip for a few issues with hotels.

We only stayed at each hotel one night, as we drove to a new park every morning.


Food was a little difficult on this road trip. Unlike MA, there’s not exactly towns with a ton of restaurants every mile on the highway. You can travel for sometimes over an hour before entering a town or finding any restaurants. These national parks also don’t have food stands, so snacks are absolutely essential.

Tip: Bring a small cooler with a few ice packs on the plane, so you can use it throughout your travels. Once you hit a major city, be sure to stop into a grocery store to get sandwich and snack supplies to keep you full and energized throughout your park visits.

The Parks:

I researched UT national parks, along with some maps of the parks in relation to each other in UT. You need to know the best route to take, that way you can be sure you’re seeing the most of everything and not wasting time driving all day.

Park fees: getting into these parks isn’t cheap. Before we left, we purchased a National Park Pass from REI. The pass allowed passage for one car into unlimited parks. That meant that when we approached the gates to the park, we paid nothing in order to get in. We saved a ton of money by doing this and spent less time waiting in lines to enter the parks.

How to plan your own Road Trip:

  1. Pick your road trip destination & stops along the way.

Decide where you’d like to start and stop your road trip. This will allow you to figure out what exactly is “on the way” or “in between” your starting and stopping points.

2. Research, research, research!!!

Once you’ve figured out your start and end, look into every blog, website, map, book you can find. This could take anywhere from an hour-3 hours, depending on how in depth you want to go. Find what attractions are on the way, and prioritize the things you want or NEED to see.

3. Map it out

Once you got your points of interest, map out your road trip. Figure out how long it will take to travel in between points, how long you should expect to spend at each point, and what cities/towns seem as though they’re good resting points for the night.

Driving 2-3 hours everyday along with exploring sites is exhausting, so try to be conscious of pushing yourself “too far” when it comes to driving in between destinations.

4. Get into the details

Now, once you’ve figured out your resting points, look into options for hotels. Keep in mind that budget hotels can get quite gross when you’re out in the middle of no-where. Read reviews, lots of them, to ensure that this is a place you can comfortably spend the night.

When looking into the hotels, see what kind of food options are around. There’s nothing worse than getting to your hotel, being hungry, and having no idea where to go to eat.

5. Book your trip!

Pay for everything once you have steps 1-4 done and finalized. Make a map and a small itinerary or excel document to keep track of your plans. Once you’re sure that’s the route you want to take and those are the places you want to visit, you can comfortably book your flights, car, and accommodations.

We found the cutest little diner in small town Helper, UT through a 5 min. Yelp search.

Planning tools to make this a road trip to remember:

Here are some apps I encourage you to download before and during your trip:

Apps to find good food and reviews on everything from food to hotels to points of interest:

  • Yelp
  • Trip Advisor

Apps to help find the cheapest accommodations and flights:

  • Hopper- Alerts you when flights are at their cheapest!
  • Skyscanner- helps you find the cheapest air travel options
  • my favorite hotel booking app
  • Priceline + Expedia: apps to help find the best car rental deals

Planning apps:

  • Roadtrippers- It literally maps out your roadtrip for you!!
  • Google Trips

Ways to save $$ or get some cash back:

  • Travel credit cards: I have the Capital One Venture Card that gives me 2x miles for every. single. purchase. If you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months, you’ll get $500 worth of airline miles. You also have 0 foreign transaction fees and can redeem your points for hotels, flights, food, and transportation. I HIGHLY suggest getting one of these travel credit cards if you’re thinking about booking a trip.
  • Rakuten: Gives you a percentage of cash back on every purchase. Just activate it before check out, and once the transaction goes through you’ll get a portion of the cash back.
  • Groupon: Sometimes there’s some good deals that will give you discounted admission or discounted hotels!

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