Jump to content
Clare
Clare

USA: Summary

We've been back from the USA for nearly a week, slowly recovering from the jetlag and getting used to being back at work again. It really was the trip of a lifetime and we managed to pack so much into the three weeks that we were away. We certainly travelled some large distances, taking a total of nine individual flights with five different airlines over the course of the trip, for a total of 11,154 miles flown. Out of those airlines, Southwest was probably our favourite with its colourful decor and cheerful staff. Aer Lingus was definitely the worst, with our transatlantic flights being delayed in both directions for no clear reason, causing us to miss both of our onward connections!

In total we visited - at least briefly - 12 states over the course of the three weeks. We started with a 5-hour wait for a connecting flight in Boston airport, making Massachusetts our first state. From there we eventually flew to Raleigh, spending a week in the capital of North Carolina while Tim taught an Esperanto course and I worked remotely for my employer in the UK. From Raleigh we flew initially to Chicago, making Illinois state number 3. That really was a brief visit, because within an hour we were on a connecting flight to state number 4, Arizona.

image.jpeg

We landed in Phoenix and from there set off on a road trip which looked something like this: 

image.png

After a few days in Arizona we made a brief detour into Utah...

image.jpeg

...before embarking on a long drive towards Colorado...

image.jpeg

...with another quick detour into New Mexico on the way.

image.jpeg

From Colorado we drove to Wyoming.

image.jpeg

We couldn't resist the opportunity to cross the border into neighbouring Nebraska...

image.jpeg

...although our actual destination was South Dakota.

image.jpeg

From South Dakota we travelled back to Wyoming and ultimately to Idaho, a surprise late-entry to the list of states we intended to visit following dramatic flooding in Yellowstone a few weeks before our planned trip there.

image.jpeg

On the final day of the road trip we crossed the border from Idaho into Montana, from where we began our long journey home with a flight from Bozeman to Denver, followed by a flight from Denver to Chicago.

image.jpeg

In total, I calculate that we drove 3,598 miles, with an average of 257 miles per day. The longest day of the trip was day seventeen, when we drove around 430 miles from Estes Park (Colorado) to Custer (South Dakota). The shortest day of the trip was day sixteen, when we just drove from our hotel in Estes Park to Bear Lake and back. When I say "we drove", I mean "Tim drove", obviously :D And it was lucky for me that he could drive, because this is definitely not an itinerary which we could have done by public transport. America really does seem to be the land of the car!

The main aim of our trip was to visit places of natural beauty and I think we definitely succeeded in that. In total we visited five national parks, getting good value out of the 'America the Beautiful' pass we purchased for $80 on our first day. We started with Grand Canyon National Park, a place so stunning that we felt if we'd had to go home after the first day of the road trip, the holiday would still have been worthwhile.

image.jpeg

A few days later we visited Mesa Verde National Park, a really unique place with its views of ancient cliff dwellings.

image.jpeg

Mesa Verde was the first of three national parks we visited in Colorado. The second was Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park which, while it maybe doesn't rival the Grand Canyon, was nevertheless well worth seeing.

image.jpeg

The third park in Colorado was Rocky Mountain National Park, which was more than beautiful enough to compensate for the hassle of having to book timed entry permits in advance of visiting :) 

image.jpeg

Our fifth and final national park was the wonderful Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

image.jpeg

In addition to these national parks, we also visited two national monuments, entry to which was included in our 'America the Beautiful Pass'. We started with a scenic drive around the Colorado National Monument...

image.jpeg

...before visiting the unusual Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho later in the trip.

image.jpeg

I mustn't forget the 3 state parks we also visited, of course. We stayed overnight in Custer State Park (South Dakota) before exploring its unique scenery the next morning.

image.jpeg

We were slightly underwhelmed by North America's tallest single-structure sand dune at Bruneau State Park in Idaho.

image.jpeg

But we loved learning about the history of Montana's ghost towns at Bannack State Park on our final day.

image.jpeg

Over the course of the three weeks we had some really exciting experiences. We stood in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah all at once at the Four Corners Monument...

image.jpeg

... some of us more gracefully than others :D 

image.jpeg

In Colorado we drove across the continental divide. From one side water drains into the Atlantic, whilst on the other side it drains into the Pacific.

image.jpeg

We reached the dizzy height of 12,005 ft (3,659m) whilst driving along Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuously paved road in North America.

image.jpeg

And who could forget the experience of seeing four US presidents carved into the rock at Mount Rushmore?!

image.jpeg

During our first week in Raleigh we also had a couple of experiences which felt very American. We watched the city's official 4th of July firework display from a local park...

image.jpeg

...and we also had our first ever trip to the baseball, watching the Durham Bulls play a team from Memphis.

image.jpeg

Although this was a trip that involved a lot of driving, we also did a fair bit of walking.

image.jpeg

According to my Fitbit, over the course of the three weeks we walked 345,249 steps, which averages out as 13,810 steps per day. And those steps were needed to try and walk off all the food we ate :D  Over the course of the holiday we had some amazing meals, with breakfast at Denny's being a real highlight.

image.jpeg

I wasn't really a fan of biscuits and gravy...

image.jpeg

...but I loved the 4th July doughnuts Tim bought at Krispy Kreme...

image.jpeg

...and the pulled pork with macaroni cheese I had at the baseball was a personal highlight for me :)

image.jpeg

The baseball match was also where I drank the most expensive wine of my life, at $20.43 for this can of rose.

image.jpeg

Otherwise the drink of the holiday was definitely iced coffee, of which I literally drank buckets :D 

image.jpeg

The road trip really brought home to us how absolutely enormous America is and how different the landscapes are from state to state, or even within states. We hiked in the desert in Arizona...

image.jpeg

...which was quite a contrast to the greenery of Colorado.

image.jpeg

We drove through mile after mile of grassy prairies on one side of Wyoming...

image.jpeg

...before admiring snow-covered mountains on the opposite side of the same state.

image.jpeg

The first part of our trip was dominated by the Colorado River, which we were just able to glimpse at the bottom of the Grand Canyon...

image.jpeg

...and which we got a much better view of at the amazing Horseshoe Bend.

image.jpeg

We ultimately stayed in a hotel right by the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs.

image.jpeg

It was the Snake River which dominated the second part of our trip. We had some absolutely incredible reviews of the Teton Mountains reflecting in it at Oxbow Bend.

image.jpeg

We slightly failed to be impressed by the promised waterfall at Idaho Falls...

image.jpeg

...but the Snake River redeemed itself with Shoshone Falls...

image.jpeg

...and we enjoyed walking along the Snake River Canyon at Twin Falls.

image.jpeg

The other star of this trip has been the lakes - especially in Colorado, where we saw so many. We started with lunch by Grand Lake...

image.jpeg

...before setting out on the most difficult hike of the holiday to see four more lakes the next day. We started with a stroll around Bear Lake...

image.jpeg

...before climbing up to Nymph Lake, the surface of which was covered in water lilies.

image.jpeg

From Nymph Lake we walked to Dream Lake...

image.jpeg

...before reaching Emerald Lake, where we struggled to work out where the mountains ended and the lake began!

image.jpeg

Somehow after a few hours' rest we decided that we hadn't seen enough lakes that day and set off for a four-mile walk around Lake Estes :D 

image.jpeg

Colorado doesn't have a monopoly on lakes, of course. We also loved Sylvan Lake in South Dakota...

image.jpeg

...and the lakes in Idaho weren't bad either :) 

image.jpeg

The views at Lake Stanley in the Sawtooth Mountains were probably some of the best of the trip :) 

image.jpeg

When I look back on the trip, one of the things I'll remember the most are the early starts; I don't think we stayed in bed past 7am any day and we had not only multiple 5am starts, but also a couple of occasions when the alarm was set for 4am. Normally I would not be a fan of getting up at that time any day of the week, never mind on holiday, but it was definitely worth it to see sunrises at the Grand Canyon...

image.jpeg

...and over the Rocky Mountains.

image.jpeg

We saw a few sunsets too, including sunset at the Grand Canyon...

image.jpeg

...but I'm not sure any sunset will ever beat the one we saw from the car on our drive from Phoenix to Tusayan.

image.jpeg

The other thing which stands out from our drive through Arizona are the incredible cactuses.

image.jpeg

They were a sharp ( :D ) contrast to the Alpine flowers we were admiring in Colorado a few days later.

image.jpeg

It was certainly a good holiday for wildlife viewing. Although this was the closest I got to a bison...

image.jpeg

...we certainly saw a lot of other animals. There were mule deer at the Grand Canyon...

image.jpeg

...pronghorn in Custer State Park...

image.jpeg

...and distant elk in the Rocky Mountains.

image.jpeg

Luckily, not aggressive elk!

image.jpeg

The most aggressive creatures we encountered in the Rockies were definitely the mosquitoes!

image.jpeg

We saw countless squirrels during our week in North Carolina and we even met a red squirrel in Idaho.

image.jpeg

But our favourite wildlife encounter of the holiday was this chipmunk in the Sawtooth Mountains, who reminded us a bit of Pebbles with its attempts to beg food :D 

image.jpeg

The accommodation which we stayed in on our travels varied. We slept in 12 different places for a total of 23 nights. The student accommodation we stayed in in Raleigh was free but a bit on the basic side....

image.jpeg

...although the air-conditioning there was vastly superior to the shed we later stayed in in Wyoming.

image.jpeg

The most comfortable place we stayed was probably the large suite we had in Bellevue, Idaho.

image.jpeg

Accommodation in the USA is not cheap - at least, not near the popular tourist destinations we wanted to visit - and that has contributed to this being the most expensive holiday we have ever had in our entire lives. We couldn't have afforded this if we hadn't paid off our mortgage and saved vast quantities of money by not travelling during Covid because by my calculations, the total cost of this trip was a whopping £7,960!

:o

That's broken down as follows:

Transatlantic flights (just Clare's, Tim's were covered by the Esperanto event)            £1,303

Internal US flights                                                                                                                            £952

Car hire                                                                                                                                              £1,479

Entrance fees, parking and national parks pass                                                                      £115

Petrol                                                                                                                                                   £391

Food                                                                                                                                                     £913

Accommodation                                                                                                                              £2,807

Total                                                                                                                                         £7,960

I know, that's a shocking amount of money! Transatlantic flights are obviously expensive anyway, but I think the price I paid for mine was driven by the fact that at the point we booked, the USA was only just starting to open up to international travel again post-Covid and there was high demand for a fairly small volume of flights. Some airlines such as Norwegian stopped flying across the Atlantic following the pandemic, driving overall prices up.

The internal US flights look expensive, BUT that cost covers four separate flights for two people: Raleigh to Chicago, Chicago to Phoenix, Bozeman to Denver, Denver to Chicago. That works out as £119/flight which doesn't feel unreasonable, especially because we didn't have to pay extra for baggage and seats on any of those flights and they all included free coffee :)

The cost of the car hire absolutely stunned me when we were trying to book it. We paid extra because we were doing a one-way road trip (i.e. not returning the car to the same place we picked it up), but even so we ended up paying more than twice what I would have originally expected. I think this was driven in part by the global shortage of rental cars post-Covid.

The high cost of the rental car has been offset to some extent by the bargain price of petrol in the USA. We drove over 3,500 miles for £390, which seems like really good value.

I think we did pretty well with the food budget too. Our food was mostly covered by the event for the week we were in Raleigh, though we did incur some extra costs for drinks etc during that week which are included in the total above. The majority of the costs relate to the 16 days of our road trip though, so it works out at about £57/day. Not too bad, considering we often either didn't have breakfast included in our hotel or got up so early that we had to buy it elsewhere.

The cost of accommodation was astronomical at times and over 15 nights works out as an average of £187/night. That is significantly more than we would pay on a European holiday! But we were paying for location at times, for example in Tusayan we were paying for the convenience of being just a few miles away from the Grand Canyon. The total accommodation figure also includes £372 which I lost on an Airbnb I'd booked in Gardiner (Montana) prior to the Yellowstone floods. Unfortunately I can't claim that back on insurance, as I've lost the money due to my disinclination to travel to Gardiner now that it's cut off from Yellowstone rather than the flood making it impossible for me to travel. If I take that out, the accommodation is £162/night which is still a lot, but not quite so bad. 

Was it worth it? I think so! When we arrived in Tusayan and got our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon, all the spreadsheets and calculations faded into obscurity because everything was just so spectacular. Two weeks in the UK might have been cheaper,  but we wouldn't have had views like this...

image.jpeg

...or this...

image.jpeg

...or this...

image.jpeg

...or this....

image.jpeg

And I think they were worth every penny :) 




User Feedback

Recommended Comments

There are no comments to display.



Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.