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Grand Tour of the US - in 14 days (travel planning, semi-seriously)

Grand Tour of the US - in 14 days (travel planning, semi-seriously)

Old Nov 29th, 2020, 05:10 AM
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Grand Tour of the US - in 14 days (travel planning, semi-seriously)

Howdy folks,

I hope everyone is doing as well as possible during these times.
To get my head off of the traveling I missed this year, I started to plan for next year's early fall season (2 weeks in mid-September).

The project I am working on is how to showcase the diversity of the US to a friend (who usually hates long-distance flights) on his very first trip from Europe to America. My friend's interests gravitate towards big cities and typical major sights - his interest in nature is not THAT huge, but he likes major sights.

To get a first idea of what to do, I have chosen to ignore the following challenges:
If domestic airline routes will be back to normal or not (esp. to smaller airports) & airfare, availability & costs of lodging, inter-state drop-off fees for rental cars.
Prime concerns are: good time to travel (weatherwise?), time budget (minimum time at each destination to get at least a good idea for later, more extensive visits).

The core itinerary should include these items:

1. US (European) heritage/history (big city); 3 nights:
Option A) With regard to colonial heritage, my favorite port of entry would be Boston, and I think it is easier to handle for a rookie than NYC.
Option B) Chicago could be an alternative, but more or less just travelwise (from Europe, and then further West)

2. Westward expansion/ frontier, in combination with
3. The big WOW (nature) and possibly, just as an option,
4. The looong drive (just 1 day, to get a feel for the dimensions); 3-5 nights
Option A) My personal favorite (so far) is to combine Cody (nonstop from Chicago) or Bozeman (nonstop from both Chicago and Boston) with Yellowstone NP (rent car from Cody WY to Bozeman or do a loop from/to Bozeman)
Option B) Flagstaff (or Phoenix) and Grand Canyon NP and the looong drive to Vegas (rent car from Flagstaff to Las Vegas)
This is really tough as I am getting a bit biased against Grand Canyon, especially since I have shown that whole area to friends several times during the last years - and I have never made it to Yellowstone so far. But I do know a bit of Wyoming already.

And, finally:
5. San Francisco; 3 nights
That's the easy part of the itinerary since I like it a lot, and my friend is keen to visit, too.

Timewise, I am still under budget, but flying to Boston and back from SF will waste one full day going West, and one night going back home (plus next day to recover from jet lag).

As said before, this is not a "real" itinerary yet.
While I welcome any type of comments, I'd be especially interested in learning if you consider 3-5 nights in the Yellowstone region as sufficient to enjoy the park

Thanks and happy travels in 2021.
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Old Nov 29th, 2020, 05:43 AM
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Consider using the train for some of the long distances. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip on the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco, and you can break the journey. https://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com...fornia-zephyr/

You seem to be neglecting the south. Mid-September will still be hot and humid, but better than high summer. You also seem to be skipping the capital, DC, and if you want colonial heritage may I suggest Savannah and Charleston. There is also the little matter of the Confederacy, also part of American history, however much to be regretted.
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Old Nov 29th, 2020, 05:50 AM
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Kind of a fun thought project. I like the idea of flying into Boston. Does the three days there include the flight across the pond? There are plenty of options for flights west from there, so be sure to look at Southwest and Jet Blue which do not show up on the sites like Kayak and Travelocity.

3 to 5 nights in the Yellowstone area is fine and you might fly into Jackson WY and drive through the Tetons on the way. Look for reservations in Yellowstone that can be cancelled now. In any case flights to airports near there will probably involve a change of planes. In any case plan to rent a car at whatever airport you fly into and do a loop to avoid drop charges.

when flying west, we try to get the earliest flight so that. We can get a few hours driving time in daylight to break up the longer drive times to our destination. The added daylight hours help with not feeling too tired.
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Old Nov 29th, 2020, 06:47 AM
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Originally Posted by thursdaysd View Post
Consider using the train for some of the long distances. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip on the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco, and you can break the journey. https://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com...fornia-zephyr/

You seem to be neglecting the south. Mid-September will still be hot and humid, but better than high summer. You also seem to be skipping the capital, DC, and if you want colonial heritage may I suggest Savannah and Charleston. There is also the little matter of the Confederacy, also part of American history, however much to be regretted.
I am glad that someone else has enjoyed long distance train travel in the US. I and sometimes my wife have ridden the Coast Starlight, California Zephyr, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, Capitol Limited and the Lake Shore Limited. Other long distance trains I rode include the City of New Orleans, Sunset Limited and the Crescent. You and your friend can get a sense of the vast distances on the train without driving across the Midwest.
Look into an 8 segment-15 day USA Rail Pass for each of you. From Boston take a Northeast Regional to either New York or Washington. From New York you wold take the Lake Shore Limited overnight to Chicago. If you left from Washington, the train would be the Capitol Limited overnight to Chicago. Your choices from Chicago are the Empire Builder to Whitefish Montana or the California Zephyr to Salt Lake City. Rent a car in Whitefish to go see Glacier NP and then Yellowstone NP. Rent a car in Salt Lake City to go see Yellowstone and maybe one or two of the "Big 5" in Utah.
Since you mentioned Flagstaff/Grand Canyon, from Chicago you could also take the Southwest Chief to either Albuquerque or Flagstaff and rent a car there.
The 15, 30 or 45 day USA Rail Passes save a lot over individual one way tickets on Amtrak. If you can tolerate sleeping in coach seats, you can save a lot vs. paid nights in a hotel/motel.
Another thought would be to fly from Boston to San Francisco and work your way back across the US by train ending up back in either Boston or New York.

Last edited by tomfuller; Nov 29th, 2020 at 06:49 AM. Reason: added another train
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Old Nov 29th, 2020, 06:47 AM
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I agree it's a fun thought. Let me just throw out a couple of ideas just to stir the pot.

First, consider a west-to-east plan rather than east-to-west. By focusing on mid-September any ventures into the high country of the west will still have good weather, while the east (depending on where) may still be subject to warm weather. Any later in the west and some of the high country might be getting chilly - I've been snowed on in August in Yellowstone. Climate change obviously makes any weather-based recommendations pretty dicey, but what's to lose?

And my main WTF recommendation might be a real brain-twister, but here goes. Fly into Las Vegas for the first two nights. Why? Because your friend will have an 8- or 9-hour time change to get over, and there's no better place on earth for the jet-lagged than Las Vegas. If the bedside clock says 3 AM but your body says noon, no problem, things will be hopping downstairs, or one can drive into the desert and watch the sun rise.

He could even include a bit of "old west" road trip in the plan. Zion National Park (a major "wow" destination) is a couple of hours' drive from Las Vegas, while the Grand Canyon takes most of a day. Bryce Canyon is a couple of hours past Zion; either or both would be fantastic, relatively easy red-rock destinations from a brief base in Vegas. There are, of course, guided tours - one day or overnight - to those parks from LV.

I'd then fly to San Francisco (very cheap from LV) and take two days to visit the Monterey Bay area, before spending time in the city itself. Here's a short map - google the places on it. https://goo.gl/maps/yHGQuStX6AWGnd4c9 . This would give him some history (the lovely old Spanish mission in Carmel, Cannery Row in Monterey) and some of the best coastal scenery in the country - stunning Point Lobos and Big Sur - and the Henry Cowell redwoods will leave him gobsmacked. In my day I've hosted several sets of (British) pals on first visits to the west, and to the person - 100% - they declared the redwoods to be the highlight of their touring.

After SF I'd fly to Chicago. This is the quintessential American big city IMO, yet surprisingly accessible and affordable. It has wonderful cultural institutions, probably the best urban architecture in the country, some of the best food, and an undeniable spirit. Maybe a baseball game could be added to the agenda (it will be the end of the season, unless miracles happen for the post-season, unusual in Chicago )

I'd then fly to Washington DC. In addition to the obvious attractions - museums, landmarks, etc., there's terrific history in the city and surroundings - Annapolis, for example. Then I'd take the train a couple of hours north to Philadelphia for the "European-American" city experience. Nothing wrong with Boston, of course, but my vote would probably go to Philly - lots of history, fun districts, arts and cultural institutions, and a distinct vibe.

And I'd end in New York. In my view no "first trip" to the US is complete without a couple of days in the big apple. By the time he gets there he'll have been introduced adequately to the hustle and flow of big American cities, so NYC shouldn't be intimidating. And, finally, the short flight eastbound across the Atlantic on the return would demonstrate just how close the east coast is to Europe, hopefully spurring on some future trips, hopefully with more days to explore other parts of the country - the southeast, Pacific Northwest, Black Hills and Great Plains, the Mississippi Valley... and on and on.

Like I say, just some random top-of-the head ideas. There are infinitely more.

Last edited by Gardyloo; Nov 29th, 2020 at 06:54 AM.
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Old Nov 29th, 2020, 07:03 AM
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1) My British exBIL liked to call Boston a halfway house from home. I would start there. Plenty to see in the outlying areas also (eg Lexington, Cape Cod).

2) For some reason, Brits love Las Vegas. You could also do the drive to Zion as opposed to Grand Canyon, via Valley of Fire. I think the countryside along the Virgin River is lovely. You can stay in Springdale which has tons of options. (only about 3 hours from Vegas). Also the drive out east toward Kanab via 9 and 89A/89 even if you don't go all the way to the Grand Canyon. Or you can loop back via the Grand Canyon. Caveats..Could still be quite warm in the deserts, also National Parks have been slammed with all of the stay at home tourism.

Easy to get flights from Las Vegas to pretty much anywhere.
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Old Nov 29th, 2020, 07:25 AM
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Wow- thanks so much already.

thursdaysd tomfuller
I must say that I had not even thought of traveling by train, so thanks for putting that on the list of things to consider!
It sure would add a nice different flavor to the trip.
And yes, I'm neglecting the South - but more or less just because I consider two weeks a really, really short amount of time to even tackle half a continent without having too many "it's Tuesday, it must be Utah" moments.

oldemalloy
Yes, the three days in Boston would exclude the arrival day as flights from Europe usually arrive in the afternoon hours. And usually you can't do much more than go to your hotel and have a first look around (walking, in Boston) and then get some early dinner.
Thanks for reminding me that Kayak does not show all airlines. I keep forgetting that they don't show Southwest. By the way, they DO show Jet Blue, though... maybe that is a recent change of their system.
One-way rentals are often not an issue, at least when you book from outside the US. Two years ago, I got a car from Hertz with no one-way fee from Denver to Las Vegas...

Gardyloo
While I can subscribe to all the sights you mentioned from personal experience (except for Chicago), I think I'd be more comfortable if we had three weeks instead of just two with your itinerary. But thanks for mentioning Philadelphia - both still a white spot for me, as well as a destination I have on my bucket list. I'd also been playing around with the PCH (parts of it, at least), and how to include the San Simeon- Monterey- SF part of it... work in progress.
And had to laugh about what you wrote about Las Vegas. It's really a great place to start the day at 4am with a 9 hour jet lag as (almost) everything is open - at least on the Strip.
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Old Nov 29th, 2020, 07:37 AM
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Fly into Las Vegas for the first two nights. Why? Because your friend will have an 8- or 9-hour time change to get over, and there's no better place on earth for the jet-lagged than Las Vegas. If the bedside clock says 3 AM but your body says noon, no problem, things will be hopping downstairs, or one can drive into the desert and watch the sun rise.

I like how you think Gardyloo. Vegas was often our first stop in the US after flying in from Perth, Australia for that very reason. It was the perfect place to recover from jet lag.
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Old Nov 29th, 2020, 07:37 AM
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I understand that trying to fit a continent into two weeks is an exercise in exclusion, but I have to point out that the South has played, and continues to play, an outsize role in American history. At least consider DC rather than Boston.

I would not recommend trying to sleep in seats, although Amtrak's seats are much more comfortable, with more leg room, than economy class in an airplane. With two of you, a roomette should be affordable, if tight, and the earlier you book the lower the price. There's also a senior discount, don't know whether that would apply. I've also ridden the Lake Shore Limited and the Coast Starlight, which I recommend, and east coast trains south of DC, which usually run late....
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Old Nov 29th, 2020, 07:50 AM
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I would choose the Southwest as having a general physical look that is unlike what is to be found in northern Europe.

A blasť might say that he can see cows in the fields back home:


or that the Alps are more impressive:


Whereas the Southwest has a different scenery, even when it is just the high desert:


and the nearby museums might be of interest:

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Old Nov 29th, 2020, 08:07 AM
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I vote for the Bozeman option. Rent a car and drive through Yellowstone. Go to Cody and maybe take in a rodeo. Continue on through the south gate of YNP to Jackson Hole and the gorgeous Teton range for the WOW factor. Fly out of JAC (another wow) airport to the next airport. If you are going to SF, flying into Oakland is nice and you could loop up into wine country for a day if you wanted before driving back south through Muir Woods and then crossing the bridge into SF for a couple of days there.

That's what I think I would do.

One thought about Boston = it's a good choice for the reasons you list - but if you plan to drive, I hate driving out of Boston. Another idea if this is a summer trip = take the ferry over to Ptown on Cape Cod for a couple of days. But that would add a lot of time to your trip. I'd even narrow down Boston to just 1.5 days in order to get to the scenic, historic and very unique Provincetown.

Take Art's Dune tours and maybe go whale watching. If you want to include a bit of unique American "culture" you could go to a real drive-in - but you'd need to rent a car for that. If you are not familiar with Ptown, it's at the tip of Cape Cod and was a major Portuguese fishing/ whaling town - and now is a gay mecca, although all are welcomed. Great beaches. Lots to see and do! Great seafood!

Wellfleet's drive-in -
https://www.wellfleetcinemas.com/drive-in-theatre/

Last edited by starrs; Nov 29th, 2020 at 08:14 AM.
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Old Nov 29th, 2020, 08:11 AM
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@Michael - the OP wrote:
"The project I am working on is how to showcase the diversity of the US to a friend (who usually hates long-distance flights) on his very first trip from Europe to America. My friend's interests gravitate towards big cities and typical major sights - his interest in nature is not THAT huge, but he likes major sights."

I agree that the southwest can easily consume two weeks - I once spent nearly five there, with an RV and my then-DH - but doing that does not meet the OP's criteria.
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Old Nov 29th, 2020, 11:00 AM
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The OP would do Michael's trip in a heartbeat.. and has done it a dozen of times or so.
The limiting factor is OP's travel companion.
When I suggested my usual "Southwest starter package", i.e. a loop from Las Vegas to 2-4 of the Big 5 parks plus some of the lesser known like Kodachrome Basin SP or Sunset Crater/Wupatki, and taking gravel byways that go through breathtaking landscapes with usually noone else around he asked what one would do there as there was "nothing"!!! Nothing! Can you believe that...
Anyway, I'm taking thursdaysd 's suggestions into serious consideration and may be inclined to consider a combination of Philadelphia and/or DC plus Charleston/Savannah as destinations in the East. Since I have friends in Atlanta, this could be a fringe benefit that we will be able to visit them before we head West.
I'm glad I don't have to make up my mind in a hurry, and still can discuss the dozens of pros and cons of either itinerary with him in the upcoming weeks.
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Old Nov 29th, 2020, 11:07 AM
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Heck, you can easily spend 14 days just seeing San Francisco, driving Highway 1 with 3 nights en route (it is NOT a one day drive despite what Google Maps says) and LA plus maybe a couple of days in San Diego.

I'd fly to New York and spend the first week in NYC and Washington, DC (maybe fit in a short trip to a Southern location if he is at all interested in the Civil War or visiting a restored plantation) and then fly to a location to visit some of our great National Parks in the Southwest. Las Vegas would work, has usually cheap car rentals and hotel prices midweek are a good value. Or maybe substitute New Orleans for one of the cities, nothing else like it in the US, unique food, and a couple of nearby plantations if that is of interest
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Old Nov 29th, 2020, 12:25 PM
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I subscribe to at least in part to Gardyloo's plan. You'd need to cut a couple of things to fit into your timeframe.

But I'd for sure fly as far west as you intend to go. Get the longest flight out of the way and work your way back east. So I'd fly into Vegas (or Phoenix, or LAX) - All have non-stops from Europe. I'd lean to Vegas just because of the jet lag factor but any of them would work. Visit Zion/Bryce or the Grand Canyon from LV. Vegas and surrounds would take 3 or 4 days (for jet lag recovery & sightseeing). Then fly to SF for the city and/or redwoods/Monterey/Big Sur - another 3-4 days total. Fly to the Yellowstone area and spend 3 days. So far thats is 9 to 11 days. Then fly to either Boston/Chicago/DC/NYC - all have plusses and minuses and of course all are terrific. spend 2-4 days and fly home non stop.
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Old Nov 29th, 2020, 03:39 PM
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Thanks for your input!
Funny, but I prefer the flights across the Atlantic the other way around.
I hate the never-ending days when flying to the West Coast.
And I hate the short night flights when going back home from the Northeast. Especially when I have to connect in London, which brings the time I can sleep down to 4-5 hours.
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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 11:17 AM
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I rather liked your original A itinerary (it's not trite) with the weather caveat for Yellowstone for September. I doubted your quoted nonstop flights to Cody and Bozeman (from Boston) so I checked and maybe these are summer service flights but they don't run in September.

I would also give consideration to Philadelphia for the 3 day time frame because of the concentration of sights, and sights of greater importance than Boston. Or if you like Chicago you could skip the eastern third of the country entirely, 2 weeks is not a lot of time.

Also: There are daytime flights to London from Boston, NYC, and Chicago (maybe Dulles or PHL, not sure) to avoid the short night flight, although not sure if a connection to Germany or other places the same day is possible.

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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 07:24 PM
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Originally Posted by Cowboy1968 View Post
Thanks for your input!
Funny, but I prefer the flights across the Atlantic the other way around.
I hate the never-ending days when flying to the West Coast.
And I hate the short night flights when going back home from the Northeast. Especially when I have to connect in London, which brings the time I can sleep down to 4-5 hours.
I get it - different strokes for different folks . So you could do it in reverse: 2-4 days in your port of entry be that Chicago, Boston, Wash. DC or NYC all having non-stops from Europe. Then on to the Yellowstone area for 3 days (you'd want to hit Yellowstone towards the front end of the trip anyway because winter comes early to the park), Then fly to SF for the city/Redwoods/Carmel - 3-4 days, then fly to Vegas for Zion/Bryce or the Gr Canyon - 3-ish days. Fly home from there

. . . you could flip the order of SFO and LAS (or PHX/LAX) since all four have non-stops to Europe.
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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 07:59 PM
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Seems to me that is WAY overweighted towards the great outdoors. Sounded like the OP's friend is really not interested in that. OK, he should see the Rockies, but the train to the west coast would take care of that. And EITHER Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but probably not both.
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Old Dec 1st, 2020, 04:51 AM
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Seeing a country of continental size in two weeks is, of course, impossible, especially if you count in travel time to and from the US and between places. Seeing cities is basically seeing another city, but natural wonders are unique.
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