Wednesday, May 31, 2017

USA 2015 Road Trip: Dollars, Stats and our favorite snapshots

by the Golden Gate after crossing it TWICE

Twenty-one days, four states and several cities after, caught in the transition of seasons from fall to winter, it was like we have participated in the Amazing Race with all the challenges we had gone through although we were not really on a race (except for that Thanksgiving Day when we had to race for time to find a gas station) but an adventure of a lifetime. I could say that our recent US road trip definitely brought up the ante for the next one. 


Here's sharing some of the Dollars and Stats and some of our favorite snapshots during our trip. Feel free to throw in some comments or questions and even share your experiences when you visited the same places we did.

Dollars
Thanks to some of the developments in the tourism industry (eg. competition in airlines, hotel industry, online bookings, etc), we can travel to continents like Europe or the US which were considered to be expensive destinations decades ago without breaking the bank. Here is the list of most of our travel expense considerations and how we were able to save on some and splurge a little bit on others.

Airfares: This has always been one factor that takes a big chunk out of our travel budget since there are 4 of us travelling. We got a good deal at about S$1300 per ticket booked through Singapore Airlines website. My husband constantly monitored airfares by different airlines for several weeks. Be on the look out for 2-to-go or 4-to-go promotions when travelling with family members. It helps to book way ahead of departure date, too, which is what we usually do when we plan for our holidays. We booked in April for our November departure (that's 7 months in advance!).

Visa Fee: US Visa applied for at the US Embassy in Singapore cost S$224 per person (based on exchange rate during time of application). Only the boys and I applied because my husband still had a valid visa from when he travelled to the US for business trip. So that's another cost saved :)

Travel Insurance: For a single-trip, family plan we opted for AXA which cost less than SGD200 - one of the more economic options online.

Car rental: Our car rental cost was about USD31 per day for the 21-day road trip. We rented a compact car. 

Gas:  Rates fluctuated from USD1.80 to USD3.489 per gallon depending on location. Cheapest was in Phoenix, Arizona. Most expensive was in Furnace Creek, Death Valley. 

Speeding ticket: This expense was something we definitely did not plan for and cost us an arm and a leg weeks after our trip was over. Who would want to be caught speeding, right? But we did and because we did not settle the issue before we left the US, we received a letter in the mail from Page, Arizona a few weeks after we were back to Singapore. We had to pay a staggering USD286 or risk not being able to drive or rent a car in the US the next time we visit.

Accommodations: Place to stay is usually where we tend to save a lot on because we are not that choosy (eg. 3 or 5 star hotels only) when it comes to accommodations. As long as the place looks decent and is conveniently located near places of interest and is priced affordably, it falls into my to-consider list.

I have chosen those with free parking (because some cities do charge USD35 for parking alone), free wi-fi and free breakfast (for some). Room are usually queen with 2 queen beds (otherwise, I will indicate the room configuration). Most of our accommodations have been booked through booking.com of which I have been a member for several years now so I get Genius Discounts. As the boys grow older it gets more and more difficult to get one big room to accommodate 4 people but we were lucky we could still find some during our trip.

Here's a list of the places we have stayed in during our trip. Twelve accommodations in twelve cities in 21 days.
  • California
    • Fairfield - our hospitable Aunt's and Uncle's house on our first night: FREE
    • Lombard Street , San Francisco - Buena Vista Motor Inn: USD264 for 2 nights
      • great location within walking distance from major sights in the city
      • simple breakfast
      • great view of the city at the rooftop breakfast area
    • Mariposa (near Yosemite National Park) - Miners Inn: USD158 for 2 nights
      • we loved the color of the trees just when the sun was coming out
      • simple but comfortable rooms
      • restaurant doubled up as souvenir shop
      • variety of breakfast options
      • free parking, free breakfast, free wi-fi
    • Morro Bay - Morro Shores Inn and Suites: USD72 for one night
      • free breakfast, free parking, free wi-fi, has laundry service
      • perfect stop when driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles
      • if you have heavy luggage, opt to get the first floor as there is no lift
      • few minutes drive from Morro Rock which is an attraction in the area
    • Pasadena - Vagabond Inn Executive Pasadena: USD186 for 2 nights
      • free breakfast, free parking, free wi-fi
      • simple, comfortable rooms
    • Olympic Valley - Olympic Village Inn: USD487 for 3 nights
      • one bedroom queen suite with 1 queen bed and sofabed
      • comes with fully equipped kitchen
      • within walking distance from the center of Squaw Valley Village
      • highly recommended for it's location and facilities
      • good for families
    • San Francisco - Motel Capri: USD117 for one night
      • free parking, free wi-fi
      • simple room but looked a bit "shady"
  • Arizona
    • Phoenix - Comfort Inn I-10 West at 51st Ave: USD77 for one night
      • free breakfast, free parking, free wi-fi
      • convenient location
      • there's a pool but we did not get to use it
    • Tusayan (Grand Canyon) - The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon: USD220 for 2 nights
      • definitely good value for money due to proximity to Grand Canyon as well as well-renovated rooms and the overall look of the hotel. I think towards the Christmas season is the perfect time to visit this hotel when it is beautifully decorated
      • definitely coming back here
      • free parking, free wi-fi
      • has laundry service, indoor climate control pool and hot tub 
i loved that morning when Kelvin played a song the piano at the hotel lobby

  • Utah
    • Springdale (at Zion National Park area) - Bumbleberry Inn: USD221 for 2 nights
      • another great choice due to location and facilities/amenities
      • restaurant and souvenir shop complementing each other
      • free breakfast at the restaurant, free parking, free wi-fi
      • sumptuous breakfast options at the restaurant
      • we plan to visit here again
  • Nevada
    • Las Vegas - Stratosphere Hotel and Casino: USD135 for 2 nights
      • Tower Deluxe room with unlimited admission to the Tower Viewing Deck
      • free parking, free wi-fi
      • who would have thought we could get this place for less than USD100 per night? We were definitely satisfied.
Food: If we compare the price of fastfood places in the US and in Singapore, it definitely is more expensive in the US. I think the serving size made up for the price. Drinks are bigger. Burgers are bigger. We had a lot of In-n-Out burgers. Double double meal costs less than USD10. 

Most expensive dinner ever: We don't usually splurge on food because we are really not foodies. This one time during our trip was an exemption. We booked a table at the Top of the World Restaurant in Las Vegas. Convenient because it's located in our hotel. With the view during sunset until it got dark, the delectable food, the perfect ambience, it was worth every penny. Not to forget that Ira was able to finish his steak, too! 

Statistics

Total number of pages printed for itineraryI've prepared a total of 24 pages (2 pages per sheet) of itinerary to guide us everyday. Although having an itinerary and strictly sticking to what was planned do make travelling easy, making some changes from time to time makes the trip an adventure. And I have to say, we made a number of deviations from our original itinerary. We scrapped some attractions we planned on going to, we changed driving routes and even left later than scheduled time. In the end, everything still worked out fine.

Total mileage: a whopping 3,433 miles or 5,524.87kms. The most distance we have covered so far on a family road trip. 

Total number of states visited: an even four (California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada). And we've even been in two states at the same time standing at the Nevada-Arizona boarder at the Hoover Dam.
was lucky to be able to find a shop at the Hoover Dam which sells
magnets in the shape of the States

Total number of outlet shops visited: You would be impressed to know that we have visited seven outlet shops. And you would be surprised to know that we didn't really end up going on shopping sprees. Would you believe that?! All the great discounts right at our finger tips and we had the self-discipline to restrain ourselves from overspending. The boys though had a great time trying on and picking their shirts from their favorite shop while mommy followed them around. 

Here is the list of outlet shops which were conveniently located along our road trip route.
  1. Great Mall in Milpitas - our first; there's Jollibee!
  2. Gilroy Premium Outlets - didn't find the giant garlic
  3. San Francisco Premium Outlets - the newest and biggest 
  4. Camarillo Premium Outlets
  5. Las Vegas North Premium Outlets 
  6. Las Vegas South Premium Outlets
  7. Vacaville Premium Outlets - our last 
Total number of national parks visited: We had gone to FIVE national parks plus one Navajo Tribal Park. Buying the America the Beautiful Annual Pass for USD80 was worth it. We saved USD55.

Below is the list of the national parks we have visited and the admission fees.
  1. Yosemite National Park (USD25) - second time around and it was still as mesmerising
  2. Joshua Tree National Park (USD25) 
  3. Grand Canyon National Park South Rim (USD25) - next time we will try to hike some of the trails 
  4. Zion National Park (USD25) - Angels Landing it a must-do hike
  5. Death Valley National Park (USD25) - it was unexpectedly beautiful
  6. Lower Antelope Canyon (USD8 per person, not included in Annual Pass as it is a Navajo Tribal Park) - another must-see and must-do when you're in Arizona
Total number of tech companies visited: Three - Facebook, Google, Intel

Total number of times we crossed Golden Gate Bridge: Twice - unplanned but much appreciated nonetheless 

Total number of adventures and unforgettable experiences: COUNTLESS!

I could still remember how excited we were to have a photo with the "Like" sign in front of the Facebook office or how we almost gave up not seeing the Android statues because they were relocated. Good thing we gave it one last try and found them at 181 Landing Drive and drove off just in time for our pre-booked Intel museum tour.


Oh, how tipsy I was during our wine tasting at Castello di Amorosa. That lovely castle and those fine tasting wines make a perfect combination for a relaxing afternoon.
cheers to more road trips in the coming years!

loving the ambiance at the vineyard

Being "prisoners" for a few hours at Alcatraz. 


Our deer encounter at Yosemite National Park and the stunning views of its major attractions from the Tunnel View point. Our hikes to the waterfalls and into the woods when it was getting dark. Balancing on top of logs and playing seasaw using fallen trees. Simple pleasures.




Reminiscing and reenacting poses in old photos taken at Monterey Bay. Looking into the world of Bubba Gump through its memorabilia and the restaurant's gastronomic delights.



Capturing Bixby Bridge in the dark of night.



Discovering Danish traditions, products and architectures in far, far away land (from Denmark) of Solvang. It was only then that I knew Pandora was from Copenhagen.

Catching a glimpse of the moon on a cloudy LA sky and walking along the Avenue of Stars.


Successfully finding the hiding spot of the Lego white kitty on our visit to the Queen Mary.


Driving through the historic Route 66 and visiting the cone shaped hotel rooms brought us back to the scenes in the movie Cars. Maybe some day we will stay there, too. Who knows?! 

Passing by Joshua Tree National Park to see, what else, but those Joshua Trees. And there was actually more to it than just Joshua Trees. Outdoor adventure activities abound.



The anxiety of thinking we probably would not make it in time for Thanksgiving and we might spend the night inside the car because we almost ran out of gas.

Making it to Thanksgiving Day after all even though we were few hours late causing my beloved cousin panic and calling our relatives from all over the country. Still, it was a sweet reunion with my cousin/best friend and her family.


Driving to Meteor Crater and surprising the Rule family because my cousin and Aunt decided they would drive with us there.

Witnessing daybreak overlooking the Grand Canyon while snow was falling and we were freezing.

Exploring the depth of the Lower Antelope Canyon guided by Navajo tribesmen and looking at the colorful rock formations from the bottom-up. Then walking all the way to the edge of the canyon rim to marvel at the Horseshoe Bend and the powerful Colorado River.

Hiking up to Angels Landing at Zion National Park tested not only our endurance to last more than 4 hours of walking uphill but our courage to scale the steep rock face while keeping our wits. It was such an achievement and a good bonding activity, I should say. Trust was always on the line.

Then there's the glitz and glamour and all things weird and wonderful at Las Vegas.

Setting foot at two time zones and two states few footsteps apart at the Hoover Dam.



Admiring the beauty of the desert at night standing in the middle of nowhere at Badwater Basin and stargazing while dipping in hot-spring-fed pool at the Furnace Creek Ranch. Walking up and down perfect vistas and sand dunes at Death Valley.


And there's the adrenaline-pumping skiing and falling and sledding and sliding at Squaw Valley. Our first winter wonderland experience. Not forgetting the crystal clear icicles that greeted us at the reception area.


All of these and more made this US vacation another amazing road trip for family.


Goodbye for now, USA. Till we visit you again. Hoping that will not be in another 10 years!


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