Top 5 Tips for Planning An Itinerary

Top 5 Tips

Planning a trip the Southwest or anywhere for that matter? Not sure where to start? Itinerary planning can be pretty tricky, and most often should be left to the experts. With the ease of user-friendly booking websites, most people think trying their hand at making their own itinerary will help save them time and money. Yes, it can – but it may not always save you effort.  We spend hours creating itineraries every day, and we think we’ve learned a thing or two about planning itineraries – and we are glad to share these tips with you!

When we plan itineraries, we look at a few different things that you’re probably familiar with:

2. Important Must-See’s
3. Hotel Reservations
4. Transportation
5. How to get from place to place (maps, train schedules, directions, and much more)

These are all important elements and need to be included – but itineraries are so much more than just specific reservations. Itineraries are hard to create, especially if you aren’t familiar with the area. They’re kind of like a puzzle (hence the photo). However, with these tips hopefully it will become easier for you to plan a fantastic itinerary for you and your family or whomever you are travelling with!

So, in no particular order:

Tip #1: Don’t Try & Fit Too Much In

This is a very common mistake with most travellers. They are so keen to get everything done in one shot – because, let’s face it – they may never make it back there again (depressing 😦 ). While it is important to ensure you include your must-sees’, it is also important to build in some downtime. Without downtime, your vacation will feel like a whirlwind. Some people are into that style of travel- but most of us treasure our 2 weeks off and want to make sure that it is enjoyable and fruitful but also leaves us well-rested.

Tip #2: Think About Contingencies

When I build itineraries, I like to look at them and think. What happens if this doesn’t work? Where would I go? How would I get there? It’s also really important to build in some buffer time (i.e don’t schedule a flight to land at 7:01 when your pick up time is at 8:00 an 40 minutes away from the airport, 19 minutes is cutting is close!) While that seems pretty self-explanatory, you will be thankful for that little bit of buffer time when the pilot announces that you’re running 2 hours behind. Instead of having to sweat and run through an airport, or worse thinking about how you’re going to meet up with the tour group that is currently departing without you, you’ll be able to rest assured that you have some time built in so you don’t need to rush. While you can’t always plan for everything, at least you’ve thought about some major potential issues and what you would do in case the worst case scenario happens (If you have every travelled before…something WILL go wrong).

Tip #3: Embrace the Local Culture

As easy as it is to gravitate to the comforts of home, trying new things in a new place is always a key to understanding and embracing local culture and getting the most out of your experience. Even in the Southwest that is possible. Whether it is trying a Navajo taco outside of Monument Valley or some of the local fresh made pies along the way to Bryce Canyon, the area definitely has opportunities for you to try new things or things that are specific to the area. Learning about the culture is also a great way to feel less like a tourist and more like a traveller. Learning and embracing cultures can take your trip itinerary from touristy to meaningful.

Tip #4: Build a Budget

As important as an itinerary is with all of the details, a budget is an important part of vacation planning. Whether you use a scrap piece of paper to jot down notes or a detailed spreadsheet, a rough idea of what things are going to cost will help keep you organized and on track. Vacations can add up quickly, so it is important to have idea of what things cost – and what you can afford to help keep you on track. But, vacations are also about the experience, so if you’re thinking about penny pinching in destination on a once in a lifetime opportunity…my advice is to throw your budget to the wind – the experience is always worth it! (With caution, obviously!)

Tip #5: Details Are Important

Forgot the confirmation? Don’t have the hotel address and your GPS has failed? Not sure what day you’re checking out or what the tour cancellation policy is? These are all important details to keep in mind. With my itineraries, I like to have all of the pieces of info I could possibly want or need just in case I don’t have internet access: address, phone number, hours of operation, directions, key info, prices, etc. Most people aren’t like me and forget the details – and that’s OK if you are flying by the seat of your pants. But I’m pretty sure you’ll want the details on how to change your flight when the seat of your pants is taking you to Aruba instead of flying home like you thought you were going to!

All in all, planning an itinerary should be fun, not stressful! It is planning your vacation after all! Are you ready to plan your itinerary? Do you think you will use any of the above tips?

Let us know some of your tips below! Or you can just contact us for your next itinerary and leave the planning to the experts! 🙂



“After being born in central Texas my family moved to New Mexico when I was around 5 years old. There I learned to snow ski, and my passion for the outdoor life grew.

After graduation my path took me to Colorado where I spent the winters skiing, and the summers exploring the National Parks, and public lands of the Western United States.

Many adventures have led me to a few different different places I have called home. New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and now Salt Lake City Utah where I reside with my 2 wonderful boys Aden, and Eli.

Guiding for Southwest Adventure Tours I have been referred to as many things, guide, personal trainer, drill sergeant, and therapist. I will take you to beautiful places, push you that few extra steps, and show you ways to face and overcome the fears that you have.
With a passion for the southwest, photography, food, and geology, I can show you different ways to compose, and shoot photos while we eat at great food establishments, and explain the intricacies of millions of years of creation that has given us this place we call the Desert Southwest.

I love to meet new people, and show them around this beautiful place I call home! Hope to see you all soon, so we can explore it together!”



Guide Tommy




“Born in the heart of Texas, I’ve been enjoying life in the core of the Desert Southwest since my early teens when my folks packed up the wagon and moved to Durango, Colorado. Since then, I’ve had addresses in Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and Utah but I’ve never once thought of living anywhere else. Well, there was that little stint in West Texas but that’s another story…
 Admittedly a desert rat, I currently reside at approximately 9 o’clock on the perimeter of the Grand Circle, having chosen this area as the ultimate desert base camp. Be it Mojave, Sonoran, Chihuahuan, Great Basin or the Plateaus of the Grand Staircase and Four Corners regions, I never met a desert I didn’t like. I believe nature (and especially the desert) has something to say to us all, if we’re ready to hear it.
“Well that’s great and all but what kind of a guide are you”?
 Maybe a little different. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know everything about anything. I’m very content to know just a little about a lot of stuff. I have an appreciation for geology, biology, history and the like in as much as they contribute to my relationship (love affair) with the desert, but you won’t hear me calling anything by its scientific name. Honestly, I’d rather romanticize than categorize. While sharing my unique perspective, I reserve the right to speculate about anything.
 But be advised, I will invite you to step out of your comfort zone and hike a little further, see and feel a bit more, to put yourself out there and see what the Southwest has in store for you. Let’s explore it together.”
Guide Jim

Southwest Adventure Tours Giveaway!

Hi Everyone!

We are SO excited to announce our next giveaway!



Here are the 2 AMAZING prizes you can win!

(1) Grand Canyon Railway Adventure:
– One night accommodations at the Grand Canyon Railway hotel in Williams, AZ
– Round trip first class train travel from Williams (for 2 adults over the age of 18) to the south rim of the Grand Canyon
– Live old west entertainment from cowboys and musicians
– Expires 09/30/2015
– Valued at over $450 USD



(1) White Stallion Ranch near Tuscon, AZ
– 2 Guests
– 3 day/2 night stay
– Includes All Meals and Ranch Activities (Space available and not available in High Season or Holiday Seasons
– Expires 12/31/2016
– Horseback Rides including desert, mountain, breakfast, slow and fast rides, all day, half day, wine and cheese rides, beer and Cheetos ride, and team cattle penning (No riding on Sundays). Riding instruction is available at an additional charge.
– Other activities include guided hikes, hayrides, barbecues, rodeos, and a petting zoo.
– they have a heated pool, redwood hot tub, lighted tennis and sports court.
– Valued at over $1200 USD.



Click below for all of the ways to enter! You can also share with your friends and if they enter – you get bonus entries as well (up to a maximum of 10 extra entries).  Must be 18 years or older and a resident of USA or Canada to enter (See full terms & conditions on the link!)

Happy sharing and good luck!

Grand Canyon & Sedona Tour

Check out a new deal to Grand Canyon & Sedona! So instead of just viewing these photos, you can take ones of your own!


-Starts & Ends in Phoenix (Day 1 around 7am, Day 3 around 7pm)
-Departs DAILY
-Pick Up at Any hotel in Phoenix, Scottsdale or Tempe
-15 pax vehicle (no restroom, sorry!) but we do make frequent stops
-Sedona & Grand Canyon Rooms 2.5-3 star properties
-Lots of time for photos and exploration, but there are drives involved (2.5 hrs to get to Sedona, 2.5 hrs to Grand Canyon, 4-5 hours back to Phoenix)
-Single occupancy (if you want your own room) $130 USD, payable to us directly (call us)
-Once you have made your reservation, call us or email us at with the voucher codes, preferred start date, names, cell phone number, hotel for pick up and email address.

Call us at 1-800-970-5864 or email us at if you have any questions!


Originally hailing from Chicago, Haydee’s biggest love is traveling, meeting new people, and enjoying life off the beaten path. Her travels have given her many great experiences, such as rappelling down the waterfalls of Costa Rica, bathing in the Amazon River, biking down the Andes Mountains, diving with the sharks in South Africa, and glacier hiking in Iceland.

Haydee has traveled all through the U.S. – from Seattle to San Diego, from Bangor to Miami, and just about every place in between. But after traveling the country for years and developing a special affinity for the National Parks, she knew she wanted to stay in the southwest, enjoying the canyons, rivers, and mountains. She now calls Colorado home, where she takes advantage of the jeeping, rafting, and hiking opportunities this region has to offer.

Being a Certified International Tour Manager from International Guide Academy, Haydee has the distinct pleasure of working with Southwest Adventure Tours showing people this amazing part of our country. She works hard to ensure everyone has a great time and wants everyone to love the southwest as much as she does. She enjoys being able to contribute to people’s vacation experience and can’t wait to share her love of travel and discovery with others.

Haydee Haydee2

Wildlife in the Southwest

A note from Guide Haydee:

“While touring the southwest, it is likely you will encounter some wildlife. It is definitely a highlight of the day, and taking photos makes for great memories of such encounters.

But it’s not only the large animals you will see.

Here are a few of the creatures I’ve run into lately while hiking. It is exciting to run into such elusive animals like the tarantula, the rattlesnakes (there are two coiled together in this photo), and the bearded dragon. When at National Parks, people can run into all types of wildlife. Please remember to respect all creatures big and small.”


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Get to Know: Petrified Forest National Park!

Photo Credit: NPS

Photo Credit: NPS

First off, what is a “Petrified Forest”?

No, it is not a forest that has been scared out of its wits – it is a place where you can walk back through time over 200 million years ago, a time where this region was not anything like it is currently. Petrified Forest National Park is located about 25 miles east of Holbrook, AZ and is a fascinating place full of geographically history and it is one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the world (other than Egypt, Argentina and even, North Dakota!)

The petrified logs were found here because at one time there was a large river system with tons of trees along its banks, and as the trees died, they were swept along the rivers to form “log jams”, which are some of the different ‘forests’ within the parks (Crystal Forest, Jasper Forest, etc) (National Park Service). Then, the area became covered with an ocean and the logs were underneath a ton of sediment. After that, the ocean disappeared and rivers flowed again that eroded the sediment that started to expose the landscape that we can see today. Well, that’s the short version – a Ranger can tell you a lot more about this process that takes millions of years! Don’t expect to see big tall trees while you are in the park, most of the pieces are cracked and broken into smaller chunks. But just because they are smaller pieces don’t try and lift one—they weigh a ton!

Photo Credit: National Park Guides

Photo Credit: National Park Guides

The petrified trees (coniferous, tree ferns and gingkoes) have been dated back to 218 million years ago…

The Park averages about 600,000 visitors a year – which makes it busy, but not as busy as some of the other National Parks in the surrounding states. The busiest time of year is in the summer months, but the winter allows visitors fantastic visibility and cooler temperatures (and less people in the parking lots – always a win!) Although you cannot camp within the park boundaries, the Park does offer some backpacking in the wilderness area for the more adventurous.

Note: There is a company called Xanterra that sells Petrified Wood from outside the park, which is legal and allowed. Their hope is to discourage people from stealing the wood from inside the park. Speak to the Rangers though – they will tell you stories about people returning the wood with letters of terrible things happening to them and their family after they took the pieces of wood and just had to return them!

But a bonus with this park, is the spectacular Painted Desert. Make sure to see it as the sun rises or sets, it is truly something to see! Deposits of clay and sandstone, stacked in layers display colorful radiance in the Arizona sun.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia & Google Images

Photo Credit: Wikipedia & Google Images

Important things to know about the Park –
• Driving travel time through the park is about 45 minutes
• Private vehicles cost $10 per vehicle (good for 7 days)
• Our fave spots: Painted Desert, Blue Mesa, Rainbow Forest, Giant Logs Loop
• Great list of things to do depending on how much time you have:

Check out this short video for some more information:

How many of you have checked out this awesome park? It’s also a great stop off if you are doing a Route 66 Road Trip!