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:

1.Dates
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! 🙂

Winter Travel in the Southwest

Travel in the winter months doesn’t need to be a single adventure trip!  When most think of winter vacations, it’s limited to skiing in the cold air or a warm beverage by a crackling fire.  Well, that does sound nice, but what if there was more to do?  What about one day on the slopes, repel down a narrow slot canyon the next, followed by a snowshoe hike through a pristine Ponderosa Pine forest?  Or maybe you would prefer an adventurous ride over sandstone trails on the seat of an ATV.  Welcome to the Southwest, where anything is possible!

The southwest United States, centered on the four corners states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona is known for its warm temperatures and arid climate.  But this corner of the country, also known as the Mountain West, is a winter wonderland filled with a multitude of winter recreation.

So, let’s start with the obvious!  With over 60 alpine ski resorts and a multitude of Nordic ski centers between these four states, the terrain is endless!  Whether you’re looking to shred the ever popular resorts of the Colorado Rockies like Vail, Copper Mountain, Aspen, or Telluride or the champagne powder of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains at resorts like Alta, Snowbird, Park City, or Deer Valley, you will find a wide variety of skiable terrain.  But let’s not forget those lesser known resorts like New Mexico’s Toas Ski Valley and Angel Fire Resort or Arizona’s Sunrise Resort and Arizona Snowbowl.  No matter where you choose, the possibilities are limitless!

So what do you do if hitting the slopes is not your thing?  With over 40 million acres of National Forest, 14 National Parks, and over 100 State Parks and National Monuments there is plenty to see!

Maybe a snowmobile tour through a wide open mountain pasture or a guided snowshoe trip through those ponderosa pine forests.  With all the snow this area receives, there are more opportunities than one could count.

So with most winter activities focused on snow sports we tend to overlook the warmer weather activities.  Get out of these wonderful mountains and you’ll find a few of the activities you love in the summer are available in this region year around.  With average winter temps in Moab UT running from the mid-40s to the upper-50s and an average precipitation per month of less than an inch, this is an outdoor recreation lover’s mecca!  Mountain biking, rock climbing, canyoneering, and a plethora of 4×4, and ATV trails just to start.  Add in the two National Parks in the area, Arches and Canyonlands, and it can be a photographers dream!  Stray outside of this area and find a land unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.  From the human-like hoodoos of Goblin Valley to the Antelope slot canyons and Glen Canyon Recreation Area of Page AZ.  From the famous Bryce Canyon National Park to the high cliffs and endless trails of Zion Canyon.  From the ancient Anasazi ruins of Mesa Verde National Park, to the towering buttes of historic Monument Valley.  Whatever you’re looking for, you can find it here in your nation’s backyard.

Now, if you plan on visiting this beautiful country, keep in mind this is the desert southwest. You can drive for miles without passing a town or city so always be prepared.  If you’re planning a trip driving yourself, be sure you’re always stocked with a full tank of fuel, extra water, extra blankets, and first aid kit.  Always check road conditions and be prepared for changing weather.  Cell service can be very spotty in the desert southwest, so always stay in your comfort zone when traveling.

Another way to see this beautiful country is by booking a trip with a company like Southwest Adventure Tours or another tour company that supplies guided services.  These companies specialize in arranging travel itineraries and guided driven tours with hotel accommodations, park fees, and meals.  However you see this area, come and see it, you won’t be disappointed!

Where do you want to travel this winter?

Arches NP Landscape Arch

Mesa Arch Sunrise Winter Canyonlands

Winter in the Southwest

Bryce in the winter

GET TO KNOW OUR GUIDES: JIM

“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

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: http://www.nps.gov/pefo/planyourvisit/things2do.htm

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!

A Visit to Sedona – Red Rock Country

Cathedral Rock

Sedona is a beautiful town surrounded by red rock and green forests that will make you feel relaxed and reenergized as soon as you enter. Otherwise known as Red Rock Country, the warm colors of the rock and majestic scenery will revitalize any visitor. Sedona is located only an hour and a half from Phoenix and 2 hours from the Grand Canyon.

Sedona is now known for many popular tourist sites and activities. Some travel here for the adventure – hiking, biking, ATV’s, rock climbing, horseback riding – the possibilities are endless. One of our favorite tours to offer is a Pink Jeep tour on Broken Arrow trail at sunset. Just breathtaking! The hiking trails in Sedona are also really well marked so you can spend hours exploring the trails on your own or with a private hiking guide. You will have to explore Cathedral and Bell Rock, two of the most popular sites in the area. You can even take a star-gazing tour as the skies in the Southwest are truly breathtaking! If heights are more your scene you can take helicopter tours or scenic flights in an open-cockpit biplane! I also loved my time in Oak Creek Canyon, where the forest and trees reminded me more of a forest in Canada than an Arizonan desert. You can explore Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon as well – it is well worth a visit!

If relaxation is more your speed, you can relax and enjoy some of Sedona’s well known spa. If you are a guest at Sedona’s Enchantment Resort you will be treated to pure luxury at the Mii Amo Spa. The spa offers day packages and tailors their services using the traditions of

the Native American people and even offers some of their services in an outdoor wickiups with amazing views of Sedona. Or try Retreat and Heal spa services that say they help connect guests with your “spiritual essence and transforms cellular patterns that drain your energy and realign your energy, release your stress, and empower you with tools to maintain inner peace and vitality”. Sounds good to me!

Sedona has a reputation as a spiritual destination because it is home vortexes. Vortexes are places where metaphysical energy is gathered giving those who experience this energy insight

Sedona

Sedona is also well known for its art and culture. A must-do on any visit to Sedona is a visit to the beautiful Tlaquepaque , joy and physical well-being.  There are many different schools of thoughts on these vortexes, and if you want any further information, click here: http://www.visitsedona.com/article/213

Arts & Craft Village. It is designed to look like a traditional Mexican village and is filled with galleries, shops and artisans hard at work on their next piece of work.

There are even some delicious restaurants if you stay for lunch or dinner.

If you are planning to spend several days in Sedona, you may want to consider a day trip. A popular one is to the nearby Grand Canyon. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is only 2 hours away, or you can drive to Williams, AZ and take the Grand Canyon Railroad to the Park. Williams is also a stereotypical Route 66-type town and well worth a drive

through. Areas nearby to Sedona are also becoming well known for their wineries. Page Springs, Cottonwood and the ‘ghost town’ of Jerome are all within 20-45 minutes from Sedona. Most of the wineries have tasting rooms and it’s a great half day excursion. Wineries we recommend are Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, Burning Tree Cellars and Javelina Leap. Well worth a visit!

There are no shortage of excellent resorts and B & B’s in Sedona. You have everything from comfortable motels to 5* resorts. We love the L’Auberge de Sedona – nestled along Oak Creek the rooms are cozy, warm and set in a relaxing environment. They also have an excellent restaurant where you can dine by the river. The hotel is also located in town close to different restaurants and shops. The Enchantment Resort is also stunning as well – but a bit removed from the main part of town and has terrible cell phone coverage (for those who want to bring their phones with them during their R & R…).

Sedona

Best value? The Best Western Plus Inn of Sedona is comfortable and has an amazing view of all of Sedona as well as a delicious breakfast included in the morning.

You won’t go hungry during your stay here as Sedona has a wide variety of dining experiences for all tastes and budgets. We love the Elote Café which has a delicious Mexican menu, The Heartline Café – well recognized as an award winning restaurant and the Oak Creek Brewing Company – who doesn’t love a good microbrew? There are many more restaurants that are great to dine at here. Please feel free to post in the comments your favorites.

All in all, Sedona is a great place to include on your Southwest itinerary or for an entire week’s vacation, the choice is yours!

If you are interested in travelling to Sedona, let us know – we can help plan a custom trip for you! Contact us at info@southwestadventuretours.com

Now, who wants to visit Sedona? What are some of your favorite sites to visit here? 

Planning to Visit Alaska in 2014?

Now is the PERFECT time to plan your trip to Alaska for Summer 2014! Have you always imagined yourself trekking through the natural wonders that Alaska has to offer: like Denali National Parks and its majestic Mt. McKinley or seeing glaciers on a boat trip in Kenai Fjords National Park? Or viewing the picturesque landscape seated on a glass-domed train en route to Seward and or having some amazing opportunities to see wildlife? There is so much to do and see in Alaska!

Southwest Adventure Tours has a fantastic 7 day itinerary that takes you to some of the state’s highlights. Check out the Alaska Experience Itinerary here or customize your own Alaska tour with us!

Who has Alaska on their bucket list?

http://southwestadventuretours.com/index.php/alaska-experience

National Park Spotlight: Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is located in Southern Utah, and is known for the unique shapes that form its landscape called “hoodoos”. Hoodoos are pillars of rock that are left by erosion. Geologists say that 10 million years ago forces within the Earth created and then moved the massive blocks known as the Table Cliff and Paunsaugunt plateaus. Ancient rivers carved the tops and sides and exposed the edges of the blocks and sculpting these beautiful pillars of rock. These hoodoos create the perfect landscape in summer and in winter.

It is located approximately 4 hours from Las Vegas and Salt Lake City and 2.5 hours from St. George. A popular combination of tours is a visit to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon in one day (just less than 2 hours away from each other).

Every year approximately 1.5 million visitors come to Bryce Canyon.

Popular Hikes/Viewpoints:

  • Queens Garden (1.8mi/2.9km round trip). This is the least difficult trail into the canyon.  Consider taking the Queens Garden/Navjo loop combination (this is something that we do with our groups all of the time!) We recommend going from Queens Garden to the Wall Street Section of the Navajo loop. (3.5 mi/5.6 km)
  • Rim Trail (0-11 mi/0-17.7 km round trip) This has great views of the hoodoos from above on a paved trail.
  • Tower Bridge (3 mi/4.8 km round trip) A ¼ mile spur trail leads to the bridge and you can also see Bristlecone pines and the China wall.
  • Navajo Trail (1.3 mi/2.2 km round trip). This trail starts at Sunset Point and goes into the Bryce Amphitheater through a slot canyon.
  • Fairyland Loop (8 mi/12.9 km round trip) You can see the China Wall, Tower Bridge and hoodoos on this trail.
  • Drive to Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration and Bryce Viewpoints  Easy way to view some of the fantastic sights easily!
Hoodoos

Hoodoos

Some Helpful Hints:

  •  Bryce Canyon Fees: $25 for a Park Vehicle Permit, $12 per individual (by foot, bike, etc. Those under 15 are free). Annual Pass is $30.
  • Since Bryce Canyon is at a higher elevation, make sure to pack layers. In the winter it can get downright chilly and you will see a lot of white stuff!
  • Get up early! Sunrise at Bryce Canyon is stunning.
  • Combine Zion National Park with Bryce Canyon for a fantastic day trip from Las Vegas, St. George or Salt Lake City.

Places to Stay:

  • Inside the Park: Lodge at Bryce Canyon – perfect location for being close to the rim and for viewing the amazing sunrises!
  • Camping: Tent and RV Camping available (first come, first served) or backcountry camping (permits required – Under-the Rim and Riggs Spring Loop Trails only).
  • Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn – area’s largest hotel. Tons of activities, shops, gas station.
  • Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel
  • Bryce Canyon Pines. This hotel has the best restaurant other than the Lodge at Bryce Canyon and is pretty affordable!
Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Southwest Adventure Tours offers several small group and private trips to Bryce Canyon National Park and the surrounding areas and can also customize trips:

Contact us at 1-800-970-5864 or info@southwestadventuretours.com for more details or for a custom trip proposal!

Who wants to visit Bryce Canyon in 2014?

Top National Parks to Visit in the Winter

Winter in Bryce Canyon

Winter in Bryce Canyon

Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon and Yosemite National Parks were named the top National Parks to have some fun during the winter! Exploring the National Parks isn’t just for the summer months. Southwest Adventure Tours can help you plan your perfect winter exploration to any of these parks and more!

http://www.thegearcaster.com/the_gearcaster/2013/12/best-national-parks-to-visit-during-winter.html