The Ultimate Southwest Road Trip (+ Auto Rental Tips)

The southwestern United States offers many must-see places. Taking a road trip in this area is the best way to see it all. But if you’re coming from a distance, it might make more sense to fly in and rent a car on arrival. 

Road trips might seem easy, but if you don’t have a reliable vehicle, things can be tricky. Do you know the requirements for renting a vehicle? Not just anyone can walk in and rent at a desk. 

We’ll cover everything from navigating the rental car process to sample itineraries for your trip.

Finding Travel Deals

If you start your journey from anywhere other than the Southwest, flying and renting a car might be your best option. To keep the budget in check, you’ll want to shop around for the best deals.

Search Cheap Flights

The search tool Google Flights and other comparison tools are a good starting point for finding cheap flights. But remember that not all airlines list their flights on comparison sites, so check directly with airline websites too.

Budget airlines can be a great option to get from point A to point B. If you don’t mind traveling light, you can save money. However, watch out for baggage fees and upgrades, as those extras add up quickly.

Finding cheap flights will allow you to splurge on other road trip aspects. However, if you aren’t packing light, luggage fees add up quickly. 

If you open a credit card specific to a single airline, you can save money in the long run. In addition, there are additional perks like preferred seating and airport lounge access.

Airline perks programs and frequent flier miles are another opportunity to save on flights. However, if you fly only once a year, your miles may expire before you can get enough to use them.

Get Deals on Car Rentals

Online search tools are a great way to start your quest for cheap car rentals. They will give you an idea of the going rate and probably offer the best price. 

Try this trick to get 20% off your rental. Go online to a car rental company, go through the process to rent the car you want, including supplying your email address, then stop on the last page before confirming. If you let the page sit, it might trigger an “abandoned cart” sequence, which sends an email to you with an incentive to complete your rental. 

Many cities offer car-sharing opportunities. You can find them online, where you choose the actual car. Some sites coordinate with car owners who loan out their personal vehicles. Many entrepreneurs have started their own mini fleet for these sites. Look for well-rated people. 

Consider renting an SUV with good ground clearance and all-wheel drive to handle the mountain roads and provide you the chance at some fun off-roading experiences.

The most important part to remember when renting a car for a road trip is to check the mileage limits on the rental agreement. For example, some rentals limit daily miles.

Make sure you understand insurance coverage for your rental or personal vehicle. The longer you spend on the road, the more likely you’ll run into car trouble or accidents. Check what rental car insurance you may already have; for example, there are a few credit cards that feature it, such as Capital One.

Save on Lodging

Compare Airbnb and Vrbo. Usually, the longer you stay, the cheaper your rate. But since you’re making a road trip, you will likely search for shorter stays.

Online tools are abundant for finding lodging. Whether you check major comparison sites for hotels or look at local travel guides, planning your trip around your lodging options will give you an outline to work with. 

Use a credit card that has hotel or travel perks. Many credit card companies have cash-back rewards for travel expenses. Some credit cards specify which hotel lines are honored.  

Try camping. Ultimately, tenting is the cheapest option for frugal travelers. If your Southwest road trip centers around national parks and outdoor attractions, tenting allows you to get up close and personal with nature.

Remember, lodging is harder to find when traveling the vast expanses of the Southwest. So, do your homework ahead of time and reserve your stops to save money. If you feel free-spirited and want to go where the road takes you, allow extra wiggle room in your budget. 

Must-See Places in the Southwest

There are so many wonderful sites to see in the Southwest that it’s difficult to narrow down the options. Wherever you roam, make memories and cherish the travel experience.

If you’re looking to get the best bang for your buck, and you are coming from out of town, consider Las Vegas and Phoenix airports. 

Las Vegas Road Trip

However you plan to get to the Southwest, Las Vegas is one of the cheapest destinations to fly into. Once you get your rental or car share, it’s time to set out. 

Starting in Vegas, you can travel northeast on I-15. This route will take you to Zion National Park in a little over two hours. Southern Utah is a fantastic place to explore, and you could make your whole trip around the parks and forests there.

However, if you want to hit the highlights, continue on to the Grand Canyon. Take US-89A to AZ-67 South, and you’ll be at the south rim in two hours. That route will take you through scenic landscapes and unique towns. 

Just an hour south of the south rim, you can check out a wildlife preserve called Bearizona. While in Williams, you can hunt for peridot, a semi-precious stone. Arizona is a popular place for rock hounds.

Wrap up your Las Vegas loop with a stop at the Hoover Dam. Take AZ-93 North to Clark County, Nevada, and check out the impressive hydroelectric power plant. 

Phoenix Road Trip

Phoenix to Tucson is a great first leg for an Arizona road trip. Colossal Cave Mountain Park is a great place to explore and will excite you for what else to see in Arizona.

The Mt. Lemmon Highway will take you on a short and breathtaking jaunt out of Tucson. You can take it purely for the driving beauty or hop out at Mt. Lemmon and hike around the scenic grandeur. 

Taking a lengthier drive from Mt. Lemmon to Tonto National Forest provides excellent camping options. Tonto is a stopping point between Tucson and Flagstaff.

Flagstaff is a must-see town with great shopping, good food, and unique lodging. The whole city is set on a mountain backdrop and will provide the quintessential road trip feel.

From Flagstaff, you are within hours of the best spots along the Grand Canyon. Choose your hike depending on the time of year you travel. 

Head back to Flagstaff, where you can head south on AZ-89A. Travel through Sedona, and spend some time among the scenic red rocks. If you’ve rented a capable vehicle, exciting off-roading opportunities abound.

Take 179 S to I-17 through Saguaro cacti back to Phoenix. Phoenix itself merits some time spent, so carve out time at the beginning or end of your road trip to do it justice.

One last thing to consider, who will you take with you? If you travel solo or with friends, it’s good to inform someone of your itinerary and check in periodically.

Here’s what you need to remember when taking any road trip:

  • Know the terms of your rental (insurance, miles, etc.).
  • Notify someone of your plans and check in with them at appointed times.
  • Take opportunities to stop and enjoy the views as they come.

Preparing before you leave can help you enjoy yourself once you hit the road. While a road trip can be spontaneous, there are some unwanted surprises you prevent by following these tips. 

About the author

Maria Hanson, guest author at The Backpacking Site
Maria Hanson
More posts by this author

Maria Hanson writes and researches for the auto insurance comparison site, She is passionate about helping drivers find their best insurance options.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.