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The Ultimate (Affordable!) Iceland Road Trip

By Catherine Strawn
June 15, 2016
A road winding past Myvatn Nature Baths, North-Eastern Iceland
urbancow/Getty Images
WOW Air is now offering $99 flights to Iceland from Newark International Airport! With prices that low, and jaw-dropping scenery in every direction, this island is the perfect spot for your summer road trip. Buckle up and prepare for a marvelous, windswept adventure unlike anything you’ve experienced before.

"Do you want to keep going?” I asked, looking from the map on my phone to Richard, my fiancé. We were at least 20 minutes from Háifoss, one of Iceland’s highest waterfalls, and had just turned off a smooth, beautifully paved route onto one covered in baseball-size gravel. Without a word, we both knew that meant a 40-minute round trip spent dodging rocks to avoid getting a flat, listening to our 2003 Rav4 whine with the strain of the climb, and bracing ourselves during violent jostling that would leave our bodies vibrating long after we returned to the tranquil asphalt. 

Perched in the driver’s seat, Richard pressed down on the gas pedal in response. A smile crept across my lips as I trained my eyes on the road ahead. 

It was never really a question: Of course we’d keep going. I’d been dreaming of Iceland’s otherworldly landscape for years, and Háifoss promised the kind of off-the-beaten-path beauty that makes you stop in your tracks and forget everything on your to-do list back home.

We arrived as the sun was edging down toward the horizon. There wasn’t another soul around—or anything to prevent us from falling 400 feet to the valley below, where a river snaked through green slopes. From where I stood across the canyon, Háifoss and its neighbor waterfall, Granni, appeared as thin streams pouring downward for an eternity. The sound of gushing water filled my ears and my soul. After an hour of staring, awestruck, neither of us wanted to leave. But the light was fading, and we still had 50 miles till our hotel. 

To make the most of our trip, we took as many vacation days as our bosses would approve (a week and a half) with the goal of seeing as much as we possibly could. We followed fares and opted for a Wednesday departure, which saved us some cash. And we used Instagram as a guidebook, scrolling through photos tagged #Iceland and #MyStopover and following natives like @ozzophotography, then marking places on a shared Google Map. Looking at our scatter-plot of sites, it was clear we’d have to circle the entire country to get to everything, staying at eight different hotels along our route, which started and ended in Reykjavík. Crazy? Maybe. However, when you’re crossing a destination off your bucket list, you go big. And we did. 

FIRST…REYKJAVÍK 

Before setting out to circle the country via Route 1, known as the Ring Road, we spent a day exploring downtown Reykjavík. We rode a snug elevator to the top of Hallgrímskirkja church for a sweeping 360-degree view of the colorful capital city (about $7, hallgrimskirkja.is), browsed hip clothing and home decor boutiques on Laugavegur street, then warmed up inside Harpa concert hall (free, harpa.is) while wind and rain pounded boats in the harbor outside, nature whipping them into a roiling stew as they held tight to the docks. 

I’ll freely admit it: I’m the world’s pickiest vegetarian, so I’d wondered about my mealtime options in a seafood-and lamb-loving country. I even packed a box of granola bars just in case. Gló, a casual, chic restaurant—decorated Nordic-style, all pale neutrals with wooden accents— with four locations and deliciously healthy vegan and vegetarian food, like pesto-topped vegetable lasagna, proved I had no reason to worry (from about $15, glo.is). After the day’s biting rain, we savored each steaming forkful and gleefully plotted our journey. 

READY TO RIDE 

When we picked up our rental car from SADcars, the man behind the counter hurried through a list of crucial precautions: 

• Don’t drive faster than 90 kilometers per hour (about 56 mph) on asphalt or 80 kph (about 50 mph) on gravel. 

• Be careful when the road’s surface changes from rocks to pavement (“that’s where the accidents happen”). 

• Open your door against the wind and hold on so it doesn’t rip off the hinges. 

To be frank, the poor Rav4’s beat-up body showed signs of disregard for his last warning. Still, it had four-wheel drive and came cheap from a company that promised “older but good, solid cars.” Sounded legit. 

The electronic parking meters took a few tries to figure out since we don’t know Icelandic (thanks, Google Translate!). Eager to untether ourselves, we struck out the next morning. 

ON THE ROAD 

Reykjavík’s wide, multi-lane highway quickly shrank to a “bi”-way. Not two lanes per side; two lanes total. The buildings began to thin out, too, with horses and sheep as our faithful roadside companions. Whizzing by resplendent green mountains, we gazed toward the peaks, making a game of spotting woolly white specks and marveling at how they’d climbed so high. On gusty days, horses huddled together, still as statues except for the wind in their manes. 

As we drove, my eyes flicked between our car’s front and side windows, trying to piece together the panorama. You can only see so much out of a windshield. Luckily, there are plenty of spots to pause and quite literally spin around in wonder. About 45 minutes from Reykjavík, the Golden Circle holds a cluster of attractions, including Thingvellir National Park, Strokkur geyser, Gullfoss waterfall, and Kerid crater lake (admission to Kerid about $3, kerid.is). Farther out, the Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls as well as Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon all sit right along Route 1, making my job of navigator a breeze. Shoulders aren’t ubiquitous, yet whenever we had the urge to pull over and get a better look at moss-covered mounds of lava or a mountain disappearing into clouds, a patch of gravel conveniently appeared. 

On our third day, we met a trio of Germans at the U.S. Navy plane that crashed onto Sólheimasandur’s black sand beach in 1973, the wreckage now a hidden—and, as of press time, now prohibited—attraction. Comparing notes, we learned we were traveling the same distance, yet we had a week less to accomplish the feat. “You must drive fast!” one of them laughed. It was true: On paper, each leg of our trip didn’t look that far—the longest drive totaled five hours—yet we couldn’t resist breaking up the drive and taking vertiginous hikes to glimpse unmissable waterfalls, like Glymur and Hengifoss. This would be a whirlwind trip.

A MOST EXCELLENT ROUTINE

This wasn’t a vacation we wanted to spend lolling about. Our daily routine: Get up around 7 a.m.; eat our money’s worth of skyr, toast, cured meats, cheeses, and hard-boiled eggs at each hotel’s breakfast bar (free at some hotels); hit the road before 9 a.m. Early departures guaranteed we’d beat tour buses to the first waypoint and have Iceland’s sights to ourselves for a few moments. 

Coming from a country where road gridlocks are a part of life, driving in Iceland is bliss. Here, three cars feels like heavy traffic, stoplights are an anomaly, and potholes don’t seem to exist. There are a few exceptions: Between Höfn and Lake Mývatn, we clung to the side of a cliff on a stretch with no guardrail. We climbed mountains so steep we barely reached the speed limit with a foot to the floor. Following the coastline where a magnificent fjord cut deep into the land added kilometers to the odometer—the definition of “scenic route.”

NOURISHING MIND AND BODY

As the evenings fell, we didn’t have to search far to soothe our road-weary bones: Geothermal waters are one of the country’s natural wonders, our one monetary indulgence. The famous Blue Lagoon isn’t the only option—though it’s likely the most crowded (from about $45, bluelagoon.com). Near the Golden Circle, we relaxed on foam noodles in the Secret Lagoon’s inky depths (from about $22, secretlagoon.is) and, in the north, watched the sunset from the blue raspberry–colored pools of the Mývatn Nature Baths (from about $28, myvatnnaturebaths.is). With each dip, any lingering tension floated away. 

Unlike on American highways, fast-food joints don’t appear at regular intervals, despite the popularity of sightseeing via car. Towns often comprise a few houses, a coffee shop, and a hotel, with the latter two doubling as restaurants. In the northwest fishing town of Hvammstangi, we warmed up with pork chops and curry soup at Hladan Kaffihús, surrounded by a collection of antique coffee grinders (from about $12, 354/451-1110). At Stracta Hótel Hella, the hip staff wears chambray button-downs and serves “the freshest from Hella’s fishmonger” (from about $13, stractahotels.is). 

Another favorite—and, I want to add, ingenious—combination: the restaurant/greenhouse. Cucumbers grow just across the room at Fridheimar, and I went back for seconds of serve-yourself tomato soup and freshly baked bread. Potted basil and scissors decorate each table for snipping leaves to garnish your piping-hot bowl (from about $15, fridheimar.is). 

HOTEL HINTS 

Although we booked the trip four months in advance, some cities, like Vík, didn’t have a single vacancy. So we adjusted our itinerary based on lodging availability. That’s how we found Hótel Hellnar (from about $145 per night, 354/435-6820), where the town has fewer than 10 residents. Rooms have a view of Faxaflói Bay or Snaefellsjökull glacier, and the lobby doubles as a cozy bar. Over bottles of Einstök ale, Richard and I lamented the one downside of road trips: You fall in love with a place only to pack your bags a few hours later. 

In Iceland, there are no shortcuts; no faster or smoother ways. Detours, on the other hand, are plentiful—and perfect for travel serendipity. Driving on gravel west of Saudárkrókur, we heard a mysterious loud thud. With no cell service and no passersby to flag down, we proceeded cautiously, inch by potentially perilous inch. At the nearest guesthouse, we phoned the rental car company, then drove up and down the streets of Búdardalur (population 266) in search of the recommended garage. “I think I can fix it,” the mechanic semi-confidently informed us, his legs peeking out from under the Rav4. Pro tip: If you’re afraid of car trouble, join a bus tour. Us? We embraced the adventure. 

Inside the shop, surrounded by shelves of windshield-wiper blades and WD-40, a pair of old-timers gossiped over free coffee—some experiences are universal no matter where you are in the world. The mechanic kept his word: In two hours we were on our way, with new brackets holding up the gas tank. (The old ones had rusted out, and the tank had fallen on the drive shaft.) 

As our 12-hour days on the road whizzed by, we realized that an ambitious road trip over alien terrain might not be the textbook definition of a romantic paradise. Yet, in its own unforgettable way, it was. 

If you go on a journey of this kind, let it be in Iceland, and let it be with someone you love. Because traveling this country is like a relationship worth holding onto: The rough spots only serve to bring out the surrounding beauty—and there’s an endless supply of that. We didn’t get to visit every waterfall, and we narrowly missed a mountainside swimming pool I still dream of taking a dunk in, but the memories that still burn brightly in my mind are pulling each other up a mountain steeper than we’d bargained for, watching the sunset at 10 p.m., and stealing a kiss beside a secluded waterfall. 

It would take a lifetime to see it all. We’ve already started a map for next time. 

Three Rules of the Road 

1. Set Your Course: Check road conditions at Road.is before setting out. Strong weather can cause sections to be impassable. Carry a hard-copy map in case reception cuts out or a battery dies. 

2. Find Your Soundtrack: Our clunker didn’t have an auxiliary input, and the radio often disappeared into static. Before setting out from Reykjavík, we stopped at 12 Tónar, a record store that specializes in Icelandic music (12tonar.is). Compilations, including This Is Icelandic Indie Music and Icelandair’s Hot Spring series, kept us more than entertained. 

3. Get Recs from Residents: For food, shopping, hotel, and culture suggestions (including kid-friendly activities) from “a group of picky locals,” download the free HandPicked Iceland app or visit Handpicked.is

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Road Trips

The Midwest's Coolest Road Trip

Let's be honest: The media has been none too kind to the Rust Belt over the years. The usual visual clichés—shuttered factories and empty storefronts—have reinforced the idea that the region is no vacation destination. That's old news. To bypass the stretch of the Rust Belt between Cleveland and Pittsburgh is to miss out on the pleasures of heritage and history and the excitement of an evolution in progress. I have experienced both the tradition and the transformation of this area firsthand. After living elsewhere in the U.S. for more than a decade, I moved back to Northeast Ohio, hoping to reconnect with what I knew and loved about the region and discover what else is in the works. What better way to become reacquainted with my Rust Belt roots than to hit the road with a new perspective and an old friend—my sister. Day 1: Cleveland to Youngstown, Ohio (75 Miles) We started our trip from my home in the suburbs of Cleveland—a city that deserves far more than a one-day drop-in. A major player in the history of manufacturing in Ohio and a community deeply invested in revival, Cleveland has enough music and cultural attractions, groundbreaking dining spots, and reasonably priced entertainment to justify a much longer getaway. When visiting the North Coast—named as such for Lake Erie, Cleveland’s northern border—for any length of time, do not miss the West Side Market in the Ohio City neighborhood (1979 W. 25th St., crepes from $5). In 2012, the market celebrated its 100th anniversary, and one stroll through the indoor bazaar of fresh meats, pastries, cheese, and produce on a Saturday morning will show you why it has thrived for more than a century. We hit the road on Interstate 80, the Ohio Turnpike. For all the times I had traveled east on the turnpike, never had I stopped at Cuyahoga Valley National Park—a 33,000-acre preservation framing the Cuyahoga River (1550 Boston Mills Rd., Peninsula). The rolling crests of the valley and rich forest had always been a pleasant sight from the highway, but to actually experience the park is to know that it really is a national treasure. We made the easy hike to Brandywine Falls then enjoyed the cliffs and birches of the Ledges Trail. Just an hour east of the park is the city of Youngstown, a place full of rich traditions and cultural assets. The Butler Institute of American Art is a marvel that boasts more than 10,000 works from the colonial era to the modern and contemporary periods, including paintings by big-name artists like Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer, Chuck Close, and Georgia O’Keeffe (524 Wick Ave, free). For a different aesthetic, jump across the street to the McDonough Museum of Art, which features primarily contemporary works (525 Wick Ave). The sleek Modernist facility provides a satisfying contrast to the classically designed Butler. A visitor will not go hungry in Youngstown unless she works at it. Diligently. Just two blocks from the art museums is Cassese's MVR, a restaurant that began in 1927 as a pool room and was granted the second liquor license in the city at Prohibition's end (410 N. Walnut St.). Since 1938, the Cassese family has served Italian American favorites named for relatives, friends, and the chefs who have made the food something to keep coming back for. The sauce is still homemade, as is most of the menu. We enjoyed a meal on the back patio, where we took in the sights and sounds of bocce on three gravel courts. We were so engrossed in the games that we almost passed up the pizza. For the crust alone, we're lucky that we didn't. Among all that was familiar in Youngstown, we stumbled upon something new to us: Rust Belt Brewing Company, a craft brewery that makes its beers in the old B&O train station along the Mahoning River and serves them in its downtown Tap House (beers from $4.50, 112 W. Commerce St.). The flight of brews we sampled ranged from the dark-roasted Coke Oven Stout to the deliciously floral Peacemaker Imperial IPA. Jillian Blair, brewery manager, explained the brewery's interest in celebrating the city's industrial identity while refining a familiar concept. "We want to brew a good beer that everyone can enjoy," Blair said. "We think of it as giving back to and honoring the American worker." In the summer months, stopping by one of Youngstown's many Italian heritage festivals is a must. Events like the Brier Hill Italian Fest made eating trailer-prepared cavatelli, spicy sausage sandwiches, and apple dumplings cool long before the food-truck trend (Victoria and Calvin streets). Youngstown, Ohio, to Columbiana, Ohio (18 Miles) Before leaving, we took in two glimpses of Youngstown from Fellows Riverside Gardens (123 McKinley Ave). On one end of the bloom-laden garden is a panorama of downtown; the other overlooks Lake Glacier and the northern edge of 2,330-acre Mill Creek Park. The central stretch of rolling, well-tended lawn invites leisurely strolls with plenty of pauses to smell the award-winning roses. Inspired by memories from childhood, we made our way down to Lake Glacier and rented pedal boats (Glacier Boathouse, West Glacier Dr.). Just a half hour of pedaling across the still, forest- framed lake and we were ready to drift and enjoy the scenery. Farther south in Mill Creek Park we visited Lanterman’s Mill, a working grist mill that has been stone-grinding wheat, buckwheat, and corn just like it did when it was first built in the mid-19th century (980 Canfield Rd.). A short drive south is Columbiana, Ohio, a small village with big rural charm. We stopped by the Shaker Woods Festival, a large gathering of craftspeople that happens for three weekends each August (44337 County Line Rd). We browsed handmade wares under a canopy of century-old trees and sampled roasted pecans, sweet kettle corn, and lemonade shakes, then stayed in the heart of the village at the Columbiana Inn, a fully renovated 1904 Beaux Arts-style B&B (rooms from $125 per night, 109 N. Main St). Its highlights include repurposed-wood decor and innkeeper Paul Bissell's world-famous hash browns—a potato masterpiece of local garlic, cheese, and sausage. Day 3: Columbiana, Ohio, to Pittsburgh (83 Miles) Winding through the Ohio River Valley on the way to Pittsburgh, we stopped where it all started for early colonial settlers and Rat Pack crooner Dean Martin: Steubenville, Ohio. Historic Fort Steuben is a replica of the fort built after the Revolutionary War to house and protect government surveyors ($5, 120 S. Third St). Their task: Lay out the first ranges of the Northwest Territory, the land destined to become Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Like Cleveland, Pittsburgh needs much more than one day for true exploration. Two hours at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh was far from enough. We marveled at the bones of Apatosaurus louisae, the dinosaur named for Andrew Carnegie’s wife, Louise, and lingered in the photo gallery—the museum was the first to exhibit photography as art. During a stop for a quick burst of fuel at La Prima Espresso Bar in the Strip District, Italian language teacher turned coffee importer Sam Patti educated us on how to do espresso in the traditional style: Start with a single, well-made shot and enjoy it while standing at the bar, preferably with good conversation and good friends (single espresso $2, 205 21st St). For dinner, we sipped alcohol-free birch beer and chose from an ever-changing selection of "untraditional" pierogies at Church Brew Works—an old church turned microbrewery (pierogie $18.50, 3525 Liberty Ave). Before heading to bed at lovely Sunnyledge Boutique Hotel and Tea Room (rooms from $139 per night, 5124 Fifth Ave), we rode the historic Duquesne Incline ($2.50, 1197 W. Carson St) overlooking downtown Pittsburgh, a fitting end to our Rust Belt road trip: watching the sun set on where we'd been and looking forward to where we might go next.

Road Trips

What's A Road Trip Food You Can't Do Without?

We've got road trips on the brain, thanks to the re-release of our Budget Travel Ultimate Road Trips App, available now in the App Store and on Google Play, and all the fun summer travel stories in our July/August digital edition of Budget Travel magazine (now available on BudgetTravel.com, in the Apple App Store, on Google Play, and for Nook and Kindle). To get into the spirit of things, we asked several of our staff members to share the road trip food they can't do without—here's what they said: "Frozen coffee drinks laced with chocolate are as much of a necessity as gasoline." —Robert Firpo-Cappiello, Executive Editor "I purposely don't bring any food with me so I have an excuse to stop for ice cream along the way." —Jamie Beckman, Senior Editor "I stop for unique snacks at local shops. My favorite so far was Tanka Bites (smoked buffalo meat with cranberries), which I found in South Dakota." —Kaeli Conforti, Digital Editor "A road trip isn't complete without chocolate." —Jennifer O'Brien, Marketing Manager "Candy! I've given myself countless sugar headaches on road trips. I never learn." —Rosalie Tinelli, Marketing Associate "Coffee. Does that count?" —Amy Lundeen, Photo Director "Chocolate-covered raisins. It's what I buy when I go to the movies, and driving on a road trip is sorta like a real-time flick!" —Whitney Tressel, Photo Editor "I simply cannot live without sunflower seeds in the shell. They keep me busy when I feel sleepy while driving—that's key!" —Chalkley Calderwood, Creative Director "I always have Twizzlers or beef jerky handy." —Chad Harter, Lead Developer "After living in New York City for so long, I search for an Arby's or Chili's, because those favorites of mine are hard to find here." —Michelle Craig, Director, Business Development "Potato chips! Preferably local and flavored." —Elaine Alimonti, President, Publisher "A big bag of pretzels is a must-have for all road trips!" —Cathy Allendorf, Director of Digital Media Now it's your turn: We want to know, what's a road trip food you can't do without? Share it below!

Road Trips

Epic Road Trip: Southern Utah & Northern Arizona

It's time to embark on an epic family road trip adventure through the rugged wilderness of southern Utah and northern Arizona. Whether you're planning to hit only a few of these places or want to cover the entire park circuit through Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Monument Valley, Arches, and Canyonlands, here's how to make the most of your trip without wasting a cent. Slow down and savor the beautiful scenic byways While your trusty GPS might say there are faster ways to get you from point A to point B, stick to Utah's Scenic Byways as you travel between the parks. State Route 12 takes you from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon on a beautiful 124-mile journey with awe-inspiring views at every turn. Give yourself at least three hours so you can stop for photo ops along the way. Step into your favorite movies in the places they were filmed There's a reason why some of this scenery looks so familiar. It's been the background in plenty of films, from John Wayne classics like Stagecoach (filmed in the Monument Valley area) to Thelma & Louise, (filmed in Arches National Park; the final scene was really filmed in Dead Horse State Point State Park, not the Grand Canyon—who knew?) Die-hard Forrest Gump fans can also be seen pulling over at Mile Marker 13 on Highway 163, outside Monument Valley, for a chance to take the perfect photo in the spot where, one day, Forrest just stopped running. Get to know lesser-known national parks like Capitol Reef Often overshadowed by Zion and Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park is definitely worth visiting: Admission is only $5 per vehicle, and you'll have access to unspoiled views of red rock country and a chance to explore the area's rich pioneer history. Infamous outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid even used parts of the park as a hideout! Stop by Rim Rock Restaurant for a gorgeous vantage point of the red rock as you dine, and stay around the corner at Broken Spur Inn (Rim Rock Restaurant, 2523 E. Highway 24 in Torrey, therimrock.net; Broken Spur Inn, rooms from $99 per night, 955, E. SR-24, brokenspurinn.com.) Don't miss Page, Arizona, on your way to or from Monument Valley Spend some time on the shores of Lake Powell, part of Arizona's scenic Glen Canyon Recreation Area ($15 per vehicle for a weekly pass), or rent a kayak at Lake Powell Resort to see the area from the water (kayak rentals from $45 per day, 100 Lakeshore Drive, lakepowell.com). Stop by Horseshoe Bend just south of Page on Highway 89 (free). Don't be intimidated by the three-quarters-of-a-mile hike through desert sands to reach the scenic overlook point. (Author's note: If I can do it, you can do it, and that amazing view from the top of the ridge was totally worth it!) Immerse yourself in Native American culture and history in Monument Valley Stay at Goulding's Lodge, a remote but charming outpost minutes from Monument Valley that's home to Goulding's Trading Post Museum. View photos and artifacts from the Old West; learn about the area's Native American tribes; check out John Wayne's Cabin, where She Wore a Yellow Ribbon was filmed; and catch classic western flicks at the Earth Spirit Theater. Goulding's also offers several guided trips into Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, including its three-and-a-half hour deluxe tour, which gives you a close-up look at scenic rock formations like the Mittens, the Three Sisters, and North Window, and the chance to explore parts of the park that are off-limits to the general public (tour from $70 per person, rooms from $89 per night November through April, from $211 per night May through October, gouldings.com). Explore Bryce Canyon on horseback Embrace your inner cowboy (or cowgirl) and get a different view of the park from the back of your trusty steed. Bryce Canyon Rides takes you on a two-hour guided tour from Bryce Canyon Lodge down to the canyon floor, past scenic spots like the Wall of Windows and the Chessmen. Bring plenty of water, and whatever you do, don't forget your camera! (from $60 per person for a two-hour trip, from $80 per person for a half-day guided tour, canyonrides.com; admission to the park includes unlimited use of park shuttles and is valid for seven days, $25 per vehicle or $12 per person entering on foot, nps.gov/brca). C'mon and take a free ride at Zion and Bryce Canyon While you can bring your car to Bryce Canyon National Park, we recommend staying at Ruby's Inn (rooms from $149 per night, 25 S. Main St., rubysinn.com), leaving your car there, and hopping on the free Bryce Canyon Shuttle to avoid spending your precious time in the park worrying about traffic. Parking at Zion National Park, meanwhile, is limited to a frequently overcrowded parking lot near the entrance, and after a certain point, no cars are allowed and you must take free shuttles to see the rest. Leave the car at your hotel—we love the Hampton Inn & Suites Springdale/Zion National Park (rooms from $197 per night, 1127 Zion Park Blvd, hamptoninn.com)—and take the Springdale Shuttle to Zion, where you can catch the Zion Canyon Shuttle inside the park (admission to the park includes unlimited use of park shuttles and is valid for seven days, $25 per vehicle or $12 per person entering on foot, nps.gov/zion). Treat yourself to dinner and a show For the Moab portion of your trip, spend your days exploring nearby Arches and Canyonlands national parks (admission to the parks is valid for seven days, $10 per vehicle or $5 per person entering on foot for each park). Don't miss the Moab Adventure Center's Dinner and Night Show: You'll start with an hour-long Dutch oven cowboy-style dinner, then board a jet boat for a two-hour journey up and down the Colorado River. Watch as the canyon walls are lit up by 40,000 watts of light and hear stories of how the are came to be settled by Native Americans and later, cowboys ($69 for adults, $59 for children ages 12 and under, 1861 N. Highway 191, moabadventurecenter.com). Back in Moab, stay at Kokopelli Lodge, a funky, retro-style motel a few blocks from Moab's walkable downtown along Highway 191 (From $79 per night, 72 S. 100 East, kokopellilodge.com). Surround yourself with culture and history in Salt Lake City Use Salt Lake City as a base for your first or last night and spend a day at the Natural History Museum of Utah, one of 13 attractions covered by the Visit Salt Lake Connect Pass ($29 for adults, $24 for children 12 and under, $23 for seniors over 65 for a one-day pass; two-day, three-day, and annual passes are also available). If you're working on a family tree, stop by the Family History Library for access to millions of records and complimentary help with your research. Stay at Hotel Monaco, a swanky Kimpton hotel with family-sized rooms from $159 per night (15 W. 200 South, Monaco-saltlakecity.com) and stop by Eva's Bakery for a delightful French café breakfast (155 S. Main St., evasbakeryslc.com). Don't forget to pack: Sunscreen: apply an ounce (about a shot glass) of SPF 30 broad-spectrum sunscreen every two hours while you're exposed to the sun. Sun-protective clothing: Wear a wide-brimmed hat and protective shirt and pants. (Hold them up to the light; if you can see the sun through your shirt, it's not protecting your skin from damaging UV rays). Water: The National Park Service recommends that you bring one gallon of water per person per day. Sure, it sounds like a lot, but you'll be glad you did. Layers: While the dry heat of midday in Utah can be challenging, don't forget that evening temperatures drop quickly, especially at altitude. Be sure to bring sweaters and jackets. Hiking shoes: Leave the sandals and flip-flops in your hotel room! When exploring any national park or other wild place, it's best to wear durable socks and closed-toe shoes with sturdy support and water-resistance. Take advantage of free weekends at all national parks Aug. 25, National Park Service Birthday Sept. 26, Public Lands Day Nov. 11, Veterans Day Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Presidents' Day Weekend Opening weekend of National Park Week in April

Road Trips

#BTRoadTrip: Tallahassee, Florida, to Charleston, South Carolina

Hop in the passenger's seat on the ultimate road trip! We're posting real-time dispatches as Budget Travel's Photo Editor, Whitney Tressel, journeys across the country using tips from locals as her guide. Prepare for beautiful beaches and parks, amazing local cuisine, and one-of-a-kind experiences you only get when you talk to the real Americans who make this country great. Is it over already? After two weeks chock-full of unique towns, local eats, and activities from two-stepping to peacock-spotting, Whitney's cross-country road trip came to a close. But not before she pumped the brakes in order to settle into Georgia's slow southern pace, eventually winging her way up to South Carolina, to see the sun set quite literally on her trip. Dusk in Savannah. As the sun melted like hot butter over the horizon, over the rooftop of Whitney's hotel, she plotted her morning journey to Clary's Cafe for breakfast, on the recommendation of a local she met back in Tallahassee. Once there, a plate of perfect eggs florentine, two bright-yellow paprika-sprinkled hills, cozied up with a generous bowl of grits, materialized in front of Whitney. A side of homemade corned beef hash? Why not? Whitney hopscotched among Savannah's 22 lush, grassy squares to iconic Forsyth Park, draped in the Spanish moss that's inseparable from the idea of Savannah as a city. Trivia: The historic park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same landscape architect who designed New York City's Central Park. After capturing the trees and fountains on camera and doing some serious people-watching and music-listening—musicians constantly play in the park—Whitney took her time meandering along the river, stopping at Savannah's Candy Kitchen for a candy-dipped apple crisscrossed with ribbons of white and dark chocolate to bite into as she took in the water views. Pre-dinner candy aside, this is the south: There's always more room for home cookin'. The Olde Pink House restaurant has a much-deserved reputation for its classic dishes, including "southern sushi," smoked shrimp and grits rolled in coconut-crusted nori, and a side of "hoppin' john," black-eyed peas and rice that Whitney spooned up like it was her last meal on the road. But not so fast: One last southern state loomed on the horizon as Whitney zoomed up I-17. Folly Beach, South Carolina, grabbed her attention immediately with its classic Atlantic Coast vibe: locals fishing, eating ice cream, playing volleyball, dipping their toes in the surf, and lolling about on the sand. Come dinnertime, Whitney bellied up to the Folly Beach Crab Shack and ordered up a dish of crab balls with with rémoulade for less than 10 bucks, then set out for the best place to watch the sunset, according to a couple fishing on the pier.As Whitney watched the horizon shift from orange to pink to navy from a boat marina between Folly Beach and Charleston, she let her mind drift back to the start of her trip, her thoughts running backward across the country, up and down the south's peaks and valleys, past its ocean vistas, along the open road, accompanied only by her camera, now full of freeze-framed vistas, natural beauty, and the faces of new friends. Whitney's Final Travel Tip: Don't hesitate to travel alone. The act of traveling with others is irrefutably awesome, but embarking on a solo journey births new and different experiences that, quite honestly, couldn't happen if you weren't by yourself, surrounded by everything unfamiliar. Previously:#BTRoadTrip: Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Tallahassee, Florida#BTRoadTrip: Del Rio, Texas, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana#BTRoadTrip: Tucson to Del Rio, Texas#BTRoadTrip: San Diego to Tucson#BTRoadTrip: Los Angeles to San Diego

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