When a trip to the Grand Canyon turned into The Amazing Race by visiting 4 states, 8 landmarks, and 1 festival in just one extended weekend, I hopped to the opportunity to make it happen. With teamwork, excellent organization, and loads of positive energy, we were able to plan a trip for the record books!
When deciding to take this trip, we already had in mind exactly what we wanted to see. Our dilemma, as with many young people with full-time jobs and limited funds, was vacation time off and money. How can we get the most out of a short amount of time and a limited budget? The best way to plan a trip like this is to write down every single landmark or stop and map it out. If you’re planning with a group, a great idea would be to share a Google Doc. Shareable documents are a great way to collaborate and add items to the itinerary as well as record costs for plane tickets, hotels, and rental cars. Once we created a Google Doc, we started to determine distance and drive time in between each landmark then added them to our route. If you would like to receive a template of my expense sheet, make sure you subscribe to this blog! I’ll be sure to shoot one to your email as a thank you!
I am going to be completely honest with you. I used to throw all of my trips on a credit card, but after accumulating debt, I figured it was easier for me to plan and save in advance. With that being said, we started planning this trip at least 7 months ahead of time. The one thing that made budgeting extremely helpful was adding an expense chart to our Google Doc. Expense charts are a great way to save money for your trip, and determine your budget while still being able to manage your expenses at home. A proper budget allows you to pace yourself for paying a trip off rather than paying for everything at once or throwing it all on a credit card. Pro Tip: Round up when it comes to a budget. That way, you will have a little more money than expected left for spending or bringing back home.
Now that the trip was successfully planned, it was time to begin our adventure. We started our journey by taking a late flight from Atlanta to Phoenix, AZ. Upon arrival, we immediately picked up our rental car and drove straight to Sedona. We stayed at the Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock, which thoroughly impressed us with spacious rooms and amazing views!
The average nightly rate for the Bell Rock Resort is a little over $300, but we ended up paying a total of $195 by using Hilton Honors points. Pro Tip: Try sticking with one airline or hotel to stack reward points. Although it is great to be open to different brands for the best deals, sometimes having a go-to brand pays off in the long run.
View from our hotel
Chapel of the Holy
After checking out of the Resort, we decided to grab a quick breakfast and explore Sedona for a short moment before driving to the Grand Canyon. The natural rock formations were beautiful, and all of us were immediately struck by our Earth’s creation.
The drive from Sedona to the Grand Canyon is about 2.5 hours. We decided to begin early to beat the crowds. We used the South Rim entrance, which is the most popular for tourists. Upon arrival, you will be charged a $30 per car entrance fee. The South Rim entrance is good for first-timers and tourists as they have a welcome center, plenty of maps, and shuttles that will take you to different points of the canyon. If you prefer more of a self-guided tour, I recommend skipping the South Rim entrance and try entering the park from either the North Rim or the West Rim. The South Rim entrance can get pretty crowded with people fighting to get great photos.
Visiting Antelope Canyon was probably one of my favorite parts of this trip. Unless you have been living under a rock (no pun intended), you have probably seen photos of this natural rock formation on social media. This is definitely a place that can take your Instagram profile to the next level. Formed by the erosion of sandstone, Antelope Canyon currently sits on Navajo land. This erosion was caused by natural events like flash flooding, monsoons, and rainwater. Over time, this created passageways for viewing and a hot tourism spot for people around the world.
We booked a 4pm tour with Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours, which cost us about $50/per person. The site is about a 2.5-hour drive from the Grand Canyon, but the route is definitely scenic and enjoyable. Upon arrival, you will have to check-in and provide payment. The tour guides will break you up in groups, load you on a truck, and drive to the canyon entrance.
Walking into the canyon for the first time brought on a choir of “oooos and aaahhs” from our tour group. For safety reasons, you must stay near your tour group, and your tour guide will stop for a headcount a few times throughout your time in the canyon.
Navajo Tours knows that people come to visit not only to take in nature but to get that perfect snap for Instagram. Our guide was good at pointing out the best spots for great lighting and perfect angles for photos. Some of the pictures shown below came with a little assistance from our guide, Matt!
Many Navajo Tour companies offer tours of Antelope Canyon, but I do highly recommend the company we used. The guides are super friendly, funny, knowledgeable, and as I said earlier, …they will make sure those photos are LIT!
Heart of the Canyon
Tour Guide: “Look up and smile.”
Nightfall was upon us, but we still had one more place to visit before wrapping up Day 1. After doing some research online, we learned that Horseshoe Bend has one of the best sunset views in the area.
Horseshoe Bend is only 15 minutes away from Antelope Canyon, so if you see one, you have to see the other! One tip I have is to be prepared for a crowd as this is another popular attraction where everyone is trying to get the best photo. Give yourself time and patience to find a parking spot and wear good walking shoes as there is a long walk to the actual site. Once you arrive, the views will take your breath away!
Horseshoe Bend was a great way to wrap up Day 1 of our 4-day trip. With nightfall upon us, it was time to hit the road and head to Monument Valley. In my next post, we say goodbye to Arizona (for now) and explore Utah, New Mexico, with a dash of Colorado. Make sure you subscribe to this blog, so you don’t miss Part 2 of this 4 part series, where we see what happens when things don’t always go as planned…
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