Road Trip USA: Memphis to Las Vegas via Houston – Planning

Planning a road trip in the USA during the winter months needs to take into account the weather; no one wants to get stuck in blizzards and thick snow. Hence, my ideas for a three week road trip focussed on the warmer Southern States.

Road Trip USA - Grand Canyon in Winter
Grand Canyon in Winter

A bucket list of places to see and things to do included: Gracelands in Memphis; Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans; Houston Space Centre; a stroll along the river in San Antonio; a glance over the Mexican border in El Paso; Saguaro National Park near Tucson; the Meteor Crater; Canyon de Chelly; Monument  Valley; the Grand Canyon; and the Strip in Las Vegas. Quite a list!

Road Trip USA Route

The route followed fairly naturally according to this list, with the option if the weather turned bitter of heading directly from Tucson to Las Vegas, avoiding the high Arizona plateaus. A total distance of over 3,000 miles and eight states in three weeks.

Road Trip USA

Car Hire

Checking around the various car hire brokers, I found that Economy Car Hire/Zest Car Rental gave the best deal if an additional driver is included. See: Auto Europe vs Economy Car Hire vs Holiday Autos.

When I’d hired a car previously for a San Francisco to Las Vegas road trip, there was no charge for one-way hire. Not so when picking up in Memphis and dropping off in Las Vegas; the one-way charge was a hefty $500 plus tax (£425 in total) to be paid directly at the pick-up point. It couldn’t be avoided and was considerably less than other car hire companies charged.

Road Trip USA - SUV Hire Car
SUV Hire Car – Hyundai Santa FE

I decided on an SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) as the higher ground clearance of this type of car could well prove useful in the various National Parks I intended to visit.

To get full insurance cover including for tyres, glass and underbody, it is necessary to take out extra excess insurance. Don’t leave it till you pick up the car as it will cost you a fortune. I take out world-wide excess insurance with at £47.99 for a whole year.

Flights between UK and USA

Although I could have booked flights myself using skyscanner to search for the best deals, I decided to use STA Travel in order to get all the flights linked together correctly. As ever, the Leeds Woodhouse Moor branch provided excellent service with KLM being my main carrier.


As mentioned above, if the weather made driving north into the Rockies difficult, I wanted the option of changing my accommodation plans mid-journey. Hence booking with flexible hotel rates was important. This is where Senior Discount rates come into their own, as with most chains they are booked on a flexible basis, see: Hotel Deals for Seniors.

Road Trip USA - Staybridge Suites
Staybridge Suite

Most of the hotels I booked were in the  Intercontinental Hotels Group, including Holiday Inns, Holiday Inn Expresses, Candlewood Suites and Staybridge Suites. My preference for this hotel chain is based on the advantages I get through the IHG Rewards Club, including room upgrades and  sometimes totally free rooms.

Visa, Travel Insurance and Money

An ESTA visa waiver is required when travelling to the USA, but be careful to avoid shyster websites that charge excessively for something which costs just $14 through the Official Site. An ESTA  lasts for 2 years or until a passport is renewed if sooner.

Travel Insurance is an absolute must in the USA where health costs can be massive. World-wide annual insurance can make good sense if planning more than one trip in a year. See: my top tips for Travel Insurance.

I’ll take a few dollars with me, but will get most of my cash after I arrive using my credit card. See my tips for Travel Money.

Road Trip USA - Las Vegas
Destination – Las Vegas

Final Checklist

My final checklist includes: passport (yes people do forget them!), driving licence, money and credit cards, car hire and hotel confirmation documents, personal medications, sat nav with US maps on micro-SD card, UK/USA plug adapters.

Of course some parts of the USA can be unsafe if you don’t take precautions. Hence, before setting out, I’ll read through Safety Tips for Senior Travellers.

So all ready to go! Watch out for my posts as the trip progresses. Find out what is really worth seeing and doing and learn from my mistakes – hopefully not too many!

Road Trip USA articles:

1. Memphis to Las Vegas via Houston – Planning This includes a route map.
2. Memphis the Rock & Roll City
3. New Orleans and Mardi Gras
4. Houston, Gulf Coast and San Antonio
5. Across Texas to El Paso and Tucson
6. Sedona, Petrified Forest, Canyon de Chelley
7. Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon
8. The Final Fling – Route 66 to Las Vegas

Posted 2nd February 2015 by Steve Hanson