Itinerary usa west coast
Roadtrip Los angeles to san francisco
3 weeks roadtrip USA with kids
We did a three weeks roadtrip in the USA with our kids. But this area is so divers and indescribably beautiful, you can spend months here without getting bored! So this trip began with making many choices. Which national parks did we definitely want to visit? Should we rent an RV or should we just rent a car and stay in hotels? Would we focus on cities or go mainly into nature? The camper versus car choice was made according to budget. Renting a car and staying in hotel/motel accommodations was much cheaper and driving a car is still faster and more comfortable. You can find out in this article which other choices we made!
Day 1: Flight from Düsseldorf to Los Angeles
Flight from Düsseldorf to Amsterdam and from Amsterdam to Los Angeles international airport. By doing this crazy extra flight from Düsseldorf to Amsterdam we payed only half the price for our ticket! A good start of our trip!
Day 2-3: Los Angeles California
Finally: Los Angeles international airport! Welcome jetlag! We have some doubts about how many days we should spend in Los Angeles. The city is huge, and has a lot of interesting spots to visit. But we decide to take it slow and stay here for two days to allow us to adapt to the American vibe and the different time zone.
We stay at the Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Airport, a good location to start our journey and pick up our rental car (Alamo Rent a Car, this was easy, we can choose a car from a hundred or more cars, get in and leave!)
The city of Los Angeles can't win our hearts, but we are able to find some fun activities. Perfect when you travel with children: The Los Angeles Universal Studios. A little over budget, but it is a fun day. The film studios themselves are definitely worth a visit, and the park itself... it is just go with the flow and have fun! You don't even have enough time if you got a whole day to get around here. Lore, who is completely entranced by Harry Potter, is enchanted by the sets, the attractions and unfortunately also the shops.
Universal Studios ticket price: adults (10+): $159
kids (3-9): $153
Driving around in Los Angeles often comes down to being in traffic jams. A drive through Beverly Hills was disappointing and the Hollywood walk of fame seemed much nicer in the movies than in real life. But we are happy to have seen it all.
The beaches are much more impressive. The famous Santa Monica pier, Malibu, Venice Beach, Long Beach give us what we expected. A relaxing day full of fun, children could play in the water, beautiful settings all in perfect Bay Watch style! In Malibu we manage to get on to a private beach thanks to the security staff who turned a blind eye to us. We first notice that talking to Americans is so easy, everyone is very friendly and super social, a big difference with the more distant Belgians.
After three days in Los Angeles we are fully acclimated to the American way of being and adjusted to the hour difference so that we can start our road trip !!
Day 4: Palm Springs
Los Angeles to Palm Springs, a 200 km drive
Once you manage to get out of the traffic jams of Los Angeles it's a relax ride! Palm Springs is a desert town, a place where the happy few have their private castle, where the weather is always sunny! In the center of Palm Springs are many cozy restaurants and a nice atmosphere, perfect place to spend some time!
We arrive around noon, at the Saguaro Hotel, in the center of Palm Springs. Not a real family hotel as there were a few groups who came to here just to party and became a little noisy after a couple (to many) drinks! But their swimmingpool was the best!
It is around 48°C in Palms springs so we take Palm Springs Aerial Tramway just outside Palm Prings. We hope it is less hot in the mountains!
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is the largest rotating cable car in the world, rises almost two kilometers and offers a beautiful view of the whole area. The ride only takes 12 minutes, in this time you turn around twice, perfect for enjoying the surroundings! The ride is a bit expensive, but when you go up in the late afternoon you pay only half the price. On top of Mount San Jacinto it is a pleasant 25 ° C, perfect for a hike! We chose a short walk with beautiful views, the desert view trail.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ticket price: adults: $29.95
kids: (3-10): $17.95
Day 5: Grand Canyon National Park
Today we drive from Palm Springs to Grand Canyon National Park. We go to the Grand Canyon South Rim, a 660 km ride. It is a long day in our car!! But this is definitely a bucketlist thing for us, so we are looking forward to this! Somewhere halfway we pass Kingman, 'the Heart of Route 66'. Here are still a lot of original route 66 elements.
We arrive at Grand Canyon Village just in time to see a stunning sunset. Grand Canyon was love at first sight for us. We had heard many stories about this mythical place, but the reality is even better...
We stayed here at Grand Canyon the Yavapai lodge west, the perfect place! Only a few 100 meters from the canyon, so next morning it is just stepping outside and witness an amazing sunrise... The most beautiful morning run I ever did!
Day 6: Hiking in Grand Canyon National Park
There are many trails in this area, so it's hard to choose. The Bright Angel Trail leaves not far from our lodge, the Yavapai lodge, this trail has quite a few parts that have a lot of shade and there is water available at various points. So we prefer this one. The height difference between the rim and the river at this point is 1600m. We only step to the first rest point, already a brisk walk, but we are not allowed to go further. A park ranger thinks the hike was too heavy for the children. Our kids think differently, but he can't be persuaded, so we return to the rim. And actually we are lucky, because when we arrive at the rim a thunderstorm reaches Grand Canyon. It would have been very scary if we had had this weather during the hike!
We also like the trail that runs from the visitors center along the canyon. There are very nice viewpoints here such as Hopi point, Mohave point, Pima point, Hermits point. If you don't like walking, you can also take the free bus that the park provides, which has stops at all viewpoints. The advantage that you have when you stay in a lodge in the park itself is that you can do this walk when most tourists are back to their hotels!
Day 7: Grand Canyon National Park: Desert View Point and on the road to Page
In the morning we visite the Desert view point on the east side of the park, with a tower providing a nice view! But all Grand Canyon views are nice so it's hard to chose which one we liked most, our advice is take your time at Grand Canyon, and do some extra's like a horse ride or an helicopter flight, this is all a once in a lifetime expierce, just go for it all!!
In the afternoon we drive to Page, 220 km along the foothills of the Grand Canyon. We make a few stops, this landscape was too stunning to just pass by!
Just before you enter Page you pass the Horseshoe Bend, not difficult to find with all the cars and buses that are at the parking lot near the road. It obvi to see that this place has something to offer! The Horseshoe Bend itself is a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River. It is a kilometer walk from the parking to the viewpoint. In the summer months it is very hot here and there is no shade! We were especially amazed by how close people got to the edge to take the perfect photo or selfie! There is no entrance fee here, so no reason not to stop!
In the evening we arrived at Page, a small inconspicuous town. We stayed in the Page Boy Motel, very basic, neat with swimming pool, which is always a hit for the children when the temperatures are around 40 °C!
Day 8: Page and the mythical Antelope Canyon
When you visit Page you usually come with one goal: to visit the Antelope Canyon. Even if the name doesn't mean anything to you, the photos are used everywhere and will sure ring a bell. Microsoft has long used the images as a standard screen saver, and there is no nature or travel book where you will not find them. There are two options: the Upper Antelope Canyon and the Lower Antelope Canyon. We choose the Lower Antelope Canyon, because you can visit it without a guide, there is only a guide who will bring you to the entrance (and then follow you the entire hike, take over your camera and take cozy family photos for you and at the end requires a small contribution :)). The canyon is 400 meters long and wonderfully cool. After a flashflood in 1997 as a result of a storm, many safety measures were taken and you can leave the canyon at various points via stepladders if necessary. The whole canyon has beautiful photo opportunities, this is just an hour of fun and taking pictures! The visitors are only allowed to enter by small numbers, so you have space at all time and it doesn't feel crowded.
In the afternoon we drve to Kayenta to our next hotel, the Wetherill Inn, a 160 km drive
Day 9: Monument Valley
Visit to Monument Valley. This is probably the most photographed desert landscape in America with its signature red color. The unique rock formations surrounded by a huge plain have been the setting for at least dozens of films. This park lies partly in Arizona and the northern part is part of the state of Utah.
There used to be several rocks in this area. Since most of this is made of softer rock, these were worn away millions of years ago. This left only the hard rocks that can still be seen today. These rocks are also called 'mesa'. A typical feature of this is that the bottom is wide and the top is flat. As the erosion process continues, this causes these mesas to wear away more and more.
Monument Valley is located on the territory managed by the Javajo Indians, tourism is the main source of income for them.
At the visitor center you have a beautiful view of the entire park, the center itself is also worth a visit. You can choose to do an organized tour or explore the park with your own car. The roads are unpaved, but we did not experience any problems with our rental car here. You also have a bit more freedom if you use your own car!
In the late afternoon we drive to Moab, a 270 km drive. Along the way we come across some nice places like the Mexican Hat Rock, a nice picnic place where hardly anyone stops!
We staye in the River Canyon Lodge, a great hotel and great location to explore Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park!
Day 10: Arches National Park
Located in the southeastern part of the state Utah, Arches National Park has only one entrance on the south of the park, located approximately 6 miles from Moab.
The main features of this national park are stone arches, pointed feet and various natural formations. The colors change according to the sun in the sky. The park owes its name to the fact that it has the most natural rock arches in the world in its territory, more than 2000 in total! There is a paved road through the park, but to reach the arches you often have to walk.
Arches National Park has one road with a length of 29 km with two short side roads. You can enter the park with your own car. The visitors center is located directly at the entrance of the park, about 1500m further you reach the first viewpoint where you have a beautiful view of the town of Moab and the Moab Canyon.
The first trail you will encounter is the Park Avenue trail, which we did because of the impressive towering rock walls on both sides. You will walk up to a large monolith called the Courthouse Towers and then return to the starting point. Because it was way too hot we changed this trail a bit: Bart dropped off Ruben and me at the Courthouse Towers and we walked to the starting point, where Bart and Lore met us and walked back to the Courthouse Towers where we picked them up with the car.
Other trails we found worth doing:
Balanced Rock: a walk of half a kilometer. This rock that balances on a pedestal is very impressive. It has a weight of 3,000,000 kg and the total height is 39 meters. You can also see this rock from the road, but the closer to it the more impressive it gets!
Windows Section: This is an important concentration of arches and other shapes. They have names like Double Arch, Cove Arch, North Window and South Window. You can see the arches up close and even walk underneath, the trail is about 1.6 km
Delicate Arch: the park's most famous arch and also the symbol of the state of Utah. This arch is, among other things, on car license plates. From the parking place at Wolfe Ranch, a 2.4km walking path leads to the arch. The way there is a lot of climbing and when we were there the temperature was around 40 °C, so this was tough! But the arch itself makes it all worthwhile!
We have no choice but to skip the Canyonlands National Park, just don't have time enough! We'll save that one for next time!
Day 11: On the road again: from Moab to Bryce Canyon National Park
Along ride from Moab to Bryce Canyon, 428 km, passing Capiton Reef National Park. We take the Scenic Byway 12. Beautiful view, but after 10 days California, Arizona and Utah we don't expect anyting else!
We arrive at Bryce View Lodge in the evening. The Kids jump into the swimmingpool after sitting a long day in the car!
We were not sure what to expect from Bryce Canyon. It is not really a canyon, but more a series of naturally formed amphitheatres, in which countless very irregularly shaped rock formations in all kinds of shades are found. We've never seen anything like this!! It's like a fairy tale!
The park has only one entrance on the north side and one road runs from north to south through the park. The distance from the entrance to the most southern point is only 18 miles. There are a few shorter side roads to the viewpoints. We first stop at the Bryce Canyon Narional Park visitor center and next we go to watch the sunset in the park, the best spot is (of course): Bryce Canyon Sunset Point. Unfortunately it was cloudy, but even without the play of light and shadow, this park is beautiful! Bart runs back to the hotel, we take the car and spot a lot of deer.
Day 12: Bryce Canyon National Park hikes
The next day we have more luck, the sun is shining, it is not to hot, so perfect weather for a hike!
We start at Sunset Point, there are a number of trails who start here, you can pick one or just go with the flow! We do the Navaja Loop Trail. The Navajo Loop Trail is often considered the most popular trail in Bryce Canyon National Park for a reason. The impressive viewpoints from this trail expose you to a landscape unlike any other you've ever seen.
Some tips when you visit Bryce Canyon:
- All viewpoints are on the same side of the road. It is therefore more convenient if you first drive all the way to the end of the park, and only stop at the viewpoints on the way back, you can always park on the right side of the road
- The most beautiful part of Bryce Canyon is at the very front (the Bryce Amphitheater), if you are short on time you should only visit this part
- Trailers are only allowed to enter the park when using the campground, and may also go no further than Sunset Campground
- The viewpoints are beautiful, but we think the best way to experience the park is to descent into the Canyon itself
In the afternoon we drive to Saint George passing Zion National Park. So we have just the afternoon in this National Park.
The road that runs through Zion National Park can't be driven by your own car due to the crowds. You have to use the free shuttle buses and after all the 'to crowdy' warnings we read we thought the crowds were not too bad afterall. You can park your car at the Visitor Center, just past the south entrance or in the town of Springdale when there is no more space at the Visitor Center. But we have no problem finding a place. The bus stops at eight places in the park, you can get on and off wherever you want and as often as you want. So here it is just choose a trail and ride to it by bus and don't forget to enjoy the view along the way! We choose the last stop 'temple of Sinawava', a series of fantastic walks start here and we chose the Riverside Walk, because here you can walk through the gorge yourself and step through the river, which was pleasant given the high temperature. Unfortunately we are not the only ones with this idea, this is really the most hustle and bustle trail we have seen on our entire America trip. But nature is breathtaking!
We arrived in Saint George late in the evening, and stayed in Best Western Plus Abbey Inn
Day 13: Las Vegas Nevada
We drive from Saint George to Las Vegas, 198 km
What to say about Las Vegas ... it's busy, it's hot, and you must have seen it!
Las Vegas hotels are not expensive, so it's not the place to stay in a motel, but go all in and book a classy Las Vegas hotel!We stay at the Tropicana hotel, perfect for the kids with all the pools, but every Las Vegas hotel has an extra to offer, so you probably can't go pick a wrong one here. In the evening a walk along 'The Las Vegas Strip' is a must do: casinos, hotels and more casinos. You can actually enter all the hotels and enjoy the spectacle, our children's favorite: 'Excalibur', which is a kind of medieval castle and New York with a spectacular rollercoaster.
Day 14: Death Valley National Park
Glad we can leave noisy Las Vegas behind us and go back to California. Early in the morning we are already on our way to Death Valley National Park. A 379 km drive, passing mysterieus area 51.
Summer is not the best time to visit Death Valley. The weather in Death Valley just makes it impossible to do much. We see this park mainly from our car, and occasionally out of the car to quickly look up the cooling of the air conditioning again. Today it is 49°C. Besides desert, the park also includes salt flats, rock formations, canyons, sand dunes and mountains. The name 'Death Valley' dates back to 1849 when impatient new settlers, in the intoxication of the gold rush, thought they could cut the road to California . Instead of following guides, they ventured into this desert, where they lost wagon, livestock and their belongings and arrived in California much later, some people did not survive the adventure, and people soon spoke of Death Valley.
When you enter Death Valley coming from Las Vegas you will come across a small unpaved 5 km side road before entering the valley, this is Dante's View Road. This leads to a viewpoint at an altitude of more than 1600m. The last part of the road is very steep and has a number of hairpin bends, this part is not accessible for vehicles longer than 7.62m. For us Dante's view is the most beautiful viewpoint of the park, where you have a view over the beautiful salt plains, and see the the place named Badwater deep below you.
Don't miss Death Valley 'Zabriskie Point', a viewpoint where you can witness that the landscape takes on all kinds of shapes and colors.
Other interesting places are the impressive sand dunes of Stovepipe Wells, Furnace Creek with the visitor center, Devil's Golf Course, a large area of salt chunks and salt pillars up to 30 cm high, formed by the evaporation of the surface water.
Badwater is also worth a stop. This is the lowest point in the US, this place is 86 meters below sea level. In warm weather it is not recommended to walk on the salt flats, but this did not seem to stop people when we were there. There are small puddles of standing water, the smell of this puddles has given this place its name.
The exit of the park is a beautiful road into the mountains. There are hotels in Death Valley, but we stay the night in the Best Western Plus Fontier Motel in Lone Pine. A good choice, the temperature is much more comfortable!
Day 15: On the road to Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon
We drive from Lone Pine to Exter, 322 km. Passing beautiful Lake Isabella. In the late afternoon we arrive at the Best Western Exeter Inn all ready to explore Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon.
But what would be a relaxing evening at the motel suddenly turns out differently. After Sequoia National Park we would drive towards Yosemite and stay in a motel in Mariposa. However, the area is badly affected by forest fires at the time and we were informed that all of Mariposa had been evacuated and a number of access roads to Yosemite np had also been closed.... so what to do next... after a few stressy moments we decide to book a hotel in San Francisco instead and skip Yosemite...
Day 16: Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon
Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park are two contiguous national parks managed as one park. They are both about the same size (1700 km²) and located in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. The highest mountain in the USA is located here (Mount Whitney, 4416m), but there are also the famous giant sequoia trees, which are some of the largest and most magnificent trees in the world, and spectacular deep ravines. In the Sequoia National Park there are beautiful granite peaks, deep gorges, lakes and rivers. For outdoor enthusiasts, Sequoia National Park is a paradise. With over 800 miles of hiking trails winding through the park's forsts, there's no shortage of routes to explore. You can spend days here, but we didn't have that much time, so we chose some spots to visit.
Moro Rock: after climbing 400 steps carved into the rock you have a panoramic view over the park and the canyons. I have felt here that I am a bit afraid of heights, towards the top the path becomes very narrow and you have a deep abyss on both sides!
General Sherman Tree: one of the most famous attractions in the park. This is the largest tree in the world in volume. It is 83.8 m high, 11.1 m in diameter and 2300 to 2700 years old. It's a short walk from the parking to this tree. And ... everyone who enters the park does this walk! So put aside the idea of a quiet walk in the forest, it's busy here !!
There are several beautiful viewpoints along the road in the northwest of the park. Make sure to stop at the Kings Canyon Overlook for a view of the gorge and wilderness of the High Sierra. At Redwood Mountain Overlook you will see the largest redwood forest in the world, The Redwood Mountain Grove. Along the road in the more northerly part of the park, Grizzly Falls (just before the parking entrance), Canyon View and Roaring River Falls are great places to stop.
And further it is just driving through the park and enjoying, short walks start everywhere, you see redwoods all the time and the narrower the road you take the quieter it gets, the same with the walks, if these are a bit longer you are usually alone!
And meanwhile ... we follow the situation with the wildfires in Yosemite closely. The motel in Mariposa was able to confirm that they would certainly be closed to the public as they housed the firefighters ...
Day 17-18: Yosemite
Now we have to decide: are we going to drive to San Francisco or is there still a possibility that we can drive via Yosemite? After some more calls we receive confirmation that the access road via Fresno was open. So change the plans: we drive to San Francisco, through Yosemite, then maybe our visit is only a few hours, but maybe this is our only chance to ever visit this park!
We enter Yosemite national park via the south entrance. The Mariposa Grove was closed, as were all campsites. It was also quite foggy, we felt the smoke as we breathed. As we approach Yosemite Valley the smoke diminished, and after the tunnel leading to the Valley we have a breathtaking view of the entire valley ... This view makes the detour we make more than worth it!
In summer it can be so busy here that the valley is closed, this was not the case because of the forest fires, it was remarkably quiet and pleasant here.
In the valley itself you can use free shuttle buses. There are two routes, the Yosemite Valley Shuttle and the El Capitan Shuttle. The buses run from 7am to 10pm.
A little bit of information about the park itself. Yosemite National Park is a world-renowned natural wonder that consistently attracts over 3.5 million visitors every year. Located in California's Sierra Nevada mountain range, this stunning wilderness area offerts vistors breathtaking views, outdoor recreation opportunities and a myriad of scenic attractions. It has been a national park since 1890 and has grown over the years to its current size of 3080km². The altitude varies from 600m to 3400m. The park has been a World Heritage Site since 1984. Yosemite is most famous for its awe-inspiring landscapes, including towering granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and lush forests, all of wich can be explored along miles of hiking trails. The park's most iconic features include Yosemite Valley's El Capitan and Half Dome, which attract rock climbers and hikers alike.
The park has three entrances to the west, one to the south and one to the east. The temperature in the summer is pleasant in this park. In the other seasons it is possible that roads are closed.
We park on a parking spot near Yosemite Valley Lodge. When we see the lodge, an overnight stay seems a very attractive option here. So I just go to the reception and the answer I get is 'of course there is still room here, many tourists canceled their stay because of the forest fires', this is too good to be true! So I book immediately! Suddenly everything is very relaxed and we can search which trail we like to do the nex.
We visit Yosemite Village and the Visitor Center. You can take short walks through the valley, past the Yosemite Falls. This is the highest waterfall in North America. The water here falls 739m down into the valley, actually reaching the bottom of the valley in three stages.
Unfortunately we don't visit Glacier Point. Our time is too limited for this, but if you have more time, don't skip this!
In the afternoon we hike the Mist Trail. We take the bus to the start point. Why this one? This is Yosemite's signature hike. While many of Yosemite's trails are popular due to having a single spectacular destination, the Mist Trail has fabulous views scattered all along it, beginning at the bridge overlook, progressing to two unforgettable waterfalls that fall a combined total of more than 900 feet (270 meters).
It quickly becomes clear to us where the name Mist Trail comes from. At the first waterfall you walk so close that you continuously walk in the mist and we are soaked when we arrive at the top of the waterfall.
Day 19-20-21-22: San Francisco California
Time to go to San Francisco! A 269 km drive. We staye for three nights at the Holiday Inn San Francisco- Civic Center. San Francisco is an expensive city to stay, maybe Airbnb is a better option here.
San Francisco is located on a headland that separates the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco Bay. The hills on which this city is built are characteristic, 43 in total. It is a beautiful city with beautiful Victorian houses, beautiful parks, large museums and an extensive cultural life. The atmosphere in the city also makes a visit worthwhile. We are quickly convinced!
It is recommended to explore the city by car first. For example, you can follow the 49 Mile Scenic drive, which is well indicated by blue-white signs with a seagull on it. The route starts at Fisherman's Warf in the northeastern part of the city.
We also have to pull on our sweaters here for the first time, it is still a pleasant 20 ° C, but that is a lot cooler than the temperatures we are used to. We also take a pass for public transport, you can easily get around the city, and with this pass you can also take the famous 'cable cars'. Tip: get on an intermediate stop and not a final stop, it will save you hours of waiting time !!
The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the Golden Gate strait of the same name that connects the San Francisco Peninsula to the north. The bridge is suspended from cables of approximately 1m diameter. The name comes from the former golddiggers who arrived in the harbor. There are a number of viewpoints where you can take beautiful photos of the bridge. We have opted for a boat trip, so you can sail under the bridge. You will also come past the legendary Alcatraz. If you want to visit this island you have to book tickets months in advance at www.alcatrazcruises.com. We hadn't done that, so too bad !!
Every night we spen in the Fisherman's Wharf area. Lots of good restaurants and nice cafes, difficult to choose, so we tried different ones every night. This district is an arrival and departure point for two of the three remaining cable car routes. You also have a nice view over San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and the city skyline. There is plenty to do on pier 39, a winner for the children! You can see the sea lions on the platforms, there are street artists, attractions, shops and restaurants, in short, the atmosphere is great!
Some other places not to miss:
- Chinatown, this is the largest Chinese community after New York. The entrance is clearly marked by an entrance gate. We especially noticed how neat and cozy it was here! This part of the city has been the setting for many films.
- Golden Gate Park, a huge park of 4.1 km², it is one of the most visited parks in the US, there is also a large natural science museum and a botanical garden
- Lombard Street: the most winding street in the world, very popular for tourists to drive through, so you are certainly not alone here!
- Painted Ladies: these are the Victorian houses that are painted in 3 or more colors, they instantly make you happy!
Day 23: Time to go back home...
Unfortunately, San Francisco is the end of our trip. Returning our rental car at the airport is as easy as picking it up in Los Angeles. But there was another good surprise: flying home for the first time with an Airbus A380!
tips for a roadtrip to the west coast of the USA:
Take a National Park annual pass if you are planning to visit 3 of more parks, it saves you al lot of money! You can use it at every park except Monument Valley.
Like ice cream? Take one at the vistorscenter of the national parks, the scoops are huge!
Take more time than we did, maybe three months instead of three weeks will give you enough time
Don't forget to activate your credit card if you come from Europe!
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Hi! We are Bart, Kris, Lore and Ruben. We are a family of 5, yes, we also have a dog named Spike.
Maybe we can inspire you to explore a bit more of all those beautiful corners of our planet? Go to our trips and find out!