The thought of traveling solo is a thrilling yet scary thought. Being on your own in a strange location may make some people hesitant to solo travel. For me, I thought solo travel was a bit scary but definitely worth the experience.
The first step to solo traveling is making the decision to solo travel. Once you've done that, that's one hurdle you've gotten through! Now, the next step is to decide on location. Where am I going to go? Am I going to stay in my country or travel abroad? These are valid questions every first time solo traveler has, I know I sure did.
Due to the pandemic, I made the decision to stay within the USA and go to Utah for my first solo trip. I came to this decision for two reasons. The first being I wanted to start small and work my way up to solo traveling internationally. I didn't want to do my first solo trip so far from home without any knowledge or skills on how to travel completely by myself.
The second reason is that I've never explored the western part of the USA before. I've traveled up and down most of the east coast but never out west. So, to explore the west and get out of my comfort zone (being a city girl), I decided to travel to Utah.
It wasn't easy to make this decision. The USA has a variety of beautiful terrain and landscapes, it's hard to choose which state to travel to. In the end, I was very happy with my decision to go to Utah. From here, I decided I'd visit a couple of national parks and explore Salt Lake City over the course of 3 days. Needless to say, my itinerary had me driving all over the state of Utah.
Day 1 - Arrival and Exploring Salt Lake City
Arriving in Salt Lake City (SLC)
On Thursday, April 22nd, 2021, I took an early morning flight from Newark International Airport in New Jersey to Salt Lake City Utah. The flight took about 4 to 4 hrs and 30 mins. When you arrive in Utah, assuming you're coming from the east coast like I was, there's a 2 hour time difference.
Once I found the car rental place, I rented a car which cost $477 for 3 days. I could have gotten a cheaper price somewhere else. However I decided to just get a car straight away instead of taking an Uber, paying extra money, to another rental place. National, the rental place I got my car from, gave me a full sized SUV. I felt a little intimidated because I've never driven a full sized SUV before. After driving it for a bit I got used to it.
From the airport, I drove about 12 minutes to my Airbnb. I was lucky to find a cheap Airbnb which was sort of close to the airport. I had a private bedroom that has a Boho modern theme to it. The host, whose name is Anya, was so sweet and lovely to talk to. Not to mention her cute little black cat who loves attention, it was a lovely Airbnb!
After I checked into my Airbnb around 1:30pm, and rested for a few minutes, I took an Uber to the downtown area of Salt Lake City. It was about a 10 minute Uber ride, so it wasn't too far from my room. In reality, if I wasn't going to walk around 2 national parks, I would've walked from the Airbnb to downtown SLC.
I put in the Uber app to go to the Creek City Mall. In my mind, it seemed like a good starting and guiding point to help get my bearings. I walked around the mall for a bit, which was partially outdoors and partially indoors, but didn't buy anything.
From the mall, I walked to the State Capitol building, to a little park, and around the downtown area some more. After so much walking, I looked for a place to eat on Apple Maps. I found this restaurant called Brio Italian Grille which looked like a good place to get dinner. In typical JoJo fashion, I ordered a pasta dish because I love pasta. The food was pretty good, I was quite pleased with my meal.
I made two final stops after dinner, a trip to Walgreens to get some snacks for my drive to the parks and to a souvenir shop. Afterwards, I ordered another Uber to take me back to the Airbnb.
Day 2 - Zion National Park & Unexpected Spots
Zion National Park
Friday, April 23rd, I woke up bright and early and left around 7:30am for Zion National Park. Zion, which is in Springdale, is a 4.5 hour drive from SLC. Although the drive was long, the views from the north of Utah to the South Western corner was amazing. The change in terrain, from seeing snow capped mountains to deserts and red cliffs, was stunning. I would take that drive again in a heart beat.
After 4.5 hours of driving, I arrived in the little town of Springdale around noon. Before I entered the park, I stopped at a gas station to top off my tank. I recommend you have a full tank of gas as well prior to entering the park. Once you're in the park, there's no gas stations until you exit the park.
When you approach the entrance, expect longs lines. My wait wasn't so bad since there weren't any long lines. Once I got up to the window, I paid about $35 to get into the park. They didn't accept cash, so if you visit here make sure you have a debit or credit card on hand. Once inside the park, I saw that there was no parking anywhere. There was no parking spots available in the town outside the park and there wasn't any inside the park.
I looked, and looked, but I didn't have any luck finding parking. The plan was to park in the visitor parking lot, take the free shuttle (since the paid shuttle ticket has to be bought ahead of time), and go to one of the trails. But this plan fell through. Instead, I spent the next few hours driving through the park.
The beauty about driving through the park is that you got to see more of the park. Although I would have preferred going on a trail and seeing the park that way, driving gave you the ability to go through the whole park. In addition, there were multiple pull off points on the side of the road for people to take pictures and explore the area. This is what I did since I couldn't go on a trail.
I made many pit stops along the way through the park, exploring areas and taking pictures and videos when I could. After a few hours of driving, I finally made it through the park.
After a long day of driving, I wanted to eat some food and take a break. Once you left the park, there's this little souvenir and cafe spot off to the left side of the road. I saw this place and decided to see what they had in the cafe portion. Well, I was disappointed because the cafe section only sold sweets, ice cream, and water. I didn't want any ice cream, so I just got a water.
What I did do was walk to the other side of the building to explore the souvenir section. They had a lot of beautifully hand crafted items. In the end, I ended up getting carved rocks for my siblings and a dream catcher for myself to put in my car.
At the counter, I talked with the cashier about the beautiful dream catcher I purchased. I'm not sure how we got off topic, but before I knew it, I was asking her for recommendations on places to explore in the area. The lovely cashier told me about the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Kanab and this hidden stream and cave off the side of the road at a junction. I thanked her for the recommendations, took the map she marked with the recommended spots, and started driving.
I drove about 11 miles, went right at Mt. Caramel junction, to find this hidden stream. I almost missed it when I was driving. The cashier did say it was off to the right of the road and that it was a dirt road I was looking for. Once I saw this dirt road, I decided to take a chance and head down it. And there it was, the little stream! I was so proud of myself for being old fashioned and reading a map to figure out how to get to a destination.
The stream was lovely. I took a lot of pictures and marveled at the water. However, I didn't find the cave the cashier was talking about. With no success at finding the cave, I hopped into the car and headed towards the second recommendation.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
The drive to this state park was about 30 minutes from the hidden stream. It was tough trying to map it at first because half the time I didn't have signal. But once I got a signal, I immediately mapped my route to the park. It's amazing how the landscape changes from mountains and cliffs to deserts.
The roads leading up to the park were surrounded by sand dunes. These aren't normal sand dunes, they're sand dunes with a coral pink hue to them. It's such a pretty hue and I loved looking at the dunes. Once I came upon the entrance to the park, I paid $10 to enter. After I parked the car, I started my walk towards these sand dunes.
Prior to this, I've never walked on sand dunes before. It's a bit tougher walking on sand dunes than walking on a sandy beach. But I loved every minute of it. Sadly, I didn't stay here for too long. Because I was running out of daylight, and had a 4.5 hour drive back to Salt Lake City, I cut my time at the park short. I basically, walked to the top of a sand dune, took some pictures and videos, then made my way back down and out of the park.
Even though I didn't stay here long, I really enjoyed my time at this park. It was an unexpected stop I didn't think I would make that day. After speaking with the cashier, who was a local, I was convinced that I had to give this park a go and I'm glad I did. It just goes to show that you have to be flexible and open minded when solo traveling. You just never know what's going to happen or change throughout the day.
Finally, to end the day I drove about 20 minutes from the state park to a restaurant in Kanab called The Rocking V Cafe. This place is nestled in the little area of Kanab, Utah which is surrounded by red mountains, cliffs, and sand dunes. I was lucky with this place because it seemed to have a lot of reservations and they weren't taking many walk-ins. Thankfully, they let me in because at that point I had a headache from not eating whole foods for so long.
The interior decor of the restaurant was really cool and funky looking. The vibe was pretty cool overall. I ordered this mac n cheese with diced ham in it. It's probably one of the best mac n cheese dishes I've ever had in my life. It was so creamy, cheesy, and delicious!
With a full belly, I filled up my tank again and hit the road for another long trip back to my accommodation. I left Kanab around 6:30pm and arrived at my Airbnb around 11pm.
Day 3 - Arches National Park
The Drive to Arches National Park
Saturday, April 24th, was the day I set out to Arches National Park. Yet again, this was a day where I'd be driving for quite some time to a national park. This time, it took me 3.5 hours to get from Salt Lake City to Arches National Park which is located in the Moab region of Utah.
As usual, I woke up around 7am and left by 8am. I got a very late start this day. I was very tired from driving 9 hours total to and from Zion, but also driving through the park which took a few hours as well. Nevertheless, I managed to get on the road by 8am.
Once again, the drive to the national park was stunning. It was hard to keep my eyes on the road because I wanted to look at the landscape around me. It never ceased to amaze me how beautiful and different the landscape in Utah is. I particularly enjoyed going through the canyons and the desert with beautiful mountains.
I arrived at the entrance to the park around 11:30am. When I approached the entrance, I saw signs stating that the park was closed because the parking lots were full and to come back in about 3 to 5 hours. Yet again, I arrived to another national park where there was no parking whatsoever. Feeling tired and defeated, I left the main entrance to the park, made a left turn, and drove down the road.
An Unexpected Trail
About 3 minutes down the road, I saw this small little parking lot that had a few cars in it. I saw a sign that said "Moab", people bicycling down this trail that passed the small parking lot, and I thought this might be a decent place to park. I had at least 3, at most 5, hours to kill before trying to get into the park again. So, I made a last minute decision to pull into the parking lot.
I put sunscreen on, took out my day backpack, and walked along the trail. This cool Moab trail took you near the Colorado River (if you followed the trail the one way) and to petroglyphs, past Arches and even into Arches National Park (if you followed the trail the other way). I took the trail going towards the Colorado river. I got some awesome pictures and footage of that area. Afterwards, I turned around and walked in the other direction.
In the other direction, I walked towards the national park and almost made it to the entrance of the park. I decided to stop at that point and turn back around. The reason being is because I didn't want to tire myself out too much and not be able to walk inside Arches (I had walked over 5 miles in the heat), I was hungry, and I had a very bad headache from not eating food. This is a reoccurring thing for me. Snacks are ok but if I don't eat whole foods for long periods of time, I get very bad headaches, nausea, and can vomit at times as well. Even though I had plenty of snacks and water, that's just not enough for me. I knew I needed food ASAP.
About 5 minutes down the road from the Moab trail, I stopped at a Deny's to get some food. The food wasn't anything special. It was mediocre and the restaurant didn't have most of the items I wanted. In the end, it did the job and I felt better.
Returning to Arches National Park:
By this point in time, a little over 3 hours had passed since I arrived in the Moab region. The time was about 3pm. While I was out walking the trail, I kept checking the national parks page to see if Arches was allowing visitors into the park. When I saw it was clear to go, I headed straight to the entrance once again.
People waste no time trying to get into Arches National Park. I waited for about an hour in line to get to the entrance. Once I did, I paid $30 to enter the park which was good for that day and for a whole week. Just like Zion, most of the time you're driving through the park. There are no shuttles to take, so you need to drive to the trail you want to go to.
I must say, Arches is probably my favorite park. The views out there are gorgeous! No shade to Zion, but the variation in landscape in Arches is breath taking.
I drove to multiple pull off points to stop and take pictures, videos, and just marvel at the beauty of the national park. The first major stop I made was to see the balanced rock. I decided not to walk along the trail as I didn't have much time and I wanted to go on another trail. But I got some amazing pictures and video of the balanced rock!
Double Arches Trail
The next major pit stop was to the Double Arches trail. I followed the signs on the road which led to the windows trail. Right across the parking lot from that trail I saw the Double Arches trail. I decided to go on this trail because it just seemed much cooler.
This trail is about a mile and it takes you up to the double arches and beyond that, I believe. I walked along the trail, got almost to the top of the Double Arches, took pictures/videos, and then headed back to my car. Make sure you get to this trail early as the parking lot fills up very quickly.
Since I was running out of daylight, I felt it was best to not complete this trail despite how cool it was. I didn't want to tire myself out anymore than I already was.
Delicate Arches Trail
Finally, the last trail I drove to was Delicate Arches. This was one of the two trails I wanted to go on the most. The second trail being the Wolf Ranch one with the petroglyphs but I didn't make it there on this trip.
I was lucky because I got a spot close to the start of the Delicate Arches trail. I was super excited to go on this trail! With my day backpack and fanny pack in hand, I started the trail. In the beginning of the trail, there are some petroglyphs so I was happy to see them since I couldn't make it to Wolf Ranch.
Delicate Arches is a moderate trail that is a little over 3 miles long. It should take someone around 2-3 hours to complete it both ways. Half the trail is uphill, going over rocks and up the arch. I had to take a few breaks because my calfs after a while would be on fire. I work out but with my mild asthma and the incline, I was feeling it.
As I went higher, I gazed across the vast space of this park. The beauty always astonished me and I took a lot of pictures on my way up the trail.
The higher I went, the windier it got. That wind was no joke. People were literally holding onto the side of the rocks, trying to steady themselves against the wind, so they wouldn't fall off the edge of the cliff. I had to steady and brace myself against the wind as well. Children, even adults, were struggling to stand straight.
But the fight against the wind was worth it. The view of Delicate Arch was beautiful. I stayed up at the top for a few minutes after taking about 1.5 hours to get up there. I stared at the brave folks who walked up to the arch, even beyond the arch, exploring the scenery. I wish I was that brave to go past the arch with those hight winds.
Once I got my videos and pictures, and after I got tired of the wind, I made the descent down. The path down was much easier than going up but I guess that's how that usually goes. By the time I got back to the entrance to the trail it was about 7pm. I started the trail around 4:30 to 5pm. I was pleased with myself for completing this moderate trail in about 2 hours.
I left Arches National park around 7:30pm and made the 3.5 hour journey home. It wasn't until about 11pm when I finally arrived at my Airbnb. Boy, was I tired from 2 days of driving and walking.
Sunday, April 25th, I checked out of my Airbnb. The checkout process was very easy. I will miss my host and her little cat, they were lovely and made my first Airbnb experience great. I returned my rental car at the airport but it was a pain in the butt trying to find the place. I went into the wrong parking lot and a lovely staff person helped me to find my way out.
Afterwards, I made my way into the airport where I caught my flight back to Newark. The flight was very smooth overall. I loved seeing the mountains of Utah from above, knowing that sometime in the future I would return. That day wasn't anything special as it was all about flying back home.
Overall, this was an amazing experience. Not only was this experience amazing, it was very liberating and satisfying mentally.
The itinerary I mapped out was quite a feet. It wasn't concentrated in one area or city or Utah. Rather, my itinerary had me driving all over the state. Despite how physically exhausting it was, I got to see a variety of wonderful things that I probably wouldn't have if I had stayed in Salt Lake City. I'm not sure what it is about being alone in a car, there's something about it that's very therapeutic and calming.
This trip challenged my physically and mentally since it was my first time solo traveling. I enjoyed the challenge, loved my itinerary, and I have memories that'll last a lifetime.