Roadtrip USA: North to South (East)
Like many of you, we grew up doing road trips with our family every summer, and each year, as the warm weather approaches, don’t you just get the itch to get back on the road and find a random adventure?
I often do my best creative thinking on the road, draw inspiration from seeing new things, having different conversation, and feel anew. After all, it was Jack Kerouac who famously write “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” Since I have been drawn to explore the Southern USA in the last few years, I decided to plot out a trail that would begin in NYC, and end at my friends new home in New Orleans. States to be included were NY, VA, NC, SC, GA, FL, AL, and LA. I had a shorter window of time, and had seen many of the major cities previously, so it was really about reconnecting with some friends along the way, seeing the countryside, and seeing some new small town gems in between. Camera in hand, I was ready and Spring was the perfect time to drive in this area, especially the lushness of South Carolina & Georgia. Of course, there were many ways to do this trip, and I made adjustments along the way depending on my mood. (One should always give themselves room for some spontaneity…but put the bones together 😉 I had a start and finish date (for the one way flight back home), and general cities for stops along the way. I decided on a combination of Airbnb and hotels (good time to use the app Hotel Tonight and also travel points), and TripAdvisor forums always come in handy for finding food & attractions.. That way when you need a little luxury, you can have it, and you can also trip something new. I also used the train (Amtrak) for the first few legs, which proved cost efficient and relaxing, but also money smart as it was a lot less expensive to rent a car one way when already in the South. Here’s what I did:
Revisited my favorite attractions, starting at the Library of Congress, and working my way down the National Mall towards the Lincoln Memorial (where I got chills as a group of students were playing/listening to a recording of MLK’s “I have a dream speech”, it was an amazing moment). Later I made my way over to Georgetown to photograph the beautiful homes and visit my old friends at the Four Seasons Hotel. A visit to the Smithsonion Natural History museum was a must too! I took a train in from NY, it’s easier, and then another one onto Richmond…
First of all, shout out to the Richmond tourism social media team who were fast in responding with suggestions & fun banter, the best on the trip. I couldn’t believe it was my first visit, and there was a lot going on that weekend, from the big NASCAR race weekend (who knew? Not this New Yorker) to the local street artist festival. Richmond has a thriving art and food scene, and it was lovely to stroll around the valley and waterfront, from the historical Hollywood Cemetery to the Maymont Mansion, over to the shops on Cary Street.
Admittedly, this was a rather quick stop as I met with friends, had some great food, and drank some local craft beer at Trophy (they are known for it) and other local faves. Also hit up the Raleigh Denim Workshop and the Videri Chocolate Factory. This is also where I actually started to drive, which you really want to as you head down South if you love photography and exploring the countryside like I do. (Also, the trains, etc become more difficult down here through connections and it’s less expensive to rent a car one way if you are further South)
South Carolina is absolutely stunning to drive through in the Spring (as is Georgia, see below). And Charleston has always been one of my favorite Cities in the US, from it’s history, to waterfront & beaches (Folly Beach, Kiawah Island, etc), great dining and more. I usually come down for the July 4th weekend, but this time of year had far less humidity and crowds. You can read my previous posts about things to do here.
Beaufort, SC: I missed this last time, so as it falls between Charleston and Savannah, it was a must see, especially about NY Times Travel listed it as one of its 52 places to visit this year. I can see why – small, charming, seaside…it offers all the Southern charm and conveniences among a calm, quiet setting.
Another one of my faves! It’s almost like a more mellow version of Charleston BUT I hate to compare them because they each offer their own, unique character. This is a place to slow way down, take your time, walk the many town squares and have a cold beverage. My big change this time was to move away from hotels (I stayed at The Brice last time, was great) and try a B&B which turned out to be the most charming historical house with young travelers I have ever experienced. A few of us stayed up late with wine on the porch and talked about our travel adventures and more – a perfect evening! You can read my previous post about things to do here.
With my cousins near by in St. Augustine (a beautiful town), I don’t normally stop, but Jacksonville has a lot to offer from food to beaches. I traded in some points (thank you Chase Sapphire Preferred!) and took a few days out to hit the beaches of Ponte Verda, which is surrounded by resorts and golf (if that’s you’re kind of thing). It’s a largely quiet, residential area perfect for a time out. I chose a Marriott resort here, but I have heard incredible things about the Ritz Carlton over on Amelia Island (next time!)
This was a first for me, never been to Alabama before, and my only frame of reference was “Sweet Home Alabama” (which is actually what appears on their welcome sign as you drive into the state). And as much as I wanted to get up North to Montgomery & Birmingham, I decided to drive along the Gulf Coast and see the beach towns I had never seen before. The highlight of this drive was Seaside, FL which was the primary filming location for “The Truman Show” in all its perfection. It’s beautifully laid out, offers a slice of luxury and wonderful dining options. Further down the way (after briefly passing through southern Mississippi) is Orange Beach, AL, a popular beach location with a more local vibe. From there, Mobile is just a hop away, and the historic Battle House Hotel and delicious shrimp & grits at The Noble South (where I got the full town history from the local bartenders) will make you feel welcome. Mobile is small, and was only for one night though…New Orleans was calling my name.
One of my all time faves! (You can read my previous post about things to do here.) There is simply no where like this City. This time I stayed out of the French Quarter, and opted to spend more time Uptown and the Garden District where friends live, and where you will spend a lot of time green with envy over the sprawling, beautiful homes. There are many restaurants in this area as well, and everything is so close and just an Uber away, which is why Frenchmen street is the place I flock to again and again to enjoy the music & a few (ok, many) cocktails.
Sometimes you just have to see something new, don’t ever hesitate just to go for it and see where the adventure may lead. Travel always clears your head, and brings you back to what matters. It will ALWAYS be worth it, I promise. And the thing you will discover most about will be you. X
Author: Carrie Mitchell
Carrie Mitchell is the founder and content director of L’Aventure Travel. She has traveled to over 40 countries, is the host of the Suitcase Sojourn Podcast, and author of the children’s travel book “To Be We: The Adventures of Owen and Lucy”. A writer, producer, entrepreneur, and communications strategist, Carrie is always seeking to learn from people and places around the world.