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I would by lying if I said our Deep South road trip was anything but brilliant. Big amazing cities such as New Orleans, Charleston, Miami. Cool low key places such as Chattanooga, Vicksburg, Helen. Random attractions such as the Left Luggage Center, Babyland General Hospital (you haven’t lived until you have seen the “birth” of a cabbage patch kid!), drive thru daiquiris. And the things you might expect such as awesome children’s museums, great historic centers, the fabulous Southern hospitality. Our road trip was everything we thought it would be and a zillion times more… Or was it?
I’m embarrassed to admit it but a big part of the reason we wanted to do a Deep South road trip was to meet some interesting characters – red necks to be precise. Not just any red necks but the very heavily stereotyped version of a red neck we had grown up hearing about. Gun toting, truck driving, swearing, racist and conservative red necks. We saw no one with a gun. There were plenty of no gun signs on doors in Mississippi but that was as close to a gun as we got. It was very disappointing.
Awesome, hospitable, friendly people. The notation of Southern hospitality that I have often seen on TV is alive and well and not just an illusion like the images of the red necks (although I am told that if you go enough out of the way then you will find them).
The people were only a part of how awesome our Deep South road trip was though. The USA is truly a fabulous destination. We saw and experienced so many varied destinations. We loved just about everything. Many Australians seem quick to write off the USA as a destination as they think it will be similar to home, but it really is not. Americans are very different to Australians and the country is so full of history and culture, and a history and culture that is quite different to ours. I find it quite fascinating.
I have been to the USA many times in the past, but I have mostly stuck to the big cities – New York, Miami, LA, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Seattle, Scottsdale and some random places in Texas. Travelling round the Deep South was completely different. People would often ask why we were even there. They were shocked an Australian family had made it to their city. I was surprised they found it shocking, the Deep South has so much to offer.
For us, the best part was the road trip itself rather than the destinations. We have wanted to do a road trip in the USA seemingly forever, and it was everything we hoped. It was great to be driving round the USA with the freedom to go where we wanted.
I do not know a better place to go for a road trip. It is so easy. There are great roads and everything is well sign posted. Every exit would have a sign of what facilities were available so it was very easy to find “gas”, motels, toilets and food. There are so many places to stop and things to see. We tried not to drive more than 4.5 hours in a day and this was very very easy to do. Unlike Australia, you definitely do not have to drive all day (or 3!) to find somewhere worth stopping.
My favourite places were New Orleans, Charleston and Chattanooga in that order. I also particularly liked Vicksburg MS, Columbia SC, St Augustine FL and the Babyland General Hospital.
There really was nothing that bad. My least favourite places were Defuniak Springs FL – it was nice but the ducks there seriously freaked me out, Mobile AL – strangely dead, the Left Luggage Center – it just seemed wrong and Atlanta. It was not Atlanta’s fault that it made this list. The weather was what ruined our stay there.
Honestly, I wouldn’t do anything different. I wish we could have gone to Memphis but bad weather meant we could not drive there. I also wish the ‘rain hadnt ruined our time in Atlanta as these were two of the places I had looked forward to most. However, I am also glad that these things happened as otherwise we would have missed something else out instead, and there is nothing I would take back.
Overall, we were very lucky with the weather. We only stopped wearing shorts halfway through our trip when we were heading to Tennessee. Not bad for winter time.
Obviously more time would have been nice. We did travel fast. We barely stayed anywhere more than 2 nights (just New Orleans and Orlando), and there were quite a few one night stops too. At the beginning, the kids struggled with one night stops, but they got over that quickly. I would have loved more time in Charleston and Chattanooga in particular.
Not much really! A car, kid car seats, an iPhone and travel insurance was all we needed. For our car, we found the best deal by using Expedia. We hired the car seats with the car directly. We thought about buying some as it would have been slightly cheaper, but it didn’t seem worth the mucking around. There was no way we were bringing our seats all the way from Australia since we were travelling both before and after the road trip.
My iPhone was also essential. We had it loaded with the TomTom navigation app for the USA which worked well. We could have used Google maps, but we didn’t want to be dependent on mobile reception. We didn’t always have phone reception and we weren’t sure how much data we might go through if we used it for all our navigation. We also found books such as this handy for planning our route.
The USA is definitely not a destination to be blase about travel insurance. On a previous trip, my travel companion actually had a seizure out of absolutely nowhere. It was scary and involved an ambulance, hospital stay and tests. A LOT of money later, he was given a clean bill of health. They actually did hassle me on arrival at the hospital for our insurance details and it was all quite stressful as I didn’t have them on me. This is not an area to skip. Southern Cross Travel Insurance offers a USA policy. I also recommend ensuring that between your travel insurance and your car rental policy that you are fully insured for any car accidents. Unlike Australia, US car rental generally does not include any basic insurance.
We also found it handy to travel with basic crockery and cutlery, so that we could easily self cater long the way. Many motels come with microwaves and fridges, but they don’t generally come with any crockery and cutlery.
We spent US$184 a day on average of which US$45 a day went on our car and car seats. You could spend less than this. We spent US$71 a night on average on accommodation, and it is definitely possible to spend less than this. With young kids, we are quite fussy about where we stay though, so this was all for highly recommended budget accommodation. You can read more about our budget and costs in our trip cost post.
The kids had a fabulous time on our road trip. S cried when she realised it was over!
We had never done an extended road trip before, so we wondered how they would cope. They were fine. We tried to keep travel days to less than 4.5 hours and often split it up at a kid focused attraction. This worked well for us, but they never really had a problem. However, as the trip progressed, Z seemed to struggle with having his nap while we were driving which was annoying at times.
The accommodation was kid friendly since rooms with two double beds were normal and we never had to pay extra for the kids. We took our own travel cot, so we used that for 1 year old Z.
They loved all the kid friendly attractions. The children’s museums were particularly a massive hit. Many months later, S is still asking to go to one. I really wish they had them all over the world.
Our ginger ninja, S, got a lot of attention. It started to get annoying and we ended up quite fed up with all the stories of random red heads that people were related to along the way. There were also a few people who made it clear that they thought I cheated on J to conceive S (as we both have brown hair)! Seriously! I really can’t imagine alluding to something like that to a stranger. Americans are just so different to Australians. Her hair attracted more attention here than anywhere we have been in Asia apart from the Philippines.
We may have not met red necks, but we still had an awesome time! And we highly recommend it to everyone else. It is an easy trip with kids, probably the easiest we have done. Even easier than travelling within our home country of Australia.
Our road trip was a good mixture of random places, cities, towns, natural and man made attractions. We would have liked to go to more random places, but they were hard to find and often out of our path – we actually added a couple of hours of driving to go to the Left Luggage Center, and there’s only so many times we could do that. It was also great to have our first Thanksgiving.
We were a bit concerned doing this trip in Winter, but it was fine. It did ruin our plans to go to Memphis thanks to icemaggadon and there was miserable weather when we were in Atlanta, but the majority of our trip was sunny weather with blue skies. In fact the majority of the time we were in shorts and t shirts which we did not expect at all. This is the perfect region to visit if you are in the USA in Winter and do not like cold weather like us.
One of the benefits of going at this time of year is all the Christmas festivities. There were lots of Christmas decorations around the place as well as Christmas parades, light shows and other Christmas attractions. It made us very glad that we were there at the time of year we were. It was lots of fun.
I am an explorer by nature, and it is rare that any place or activity stays on my bucket list after I have completed it with all the amazing experiences there are to have in the world. A US road trip is something that is staying on my bucket list. I loved it that much. In fact, it would still be top 5. I can not wait to do another one – next time, it will be an East Coast road trip!
You can also check out our road trip USA full itinerary.
Have you done a US road trip? Is it on your bucket list?
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