Beach sunset in USA (Seren Rumjancevs)Beach sunset in USA (Seren Rumjancevs) © Copyright

Southern-drive tripping

About two years ago, myself and the other half were sitting on a sofa watching The Top Gear: US Special, where Clarkson and Co. set out to prove that a fly-by drive across the southern states of America in beat-up cars they bought for pennies would be a real laugh. And that's when it struck me – we should do it ourselves!

Now as someone born in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the thought of taking a road trip across America was a strange and fantastic proposition.

Rather than bait rednecks or drive with a cow's carcass on top of our car, we had a slightly more civilised trip in mind. We wanted to visit New Orleans for its jazz and soul food, to sip tea at a Charleston Tea Plantation and feel that adrenaline buzz from rides like the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit at Universal Studios.

View of greenery in the Souther states of America (Seren Rumjancevs)

 

We planned to go on the trip in April, so we got return flights from London Heathrow to Orlando, Florida, with Air Canada and a slew of Air BnBs to live like real southern staters for the two weeks we'd be there. We budgeted £4,500 for the trip, which covered my partner, the little one, and myself.

The driving looked mammoth – a whopping 2,300 miles in total – but luckily Ford provided us with a brand new Explorer SUV to power us through the trip.

As soon as anything, March rolled around the corner, and it was time to go.

Red Ford Explorer used for FS magazine's Southern States road trip  ()

 

In all honesty, we weren't half as enthusiastic after ten-hour flight as we had been when we stepped on the plane. A 220-mile schlep to Brunswick meant I was in a kind of zombie auto-pilot mode, but all was forgotten when we reached Daytona beach. Standing in the Atlantic with waves lapping at our ankles and a warm ocean breeze roll across our faces was as good as it sounds.

Rejuvenated, we pushed on over the state border to Jekyll Island, Georgia, to visit the Sea Turtle Center (special!) and then our beds in our first of many Air BnBs.

Day two started a lot less hazily. An early morning trip to Driftwood Beach brightened our moods considerably and we continued on to Savannah by way of Tybee Island. Savannah would be our home for the next three days, so we spent the first day exploring this marvel of metropolitan architecture. Here we ambled down the oak-lined residential avenues and marvelled at the gas-lit porches of the colonial and Italianate town houses. We stopped for ice cream at Leopold’s on East Broughton; the whole scene felt like the 1950’s scenes in Back to the Future!

New Orleans street (Seren Rumjancevs)

 

On our fifth day, we reached Charleston, South Carolina. The main attraction for me was the Charleston Tea Plantation, which may sound odd, but we're not afraid to admit we're proper tea drinkers back at home. The tea here did not disappoint.

Charleston is as southern US as it gets; from the colonial-style boulevards of King Street to the Old Slave Mart museum, the city feels drenched in a history so perfectly preserved in time, it felt like you were transported back in time. Then there was the Lewis Barbeque; wow. I don't know if old colonialists ate ribs or brisket back in those days, but wherever this came from it was one of the best meals I've eaten.

Days six and seven were reserved for time on the road. We had our first real, long road-trip of the holiday: a 4.5-hour, 300-mile drive through Stone Mountain Park, overnight, into Atlanta, Georgia (again). A little tip for you: you can actually shave time off your journey – around 45 minutes – by taking smaller, quieter roads rather than major interstate highways, believe it or not.

Beach with jet skis and skyscrapers in the background. USA  (Seren Rumjancevs)

 

Like all best laid plans, we kind of mucked it up a bit by only spending a night in Atlanta; there looked like so much to do and see, but we pushed on.

Now, having completed a 300-mile trip, to jump back in the car and do another 470 miles was not an appealing prospect, but the journey went without a hitch. The coolest thing – other than the very special bottle of 13th Colony Southern Whiskey we picked up in La Grange – was that we crossed four state borders in one drive. Our ultimate destination was the city of Jazz, southern cuisine and beautiful French architecture: New Orleans, Louisiana.

As a big jazz fan, we couldn't have timed the trip better. We hit the 'Big Easy' during the French Quarter Jazz Festival and what a treat it was. We indulged in beer and whiskey and tapped our feet along to the most resplendent quartets, trios and soloists the city had to offer.

Lewis Barbeque in Charleston – brisket and ribs (Seren Rumjancevs)

 

The next day we went full tourist and explored Esplanade Avenue, took a ride on a streetcar (sadly not named 'Desire') and cycled around City Park. A slight (accidental) detour meant we saw New Orleans' mask slip ever so slightly, as we wandered into one the city's rougher neighbourhoods. Seeing it brought home the real social divisions America faces as a developed country.

The Aquarium of Americas proved another delight – real swamp creatures there, beware – and again indulged in some jazz.

Again, days ten and 11 were reserved for driving. We had a 600-mile slog back to Orlando, but we took it easy, making a real cruiser's journey along the Gulf of Mexico. Our final destination was Universal Studios where I had been cajoled into trying out the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. Admittedly I'm not a fan of rollercoasters, so I spent the 1:45 minute ride duration screaming like a little girl, clinging onto my seat. I have to say it was an experience, but next time I'll stick to the haunted house if I want to get my scares.

Stas Rumjancevs on his Southern States road trip for FS Magazine ()

 

Having never been to United States, this trip definitely opened my eyes to a lot of things; from the architectural diversity of Georgia, historical contribution of South Carolina, the natural environment of Louisiana and friendliness of Alabamians, the southern states are a gift for any outsider waiting to be unwrapped and played with. Despite spending 59 hours in the car, too, I can tell you there is no better way of getting that real, authentic American road-trip experience.

  • Flights – We flew to US with Air Canada for £450 return. For the best prices aim to book at least 6 months in advance
  • Car – If you too decide to go on a road trip across US, make sure you choose a comfortable and spacious car. You will be spending a lot of time in it. 4x4 is the best choice, but a big sedan will work well too
  • Attractions – When planning your visit to Universal Studios get there at least 30 minutes before opening and invest in Express Passes. These will set you back from £50 per person, but in return, save several hours waiting in lines in scorching heat.
Beach with umbrellas and pier in Southern states of America (Seren Rumjancevs)

 

Photos: Seren Eilmann

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