A great American road trip is near the top of many people’s bucket list. An opportunity to see a combination of wide open roads with small cut off towns as well as gigantic cities full of skyscrapers, planning and pursuing an American road trip should be something everyone does at least once in their life. Our American road trip took us from the urban jungle of Atlanta to the ever-quirky New Orleans spread over a duration of fifteen days.
Tips for planning an American road trip
Book your car in advance, we booked our car with Alamo and could not fault them, the process of collecting the rental car and dropping off at the end of the trip at the airport could not have been easier. However, you will find you will pay a higher rental fee for dropping your car off at a different location (eg, State) then where you started, so allow for this in your budget.
I would also advise opting for a hybrid car, not only is it more environmentally friendly you will save yourself an incredible amount of money in gas, we refuelled twice in two weeks and covered over 1000 miles.
Most rental car companies will also hire Sat Navs, but check the prices beforehand, for us it worked out cheaper for me to use 02 travel bolt on for my mobile, for £5 a day it provides unlimited internet which we used for a Sat Nav as well as a hotspot for all of our group to use the internet. The total split between us worked out cheaper than hiring a Sat Nav.
Having more than one driver is essential, three of us drove on our trip and it really took the pressure off when one of us felt tired, some of the drives will be over 4 hours long and at times all the roads look the same, it can get boring very quickly so an alert driver is crucial.
Know your driving days. We planned our trip in detail before we left as we wanted to make sure we made the most of our two weeks, however, if you prefer to take each day as it comes, at least know your driving days. Why? Because then you can plan your drinking days and nights out, it may sound silly but you do not want to miss a morning/day of driving because you are too hungover.
Atlanta to New Orleans Road Trip Itinerary
First Stop: Atlanta, Georgia
Time: 2 – 3 Nights
Where to stay: Think about where you want to stay, Atlanta is a huge city. We stayed at the beautiful AC hotel at Phipps Plaza however it was located in Buckhead, which was really far away from everything we wanted to visit, meaning we spent a lot on getting around. Personally, I would recommend staying in Midtown for the best location.
What to do:
The Georgia Aquarium
The Coca-Cola Museum
Visit the hipster district of Little Five Points and take on the Man Vs Food challenge at Vortex
Take in the street art and wall murals along the Atlanta Beltline – walk or hire bikes.
The Ponce City Market – Spend a sunny evening on the rooftop fairground, visit the independent market stall style shops, eat a range of street food.
Top Tip: If you plan on visiting the major tourist attractions you may find purchasing a City Pass better value for money
Drive: Atlanta, Georgia to Gatlinburg, Tennesee (via Clayton, Georgia)
4-hour drive – Either through the Smokey Mountains (985) or on the i75 (N)
Clayton is a beautiful picturesque town halfway through your journey. Stop here for lunch at The Wicked Pig then marvel at all the trinkets and gifts in the store called ‘Wander North Georgia‘
Time: 2 nights
Gatlinburg is a small quirky city in the middle of the Smokey Mountains which has become a vacation destination for many Americans, it reminded me a lot of International Drive, Orlando. The drive into Gatlinburg will take you through the stunning Smokey Mountains, it is a more difficult steep drive but it is worth it, so I would urge you to opt for this route over the i75.
Where to Stay: We stayed at the Edgewater Hotel which is on the more expensive side of hotels in Gatlinburg, but it my opinion is worth the money. Location is not as much of an issue here as everything is quite compact, so most of the hotels will be centrally located.
What to do: Things to do in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Drive: Gatlinburg, Tennesee to Nashville, Tennesee
3.5-hour drive – I-40 West, fairly easy drive on the open interstate which leads into city driving as you approach Nashville.
Time: 3 -4 nights
Where to stay: If you are travelling in a group I really recommend Air B’n’B for American road trips, it will cut your cost considerably and you will get much more centrally located accommodation for a fairer price. This apartment we stayed in was perfect for the number of nights we were there and our hosts were really great as well.
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What to do in Nashville:
Country Music Hall of Fame
The Grand Ole Opry
Bar hop and listen to country music on Broadway
Visit the colourful wall murals dotted around the city
Go Bowling at the photogenic Pinewood Social
Where to eat: The ultimate guide of where to eat in Nashville
Top Tip: Take a day trip drive to The Jack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchburg ( 1 Hour drive from central Nashville)
Drive: Nashville, Tennesee to Memphis Tennessee
3-hour drive – I -40 West, fairly easy drive on the Interstate.
Time: 2 Nights
Where to stay: Again I would recommend Air B’n’B, try to stay close to Beale Street area as this is where everything is (aside from Graceland). Although I never felt unsafe in Memphis, we do have a lot of warnings to be careful at night as well as staying in the tourist areas, so be aware of this.
Things to do:
Visit The Sun Studios – an absolute must!
Fall in love with Elvis at Graceland and make sure you pick up a Peanut Butter and Banana sandwich while there.
Dance the night away on Broadway
Eat at Rendezvous BBQ
Visit the ducks of the Peabody Hotel
Visit the Bass Pro Shop bar from drinks with a view
Drive: Memphis, Tennessee to New Orleans, Louisana
5-hour drive – I-55 (S). This will be your longest drive but I actually found this one the easiest, the whole route is essentially a two-lane road straight through.
Time: 4 nights
Where to stay: We visited during Wrestlemania so the hotel prices were a lot higher than normal, therefore to save on costs we opted to stay in a private room at the India House Hostel, I really enjoyed it here, its clean with a great atmosphere and they do a really good cheap cooked breakfast. The tram also runs from the top of the street straight into the French Quarter, the tram also runs late into the night so it is perfect from coming back late as well.
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Things to do:
Drink hand grenades and party on Bourbon Street
Take in the Jazz Music on Frenchman Street
Enjoy chill out time in the Garden District
Join a ghost tour and discover the spooky history of New Orleans
Get a palm or tarot card reading
Hop on a traditional steamboat ride down the Natchez river
Visit the traditional VooDoo Shops
At the end of your trip you can decide to fly home from New Orleans, however, you may find it cheaper to book an international return from Atlanta, Georgia, in which case you can get a cheap domestic flight with South West Airlines from MSY to ATL, which is what we did.
I hope this post has been useful to help you start planning your Atlanta to New Orleans road trip, the planning stage is the hardest part, once you arrive you find it all falls into place and you will have the time of your life.