Planning A Road Trip from New Orleans to Charleston

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After three and a half years of exploring the world, it’s time for me to explore my own country.

Exploring the US on a road trip has long been on my list of travel priorities, and the time was finally right. There are so many places to explore in the US, from the forests and beaches of the northwest to the national parks of the mountainous states. I especially love the southwest and its colorful deserts.

For this trip, however, there was one region I was dying to visit above all: the South.


Exploring the South

The South is a region of the US that has intrigued me for years. As a native New Englander, the South was never on my radar as a vacation destination. Well, not beyond Florida, which for New Englanders is visited for one of three reasons: Disney, retirement, or Red Sox spring training.

Of course, some New Englanders do visit the South — I’d wager New Orleans, Savannah, and Charleston or maybe Myrtle Beach are the most popular non-Florida destinations — but when was the last time you heard a New Englander, or New Yorker for that matter, planning a trip to the Mississippi coast?

The South is a region of great beauty — but also great hardship. After the region was devastated first by Hurricane Katrina and then the BP oil spill, tourism is back, but it hasn’t returned to its previous levels, I’ve been hearing again and again from various tourism industry workers here in New Orleans. “Tell your friends to come back,” one guide told my group. “We sure do miss ’em.”

I want to show off this region. I want to do what I can to bring people back.

And I also want to see enormous oak trees leading up to antebellum-era mansions. I want to see Spanish moss draped over wrought-iron balconies as fountains dominate squares in the distance. I want to submerge my toes in the fine white sands in front of bright teal ocean. I want to spend endless conversations talking to countless friendly Southerners, the people who made Southern hospitality internationally famous.

But I can’t lie — above all, I’m looking forward to the food. REAL Southern food. Not Paula Deen abominations. Crawfish etoufee, biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, gumbo, shrimp and grits, pecan pie, caramel cake, all washed down with teeth-numbingly sweet tea.

Santa Rosa Island

Working Together

I’m happy to be working with two quality companies over the course of this trip. For the lodging, I will be partnering with Country Inns and Suites by Carlson (SM), who will be providing me with lodging for 12 nights of the trip. I chose Country Inns because they are focusing on road trips this year — check out some of their itinerary ideas — and they’re conveniently located throughout the South.

But I mostly chose Country Inns because their focus is on being a home environment away from home. In other words, that means great amenities on top of a comfortable room — hot breakfasts with new dishes every day, a Read It And Return It Lending Library (SM) from which you can borrow books, and, most importantly, free unlimited wifi.

For the car rental, I will be partnering with Holiday Autos. They are covering the cost of a 10-day car rental with a pickup in New Orleans and drop-off in Charleston, which ordinarily costs in the neighborhood of $500.

One-way car rentals are almost always much more expensive than picking up the car and dropping it off in the same location. If you wanted to do this trip from New Orleans to Charleston and back or vice versa, you’d spend a lot more on gas, but the rental cost would be roughly $250.

SouthUSA Itinerary

#SouthUSA: The Itinerary

When I tell people about the itinerary, most of them are surprised that the driving distances are so short. Indeed, most of the daily drives are three hours or less, and some are just 90 minutes.

But who says you need to drive massive distances each day in order for it to be a genuine road trip? I love to stop in random places, and this trip’s short journeys will give me the incentive to stop and linger in any little town that looks interesting.

Here’s where I’ll be going:

March 3-4: New Orleans, Louisiana.ย Mardi Gras is currently in full swing, and I’ll be staying at the Country Inn right in the French Quarter! Easily the best time to visit New Orleans.

March 5: Louisiana and Mississippi. First up is exploring Louisiana’s countryside mansions before heading to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, spending the night in the Country Inn in Ocean Springs, which is close to destinations like Gulfport and Biloxi.

March 6-7: Mississippi, Alabama, Florida panhandle. I’ll be checking out the Alabama Gulf Coast before staying at the Country Inn in Pensacola West for two nights, using it as a base to explore the Florida panhandle and beyond. This region is known for its white sand beaches.

March 8-9: Florida. The longest driving day of the trip will take me down the Forgotten Coast to oyster haven Apalachicola and across to Jacksonville, which I hear is a surprisingly fun city with easy access to St. Augustine and Amelia Island. I’ll be there, staying in the Country Inn right in Jacksonville, for two nights.

March 10-12: Savannah, Georgia. I allotted three nights in Savannah because this is a city that everyone seems to love and I’m sure I’ll be no exception. I’ll be staying at the Country Inn right in the Historical District. (Now I need to just start and finish Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil before I get there…)

March 13-14: Charleston, South Carolina. A short drive will take me across the South Carolina to Charleston, where I will finish and celebrate the end of the trip with some coca-cola cake. I’ll be staying about 30 minutes away from Charleston at the Country Inn in the town of Summerville.

From Charleston, I’ll be taking part in Amtrak’s new campaign providing long train rides to writers, taking the Palmetto train to Washington, DC. More on that later.

Destin Island II

Join Me

The trip starts today! From now through March 15, I’ll be tweeting and Instagramming under the hashtag #SouthUSA. Do follow along, as I’ll be sharing lots of pictures and anecdotes along the way.

I can’t wait to see what this beguiling region has in store for me — sweet tea and all.

Many thanks to Country Inn and Suites and Holiday Autos for their support of the #SouthUSA trip. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Have you been to the South? Have any recommendations?

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73 thoughts on “Planning A Road Trip from New Orleans to Charleston”

  1. Love this. This is the kind of trip I’d take in the South, especially Charlestown & Savannah. In fact, I almost booked my April vaca there (8 days split half and half), but all the cute places were way too expensive. So, Florida it is, a month from now!

    1. Anna, if you want a great deal, look at – you can rent a room or a whole house much more reasonably than hotels. Also, there is a new Holiday Inn downtown in Charleston that is more fairly priced than some of our older more well known places. Hope you visit us soon!

      Steph in Charleston

  2. Really looking forward to hearing about this! I spent some time in Mississippi in 2013 (in August … whew!) and I had a very good time. I’m looking forward to what you end up doing!

    One of my favorite parts was a day trip out to the barrier islands. My other favorite part was trying Vietnamese food for the first time! People back home were very surprised that I’d go to Mississippi to try Vietnamese food, but there’s a large Vietnamese immigrant and Vietnamese American community there on the coast.

    1. That’s one thing I wish I had had a chance to experience. I remember reading a few years ago about a Vietnamese crawfish restaurant opening in Boston, which has a large Vietnamese population! It was supposed to be influenced by this community.

  3. Kate,

    We have lived here in Charleston for a decade now. In 2004, while living in Nashua, I strapped a snow shovel on the front of a well travelled motor home and headed south. As soon as someone asked, “What the Hell is that?” I stopped and bought a house. This is Mecca for foodies. I hope we can meet.


    1. Frank, I am from Merrimack! Small world! Love it here, half of my family is here as well, so more NH natives moving south!

  4. I’m excited to follow along! I’m from Wisconsin and have hardly traveled in the USA. When I return to the states late this fall (currently teaching in Korea), I want to start visiting other parts of the country. There’s so much to see and explore!

  5. So like a great itinerary. I have done 2 US road trips and spent lots of Sumner vacations in Alabama. My family is from the south and southern cooking is the best! We actually love paula ‘s recipes although unhealthy it does represent Georgia cooking

  6. This is great and great timing! We are doing the Florida Panhandle trip in 2 weeks! Charleston and Savannah are beautiful. There is a funny pineapple fountain by the water in Charleston. You are *just* missing all the fountains in Savannah turning green for St Paddy’s Day. Enjoy the waterfront areas in both locations.

  7. Having lived n North Carolina for a couple of years I had the chance to visit Savannah once and Charleston a few times. They are both beautiful places with lovely architecture and amazing food plus fascinating history.
    Be sure to take a tour of Charleston by horse and carriage and go for a cocktail on the rooftop Pavilion Bar at the Market Pavilion Hotel. Oh and prepare to gain a few lbs…you must try shrimp and grits among many other delicious items.
    I look forward to reading all about your trip.

  8. SO VERY EXCITED FOR YOU! I will be retweeting the hell out of your content because anyone who is helping promote my region is a winner in my book. Hope you have an amazing trip! Maybe I’ll catch you next time, as I’m off to Southeast Asia!

  9. I was so excited to hear you’re going on a Southern road trip! Some friends and I just planned a girls’ weekend away to Charleston in May, and I cannot wait to hear your recommendations. I also highly recommend visiting St. Augustine if you can, even if only for an afternoon. It’s a beautiful hidden (at least to us northerners) gem that feels like a little taste of Europe (Spain in particular) mixed with the old South. There didn’t seem to be terribly much to do by means of attractions, but it’s a great place to wander, stroll, have a glass of wine, and just recharge — similar in vibe (though not at all in style) to a Rockport, MA if you will. Also, if either you or Mario want an adventure and have a penchant for spicy foods, there’s a shop that specializes in hot sauces that will make your eyes water and ears steam like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Feel free to take this as encouragement … or a warning!

    As always, looking forward to reading all about wherever you explore!

  10. My husband and I are driving from New Orleans to Charleston next week! In one day though… But I’m a native Southern Californian that moved to Athens, Georgia for college and ended up staying for eight years. My husband is from Georgia, so we visit often. I LOVE the South. A lot of people from California thought I was crazy for moving there, but it was the best decision of my life. The food, the people, the scenery, it’s all amazing. It’s too bad you won’t have a chance to go to Athens, it’s such a great city. Enjoy!

  11. Check out a restaurant called Coast in Charleston. HEA-VEN. I can’t wait to read your New Englander’s take on the South– it’s a different world down there, sometimes.

  12. The south has long been the region in the US that I’ve always wanted to go to. My dad has been to New Orleans and his stories of the place are incredible. He also told me about beignets and for the reason alone, I want to go!

  13. I live in Charlotte so I’m no stranger to some of these cities- Charleston is one of my favorites and I love Savannah as well! Definitely try shrimp and grits, it’s amazing! Walk down Market St. and visit Rainbow Row in Charleston it’s definitely like going back in time to the old south. Boone’s Hall Plantation is awesome as well as the angel oak (all in Charleston!)

  14. I miss Pensacola!! McGuire’s Irish Pub is a must… it’s definitely an experience. If you want to spend a little more $ for an amazing meal, there is a tapas place called Global Grill that’s phenomenal. Even if you have zero interest in aviation (I really don’t), the Naval Aviation Museum on NAS Pensacola is really, really cool (and HUGE). And of course, the beaches are beautiful.

  15. Sounds like a great trip – the South is such an interesting part of the US. I hope you love Savannah as much as I do!! (Be sure to eat at the Olde Pink House, and get a drink at the Pirate’s House!) And I’ll be interested to hear how you like Apalachicola, as well – my family stays near there for reunions, and I think it’s a really cool little town.

  16. I’m happy to see this. I’m doing a similar USA roadtrip starting Sept. 15th. I’m happy to follow along for tips. Keep a tally of all the times you hear someone say “bless her heart” or other Southern expressions.

  17. Hi Kate,

    you put together a fun trip. I traveled the South in 2008 as I always wanted to see the places from “Gone with the Wind”. Loved Savannah and also Charleston. But if you have time make a little stop over in Beauford…its between those, too. There are still those pre Civil war houses with the porches and trees with Spanish Moss and all right at the water. It was my favorite of all the places…also I think the old house we stayed in was a bit haunted ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Have fun. Looking forward to follow your trip!


  18. While you are in the Alabama gulf coast area, make a short jaunt up to Foley Alabama (only about 15 min north of Gulf Shores) and have lunch at Lamberts Cafe! The home of the throwed rolls! (seriously they walk by with various side dishes for tasting and if you want a bread roll they will throw it to you from across the dining room and you have to catch it) Excellent, tasty, inexpensive, like-home-cooking. Theyre amazing. Do it! My great aunt lives down there in foley and we eat at lamberts every time we go down there to visit. (we live a few hours north in east AL)

  19. I love this post Kate. Tthe Southern part of the USA has never particularly appealed. As a British European, I’m more inclined to go to the North or New England. I have been to the West Coast and loved it especially, San Franscisco and Santa Barbara. I’ve also done a road trip on Route 66 and went to California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. What a blast!

    Perhaps, it’s time to go “Down South”. I look forward to the following posts!

  20. Wow your trip sounds like something I would love to do! I’m looking forward to following along with you and taking lots of notes for my future travels. I hope you really enjoy it!

  21. You should definitely check out St. Simons Island. Its conveniently located right in between Jacksonville and Savannah. Kings Village is great for shopping and eating, and then take a stroll in Neptune Park.

  22. Aw, you’ll just be missing St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah! I was there for something like 11 years in a row on March 17th and it was always a wild time. Stop into Kevin Barry’s Pub on River Streetnif you get a chance. Enjoy your trip.

  23. I’ll be following your trip with great interest as I’ll soon be travelling to the US for the first time and I’m headed to some of these places, including New Orleans, Florida, Savannah and Charleston! Have a great trip!

  24. You’re going to have the best time! I live in a little town called Brunswick that is right in between Jacksonville and Savannah. Definitely plan for a little stop over to see Jekyll or St Simons Island if you have the chance, and make sure to have lunch at Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House in Savannah- it’s the best Southern food you’ll ever have!

  25. Sounds like a good trip. I was born and raised in Atlanta and lived in N.O for the past 8 years. Grew up visiting Jekyll Island on the GA coast and Tybee near Savannah. For an interesting experience in N.o check out “The Country Club” in the marigny, and my favorite bar Yuki on Frenchmen street. Also if you are in Mid-City get a Vietnamese Po-Boy at Eat-well Mart on Canal and N.Broad.

  26. Yay! I’m so glad you’re finally coming to Charleston! I go to College of Charleston and I’ve been following you’re blog for like a year. It’s really inspired me and I’ve studied abroad and am volunteering in Central America this summer because I realized how important it is to me! Make sure you check out the CofC Campus area, it’s one of the oldest universities in the country and there is plenty of history in and around the downtown area!

  27. Nice Kate! I don’t have plans to travel stateside anytime soon because it’s just too close to home (FL). I’ll travel vicariously through you though as I hold down my travels in the Far East… Just can’t get enough of Asia right now. ๐Ÿ™‚ Have fun!

  28. This sounds like such a fun trip! I was just in New Orleans last month and am still dreaming about all the delicious food I ate there. I actually did a large portion of this road trip years ago during spring break. It was a loop from Pittsburgh but I did the portion from Panama City and the Florida Panhandle up through Charleston. It was a beautiful trip, and March is a great time of year to be in the South!

  29. Such a great itinerary! As a fellow native New Englander, the South can be relatively unknown by many people in our region. It is full of charm, history, grace and GOOD food. It is not to be missed. You are visiting some of my favorites of NOLA, Charleston and Savannah, but I’ve never made it to Mississippi or Alabama so interested to see what you think.

  30. Sounds like such an amazing trip! I’ve been wanting to do a tour of the South, but too scared to do it alone.

  31. Whoo hoo! I just came across this. I hope you had a fabulous trip. We actually did a Deep South road trip a few months ago that covered that path as well as all the way between New Orleans and Charleston via Atlanta and down to Miami!

    It is a shame you have already completed it as there as so many things I could have shared. We just loved this road trip and we can not wait to make it back to the US some day to do another one!

    1. Hi we are planning a road trip from New Orleans to Charleston and would love to stay in one of the islands we love the beach and quaint quirky places could you tell me more about the island st Augustine Tyree jeckle island. We cannot decide? We go in September .

  32. Hello, Kate, I will be doing a road trip from Florida to New Orleans in next February, so I loved to read this post. I hope you could help me suggesting a travel agent that could do the bookings with Country inn. I know youยดve had a nice time with them, but booking is quite difficult. It requires a lot of work as their reservation center and website only work city by city. They arenยดt prepared to assist road trippers as it seems. Thank you!

  33. Hey guys, I am looking forward to do this trip but the only time of the year when I can manage to is in winter (last weeks of December). Is the weather a serious concern? Will it be too cold in the south to prevent me from doing those activities? Thanks a lot for your help.

    1. Nothing will prevent you from doing these activities, but it will be colder and you may not want to spend as much time outside. I suggest you check out the temperature averages in the cities in december and see if that’s something you can live with.

  34. Wow, that is quite a distance to cover but how much fun that would be to take some time to really explore these amazing cities and places in between – it’s on my bucket list to do as a road trip

  35. Hi Kate!
    I followed your advice last summer for a trip to Antigua and Lake Atitlan in Guatemala and had a wonderful time! Good thing I listened to what you had to say, because our same trip got published in the LA Times travel section as a bomb. Had the journalist read your posts, she would have realized that San Pedro was not the best place to take her young sons for Spanish classes!
    I am having a delightful Sunday brunch at Tupelo Honey Cafรฉ in Myrtle Beach and wondered if you had ever traveled to this area. Imagine my surprise and joy to see you had just been here!
    Looking forward to reading the itinerary and reporting back…thanks for your trusted advice!

  36. Hi Kate,

    My family and I are thinking of flying to Atlanta in May 2018, for 2 weeks. We would love to visit Charleston and Savannah and possibly Florida. We’ll be flying in from Germany. Any other highlights that you could recommend? We are just at the planning stage.


  37. I am actually in the early planning stages for a Gulf Coast Trip (end of May 2023) to celebrate my Husband’s retirement later this year. I plan to somewhat “mimic” your New Orleans – Charleston itinerary, with some spur of the moment changes. Any chance you have a driving map/itinerary you can share for the trip you took?

    1. My driving itinerary was pretty much just this list of towns in a row! I will say that Pensacola to Jacksonville via Apalachicola was a very long driving day and I wish I had broken that up in retrospect.

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