Saturday, February 26, 2011

Atlantic Coast roadtrip - itinerary planning

The first thing we did once we had decided on doing the roadtrip up/down the Atlantic coast was to figure out the places we wish to visit. Most of the research was done online for interesting places to see and interesting things to do along the Atlantic coast.

We also referenced some travel guide books like the "Road trip USA Atlantic coast" , "United States on the road" & "Lonely Planet USA". During the earlier stages of our trip planning, we had also requested for travel guides to be mailed to us by submitting our requests at some of the official tourism sites of major cities such as Washington DC, Orlando etc. Some of the tourism websites of North Carolina and South Carolina also offer downloadable ebrochures/maps which made our trip planning that much easier.

With all the information gathered, we narrowed down our pit stops to the following places:
- Princeton NJ (1 night)
- Washington DC (5 nights)
- Norfolk VA
- Nags Head NC (2 nights)
- Wilmington NC (1 night)
- Myrtle Beach SC
- Charleston SC (1 night)
- St Augustine FL (2 nights)
- Daytona Beach FL
- Melbourne FL (1 night)
- Miami FL (2 nights)
- Key West FL (2 nights)
- Homestead FL
- Kendall FL (1 night)
- KissimmeeFL (2 nights)
- Cape Canaveral FL (1 night)
- Savannah GA (2 nights)
- Garner NC (1 night)
- Baltimore MD (2 nights)
- Philadelphia PA (3 nights)

As far as possible, we tried to plan our stops in such a way to keep the number of hours of driving to not more than 6 hours each day (we only had 1 driver!). Most of the places where we spent the night were places that we had wanted to explore....but there were 2 stops along the way in Kendall FL and Garner NC which were purely rest stops.

Of course, every roadtrip itinerary should allow for some degree of flexibility in case of bad weather, the driver falling sick, the car breaking down, you have to deviate from your original route or perhaps when you wanna extend your stay 'cos you are having so much fun or when you choose to cut short your trip etc. Always have some backup plans in place so that you won't be at a loss what to do when things crop up. Do budget "extra" days for unforeseen I'm sure your boss won't be too pleased if you don't return to work on time.

And how many nights to spend at each location was decided based on how much we were planning to accomplish at that particular location and the fact that we had wanted to complete the entire roadtrip in 30 days. Once we had decided on all that, we started researching the accommodations at each destination.

We depended a lot on the unbiased hotel reviews at Tripadvisor for all of our hotel selections and I must say the ratings/reviews were all pretty accurate. As we had a car, it was also important that the hotels provide free/cheap parking. AAA membership is useful to have as many hotels offer good discounts for AAA members. We only booked the hotel at the next location the night before our arrival so as to give us more room for deviations. But you can only afford to do so if you are travelling during off-peak seasons when accommodations are plentiful. We generally prefer to book the accommodations online as we are able to research and compare prices. We find that usually the best online rates are much better than walk-in rates.

While planning the itinerary, we would also check the event schedules at the various destinations and would try our very best to time our arrivals to coincide with certain special events. Sometimes, even arriving on a day when the museums are closed later could help maximise your time. Another tip is to avoid arriving in big cities such as Washington DC, Philadelphia, New Jersey, NYC etc on a weekday as that's when the city traffic can get pretty nasty and parking is a pain and super costly. Also, if you want to avoid the crowds at popular tourist attractions such as Disney World or NASA Kennedy Space's much better to arrive on a weekday, non-public holiday or non-school vacation period.

It's also good to note the peak travel seasons when hotels get expensive or fully booked, crowds are everywhere and traffic is crazy......avoid those periods if possible. I think mid-Jan to early Feb seems to be a nice quiet time down at the Carolinas and Florida. But of course it could be cold during jan/feb, depending on weather conditions, if you are looking forward to some sunbathing on the beautiful beaches or frolicking in the waters in the sunshine state.

One very important tool for roadtrips is of course the GPS. Our Tomtom, with lifetime map and traffic updates, is our most trusted and loved friend. We'd use it to plan our route, avoid congestions, estimate the time required for the journey, help avoid tolls and get us on the High Occupancy Vehicle lane when necessary. It's also useful for searching for nearby tourist attractions, malls, gas stations, ATMs etc. We really cannot imagine a roadtrip (or life) without our Tomtom!

Not sure if you have noticed in our above itinerary that we had deliberately skipped Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York for this particular roadtrip as we had covered most of those states already previously. But if you are planning to visit those states as part of your Atlantic coast roadtrip, my personal recommendations are Newport and Providence in Rhode Island; Mystic, New Haven and Hartford in Connecticut; and of course, everyone should visit The Big Apple at least once in his/her lifetime!

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