Itinerary Ideas for First-Timers to the United States- East Coast

As an American who has visited all but 8 of the states in the United States, take it from me, the US is a huge country. The entire continent of Europe is roughly the same size as the United States, to put things into perspective. Imagine driving from one end of Europe to the other end or even half of Europe in a week or two. That’s crazy, right? But yet some people come to the United States for the first time with the intention to drive across the United States, only to wind up spending most of their time in the car. There’s got to be a better way.

Here are some of my recommendations for a week-long itinerary in the United States, east coast only. If you have more than a week, add on days to either or both destination, according to your interests.

1) For the city-lover:  begin in New York City. With a population of over 8.6 million people, New York City is definitely a city with a lot to do and see. I’m not going to give recommendations for things to do and see in New York City, but I recommend staying here 4 or 5 days, depending on what you want to see and do. The noise and traffic can be a bit much for some people, so if you know you prefer to move on to a smaller area, I’d cut the time spent in New York to 3 days but wouldn’t go any less than that.

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Statue of Liberty- book your ticket several months in advance if you want to go to the top!

If you are a history buff, you can fly, drive a rental car, or take a train to Washington, D.C. There is an Amtrak train that will get you there in an hour less than it takes to drive (3 hours via train vs. 4 hours driving) and flying isn’t any faster, so I would recommend taking the train. Parking in both New York City and Washington, D.C. is expensive and difficult to find, not to mention the headache of simply driving in these hugely congested areas.

I suggest spending 2 or 3 days in Washington, D.C. As in New York City, public transportation is the best way to get around. The metro in Washington, D.C. can take you to the Smithsonian museums quickly and easily. I highly recommend spending time at the Smithsonian Museums, which are made up of 19 museums, galleries, gardens, and a zoo, all of which offer free admission. There are of course also the monuments and memorials you can admire on the National Mall. Most of the monuments and memorials are free or have a nominal fee. Check online to see if you need a ticket and if so buy it in advance.

2) For the history and nature-lover:  begin in Boston, Massachusetts. Boston is considerably smaller both in land mass and population than New York City and may be an easier transition for some people, especially those that don’t like large crowds. Boston has around 700,000 people but still has plenty to do and is also a great choice if you enjoy history. Again, I would recommend just using public transportation and walking to get around Boston. Although you could easily spend more time in Boston, 3 days would be a good amount to see the highlights.

From Boston, rent a car and drive up the coast to Maine. It’s a pretty long drive, at about 4 hours, 45 minutes. If you want to break up the drive, stop at Portland and spend the night here. Portland is full of great restaurants and nice places to stay. Your ultimate destination will be Bar Harbor, home to Acadia National Park. You could easily spend a week just in Acadia National Park, but if you’re only spending a week total in the US, you’ll have about 4 days here if you spend 3 days in Boston. You could also fly from Boston to Bar Harbor in about an hour, but honestly, the drive along the coast from Boston is worth it in my opinion.

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The beautiful coastline of Maine

3) For a beach experience and party scene:  fly into Miami, Florida. Miami is famous for its beautiful beaches, great food, and bar scene. If you like to hang out at the beach all day and party all night, Miami is the spot for you. Everglades National Park is also nearby if you want to take a ride through the Everglades in an airboat for a unique experience. Spend 5 days in Miami before heading to your next destination, Key West.

Key West is about 3 1/2 hours by car from Miami, although it could take longer if you stop at the many other little “keys” along the way. You can fly from Miami to Key West in 45 minutes if you are in a hurry, but if you want a memorable road trip, drive the Overseas Highway across a 113-mile chain of coral and limestone islands connected by 42 bridges, one of them seven miles long. Key West has a laid-back kind of feel, which may be a relief after the more upbeat party scene of Miami. Chill at the beaches and bars in Key West for 2 days before heading back home.

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One of many gorgeous sunsets we saw while in the keys!

4) To skip the bigger cities for a smaller-town feel:  fly into Atlanta, Georgia. Although Atlanta is a fun town and you could spend a few days here, for your first time to the United States, I suggest renting a car and driving the roughly 4 1/2 hours to Charleston, South Carolina. You could also fly into Charleston but flights from Europe will be cheaper if you fly into Atlanta. If you don’t have a driver’s license or can’t rent a car, by all means fly into Charleston instead. Charleston has consistently ranked number one city by Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards, and for good reason. Charleston is a foodie destination, has beautiful beaches with soft, powder-fine sand, is full of historical sites, and has quaint bed & breakfasts as well as the usual hotels and Airbnb offerings. Spend 5 days in Charleston before moving on to your next destination, Savannah, Georgia.

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Powder white, soft sandy beach in the Charleston area

It’s about a 2 hour drive from Charleston to Savannah. To me, Savannah is like the little sister to Charleston, in many ways. Savannah is a foodie destination, has beautiful beaches at Tybee Island, has many fun historical sites, all of which Charleston has, but Savannah hasn’t quite reached the level of “stardom” that Charleston has, for some reason. I suggest spending 2 days in Savannah before heading back and flying back out of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, about 3 1/2 hours away by car.

Those are my top east-coast destinations for first-timers to the United States. There are of course many more but I had to draw the line somewhere!

What about my American east-coasters? What east coast travel destinations would you recommend to first-timers coming to the US?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

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The Top of My Travel Bucket List

I feel like I’ve traveled a lot in the United States but not nearly as much throughout the rest of the world. Sometimes I envy people in Europe because they have so many other countries at their fingertips. I’ve only recently been to Chile, my first adventure in South America and I’ve never been to Asia, Africa, or Antarctica, which means I’ve been to four continents. This also means there are a whole lot of places I’d like to go to. I’m only going to give details here about the top three places on my bucket list, otherwise this post would be way too long!

One place I’m extremely curious about is the Canary Islands. It’s kind of funny because I’ve never been to Spain but I want to go to the Canary Islands, which are a Spanish archipelago off the coast of Africa. Some people might ask, “Why aren’t you going to Spain? Why the Canary Islands instead?” I guess my family and I just don’t travel like most Americans. We don’t go to Disney every summer or the same beach house every summer. We don’t always go to the usual hot spots (although we have been to many of the more popular places too including Disney); we like to veer off the beaten path a bit, however. I have no doubt I will eventually go to mainland Spain, but it’s just not a priority on my travel bucket list right now.

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Canary Islands- photo credit theculturetrip.com

So why the Canary Islands? The weather for starters. The Canary Islands have near-perfect weather year-round, perfect for spending time outdoors. Each of the islands are also diverse from one another, with subtropical greenery on one island, another has mountains and waterfalls, another has lava fields, and still another has plains and cacti. There are of course the beaches but I’m looking way beyond lying on the sand all day. I’m looking forward to hiking and exploring all day, then maybe relaxing by the water with a cocktail in the evening. Now that’s my idea of a perfect day.

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Photo credit thomson.co.uk

I’d also love to go to the country Georgia. I’ve heard other people rave about how beautiful it is, how friendly the people are, how delicious the food is, and how affordable it is. It’s no secret I love mountains, and the bigger the better. The highest mountain range in Europe is actually in Georgia (not the Alps). The Caucasus Mountains, which separate Georgia from Russia, look stunning.

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Georgia- photo by David Jafaridze
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Photo credit:  YourAmazingPlaces.com

Another place that most Americans probably aren’t dying to go to but I am is Malta. This is another place similar to the Canary Islands where the weather is (almost) perfect year-round. The lows in the winter are only around 55 F and the highs in the summer average around 90 F, so the summers are a bit hot, but nothing too terrible, this coming from someone who hates winter but loves summer. Malta is an archipelago off the coast of Sicily full of diverse history, great food, gorgeous beaches, and beautiful architecture. An advantage of going to Malta is the majority of people speak English, so other than a few key words and phrases, I won’t need to learn Maltese.

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Malta- photo credit davidsbeenhere.com
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Photo credit slh.com

There are so many other places in the world I’d love to go to and I have no doubt I will eventually go there. Some of those places include Uruguay, Montenegro, Croatia, South Island of New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, England, France, Ireland, Thailand, and Japan, for starters. I’m always discovering new places and/or hearing about places I’ve never been and my interest will be piqued.

What about you all? What’s at the top of your bucket list? Have any of you been to the Canary Islands, Malta, or Georgia and have tips or suggestions for me?

A Total Solar Eclipse is Coming- Plan Your Road Trip Now!

Something is going to happen in parts of the United States on August 21, 2017 that hasn’t happened since 1918. A total eclipse is going to occur when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, resulting in a 170 mile arc of darkness from parts of Oregon to parts of South Carolina. For several minutes, the sky will be dark enough to see stars and the sun will be completely covered by the moon.

For something so rare, it’s a perfect occasion for a road-trip, like my family is planning. It seems many others are also planning on visiting these places at the center of totality, as places are filling up fast. You will be able to see a partial eclipse from many other points of the US, but if you want to be in the center of all of the excitement, here are some places where you can spend a long weekend and join in the fun.

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Here are the states and cities with the best viewing spots:  Oregon has several cities; Driggs, Mud Lake, Rexburg, and Stanley, Idaho; several cities in Wyoming; several cities in Nebraska; Highland, Troy, and Wathena, Kansas; several cities in Missouri; several places in Illinois; several cities in Kentucky; several cities that are close but not at the center in Tennessee; Dillard and Sky Valley in Georgia; Andrews in North Carolina; and many places in South Carolina. The full listing is on this extensive web page. Some cities are close to the edge of the path but you’ll see more if you drive 30-50 miles north or south. In this case, close won’t be good enough. You really have to be in the center of the path to see the total eclipse.

One of the best places to find exactly where the path will go is on Xavier Jubier’s 2017 Total Eclipse Interactive Google Map. This very detailed web page also has basic information describing the eclipse and why this one is so special. There are also viewing times listed, many maps, and information on how to prepare for the eclipse.

The highlight of the eclipse when the sun is completely blocked by the moon will be quick, so make sure you get to your spot early. For most cities, totality will only last around 2 or 3 minutes. The complete event going from one end of the United States to the other is only expected to last less than 15 minutes. It should be a once in a lifetime experience, however.

Don’t forget to get some eclipse glasses, but you don’t need to invest huge amounts of money for them. They shouldn’t cost more than a few dollars for a pair. Regular sunglasses or homemade eclipse glasses won’t protect your eyes, so definitely buy a pair made specifically for an eclipse.

The next eclipse of this magnitude in the United States isn’t predicted to occur until 2045, so don’t wait around for the next one to happen. Make your plans now while you still can!

 

 

Run the Reagan Half Marathon, Georgia-14th state

For my half marathon in Georgia, I really wanted to run the one on Tybee Island.  However, the year I was planning on running it, there was talk of cancelling it so to be on the safe side I found another half in Snellville, Georgia around the same time (February) and thought that would be fine.  I was very wrong indeed.

My word of advice:  think twice about running a race that’s entirely on an expressway.  For much of the race, all I could see was the highway and trees along the sides and nothing else.  At least in my experience, highways aren’t the most scenic of places.  Even worse, your sense of direction is thrown off because all you see is miles upon miles of highway with no houses or anything to break up the distances so it’s really difficult to judge how far you’ve gone or how far you have left.

I received a cotton long-sleeve shirt of pretty low-quality and a fairly plain medal; both had the race logo on them (the red, yellow, and blue squares), as seen on the banner in the photo below.  Food at the finish was the usual bananas, oranges, bagels, water.  It was so cold and rainy I didn’t even want to get any food, though.  I just wanted to get back to my warm hotel room.

This was a race that I was happy to just finish.  After I was done running, we couldn’t get out of there fast enough.  We did have a fun time in Atlanta, which was close-by so I’m glad we could at least enjoy the sights there.

If you’re looking for things to do in Atlanta, here are just a few suggestions and some of the things my family and I did while we were there:  visit the Atlanta Botanical Garden, be awed by all of the animals at the Georgia Aquarium, see some art exhibits at the High Museum of Art and get a burger and milkshake at the The Varsity, the world’s largest drive-in restaurant.

From my post-race notes:

“Ran along Ronald Reagan expressway for entire course (very boring, not scenic at all). Hillier than expected.  Chilly and rainy.  Not one of the best races I’ve ran.  Had great kids play area at start/finish area, but was too rainy and cold for the kids to even enjoy them. My finish time was 1:59:49.”

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Run the Reagan Half Marathon