The United States is a great country to travel around by car. Whether you have a lot of time or not, there is always a road trip that fits your needs. That’s why we’ve created this USA East Coast Road Trip Itinerary for you. In just 3 weeks’ time, you’ll see a lot of the highlights the East Coast of the USA has to offer.
The USA is one of the first countries where we saw the scenery change every two or three hours. One minute we were in de wet grasslands and the next we were in the midst of a high mountain. That’s what makes this USA East Coast Road Trip so worth it! Even though some stretches might seem long, you won’t get bored.
The east coast of the USA is spectacular and in three weeks you’re able to visit quite a few highlights. We’ll share our route and tell you everything you need to know to make a road trip yourself!
Where to start
Basically, you could start anywhere on the route that you see above. Because it’s a circle you’ll get to all the highlights. So it depends on where you’re coming from. We started in Fort Lauderdale, just because that was the cheapest flight we could find from Colombia to the USA.
From Fort Lauderdale, we drove right to the Everglades. A few hours of driving over some highways. The scenery of the big city quickly changed to a flat scenery with grass and trees. The little towns and motels gave us those American vibes we got from the West Coast.
Where to rent a car
There are a lot of different companies where you’re able to rent a car. We decided to go with Alamo and it was the best choice. Usually, when you head over to the rental car booth they give you a set of keys and that’s that. But Alamo send us to the parking lot and told us to pick our own vehicle! Of course, within the range of what we booked. But still, this was the first time this happened.
There were a lot of cars to choose from, so we could take into account the amount of luggage that we were bringing with us (2 big backpacks and 2 small ones). We sat in a couple and picked one that we thought was best for our USA East Coast Road Trip
A couple of things to keep in mind:
Bring a credit card because almost all rental companies charge a deposit as a damage waiver/extended protection. Make sure you read the small print and know what is covered and what’s not. You don’t want to end up in an accident and lose a lot of money.
Some companies have unlimited mileages which is great if you’re planning a road trip. You don’t want to calculate how much you’ll drive beforehand or have to skip a detour because you’ll go over your miles. The charge for extra miles is usually pretty expensive and not having to think of this gives you peace of mind.
Most rental car companies in the United States require the driver to be 21 years or older. In some states, you’re able to rent a car if you’re 18 years or older. Some companies have additional fees as long as you’re under 25, so keep this in mind. Do some research to make sure you get the best deal.
Where To Stay
This was the second time during our world trip we decided to stay at motels. When we arrived at the first one we were a bit apprehensive because of everything we’ve seen in series or movies. But it turned out to be quite nice. It’s not that different from a hotel, other than that you park your car in front of your room.
Most motels offer breakfast, although breakfast is a big word. They’ll have coffee and usually a lot of sweet treats. Sometimes we were lucky and they had cereal or waffles or bagels. Check the reviews when you’re booking a motel because people will usually let you know. If they only have a coffee bar you could get some breakfast at the supermarket or leave early and find a diner along the route.
The smaller and more unknown the town, the cheaper accommodation you can find. And don’t forget about Airbnb for the cities! A lot of people will offer a guest room or garage for a better price than any hotel you’ll find.
Check our accommodations here.
Fort Lauderdale – 1 night
We landed in Fort Lauderdale and rented a motel for one night, with an airport shuttle. When we arrived at the airport we had to call the motel via a free phone. The guy said we had to get a cab which he will pay for. The cab driver wasn’t really happy with us, but he took us anyway. He was paid by the motel.
The next morning we went to the reception for the shuttle back to the airport, which was mentioned on Booking.com and by the owner himself. The shuttle bus was in front of the reception, but the guy behind the desk didn’t want to take us. We just left and met a nice lady with a small BMW who took us to the airport. So much for the first impression of the East Coast.
We got our car and set course to the Everglades. We stop at Homestead since the drive to the Everglades is a bit too far for just one day.
Homestead – Everglades – 1 night
From Homestead, we drive to Everglades, a national park located in the south of Florida. Mostly known for the alligators and hurricanes. We saw some damage from the recent hurricanes and we also saw some alligators.
There are multiple parts of this park and it is a good idea to visit the visitor’s center first to get a good idea about the size and the things you could do.
In most parking lots you’ll find big boxes with plastic covers. Don’t ignore them, but use them to wrap your car with them. There are a few big birds around the Everglades that love cars. They could do serious damage and the wrappers should prevent this.
The first trail we did was The Anhinga Trail, which is sort of a long boardwalk that brings you through some of the swamp-like areas. This is where you can find alligators. You could also do some guided tours. Don’t walk too fast, take your time. Otherwise, you will miss the animals.
After The Anhinga Trail, we took the car and drove to Mahogany Hammock. Another boardwalk but less water. It made us think of Mulu National Park. You’ll see some big old trees and the walk is about 45 minutes.
Our last stop is West Lake, an enormous lake that should be filled with boats. Except… There was nothing. Due to the hurricanes, most of the visitors stay away. The bridge has been damaged so we can’t do a full walk.
Naples – 2 nights
The main reason we went to Naples is to see dolphins. They come really close to the beach and you can swim with them or just watch them from the jetty. Because of hurricane Irma, the jetty was closed due to repairs. But we did see some dolphins in the far distance. The beach is nice too and it shows that most people are retirees that love to gossip.
Besides dolphins, there is much more to do in Naples. For example Tin City. Multiple buildings are connected to each other and it’s the best place for finding souvenirs and other small items. It really had a nice vibe walking around. You don’t have to buy anything, the visit alone is worth it.
Naples is also good for shopping. Or window-shopping if you are on a tight budget, like us. There are some expensive shops in the city center, which is called Fifth Avenue, just like in New York.
Napels – Tallahassee – New Orleans – 2 nights
From Naples, we go to New Orleans. It’s a long drive so we decided to make one stop at Tallahassee. We took the tourist drive and there wasn’t much to see. So from Tallahassee, we took the direct route to New Orleans. Our motel was a bit outside the town.
There is just too much to see in New Orleans if you just have one day. So a good idea is to go to the visitor’s center. Close to this visitors center is the St. Louis cemetery. If you want to visit the inside of this surrounded-by-huge-walls-so-you-can’t-see-anything cemetery you’ll have to pay 20 dollars (2017) and go in groups of 3 or 4 people.
The one thing that attracts most visitors is the French Quarter. In this oldest neighborhood, you can find a lot of bars and restaurants. People are just walking, playing music, or earning money in some other creative way. This part of the town really comes to life at night.
We walk through all the famous streets and walk to the backside of the big cathedral, which is called St. Louis Cathedral (everything is called Louis). This is the oldest church in the USA and is worth a visit. Outside you have a great view over the water. We walk back alongside the cathedral and find ourselves in the Pirate’s Alley. Why they call it like this is unknown, but these days this alley is full of local artists.
After a small walk, we see a very white cathedral. It really reflects the sunlight. From here we walk towards Jackson Square, dedicated to Andrew Jackson. The French Quarter is built around this park.
From Jackson Square, it’s a small walk to the French Market. An open building with all kinds of little stalls. Some sell food and some sell souvenirs. If you are hungry after all these impressions, St Roch is a foodcourt with a lot of different types of food. It’s not far from the French Market.
The last place we visited was Louis Armstrong Park. A big, green park where you can have a seat or a walk. There is often some band playing some music.
Memphis – 2 nights
After New Orleans, it’s time to head north, towards Memphis. Everyone knows this city for Elvis and you can visit his home Graceland. We didn’t because we drove up and saw like 5 buses of Chinese people getting ready to take over the whole premises. It was also really expensive.
Instead, we went to Beale Street. A street with a lot of bars where Elvis spent his youth. Sadly, we were here before noon, on a Monday, in the rain… And everything was closed. It does have a special vibe. Lucky for us Starbucks was open.
But our biggest attraction was at the Peabody Hotel. Here you can see people from the hotel bring in … Ducks. Every morning around 11:00 they bring the ducks from the roof to the inside fountain. It feels and looks a bit like a short circus act, but an adorable one.
Cookeville – Cherokee – 3 nights
Time to get moving again. We drive eastwards and we take one night at Cookeville before arriving in Cherokee. A small lumberjack town high in the mountains. A very nice drive, until it became foggy and we both got car sick.
We are back in nature. The Great Smokey Mountains is a very nice national park and in the period we arrive – autumn – the colors were so nice. There isn’t much to do in Cherokee, but the hiking and quietness are a warm welcome for us.
You can visit the Mountain Farm Museum, which shows the oldest cabins and log buildings. But the only reason to come here is to enjoy nature and the laid-back people.
Charleston – 3 nights
Next up is Charleston. Since it’s cheaper to find a motel outside the city, we drove into Charleston. This town offers a few bus lines that are free and you can hop in and out whenever you’d like. Make sure to get the information and the map from the visitor’s center.
The city market is a huge building of four blocks where people sell their souvenirs. Back in 1790 they sold cotton, meat, and other food. It was a nice stroll until we noticed that 99% of the stalls sell the same thing.
We walk further into town and walk past Dock Street Theater. This used to be a hotel for people that worked the cotton fields. The building is still being used but has been modernized on the inside.
A bit further we enter the French Quarter, just like in New Orleans. It really brought us back in time. The buildings look really old, some people own and show off their old cars, and the roads are paved with cobblestones. Here you also find the Rainbow Row, a row of houses painted in different colors.
Charleston is built next to the water and this is noticeable at the Waterfront Park. Here you can also see how the city has grown over the years. From small harbor town to big city.
St. Augustine – 3 nights
We drive down to the south again and stop at St. Augustine. A small town that is most famous for its old fort. The Bridge of Lions is almost a spectacle to drive over and it gives you a great view over the water.
We took one day to see the fort, named Castillo de San Marcos. We went early to avoid the masses. The fort looks enormous on the outside, but once inside it looks rather small. You can visit the ammo depot, barracks, kitchen, bathroom (if you can call it that), chapel, prison, and much more. Take a good look at the walls. There are built with coquina. A combination of shells, sand, and mortar. This combination was perfect for absorbing cannon balls.
Don’t forget to visit the town itself. The main street, St. George Street, looks like a scene from the Pirates of the Caribbean. But the shops are fun to see. Take a stroll to the Oldest Wooden School House.
At the end of St. George Street, you’ll find the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. It’s worth a look inside. It’s bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside.
A bit further you’ll find Plaza de la Constitución. A public park used for all sorts of things. Check out the agenda, you might walk into a very nice free concert.
Orlando – 4 nights
From St. Augustine, we drove to Orlando. Not because we love big cities, but to celebrate Rieneke’s birthday. We went to Disney World!
Orlando has one of the biggest Disney Worlds. First up: Animal Kingdom. We took a Uber to the entrance of the park because parking here is really expensive. We took the whole day to see all kinds of animals, shows, and other entertainment. The highlight was the area where they build a whole world for Avatar. We didn’t do the attractions, because the waiting time was 320 minutes.
We also took a safari tour, called Kilimanjaro Safari. Here you have someone drive you through different areas where the animals live.
It all feels like a really big zoo, but better. We never saw so many animals in one place. The shows were very good and the information about the animals was even better.
The next day we visited Disney World. We did most attractions and were beat after this day. The park is really big and set up in such a way you won’t miss anything. Make sure to bring a map and install the app so you know when certain shows will start.
After Disney World, we went back to our motel. This was our last activity for this road trip. Time to ride back to Fort Lauderdale.
A 3-week USA East Coast Road Trip
Well, that concludes our three-week road trip itinerary for your USA East Coast Road Trip. If you don’t have a lot of time this road trip will get you the most of your time without feeling stressed or crowded. The East Coast of the USA is versatile and has a lot of different faces which makes it a lot of fun for a road trip. You won’t get bored because the scenery changes and all the highlights are not too far apart.
If you have a little extra time just add a night to your favorite places. As we said in the beginning, you could start at any point in this itinerary but Fort Lauderdale makes the most sense. You’ll be able to get a nice rental car and start your trip the right way.
Let us know if you have any questions, we’ll be more than happy to help you. And if you have any great additions to this itinerary share them in the comment section!
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