Hey babes! I recently returned from my first ever USA road trip and am so excited to share those trip details with you all today! My friend/college roommate Mairin and I have talked about doing a USA road trip for months now, and decided the summer post-grad was a good time to do it. Road tripping is a safe and viable option right now because it’s easy to social distance, you can stay away from most people, create your own flexible schedule, and best of all- it’s super affordable! Keep reading to learn more about our USA road trip itinerary and some necessary road trip essentials you should pack!
So, we left Boston on Tuesday, July 28th at 8 am and returned on Friday, August 7th at 4 pm. 11 days, 13 states, 20 cities, and 2,738 miles. I’ve road tripped through places such as Queensland and Tasmania, Australia, but was so excited to explore more of my home country. I have a goal of visiting all 50 states before I turn 50, and a USA road trip is a great way to knock a few more states off my bucket list.
Let’s start from the beginning, shall we.
Our USA Road Trip Itinerary
Day 1: Boston to Washington D.C.
Today was the big kahuna of our trip, if you will. Eight hours of driving with minimal planned stops. Mairin and I both went to school in Connecticut at Fairfield University near NYC. We’ve explored New York City several times before, so we cruised from Boston through New York. If you’ve ever driven through New York, you’ve probably gone over the infamous GW bridge. It was a total nightmare to say the least. One hour of bumper to bumper traffic, sandwiched between 18-wheelers. Next up was the Jersey Turnpike. This highway has six lanes on each side, but three of those lanes are for trucks only. I actually didn’t mind this portion of the drive. After four hours behind the wheel, Mairin took over and drove us two more hours to our first stop- Philadelphia, PA!
Right off 95-S was the Orginal Tony Luke’s– one of the best cheesesteak stops in Philly! We took a late lunch break and had a famous Philly cheesesteak (to-go of course) before the hitting the road for another hour or so down to Baltimore, Maryland.
Neither of us had ever been to Baltimore, and I really enjoyed it! I recommend walking around Fell’s Point- the historical area of the city. There were lots of cute shops, taverns, and old homes located here. We also walked to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the most touristy part of the city, briefly to see the skyline and snap some photos. We returned to the car and drove one more hour to our final destination- Alexandria, VA, stopping along the way for gas. Gas breaks are much needed to stretch the legs.
We finally arrived in Alexandria at 7 pm and ordered Indian takeout for dinner. Mairin’s aunt and uncle were nice enough to let us stay with them in their downstairs guest room. Trust me when I say we slept like babies.
Day 2: Washington D.C.
Today was our only day in D.C. and we really made the most of it! We had a yummy and healthy breakfast at South Block in Old Town Alexandria first thing in the morning. Street parking was super easy to find here and the açaí bowls were delicious! We spent a few hours exploring the Old Town and Waterfront, something I definitely recommend doing if you’re in the area. Next, we drove to Georgetown for some shopping and to walk around. I had to take a work call from the car, but I met back up with Mairin afterwards at Baked and Wired for a treat! Most people have Georgetown Cupcakes when they visit D.C., but I highly recommend Baked and Wired! It’s right in Georgetown too and even yummier!
Around 2 pm we drove to the Washington Mall and found three hour street parking for $7. We spent the next few hours exploring the monuments of the Mall. Unfortunately, all the Smithsonian Museums were closed due to COVID-19, but we were able to take photos in front of the Capitol building, Washington Monument, and White House. It was extremely hot this day, so we eventually rented Bird scooters and cruised down the Mall, stopping at the World War II Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, and finally, the Lincoln Memorial. The city scooters are super fun and convenient, but they were so expensive for some reason- about $1/minute! We used them for like 15 minutes max, but they were fun!
We hung out at the Lincoln Memorial for awhile before heading back to the car and driving to the Wharf. This was a new part of D.C. for me, so I enjoyed walking along the water here and seeing all the restaurants. Definitely come here if you’re looking to grab a bite in the city! At dinnertime we made our way back to Alexandria, had a home cooked meal with Mairin’s family, and slept great! So grateful for that.
Day 3: Washington D.C. to Harpers Ferry, WV to Roanoke, VA
Today was an exciting day of the USA road trip because I got to cross a new state off my list- West Virginia! We left Alexandria bright and early and drove an hour to Harper’s Ferry, WV, blasting Take Me Home (Country Roads) the whole way. When we arrived we were blown away by this town.
First, the Appalachian Trail (AT) runs right through Harper’s Ferry and is pretty much the halfway spot, so LOTS of hikers were here. We began our day by hiking part of the AT ourselves. Just a mile of it, aka like 1% of the whole trail, but it was thrilling nonetheless. The trail passes by Jefferson Rock, which had great views of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers below. Next, we had lunch at one of the many cute bistros downtown and did some shopping.
We stopped in a charming candy store and quickly learned it wasn’t just any candy store- True Treats Historic Candy is the country’s only historic candy shop. As you browse the store, you’re taken back through time. Beginning with honeys and teas in the 1500s, you move your way through the 1600s when candy was used primarily for medicinal purposes (imagine that!). Then, the 1700s when marshmallows and candy corn (aka chicken feed) were popular. The 1800s, 1900s, and finally modern day, where we found Reese’s, Hershey’s, etc. When we were checking out, the cashier told us she often sees candy fly off the shelves as Harpers Ferry is extremely haunted.
We learned more about this from just walking around and reading about the history of the town. Harper’s Ferry was once a booming Civil War artillery manufacturer, and still has factories and freight rails to prove it. The town has been completely restored and is basically one giant museum! It’s also one of the most haunted places in the US. The ghost tour here has actually been voted the number one ghost tour in America, but unfortunately (or fortunatley??) we couldn’t stay late enough for it.
At 2 pm we had a white water kayaking excursion booked down the Potomac River with River & Trail Outfitters. We had the option to white water raft or kayak, and chose kayaking so we could social distance. Our guide brought us through class 2 and 3 rapids, occasionally getting ahead as we got stuck on rocks. The water levels were low, so the rapids were very small. I was glad for this since I was in my own vessel, completely responsible for myself, but would’ve been disappointed if I was in a raft. It was really calm, but fun!
The third option in this area is to just tube and we had a small hiccup with this when one woman needed assistance on her tube because of a heat stroke, but she was okay. Our guides had to jump into action, leaving us stranded for an hour. It was a total shit show, or as a man in our group described- a fecal matinee. I’m going to remember that one.
We dried off after our excursion and at 5 pm, left for a three hour drive south to Roanoke, Virginia. We stayed in a Super 8 tonight- one of the many budget hotels in the US, and slept really well!
Day 4: Roanoke, VA to Appalachia, VA to Johnson City, TN
This morning we got up bright and early and drove another three hours to the southwestern tip of Virginia to a town called Appalachia. Mairin had spent several summers here working for a company called ASP, so was excited to go back. I had to work most of this day, but I did join her for a visit to the local general store, town tour, and a hike. We visited Flag Rock and had a 360 degree view of the Appalachian mountain range, including views of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
I didn’t know what to expect when visiting this region, but it was beautiful! Great views and zero tourists. We left Appalachia around dinnertime and drove an hour to Johnson City, TN, stopping spontaneously along the way to see Virginia’s Natural Cave.
That’s the beauty of a USA road trip- you have complete flexibility to do whatever you want!
We had a socially-distant happy hour drink at Yee-Haw Brewery in Johnson City and a yummy dinner before crashing at a nearby Red Roof Inn. Red Roof is another budget hotel in the US, and costs us $50 for the night.
Day 5: Johnson City, TN to Pigeon Forge, TN to Knoxville, TN to Nashville, TN
We left Johnson City early this morning and drove 1.5 hours to Pigeon Forge. Pigeon Forge is the WEIRDEST place on earth. It’s a giant amusement park town in the middle of the Smokey Mountains in eastern Tenneseee. Lining each side of the main road through town are hundreds (literally hundreds) of arcades, amusement parks, interactive museums, water parks, malls, dinner shows, etc. You name it they probably have it. This place was definitely NOT COVID-friendly, so Mairin and I stayed in our car the entire time, expect for when we pulled over to take a picture in front of the upside down White House (pictured below), and for a quick stop at the Old Mill Town to buy some moonshine (a Tennessee classic). I would consider returning here in the future with kids since there is so much to do, but it’s quite tacky.
We continued on another hour west to Knoxville, TN which we both LOVED! Knoxville is a mid-size southern city home to the University of Tennessee. We explored Market Square, where most of Knoxville’s outdoor entertainment, shops, and restaurants are located. We had the best burger EVER at Stock & Barrel. If you ever find yourself in Knoxville, go out of your way to go here- it was that good. We also explored the main street, S. Gay Street, and some murals before returning to the car. After a quick drive through the UT campus, we hit the road for the final drive of the day- 2.5 hours to Nashville!
We arrived in Nashville around dinnertime and checked into our hotel, The Capitol Hotel Downtown, Ascend Hotel Collection. The hotel was on Expedia for a great price and it’s located right downtown, so I recommend it! We walked to Martin’s BBQ near Vanderbilt for dinner tonight. Thanks Melinda for the recommendation!
Day 6: Nashville, TN
Today was our full day in Nashville, and just like D.C., I felt so grateful to have a car. We were able to squeeze so much into the day because we could drive everywhere and were able to find cheap, or even free, street parking! We began the day by doing a backstage tour of the Grand Ole Opry.
A quick note about tours right now- all of them are regulated! Meaning a mask must be worn, group sizes are limited to pretty much 6 people per tour, and we even social distanced on the tour. Temperature checks are taken at most attractions too, so I felt super safe.
Our tour began with an inspiring video showing artists performing at the Opry and being asked to become official members. I thought the Opry was a famous concert venue, but it’s actually a broadcast station that invites artists in every Saturday night to perform for an intimate audience, and air live. If they’re good enough, they get to join the elite circle of artists and become a member of the Opry.
Our tour brought us through Studio A, where after-show parties are often held, and to all the dressing rooms. Each room had a different theme and were preferred by different artists. We also saw the wall with all the member plaques and the living room where the artists often hangout before going on stage. The highlight of the tour was getting to stand in the famous Ryman circle on stage and look out into the audience, just like the stars do. Being on the stage was so surreal! I highly recommend this tour to everyone- country music fan or not!
After our tour we drove back into the city (the Opry is about 20 minutes from downtown) to 12 South. This neighborhood is super up & coming. We got coffee from the Frothy Monkey, donuts from Five Daughters bakery, and took photos in front of the several murals here.
The most famous ones are:
Draper James Mural- Located at 2608 12th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37204
I Believe in Nashville Mural- Located at 2702 12th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37204
Nashville Looks Good on You Mural- Located at 2511 12th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37204
Next, we drove to the Gulch neighborhood for a quick photo in front of the famous #WhatLiftsYou wings mural before heading to the Drippy Lips mural for one more picture and some shopping.
At 2 pm, we drove to Broadway for a late lunch at Hattie B’s. This place is a Nashville classic and a MUST if you ever visit the city. I don’t love spice, so I got the mild chicken sandwich, but it was delicious. Their coleslaw and mac-n-cheese also slapped.
After lunch we brought the car back to the hotel where we could park it for free and walked 0.5 miles to Broadway, passing the Ryman Auditorium along the way. We wanted to avoid Broadway because of COVID, but most of the bars were closed anyways so it wasn’t too busy. All bars were offering to-go drinks through little pop-up windows which I thought was a creative way to stay in business. We made our way directly to the Johnny Cash Museum and walked around here for awhile. It was interesting to learn about Cash’s life and listen to some of his old-school music! From here, we listened to some live music and made our way back to the hotel to change for dinner. We ate at Puckett’s which I also highly recommend! Try their fried green tomatoes- you can’t fully experience the south without them.
Day 7: Nashville, TN to Jeffersonville, IN to Louisville, KY to Cincinnati, OH
Today was easily the busiest day we had on our USA road trip. We left Nashville early and drove north into Kentucky. Shortly after crossing the border and stopping for a quick photo in front of the Kentucky state sign (hello new state!), my car started to shake. We pulled off the first exit we could and stumbled into a Shell parking lot, which happened to have a truck wash and repair shop in it. God bless! After having some mechanics look at my car, it was determined that I needed my front two rotors replaced. This came at a hefty fee, but it would’ve been a miracle to get home without a small breakdown. This took about two hours start to finish, giving Mairin and I plenty of time to record this week’s Abroad Pod episode. Take a listen if you haven’t already! It’s a funny one.
Around lunchtime we were back on the road and drove two more hours to Jeffersonville, Indiana. It’s RIGHT over the border from Louisville, and I had never been…so why not. So, we got lunch in Indiana. And successfully visited state number 12.
After some salads in a park, we crossed back over to Kentucky and drove to Churchill Downs. I was super excited to visit Churchill Downs because the Kentucky Derby has always been on my bucket list! We were planning on just visiting the Derby museum, but ended up scoring the last two spots on the Derby tour! We got an inside walk through the stadium and down to the tracks. I learned a lot about the jockeys, the prestige of the race, and even learned that there are over 1,200 horses in the barns at all times as this track is a common training location as well!
After our tour, we cruised through Old Louisville to see some of the famous Victorian homes located here before driving 1.5 hours north to Cincinnati.
We arrived in Cincinnati just in time for a home cooked dinner, courtesy of Mairin’s friend Kelsey! After dinner, we went to Graeter’s for the best ice cream in Cincinnati and it did NOT disappoint!
Day 8: Cincinnati, OH to Columbus OH, to Hudson, OH
We began our grand Ohio day of the USA road trip at the Cincinnati Botanical Gardens and Zoo. Maybe you’ve heard of this place? Not only is it one of the best zoos in the country, it’s where the gorilla Harambe was tragically shot in 2016 after a little boy fell into the enclosure. I didn’t realize this until I saw the enclosure in person and recognized it from the news. Crazy! The zoo was beautiful though. The botanical gardens were all over the zoo, so the zoo grounds were stunning. The enclosures here were HUGE, well-kept, and no animals were in cages (hence why the boy was able to fall in). We saw tons of animals, even a polar bear swimming in icy water!
The zoo is one giant loop, so it was easy to walk around. You could easily spend all day here with young kids, but we did the loop in about two hours. Next, we drove to the OTR neighborhood in Cincinnati for lunch. We got bagels at OTR bagels (so good) and ate them outside. This part of the city really surprised me. It’s SO charming. I highly recommend visiting if you can.
After lunch we walked through the Findlay Market, one of the best food markets in the country before hitting the road 1.5 hours to Columbus. Columbus is the capital of Ohio and home to The Ohio State University (go Buckeyes!). I had to work most of the time we were here, but I got to walk around the campus a bit and see the stadium. I’m sure there’s much more to do in Columbus, but we were only here for two hours.
From Columbus we drove another 1.5 hours to Hudson, OH. Hudson was Mairin’s home town as a child, so I was glad to accompany her back. We got dinner in the downtown and swung by her old house. We stayed at another budget hotel tonight- a common theme on our USA road trip.
Day 9: Hudson, OH to Pittsburgh, PA to Gettysburg, PA
This morning I did some work in a cafe downtown before meeting Mairin for lunch at her favorite restaurant growing up- Dave’s Cosmic Subs. It was super yummy for sure, but I think she hyped it up a bit too much lol. It was just a sub.
After lunch we bid fairwell to Ohio and drove 1.5 hours past farmland to Pittsburgh, PA. We got to Pittsburgh around 3 pm and checked into a not so great Motel 6. Since we made such good timing and didn’t have too much planned for Pittsburgh, we decided to get our money back and hop back in the car to drive east. The power of a USA road trip people!
Before departing Pittsburgh we did do two fun things. The first was the Duquesne Incline. This 19th century tram runs every 3-5 minutes and brings tourists to an overlook of the city. It was $5 roundtrip and so worth it! The views of Pittsburgh from up above were awesome. We could see the whole city, its many bridges, and the point where the three rivers there connect. I recommend this activity if you’re in the area! Next, we drove 20 minutes east to Abby Lee Miller’s Dance studio. We HAD to. If you grew up watching Dance Moms religiously like I did, you would’ve stopped too. The studio was closed so we couldn’t go inside, but we used Mairin’s tripod to snap some selfies out front!
At 5 pm we spontaneously left Pittsburgh and drove 2.5 hours east to Gettysburg, PA, stopping for dinner on the way. We booked a last minute stay at a Super 8 in Gettysburg and made good timing getting there. We did have a bit of a hiccup when we got pulled over for having a front headlight out (we had no idea!), but all was well.
Before falling asleep Mairin told me that Gettysburg is the most haunted city in the entire US, so I slept GREAT.
Day 10: Gettysburg, PA to Lancaster, PA to Fairfield, CT
We slept in a bit this morning before checking out and heading downtown for breakfast. Historic Gettysburg is super charming and was actually one of my favorite stops. So much history here! At 11:15, we met at the Visitors Center for a bus tour. Another great, socially-distant, regulated tour. There were only a few of us on the tour so Mairin and I got our own seats and could really spread out. We kept our masks on the entire time and learned so much about the Civil War. Our bus tour drove us throughout both the Union and Confederate lines, several battlefields, and past many, many monuments. We had stops at Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, and to see the eternal flame. I couldn’t believe how vast the battlefields were.
We learned that over 50,000 soldiers died as a result of this battle, making Gettysburg one of the most haunted cities in the US. There is an epic ghost tour here as well, if you’re interested.
After our tour we left Gettysburg and drove 1.5 hours east to Lancaster, PA. Lancaster is in Amish country and is famous for its bakeries, horse & buggies, and farmland. To my surprise, the actual city of Lancaster was bustling with lots to see and do. The farms are in Lancaster County. Mairin and I drove to a town called Bird In Hand and ate lunch at the Amish Farm & House. This place had a lot going on- farm animals to feed, goat yoga, home tours, gift shops, restaurants, wagon rides, etc. We got Amish BBQ for lunch and explored the grounds. The pulled pork and roasted potatoes here were seriously some of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
After our lunch we hopped back into the car and drove three hours to Fairfield, CT. I drove over the Tappan Zee bridge this time around- way less stressful than the GW! We made it to Fairfield just in time for dinner and grabbed our favorite- Colony Pizza. We enjoyed our pizza in our college town before staying with our friend Megan. Thanks Megan!
Day 11: Fairfield, CT to Home
This morning we left Fairfield early and drove to Berlin, CT to get tested for COVID-19. Our last stop on our USA road trip. We were both very confident we were healthy as we took all necessary precautions throughout our trip. Wearing a mask 24/7, washing our hands throughout the day, maintaining distance from locals, and honestly- just by spending all day everyday with each other. It was just us two in the hotels and car each day, so we didn’t come into contact with very many people. We both got tested for peace of mind and to return to our home states. The testing process took literally 5 hours, but we both got the call later that day that we were negative and made it home by dinnertime. I’m so grateful that I was able to do this trip and return home healthy and safe.
I hope you all enjoyed reading about our USA road trip and the details of my most recent adventure. I plan on writing another blog post soon all about planning, preparing, and packing for a USA road trip, so stay tuned for that! If anyone has any questions about any of the cities we visited, feel free to leave them in the comments below or DM me on Instagram @nicole.rosania. Stay healthy!
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