Help with our first ever big trip-East coast USA

Travel Forums North America Help with our first ever big trip-East coast USA

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1. Posted by samanthah (Budding Member 10 posts) 15y Star this if you like it!

Hi everyone,
this summer my friend and I are planning to travel down the East Coast of America for five weeks, and then go to the carribean for a week. This is my first time ever planning a big trip, and while it's so much fun, i also need any advice we can get!(and i know u guys are all experts lol)
So, questions...
we're planning on starting in Boston, and working down to Florida over the 5 weeks. We have family in Boston, NY and Florida, as well as some in the suburbs of Atlanta, so we'll probably definitely be stopping in those places. Other than that, I was thinking Washington, Philadelphia, and maybe Chicago? Are those good ideas?? Where else is a good place to visit on the East Coast? Ideas please!!
We're only 18 so can't rent a car: would you reccomend Amtrak or Greyhound more? The Amtrak pass seems to be a lot better value, but i've read the trains are very unreliable. Is this true?
Also, I'd love to visit a national park. How easy is it to get toand around them on public transport?
Finally any other ideas would be really appreciated. We really want this trip to be amazing, but being 18 year old students, we'll be on a very tight budget...
Thank you so much in anticipation of help!

2. Posted by eazeliff (Full Member 23 posts) 15y Star this if you like it!

The trains are not necessarily unreliable, but the problem with your routing is that it is not possible to travel a direct route between such places as Atlanta and Florida, or Atlanta and Chicago. To visit National Parks by public transport is quite a challenge - I', hard pressed to think of any in the east that you could do by bus or train. You can see lots of historic sights, but these would be restricted to cities. Maybe later tonight I'll come up with a brainstorm or two. Greyhound isn't a thrill, but can be extremely useful.

3. Posted by TimmyG (Budding Member 6 posts) 15y Star this if you like it!

First of all, congratulations on taking on a trip like this - you'll enjoy it, and you'll learn alot - particularly about yourself.

I can definitely vouch for stopping in Philadelphia and Washington D.C.

Philly is the personification of many values that were particular to America before the rest of the world caught on and adopted them as well. THis ranges from the egalitarian views of William Penn and the Quakers, to simple concepts like streets in a grid pattern.

With this as background, make sure you visit Independence Hall in Center City, and all of the surrounding sites, such as Ben Franklin's house. Also, be sure to sample Philly cuisine. It would be a crime if you didn't sample a cheesesteak and a soft pretzel.

Since you're going during the summer, I'd recommend a visit to the Jersey Shore for a day (or longer) at the beach. From Philadelphia, you can easily take rail or bus to Atlantic City, though the crassness of the casinos make me suggest that you aim to visit one island south (Ocean City) or one island north (Long Beach Island.)

note: you could also reach the Shore (particularly Atlantic City) from New York.

Continuing south by train would take you thru Baltimore (worth a day, if you can spare it) and D.C.

(Btw: Amtrak trains anywhere between DC and Boston are reliable, economical, and a better option than any other form of transit. However, outside this corridor, it's hit or miss.)

D.C. is filled with impressive monuments and museums. I'd highly recommend a tour of the Capital building (free). If museums aren't your thing, you can enjoy DC's mix of foreign cultures and lively nieghborhoods (like Georgetown and DuPont circle.) Also, there's a good amount of nature: Great Falls (the falls of the Potomac river is just outside DC proper) is to me one of the most impressive natural sights near a major city.

If it's natural sights that you're looking for (in the form of a National Park), the best, easiest one for you to access is the Shenandoah, set in the Blue Ridge mountains about 1.5 - 2hrs. outside DC. The Shenandoah - topped by the Skyline drive and the Appalachain Trail - is a mountain range overlooking the Shenandoah Valley (which itself is bordered by the Alleghany mtns.)

Unfortunately, I've never looked into public transport options for this park. I think there's some options, but I don't even know where to point you to.

One interesting city perched in the Blue Ridge is my own, Charlottesville, VA, which is often a toursit stop because of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello (his amazing house) and the University of Virginia. Also in the area are the homes of James Madison and James Monroe. (also US Presidents.) Charlottesville is a the intersection of a N-S and E-W train line (connecting to DC), so this might be a juncture for you.

I'm a little out of my league in commenting on the trip between DC/Virginia and Atlanta. Personally, I'd skip the Carolinas, unless you go to a beach.

I'd especially recommend skipping the Carolinas is this enables a side trip to New Orleans (which is easily reached from Atlanta via bus or train.) New Orleans is a very, very, very interesting city - for it's history, lifestyle, sights, and culture. It's a city that is French, Caribbean, American, Spanish, and none of these, simultaneously.

I can comment on Florida too, but I suspect that this is covered in depth in your tour guides. Suffice to say, it's a very fun place, but if you target mainstream attractions (like Disney), you'd better be ready to pay. (What's Disneyworld admission up to? Something like $50/day?)

Final thoughts:

-to someone from the UK (particularly a Londoner, if that's your home), New York ain't that amazing. Don't over-budget your time there.

-Amtrak is generally a better way to get around than Greyhound. It's more reliable, quicker, and far more civil, though Greyhound can take you to smaller places.

-please make sure that you don't spend all of your time in the big cities. America outside cities like NYC or Boston is a totally different world.

-along the same lines, please try to experience some of the warmth of the South. You'll find a different pace of life, a more welcoming attitude, and greater freedom.

Anyway, I hope you find this helpful. Please feel free to write back with any further questions


4. Posted by samanthah (Budding Member 10 posts) 15y Star this if you like it!

thank you so much, your suggestions have def given me something to think about!!!...the trip is starting to take over completely, i can't think about anything else lol!
any other views welcome!

5. Posted by suztours (Full Member 34 posts) 15y Star this if you like it!

Well, I am SHOCKED that TimmyG suggested skipping the Carolinas! After all, while Charlottesville is nice, North Carolina is simply the most beautiful State in the whole country (I should know - I'm from there!).

Amtrak from DC goes through the Carolinas all the way to Florida and is very reliable - the Silver Star is the train you want (it actually goes from NYC to Miami) and it goes right through my old home town of Sanford, NC which is in the middle of the state. While the train through NYC to DC goes through cities and usually the darkest part of town, once you get south of DC, through Virginia and into North Carolina, what you'll see is mostly beautiful countryside. I recommend a stop in Fredricksburg and then Richmond... then, you could get off in Raleigh or Cary and take a local bus to downtown Raleigh to see our Capital area - which is lovely - and very historic - as well as lots of fun.

There are other trains and plenty of good buses which will take you to every part of this intriguing state!

From Raleigh, you could go east to the Outer Banks and Wilmington areas or west to the Appalachian Mountains and to Asheville - all by bus, which is great - meet local people and it's cheap! You can stop off in small towns and really see things up close.

In Wilmington, you can visit the USS North Carolina and rub shoulders with some of Hollywood's stars (it's a popular place for making films - oh and the TV show Dawson's Creek is made there). On the Outer Banks, you can visit Kitty Hawk, where the Wright Brothers tested their strange contraption called an airplane and try hang gliding off Kill Devil Hills!

Move inland just a bit to New Bern and you'll see the colonial home of the first governor of North Carolina - which by the way, boasts not only the first "flight" in the country but also the first attempt at independence from the Crown with a document called "The Halifax Resolves" which was produced in a little spot called Halifax Courthouse, NC well before the Declaration of Independence in 1776!

I can't remember the exact dates, but almost all the way west from there in Linville, NC (right on the Blue Ridge Parkway) in the summer are the Highland Games (tests of strength of skill imported by immigrants long ago from their native Scotland) and hike along a spectacular portion of the Appalachian Trail. Down in Ashville, there's "America's Castle" - Biltmore House - built by the Vanderbuilt Family as their "summer home"!

Actually, right in the center, near where I grew up, is a little known but large estate that was once a get-a-way home for the Rockefellers - it's called "Overhills" and it was purchased not long ago by the US Army which right next door, maintains the largest US military installation in the world - Fort Bragg (they offer tours, too)!

Not far from there (and near Raleigh, as well), is the little village of Chapel Hill - home to the oldest state-sponsored university in the United States, the University of North Carolina (the Tar Hills - you DO know who Michael Jordan is, right? - well, THIS is where he went to college and learned to do those famous jumps and dunk shots - under the training of the very famous Coach Dean Smith)! When I go to visit, I like to just stroll along Franklin Street and soak up the college town atmosphere, stop in the little shops and eat in the great cafes & restaurants found there!

And in all these places and everywhere inbetween, you'll find the BEST food

I can go on and on but I suggest you check out: to learn all about the place we in my family grew up calling "Variety Vacationland"!

When you're ready to head south again, the Amtrak Silver Star can be boarded at Cary or Southern Pines (another beautiful spot) for the journey south, through South Carolina and into Georgia and then into Florida!

Wherever you decide to go, take with you a big smile and lots of patience and a desire for adventure and you'll have a GREAT TIME!


6. Posted by Cessna150 (Budding Member 12 posts) 15y Star this if you like it!

I would avoid Greyhound if at all possible. Unlike bus services in Europe, Greyhound attracts a lot of people who don't wish to provide identification or have their bags searched.........

The stations in many larger towns and cities are often located in somewhat disreputable neighborhoods.

Me, personnally, I would do New York, Philly, Washington by Amtrak. By a cheapo ticket on Southwest from Baltimore/Washington to Jacksonville, rent a car and have big fun. West to New Orleans, South to Ft Lauderdale or SoBe, SW to Mouse World...............

Mike in Miami

7. Posted by suztours (Full Member 34 posts) 15y Star this if you like it!

As a "travel helper" I feel compelled to suggest to Mike that before he repond to a posting, he read it carefully and fully! The original message said the travelers are 18 and so cannot rent a car. They are also looking for an affordable trip, which means Amtrak & buses over flights - and anyway, taking a flight from Baltimore/DC to Jacksonville, FL means they would miss the most beautiful portion of the region (Virginia, the Carolinas & Georgia)!

Back to more suggestions - while Bed&Breakfast spots can be more expensive than, say, the Days Inn, they can also be the best way to see the locale and meet the people, thereby making it possible to return later for a more personal visit!

Also - Mike suggests that bus service isn't a good way to travel, but in the southeast, this just isn't true - lots of people of all tpes take the bus, which goes to almost every little town around, making it the most affordable and interesting way to travel - especially if you want to make short hops.


8. Posted by Cessna150 (Budding Member 12 posts) 15y Star this if you like it!

A thousand apologies, I did forget the 18 and can't rent a car.

However, I stand on my advice about Greyhound. For example, on the route from Miami to Key West a regular stop is a local prison. The station in Miami is wino central....

Amtrak is a far, far better alternative.

Mike in Miami

9. Posted by suztours (Full Member 34 posts) 15y Star this if you like it!

Mike - the problem here is that you are imposing your experience in Miami on the entire region (or even the entire country). For instance, I may be a travel helper for the USA, but since I've never visited California, I wouldn't think of offering travel advice for that area

The fact is I've taken the Greyhound in North Carolina in the past and many local people do so still today. It is a great and cheap way of getting around to the smaller communities when one doesn't have a car and where Amtrak doesn't go. The stations I've visited are clean and bright, well-kept and well-policed.

The reason I'm a travel helper for North Carolina (and much of the wider southeast region) is because I've had "up close & personal" experience living and traveling there. If you have similar experience in Miami, then become a travel helper for the Miami area, but if you haven't had experience in other areas, please leave those comments to those of us who have! ;)

Now - back to our travelers - one thing I did NOT comment on in my earlier post was your intention to visit the Caribbean. You didn't mention where you were planning to go, but I hope you'll consider BARBADOS, as it's a beautiful island with a very interesting history and great beaches! My sister & her family live there and will be happy to help you with advice and ideas if you are interested. She's also a travel helper - for Barbados (and she's traveled throughout the region) - so feel free to write to her through the site and she'll be happy to help!


10. Posted by samanthah (Budding Member 10 posts) 15y Star this if you like it!

dear everyone,
thanks so much for all the input- it's great, keep it coming! I'm a little alarmed by what Mike says about the Miami-Keywest route though! That's the only place we were planning to take the bus! Does anyone know of an alernative route to get from Miami-Key West?
Also, re. Amtrak, we were thinking of getting the east-coast month pass that's available to internationals. Does anyone know if that means a month in which you can travel, or 30 days of journeys...i/e that can be spread over a longer period? Also, we have to purchase that pass in our own country, but do we then have to make reservattions on he trains separately? And how so with a pass?! Aaah, another country's public transport system can be very confusing!
Currently the route is looking something like..Boston NY Niagara Washington Chicago Charleston Savannah Jacksonville/St Augustine Orlando Miami The Keys. But I think we'd actually prefer to miss Chicago and keep on down the East Coast, especially after your suggestions re. the Carolinas. However, if we do this we would ideally like to visit the Smoky Mountains. Any idea how to get there on public transport???!!! And any good places to stay? If you get to Gatlinburg is it easy to get in? Anyway, please throw your comments on the route at's open to changes!
Thanks a lot guys