This time, three weeks from now, we’ll be in the USA. We land in New York on the 22nd. All I have to say about that is JEEPERS. I’m really excited, and I hope this road trip is going to be epic.
Questions! So many questions!
We won’t be visiting Philly. Where else can we try good cheese steak? NY? DC?
Should we buy a cheap GPS? Presumably this is cheaper and more reliable/convenient than phone + Google Maps?
Where would one shop for reasonably priced clothing for larger guys? (I’ve been told Marshall’s, Ross, TJ Maxx…) Doesn’t have to be fancy. Does it make a difference shopping in, say, major cities vs smaller towns, or the coasts vs midwest?
T wants to visit a place he heard about once, but can’t remember what it’s called or where. Apparently it’s a giant house – i.e. a normal house, but built on a large scale, with everything inside also on a large scale. Like the opposite of a dollhouse, I guess. And it’s near a Legoland, supposedly. That’s all I got to go on. Anybody?
Also, because it’s the internet, it somehow feels okay to unashamedly put out an open call for budget accommodation advice or offers (if you might have a couch we can crash on, we promise good conversation, compliments aplenty for your city, and cooking – his, not mine – if you so desire!) in a few areas:
- Washington DC
- Somewhere between Chicago and New Orleans (Missouri? Tennessee? Mississippi?)
- Somewhere in Texas? (We’ll be driving through from New Orleans enroute to the Grand Canyon/Las Vegas)
Thanking you in advance for your comments, my lovelies.
Huzzah and welcome!
“Where else can we try good cheese steak? NY? DC?”
People from Philly won’t say so, but it’s not hard to reproduce a sandwich with two ingredients. I live in NY and before arriving, lived in DC most recently, and can point you to any number of places in both cities.
“Should we buy a cheap GPS? Presumably this is cheaper and more reliable/convenient than phone + Google Maps?”
I only do a few road trips per year, but have never suffered for not having a GPS external to my mobile phone. Presumably, since you’ll be on prepaid, getting enough data may be an issue, so that’s the only thing I would take into account.
“Where would one shop for reasonably priced clothing for larger guys? (I’ve been told Marshall’s, Ross, TJ Maxx…)”
Sure. I’d add Century 21 to your list of discount stores when in NY. There are also store-branded shops that aim toward a lower price like Mervyn’s, Target, Walmart, Kohl’s, Old Navy, JC Penney, and so forth. Each city also has outlet malls nearby.
I don’t know about this large scale house… can ask Southern California friends if you think it might be near that Legoland.
In D.C., I can point you toward budget hotels (depending on your definition of budget).
I feel like there’s more I can say here.
A cheap GPS can be very handy, especially when driving through long stretches of the American southwest where you may or may not have cell phone coverage.
If you want the best french toast of your life, stop at the Plaza Cafe in Gallup, New Mexico.
Check AirBnB.com for some good places to stay. I’d recommend the Bourbon House Hostel in New Orleans. You can get a private room for pretty cheap. Easy walking to Bourbon Street and all the sites.
Dallas/Fort Worth might be a good place to stop after New Orleans. Then I’d check out the botanical gardens in Albuquerque, NM.
The Grand Canyon is cool, but if you really want to see the most amazing national park, check out Zion National Park in Utah. Well worth the drive. You can see the most amazing parts of it just driving through. Then it’s only 3 hours to Vegas.
I stayed at a hostel in Chicago – this one is super clean, and huge. Very central too. http://www.hichicago.org/
Wave as you drive by in Arizona, will you?
You’re skipping the entire south? Ah well can’t win everything. Burlington Coat Factory is also another place for cheapish clothing and seems to be located closer to bigger cities. Ross, TJMaxx and Marshalls always seemed more suburban. Maybe also SAS Factory outlets?
A philadelphian will probably tell you it’s not a true cheese steak unless it’s made with Cheez Whiz. So perhaps look for that in your quest for a cheese steak? (caveat – I’m a veggie lady so recommendations on meat products are to be taken with a grain of salt.)
Also, don’t know how true your directions are to your goal, but you might want to consider driving up the Pacific Coast Highway in CA instead of driving through the center of the state. From what I understand, the views are well worth the extra time the drive will take. =)
PS! Since you’ll be on the road, perhaps this blog will be of some use to you?
They document all the best roadside and local cuisine throughout the US.
Cheesesteaks – I am not a fan, and people from Philadelphia will tell you that you cannot find an authentic one anywhere else. NYC is probably your best bet, though.
If your phone will work in the states, you can skip the GPS. Otherwise, invest in a cheap one and sell it on Craigslist before you leave.
What do you mean by larger guys? Tall? Muscular? Large waist size? There are a lot of big and tall stores. You can also try Burlington Coat Factory. Cities or large suburbs are always easier to find specialized items than smaller rural areas.
Legoland is here in San Diego and I have never heard of that house. I have also asked a few people in my office and no one here has ever heard of it. I see you are skipping San Diego – I would highly recommend you reconsider and make a trip here. It is stunning and you won’t be disappointed. They don’t call it America’s Finest City for nothing (and believe me, I have lived everywhere and traveled the world). Regarding that giant house, can he think of anymore information at all?
Try bidding on Priceline.com for hotel rooms – you can get really good deals. Also BedandBreakfast.com – food included in the price of your accommodations saves money. VRBO.com and http://www.couchsurfing.org might be good resources for you, too!
Good luck and enjoy your trip!
Very exciting! If you happen to pass through St. Louis and we are in town, I am all for you guys couch crashing!
I was on the West Coast for a month two years ago and can say that:
1) Ross is the BEST for cheap branded clothing – I got some CK dresses there for about $20-$30. They have a good men’s range as well.
2) Try not using a GPS or anything like that. We didn’t get anything like that, and just relied on street signs to get us from city to city – once we got into a city, we got a city map from the tourist centre. Alternatively, if you REALLY want a GPS, just download the Tom Tom America map onto your phone. Safer and easier than having a GPS!
3) If you’re happy to wing it, there are plenty of Motel 8s along the road, averaging about $50 per night per two person room. That way, you’re not beholden to a schedule!
4) I got a hotel room in Vegas for $8 a night. It was in a casino that was just off the Strip – and I think the reasoning behind the cheap room was the fact that they expect you to gamble there. I don’t gamble though, so they lost money on me! It was quite a nice room as well.
Hope that helps!
Looks like you are visiting some of my favorite cities! Personally, I would pass on the cheese steak! New York has some of the best food in the world at various price points. Enjoy your way across the U.S.
Well bah. For some reason my comment isn’t showing up at all. Maybe it was too long? Should I break it into 2 parts?
I can’t tell how many days this epic road trip is going to take you, but here are my thoughts for what it’s worth:
1 – You can also get good Philly sandwiches in New Orleans, but I would actually recommend a muffaletta at City Market in New Orleans instead. It’s a local classic.
2 – I have never had any problems with a phone and Google maps, but I don’t know what your data roaming plan is, so it might be a better idea to get a cheap (under $100) GPS while you’re here. You could pick one up at B&H Photo in NYC at the start of your trip.
3 – My ex is a big guy (over 6′ over 200lbs) and he gets most of his clothes at Kohls. They have good sales, and quality stuff.
4 – No idea on this one. 🙂
5 – No concrete ideas here, but I’ve had really good luck with bidding on Priceline. If you want specifics on technique, email me. I have been known to get $200 rooms for $50 a night easily.
You’re going to drive right through my hometown in Michigan 🙂 I’ll have to think about it for a few minutes but I’m sure I can give you some recommendations for food through there…it’s been a while since I’ve been, though! You should pass several TJ Maxx stores through Michigan, as well as Kohl’s, Old Navy, and department stores. If you need groceries/snacks (or anything, really) hit up Meijer in Michigan and northern Illinois – it’s like Walmart in the sense that it has everything and the prices are low, but the quality is generally higher.
I’ve never had a problem with relying on Google maps between Michigan and Texas, but I can’t speak for the rest of the country.
If you decide to swing through Houston let me know! I’m not sure it does you a whole lot of good since we’re relatively close to New Orleans…
Last thought for now – watch out for speed traps in Illinois. They’re insane there, we actually avoid it entirely now when we drive to Michigan.
As you have it your route takes you through Dallas. Unless you’re dead set on Dallas for a personal reason, I’d recommend staying on I-10 out of New Orleans and going to San Antonio instead, to see the riverwalk and the Alamo. There’s a lot of Texas history in SA and it’s a beautiful city on the edge of the Texas Hill Country. Dallas is, IMO, just a big city and if you have limited time it’s not really reflective of Texas. (Also driving up Louisiana through Alexandria and Shreveport is one of the most boring drives in the world. Taking I-10, you’ll cross the Atchafalaya Swamp in Louisiana and pass through Houston and see some of the east Texas piney woods areas).
Once you get through Texas, you can connect with I-25 in New Mexico to head up to Albuquerque (and pass through the White Sands area which is gorgeous).
(The switch from Dallas to SA and then up to Albuquerque will add about 150 miles to the trip overall.)
If you have time, detour from Albuquerque to Santa Fe for an afternoon. It’s worth it. If you don’t have time, at least stop and see Old Town in Albuquerque.
Then you’re back en route from Albuquerque to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. Just south of Flagstaff is Sedona, AZ which is also really gorgeous in that western desert way – with red cliffs and towering seguaro cactus everywhere.
(I agree that any of the parks in Southern Utah are also gorgeous and overall more beautiful than the Canyon (which is still pretty stunning), but from an American “iconic” standpoint, I’d recommend the Canyon first.)
Also if you have the time, take the 101 from Los Angeles to San Francisco instead of I-5 (or at least detour and take it part of the way). I-5 is also an incredibly boring drive, and the 101 winds right along the coastline with some spectacular scenery.
I’ve driven from the West Coast to Texas and from Texas to Louisiana and through to Georgia more times than I can remember (seriously – at least 6 times there and back from California/Oregon to Texas, and probably over 100 from Georgia through Louisiana to Texas). If there are any specific questions I can answer about any of the routes, I’d be happy to!!
Mine didn’t show up either so I’ll make it short. I’ve used the Google app for our road trips throughout the US and I’ve never had any issues. If you’re going to pass through Dallas, I would be more than happy to meet up, but if you only have one day in Texas, I recommend Austin. It’s a nice college town with plenty to do in and around the city.
We have a sectional that’s plenty big enough for two, but you’ll be on the opposite end of Tennessee from us. Sad! Are you planning to stop in Memphis? We had a neat time there during a road trip. I recommend eating barbeque ribs (what Memphis is famous for) at Superior Restaurant and Bar on Beale Street. The meat falls right off the bone. It’s delicious.
I don’t think you’ll have trouble using Google maps. I have a GPS (since my phone has no data), and I usually still use Google maps (writing down directions beforehand) rather than use my GPS unit.
Enjoy your stay! 🙂
For clothing purchases, the big chains already mentioned should have plenty of choices and are available in most national markets. What may tip the balance for you is the sales tax for each state and municipal area: http://www.salestaxinstitute.com/resources/rates I wouldn’t recommend buying anything big in Chicago, for example, where our combined sales tax is over 10%. I’ve never heard of people being able to get refunds like one does with VAT, but I suppose it may be possible.
Reading through the comments, there was a great suggestion to travel across Texas a bit further south and go through San Antonio. Either San Antonio or Austin will be much nicer to visit than Dallas. Dallas is just…well…a great place to do business, but there’s not much else to do there, and surrounding it is flat, hot country with nothing to redeem it. San Antonio has a rich history and an iconic landmark: the Alamo. Austin is in hill country and is known for being funky and different than pretty much every other place in Texas.
Don’t worry about GPS. You’ll probably do most of your driving on the big interstate expressways because they are the fastest way to travel and you don’t have lots of time to wander. The interstates are very well marked and when you enter each state there is a big welcome center that will have free paper maps and information about construction. Yeah, paper maps are “old school” but they work, are free, and make kitschy souvenirs, too. Every time we drive through a new state, I always stop at the welcome center to get a map. 🙂 You’ll be fine with your mobile and Google Maps in the big cities, which is where the paper maps are less helpful due to the lack of detail.
If you had more time to meander across the country, I’d say definitely get off the interstates, but when time is of the essence they help you zoom through to your destination. Alison may be happy to hear that the Illinois legislature recently voted to raise the speed limit on the interstates to 70 MPH to match those of the states around us, making us less of a “speed trap.” 😉 Unfortunately for you, the new law doesn’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2014.
Driving between Chicago and New Orleans, if you’re pushing to make time you’ll likely want to stop in the state of Mississippi at a budget hotel near the expressway. You’ll be tired by then and need some rest. (And don’t try to push it or you’ll end up sleeping rather uncomfortably in the car at a rest stop like I did last time I drove between Chicago and N.O.)
If you have time to squeeze in a day of tourism, you can try stopping for the night just outside Memphis, Tennessee. You’ll find cheaper accommodations at a budget hotel/motel just across the river in Arkansas, but the town of Memphis has some fun things to do. First, there’s Graceland, Elvis’ (surprisingly small) house and estate. At night, visiting a blues club on Beale Street can be fun. Finally, if you’re up for something serious the National Civil Rights Museum is amazing. The Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was assassinated, was converted into the National Civil Rights Museum and commemorates the struggle for equality. We just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s famouos “I Have a Dream” speech, so there are bound to be some really great special exhibits.
The only Legoland in the US s near San Diego, CA, but I can’t find any mention of a “giant’s house” near there. If you’re into big houses, though, Hearst Castle is beautiful. It is also a costly place to visit, but it is very well run and could be worth stopping for a few hours if you have the time and are driving up Hwy 1.
If at all possible, do drive up the California coast on Hwy 1 or 101. At some points they both run together, but mostly they are parallel roads with Hwy 1 running along the coast (literally on the cliffs along the ocean at many points), and the 101 being a bit more inland. You can alternate between them to make the best time if you’d like, since Hwy 1 can slow you down with it’s spectacular scenery and twisty curves. Unless you’re really pressed for time, avoid the I-5 between LA and SF, though. It is really boring.
There are several Legolands in the US. There are 2 Legoland Parks: one near San Diego (with the waterpark) and one near Lakeland, Florida. And there are 4 Legoland Discovery Centers: Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, & Westchester NY.
At least according to the Lego website. 🙂
I’m usually pretty good at finding things in Google, but I can’t find any thing that resembles a “giant house” near a Legoland.
Outlet malls and Target are great for larger clothing sizes, and I’d say part of the overall American cultural experience. You can find them in or near just about every major city. I find them to be more pleasant for shopping than Ross/Marshall’s/etc., and pretty much the same price.
After Dallas, you might think about getting on part of old Route 66 as you head toward the Grand Canyon – it might take a bit longer, but there are more stops (Roswell, old outlaw graveyards, Cadillac Ranch, various “World’s Largest ____s”) and trust me, after a while, driving through north Texas on the highways gets b-o-r-i-n-g. (Speed limits in Texas are among some of the highest in the country, at least. Watch for speed traps in small towns, though. The police/sheriffs get bored too, I think.) I’d offer you a place to stay in Austin (the food here is the best), but that would be a good several (boring) hours out of your way and we might be off having a baby depending on when you come through Texas. New Mexico and Arizona are lovely for road trips, though, especially once you get to the mountains. Once you get to the western U.S. (I’d say Texas) make sure you take the “last gas station for ___ miles” signs seriously.
I’ve done a lot of road trips through Texas, and several through New Mexico/Arizona/Nevada, so feel free to email me if you have any questions specific to those areas. Expect somewhat spotty cell phone coverage as you drive through the really large western states.
P.S. Also, on behalf of Texas, I feel I should apologize in advance if Dallas and north Texas is all you have time for. It is not the best we have to offer the world. (Coming to the more interesting cities like Austin/San Antonio requires even more driving through The Rest of Texas. Austin and San Antonio and the BBQ-y small towns between take the prizes for best food, though, and west Texas is a lot prettier than north Texas in my opinion.)
I’m assuming you already have LA accomodations? Email me & we can meet up (I hope!) when you are here! Looks like you have a ton of good advice already, but e-mail me with any cali specific questions or issues! 🙂
I see that you’re going through Toronto! I live close to Niagara Falls, Ontario.
If you end up stopping in Niagara Falls, there are LOADS of outlet stores nearby (both Canadian and on the USA side). Just use a GPS or ask around for the outlet malls/stores, everyone will point you in the right direction.
If you’re not going through Niagara Falls and instead crossing into the USA at the Detroit location, there are still lots of outlet malls nearby.
Be aware of tolls in the USA for bridges and/or highways. Be sure to keep a bit of cash on you. Usually around $1-$10 depending in length and such.
Something to do/consider in Toronto:
– The Ball Room (bowling and dinner together, very fun atmosphere and a local hangout).
– Take in a baseball game if you can, here’s the schedule: http://toronto.bluejays.mlb.com/schedule/index.jsp?c_id=tor#y=2013&m=9&calendar=DEFAULT
– Watching or getting the chance to play Lacrosse (Canada’s national sport) is pretty awesome. You could catch a good university game at the Uni of Toronto. http://www.varsityblues.ca/calendar.aspx … you can also catch a rugby game if you really miss it 😉 not the same as the All Blacks, but could help if you’re craving a lil rugby action. Super cheap (if not free) to attend.
Best of luck!
I have more to say here and will write later but you’re skipping Denver and the I-70 route through the mountains? You’ll have to come back and do that if you can’t this time! It’s gorgeous, significantly more gorgeous than your drive through Texas. 🙂
Since you’re doing a lot of Interstate driving, I recommend just buying a U.S. Atlas. You’ll have your phone as back-up but there will be spots where you don’t get a phone or gps signal; an Atlas/state maps will have all the major interstates on there which is the majority of what you’ll be near anyway.
Do not judge Michigan based on what you see of it, you won’t be going anywhere near the nicest parts of the state.
Have you ever had a cheesesteak before? If you just want to try one, you’ll have a fine one in any city – get it with cheese whiz. The biggest difference in the philly ones is the bread, seriously. A place here in the city does (or used to) deliver in bread fresh from philly each day for it’s cheesesteaks. Everything else really is the same though. I had pretty great ones in NJ as well.
Kohl’s and Target are my suggestions for clothes.
For most of your travels you can probably wing it with hotels. There will be blue signs near every exit on every interstate that shows you Lodging, Gas Stations, etc and tells you how far away they are from each exit. (like this: http://modot.org/business/Outdoor_Advertising/images/MoLOGOcopy_000.jpg)
If any of us happen to get a 30% off Kohls coupon, we’ll have to get it to her!
I also forgot to say that we went to New Orleans in August. Not sure if you checked that out. Here is the link to my recap.
You don’t have to worry about clothing as we Americans are a big people. Also, I have changed your route after Chicago-here it goes!
1.) Chicago-Music, food, lake front activities, the people
2.) Nashville-Music, food, the people
3.) New Orleans-Music, food, historical buildings
4.) Austin, Texas-forget Dallas-Cool a@@ vibe, alleged live music Capitol of the U.S., b.b.q.
5.) Denver/Boulder (you will love Colorado-yes, I am biased)-Alleged Beer Craft Beer Capital of the U.S./we love to have fun. Really, we really enjoy a good time. Mountains, good food. Chill people. PF Bloggers to show you around!
6.) Salt Lake City-PF bloggers, Mormons, gorgeous crazy friendly city with a special atmosphere
7.) Las Vegas-No explanation needed. 3 days only!! No more than that.
8.) Grand Canyon-No explanation needed
9.) La La Land-that’s L.A. to you-PF bloggers/famous people (they are all short), amazing food, the ocean
10.) Monterrey (directly before San Francisco)
11.) San Francisco-amazing, watch out for the homeless, amazing food!!, very European American city. It will be colder than you would expect.
Also, if you’re in New Mexico I would recommend Santa Fe only and Ojo Caliente http://www.ojospa.com. The Canadian side of Niagara is much better than the U.S. side. Please, please, please don’t spend too much time shopping. There is so much to do! Safe travels. Have fun!!
Michelle, your suggestions are genius and perfect. I could not imagine skipping Denver / Boulder but I am also partial because it’s my home. I’d skip DC though (where I live now). 🙂
Hahaha sweet. I mean, there are big people in NZ too, they just don’t seem to be catered for in shops.
Never fear. I don’t plan to shop for myself unless I happen to spot something. We’re really only looking to stock up on stuff for T who basically needs a whole new wardrobe and can never find anything back home.
Oops, btw, just returned from NYC-I love that town.
1.) Take the free ferry to Governor’s Island if it’s still running
2.) Walk the Highline-at night. VERY romantic for you two lovebirds
3.) Times Square at night-don’t bother during the day
Honestly I think it’s a toss up. Going thru the Rocky Mtns would be gorgeous. Going thru TX is an iconic slice of US mythos/history. Either one would provide you with a fantastic trip.
The problem with advising foreign visitors to the US is that it’s absolutely HUGE (most people visiting don’t realize how big a country it is until they’ve been here for a while) and each “section” of the country is so vastly vastly different from the others. It doesn’t matter how many days you have to visit, there’s just no way you can see all the beauty, diversity, and uniqueness that makes up the whole of the US in one visit.
For New Orleans (NOLA) I have the following suggestions:
Beignets and coffee at Cafe du Monde
Muffaletta sandwiches at Central Market
Spend an evening walking down Bourbon St (yes, it’s touristy and slightly tacky, but it’s the experience)
Have a drink at Pat O’Brien’s – the flaming fountain and the dueling piano bars are fun
The shrimp remoulade at the Gumbo Shop is a great lunch
Walk through one of the cemeteries in the Garden District.
Take the St. Charles streetcar from the Quarter to the Audubon Zoo and back (it passes Loyola and Tulane Universities, and is very picturesque)
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is a bar at the far end of the French Quarter – it’s fabulous and you should visit. There’s no electricity in the seating part of the bar. It’s the oldest bar in the US.
If you have time, drive down the River Road to Oak Alley plantation (it was used in the filming of the Anne Rice vampire movies)
Or visit Nottoway Plantation
Wander through Jackson Square (visit the Cathedral and the NO museum next door that used to be the convent) and as touristy as it might be, take one of the horse drawn carriage rides through the Quarter. They take you by some interesting places and give you a lot of the history and mythos of te Quarter and New Orleans.
Woo-hoo! hope you have a good time while in the states.
I’m on the fence on your need for a GPS. I live in central Illinois, and what folks from other countries don’t realize is just how broad and wild some of this country is. The state of Illinois alone is easily a 6-8 hour drive, and not all of it will have cell phone coverage. I’ve gotten along ok with printed maps and now that I have my smartphone, I use the Google maps.
Now, I’m about 4 hours from Chicago here (told you – Illinois is a long state!), but I go there about every year to see the Museum of Science and Industry (there is a large doll house there!), see a baseball game, and/or to get Chicago-style deep dish pizza. If you love cheese, you must try it – just make sure to order 1 slice or a small!
Cool, looks like the beginnings of an awesome trip! When you hitting up Montreal? If I’m in town I’d have a couch you guys could crash on. Full of advice on what to see and do in MTL as well, feel free to ask me anything!
Early October! Probably the 3rd (maybe give or take a day).
I should be in town around then! Just let me know if you guys fancy crashing on our modest but still pretty comfy couch 🙂
Oh I am so excited for you two, The first week of October I am visiting NYC, Philly and DC…looking soooo forward to it. If you want to grab a bite to eat while you are in Montreal let me know. Boston is absolutely awesome and so is shopping at TJ Maxx. As a Canadian whenever I am in the U.S. I always make a stop at TJ Maxx and at Target…my two fave discount stores. I hope you have an amazing trip.
SO COOL. I’m sad I don’t live in NYC anymore and won’t be able to meet up with you there!
My suggestion for the very end of your trip…take some time away from SF and go to Napa or Sonoma (particularly if you like wine). They’re only about an hour north and they’re GORGEOUS.
Also, as others have said…try to rejig Texas to go to Austin, not Dallas!
[…] NZ Muse is looking for travel advice along her North American path. […]