If you had told me back in October that in December our family would be spending two weeks on a road trip across the deep south, I would not have believed you. But life has a way of changing on a dime. And I’m so glad the opportunity to explore this area of the US came our way.
Our family found ourselves in a unique position shortly before the holiday season. We are usually planning any family travel we do well in advance. We always need to plan around my husband’s vacation time at work and the kids’ school schedules and activities. However, my left his old job at the end of October, and he didn’t start his new job until early January.
Since he had some unexpected time off, and the kids and I were obligation-free over the Christmas holidays, we seized the opportunity to take a 3,000 mile road trip through six southern US states (plus a quick visit to Mexico).
Our family has a goal of visiting all 50 states, and we try to visit as many national parks along the way as we can. Knocking six new states off the kids’ list, plus one new country (Mexico), was super exciting! And missing out on an ice storm and at least 6″ of snow back home, while we basked in temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s, was icing on the cake.
Our Deep South Road Trip Itinerary
Because we live in the Deep North of the US (Minnesota), escaping winter weather was a primary objective for this trip. Heading to the deep south, which has been relatively unexplored by our family, was a logical choice. But we live a long way from the south. We love road trips, but we needed to balance the amount of driving with the amount of time we had.
As a result, we decided to book an open-jaw flight. Our flight out was from Minneapolis-St Paul to Dallas-Forth Worth, where we rented a car. Twelve days and well over 3,000 miles later, after visiting family in Indiana, we flew home from Indianapolis. Our stops included:
- Three nights near Big Bend National Park, Texas over Christmas eve and Christmas day
- One night on Galveston Island, Texas (spending one night)
- Two nights in New Orleans, Louisiana (spending two nights)
- Two nights in Gulf Shores, Alabama (spending one night)
- Two nights, including in New Year’s Eve, in Memphis, Tennessee (spending two nights)
- (plus two nights at my husband’s family’s house in Indiana)
Below is a summary of our epic road trip. Kick back and enjoy the ride.
Our Deep South Road Trip
Stop #1: Big Bend National Park and Terlingua, Texas
After driving 700 miles from Dallas-Fort Worth airport to Terlingua, we spent three nights in the area. We could have flown in to a closer airport (like Midland or El Paso), but the flights and car rentals to those airports were out of our budget.
You can read more about our “grande” time along the Rio Grande in our detailed post about Big Bend National Park. As you can tell from the picture above (and the headline photo in this post with Santa and Mrs. Claus), we had a great time!
We also have a detailed post about our day trip to Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico that we took from Big Bend, a side trip I highly recommend.
Stop #2: Galveston Island, Texas
Our next major stop on our Deep South Road Trip was New Orleans (see Stop #3 below). However, Big Bend National Park is really, really far from New Orleans. So we decided to give our beach-loving kids a little time on the water by stopping for the night at a hotel in Galveston with a beach view.
Unfortunately, here is what our beach view looked like when we arrived in the late afternoon:
So much for the beach view! Fortunately, it did clear up the next morning so that the kids could spend a little time looking for shells and watching the birds.
Stop #3: New Orleans, Louisiana
We made it to New Orleans late in the evening. After the long two days of driving, we stayed near our Metairie hotel to eat dinner at a chain restaurant. I know, I know…blasphemous to not eat local Cajun or Creole cuisine. But you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to maintain everyone’s sanity on a road trip like this.
We stayed in Metairie because hotel prices closer to the action in New Orleans were quite expensive. Not only was it the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s (which is a busy time for travel), but it was also the weekend before the city was hosting the Sugar Bowl college football game, which made the city extra crazy.
We basically had one day in New Orleans, which is really not enough time to explore. So we did our best and ventured out.
National World War II Museum
Our first stop was the National WWII Museum. Believe it or not, this is the most popular tourist destination in New Orleans (according to TripAdvisor), and for good reason. It’s a large, comprehensive, and very well done museum. Our son is a history buff, and our daughter is fascinated with WWII (especially in literature), so it was a perfect place to spend the morning.
This museum is comprised of four lovely buildings on its campus. The exhibits were thorough and very well done. I have to confess, the museum was SO crowded during our visit that we couldn’t get a lot of good pictures, and we certainly couldn’t spend a lot of time looking at the exhibits. Clearly everyone else wants to take in this amazing museum as well.
I recommend watching the movie they offer, which is narrated by Tom Hanks. It gives an excellent overview of the war. Our kids had some study of WWII in school, but the movie, which includes holograms and other special effects, made it all very real.
It is also worth noting that the museum has a sit-down restaurant with very good food. It felt good to sit down in a proper restaurant after an exhausting morning of battling the crowds. They have other dining options as well.
French Quarter and Bourbon Street
After battling the crowds at the National WWII Museum, we battled even larger crowds in the French Quarter. My husband had been there briefly, but this was my and the kids’ first time visiting the area.
My husband and I were enamored with the architecture, and the people watching was fantastic. The kids were only enamored with the beignets, which we found far too late in our meanderings to please any of us. They were not able to see the charm and character of the place due to their exhaustion and the crowds. And Bourbon Street left them pretty horrified. I guess I don’t blame them for seeing it that way. They may appreciate it more when they’re older.
I think the fatigue from the trip was catching up to all of us at this point in the trip. So we decided to cut our losses, head back to the hotel, order pizza delivery for dinner, and let the kids hang out in the pool for the evening. Another evening without Cajun or Creole food…again, blasphemy. But it was more important to give the kids a night of rest and down time to sustain them for the rest of the trip.
Stop #4: Gulf Shores, Alabama
After the masses of humanity we faced in New Orleans, the next leg of our road trip was a short drive, but a very welcome change of pace.
We spent one night in Gulf Shores, Alabama with a beach side room, again to appease our beach-loving teens. And it was lovely. It was pouring rain as we headed south toward Gulf Shores, but by the time we arrived the clouds parted, and we were treated to a glorious afternoon. The white sand beaches were absolutely lovely.
After spending some time on the beach, I found a laundromat while the rest of my family opened the beachside door in the hotel room and to let the sounds of the gulf relax them.
Stop #5: Memphis, Tennessee
Our final stop on our Deep South Road Trip (before visiting family in Indiana) was in Memphis. I’ve been there before, but it was a first for the rest of our family. We enjoyed the casual pace (compared to New Orleans).
This trip came together very quickly. We just over a week to plan it, book flights and car rental, and reserve hotel rooms. So a few details fell through the cracks in our plans. One was that we would encounter college football bowl game crowds at not one but two of our destinations. I mentioned the Sugar Bowl crowd in New Orleans already. There was also a large contingent of fans in Memphis for the Liberty Bowl, which was on New Year’s Eve, while we were in town. So both cities were pretty crowded while we were there.
Another trip planning detail that fell through the cracks was that the National Civil Rights Museum in the Lorraine Hotel, site of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, is closed on Tuesdays (which was New Year’s Eve) and on New Year’s Day, the two days we were in Memphis. While we were disappointed in this development, we still found a way to experience the city in a way that provided us with education, history, and fun.
Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum
We originally thought of touring the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum as kind of a “consolation prize” to the National Civil Rights Museum. We were wrong. Slave Haven was a fascinating view into the history of slavery in the US. The guides also told the story of this specific home, owned by a local family who built it for the purpose of moving slaves into freedom though the Underground Railroad system.
I highly recommend this museum if you’re in the area. It was fascinating and truly made that part of our history feel very real.
That afternoon we spent exploring on Beale Street. Normally we would have walked around a little later in the day, but we decided to take advantage of the lack of crowds during the Liberty Bowl game instead. We were a little “crowded out” by that point in the trip.
Beale Street is obviously extra lively at night, but because it was New Year’s Eve, no one under age 21 was allowed on the street after dark for the festivities. That was probably for the best…I’ve been to Beale Street at night, and at it’s not the best atmosphere for teens.
The kids enjoyed all of the shops and the occasional music we heard playing from some of the bars and restaurants. They enjoyed it much more than the French Quarter, for sure.
Hotels that weekend in Memphis were very expensive, so we stayed in East Memphis. On our first night my son and I found barbecue at a place I’d eaten at years ago…Corky’s. I see it’s now a chain restaurant, but we both thought the BBQ was mighty tasty. On New Year’s Eve the four of us ate at a restaurant near our hotel and watched the very exciting end to the Liberty Bowl game.
It was official. Our deep south road trip had left us exhausted. We were ready to get to Indiana to visit family for a quick visit before heading home.
3,000 Miles Across the Deep South in 12 Days…Was it Worth It?
I’d like to think the answer to this is yes. We saw a new (to our kids) part of the country. We experienced lots of southern culture, history and hospitality. We explored fascinating cities, and we were blown away by beautiful national park land and the gulf shores.
But at what cost? Financially this trip was definitely more expensive than our typical domestic road trip. Flights and hotels around the holidays are not cheap. And in order to cover all the territory we wanted to see in the time we had, we had to book an open jaw flight (a bit more expensive) and pay for 12 days worth of car rental and gas.
On our typical road trips, we usually stay at a “home base” for at least a few days before moving on. We did a LOT of moving on this trip. Probably the biggest “cost” of this travel approach was the amount of time spent sitting in the car traveling to our next destination, settling in and packing up from all of our different hotel rooms, and trying to find places to eat. Our kids are very, very used to road trips. They were loaded up with movies and snacks and generally content. But even they were pretty fatigued with all the moving by the end.
Given the goal we decided to achieve on this trip (seeing as many new southern states as possible), and the very short notice we had to plan the trip, I think we did the best we could. It was not ideal, but I am still grateful we had the means and opportunity to take on this epic road trip adventure. If given the choice of going vs. not, I’d go again in a heartbeat.
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