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Observations from the halfway point on the Great American Road Trip

Observations from the halfway point on the Great American Road Trip

Last Updated on February 19, 2021

Since we started this NYC2NOLA Great American road trip, we hit NYC,  Philadelphia and Washington, DC, before we were forced to forgo Virginia Beach, Wilmington and Myrtle beach and made a hurricane detour through the mountains of North Carolina to Asheville, then on to Charlotte, before rejoining the original course down to Charleston, South Carolina and now into Savannah, Georgia. We have been loving every minute of this on the road lifestyle. However, until we have time to process this amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience, it is difficult to produce poignant generalizations or in-depth articles, but that will come in time. For now, at the halfway point, we have come up with a list of some Great American road trip observations. We hope you enjoy!

American road trip observations

1. There are Germans everywhere.

Being a German-American duo, of course we love Germans and are happy to meet them along the way. It’s unbelievable how many Germans are traveling through the U.S. at the moment – at times there seem to be more German tourists than Americans! The only problem is that German is our ‘secret’ language we use when we want to gossip, speak privately in public or even carry out a polite argument (which does happen!). It’s still better than speaking our only other shared language, Spanish, which far too many people can understand here in America for that to be private.

2. Southern food is not diet food.

Since hitting the Carolinas last week we have learned that here, Mac’n’cheese is considered a vegetable (!). We certainly make no complaints about the availability of the cheesy, delicious pasta dish, but it plus buttered carrots or fried green tomatoes are about as much roughage as we have gotten from any restaurant so far. We did a nice big fruit/veg shop yesterday to get us back on the healthy track again.

charleston mac n cheese sandwich

3. It’s hot.

Last year at this time we were in Mexico. It was hot there. Last June, we spent three weeks in Tucson, and it was extremely hot then. But nothing compares to the intense humidity of late August here in the South. Sightseeing sure isn’t easy, though historic homes, museums, even CVS are welcome stops on our days out in order to soak up some air-conditioning as often as possible.

4. Americans love to road trip!

We have managed to spot license plates from nearly all 50 states, including both Hawaii and Alaska. Today alone we saw 4 Ohios, 2 Illinois, a Wyoming, a California, that Alaska and others, highlighting the willingness of Americans to cover massive distances in the comfort of their own cars.

American road trip observations

5. Southern Charm and Southern Hospitality are alive and kicking!

People actually talk to you, a complete stranger, about nothing at all and happily so. The men are so helpful and chivalrous, while the women change it up between calling us baby, sugar and sweetie, and sometimes all three in one sentence. I am adamant about the friendliness of Americans over all (friendly chit chat and conversations that make many Europeans uncomfortable) but down here, there is a warmth (unrelated to the weather) that is unfamiliar to me as a northerner.

6. Having a rental car is expensive.

Even though we locked in to an amazing initial rate,  this car is draining the budget quickly. In addition to the rate, we pay the insurance, the gas, the parking -$10 minimum per day fee in any parking garage, toll roads and one parking ticket so far. But again, what is a road trip without the car – so we’re cutting back in other areas to make up for it.

American road trip observations

7. All of America is suburbanized.

As soon as we cross out of the city limits, the pattern of suburban strip malls is strangely so familiar. We drive down one long four-lane road with well-spaced stoplights at the start of each new strip mall, with chain stores showing up in nearly the same pattern: McDonalds, Taco Bell, Hardee’s, Wendys (out front) with Home Depot, a bookstore or a supermarket (further back), followed by a smaller strip mall that as been there longer, this one with a China Buffet, a Hobby Lobby, a SuperCuts, maybe a card store and a dollar store. We love the flair that has remained in the downtown centers, but the suburbs everywhere are all the same.

8. Being environmentally-friendly travelers on an American road trip is hard.

Too hard, we say. In America we both find shocking the degree of apathy toward planet-friendly behavior. Even food we pick up from the supermarket is heavily wrapped or packed in plastic and hotel chains (the cheap ones) use styrofoam cups and plates for breakfast as if it weren’t common knowledge that this material doesn’t biodegrade at all. Health and Safety Standards for people have now become so illogical they override being good to the planet – the worst is McDonalds (shame on them!), who won’t even pour coffee into our travel mugs at all.  We have to buy the coffee in the paper/plastic cup and pour it in ourselves, defeating the purpose of a travel mug and killing the planet all at the same time.trash in the car

9. Road Trips with iPhones/iPods are on a completely different level.

Not only can you download city maps and walks for each city, but the actual time spent in the car is so much more controlled. We can listen to whatever we want – music, podcasts, audiobooks, rather than flip between the two or three local stations which, for whatever reason, tend to only play country music – from as far north as Quebec, all the way down to Charleston.

10. The quality of these common roadside hotel chains varies drastically – even within the same brand.

We have been lucky to spend many nights in beautiful big hotels and charming gems, but have also booked in to some of the more common roadside chains. In Washington, DC, the room we booked at the Days Inn was spacious, clean and on par with some 3 star hotels so we went ahead and booked in to one on our last minute trip to Asheville, NC. For nearly the same price, the room was shabby, and the complimentary breakfast was so disappointing it was not an option. One of the most interesting American road trip observations is that unlike with 3 star chains and above, with these Super 8, Motel 6, Days Inn, Red Roof Inn brands results may vary – big time!

American road trip observations

We are now in Savannah, relaxing in comfort at the Westin Savannah and planning our day out in Savannah tomorrow thanks to the incredibly thorough Savannah travel guides by For 91 days and

Coming This Week: September 11 – 17 « The Roving Van Gelders

Sunday 11th of September 2011

[...] of the Week: This delightful little post is a great insight into how un-glamorous road life can be. Advertisement [...]

Brian @ Wanderings

Friday 9th of September 2011

We’ve been road-tripping through the U.S. for the past 18 months, and definitely identify with this list. We ordered what we thought would be a healthy plate of Red Beans and rice in the south but received a bowl so loaded with bacon fat we’d have been better off with fried chicken.

And we also noticed the “suburbanization” of the U.S. We call it “everywhere U.S.A.” The good thing is, though, there are so many wonderful places in between much of the sameness that make these trips worthwhile.

We’ve found, and written about, many hidden gems along our way and hope to discover many more on our continuing travels.

Cheers, Brian


Saturday 17th of September 2011

Brian, thanks so much for getting in touch with us! 18 months on the road in the US - that is really incredible! Where haven't you been in that time, we wonder! We can't wait to read more about your trip over on your site. We know exactly what you mean about Everywhere USA. It is really great to discover the original, unique places throughout the country, it's a shame that so much more has been enveloped by this suburbanization of the country. It just makes things harder - limited public transportation, less choices for food and entertainment, and less opportunity for those with a unique talent or skill to shine. But we still loved places this time around like Nola, Charleston, Asheville and Savannah!


Monday 5th of September 2011

It's funny - Germans always tell me that they see Germans everywhere when they're abroad. From my perspective (living in a not so travel abroad oriented country) it doesn't seem that abnormal because there are a few countries that seem to be full of people who like to travel and I will meet people from those places wherever I go!

The thing about some of those hotel chains is that a lot of them are franchises... so quality depends on who is running it!


Saturday 17th of September 2011

Hi Ekua, true about the hotel chains for sure - it is just amazing what a difference in quality can do to our perception of a brand in general. A McDonalds can look however on the inside, but the quality of the product is usually exactly the same, whereas dirty sheets or cockroaches in a Days Inn is part of the product, and so alters the entire experience of that brand. Too bad there are so few mom-n-pop places left on the highways nowadays!


Monday 5th of September 2011

Savannah is great! I hope you guys are enjoying it.

Funny that you should mention running into so many Germans on your trip -- on my recent road trip out West, there were so many French tourists it wasn't even funny! My sister and I went to a Pizza Hut one night in Page, Arizona, and I swear we were the only ones there speaking English. It was so strange!

And as for the various license plates you saw, it may not actually be a ton of Americans traveling... My sister and I found out that a lot of rental car companies have cars with license plates from all over the country. So, many of those cars may be filled with foreign tourists! (For example, out West we saw a ton of California license plates on cars, and later learned that almost all of them were being driven by French and German tourists!)

Great post!


Wednesday 7th of September 2011

It's a good point you make with the rental. Our car now has Mass. plates which we rented in DC! But many of these cars are definitely not rentals - some are absolute buckets!

Page, Arizona! Tons of tourists there compared to locals, right? We were there last year and heard so many foreign languages, too. But they are all there because of what's right outside of Page - gorgeous, gorgeous landscapes! Thanks for stopping by Amanda, we love following along on your journey as well!


Monday 5th of September 2011

Enjoy Savannah! It is a beautiful little city and yes, southern charm, hospitiality and niceness is alive and well! Until they find out one of you is a Yankee. Then it's on. ;) (I used to live in Atlanta and got called a Yankee more than once!)


Monday 5th of September 2011

Hey Claire - I am working on my accent, trying to sound southern :-) but am pretty sure they'll figure me out, ha! Seriously such great people, though - so far!