Without a doubt, the best way to see the South is by car. The region features some of the country’s best scenic highways and backroads, so you’re never sure of what you’ll find. On the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll wind through one of the country’s first scenic highways, cut through the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia.
On others, like I-95, you’ll find the kitschy road trip stops like South of the Border. And on the Blues Highway in Mississippi you can drive through empty fields and small towns known for their juke joints. No matter what route you choose, it’s important to be prepared, so here are the 10 things you’ll need to bring on any Southern road trip!
1. A map
Yes, despite our modern technology, a real paper map is important for road tripping around the south. Not only is this important for areas where your smartphone or GPS unit may not have service, but also to give you options for getting off the beaten path. You might take a scenic road you hadn’t originally considered!
2. A playlist of great southern tunes
Some of the best music in the world has come from the South, from blues to rock to country and everything in between. Create a playlist of your favorite southern-inspired musicians on your iPod or create a Spotify playlist. We’ve made a playlist on YouTube above of a few of our favorites!
3. The right vehicle
While my usual vehicle for the past 6+ years of road tripping has been my trusty Honda Accord, I recently got to test out the new Toyota Camry Hybrid for a road trip to the Georgia coast. Not only did it get fantastic gas mileage, taking me to Jekyll and almost all the way back on the same tank, but it had features I love.
The satellite radio kept me jamming (the Motown station is the best!) even when I was out of range of FM radio. Added perks include heated seats, push-button start, and the spacious trunk for holding my luggage!
4. Smartphone apps
I know I said to bring a map, but when you’ve reached a destination, a few smartphone apps can make all the difference when you’re looking for a place to stay, eat and explore. My favorites include Yelp for best places nearby, Google Maps for directions, Hotels.com for places to sleep, and, of course, Instagram for making your friends back home jealous of your adventures!
5. Your appetite
I won’t lie. We’ve got some of the best food in the country, if not anywhere. And it’s so much more than just fried food. But be warned, this is not the place to be on a diet! Whether it’s the gumbo of New Orleans, she-crab soup of Charleston, the Delta tamales of Mississippi, or the fried chicken of Atlanta, you won’t be sorry you visited.
6. A good book
So many great stories take place in the South. To Kill a Mockingbird is just one of many. Follow the stories of authors like Hemingway, McCullers, O’Connor, Capote, Grisham, and Faulkner. You can even visit the places they lived and worked as you read along. Download them on your Kindle or hold onto the paperbacks. And don’t forget to bring a guidebook to do some research. Here are a few we recommend.
7. A love of history
Some cities in the South date back to before the founding of the United States. St. Augustine is one of the original Spanish settlements and New Orleans was home to the French. In this region alone, you can find important landmarks to colonial and Civil War history.
8. Protection from the elements
If you’ve never experienced summer in the South, it might just surprise you. The humidity can be overwhelming and the mosquitoes are relentless. Come prepared with light layers, sunscreen, hats, and mosquito spray.
9. A travel buddy
It’s not essential, but road trips are usually more fun with a companion. This way, one can navigate while the other drives, or one can snap photos from the window.
10. A sense of adventure
The South is one of the few parts of the United States not overrun with tourists. Sure, there are places like Charleston, Nashville , and New Orleans that plenty of tourists visit, but it’s easy to take the literal road less traveled and find yourself surrounded entirely by locals.
Toyota sponsored a vehicle rental for my trip to Jekyll Island as a part of the #ToyotaRoadTrips campaign, but all opinions are my own.