Our East Coast Road Trip

Our most recent family adventure was an East coast road trip. A family vacation road trip is always an adventure but long family road trips together are truly adventurous!

For our East coast road trip, we drove from Atlanta, Georgia to Quebec City in eastern Canada and back. We spent nearly a month and stopped at MANY spots along the way: the mountains of West Virginia, Niagara Falls, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, Maine, Boston, New York City, and Washington DC. We only had a small taste of most of these locations, since we were almost always on the move, but it was an experience of a lifetime and my kids can't wait to go back and spend more time at each and every one of these places.

Why the East Coast?

Well, the whole East Coast road trip centered around a home exchange in Quebec. Home swaps or home exchanges are the best option for cheap road trips. The Quebec family stayed in my Mom's home in North Carolina for a week while we all stayed at their home in Quebec City. My parents planned to join us for the first part of the trip only, but ended up enjoying the adventure so much that they stayed with us through Maine and Boston as well. My husband joined us for the first week+, through Niagara Falls, Toronto, Montreal, and part of the week in Quebec. I'm lucky enough to be able to work from anywhere in the world so I was able to continue the adventure with my kids for the next 2 weeks while we explored the East coast while driving back to Atlanta.

Of course, for this to have been one of the cheap road trips I mentioned, we would have needed to fly straight into Quebec and then fly home (with good deals on airfare of course!) Adding hotel stays at all of the other stops along our way, gas for driving 3100 miles, touring and eating out along the way for nearly a month definitely added to the costs. But we made this a fairly budget-conscious road trip nevertheless.

That's a LOT of hotel rooms!

For our family vacation road trip, we used Priceline and Hotwire extensively, booking our rooms a night or two ahead. This was a bit unnerving for my almost 70-year-old mother who likes to plan everything FAR in advance, but she came around when I found us 3 and 4 star hotels for the price of the 2-star hotels she had found.

My stepfather is handicapped and my kids and I have severe allergies to smoke, so it felt a bit like a gamble every night, but we always ended up with non-smoking rooms and a handicapped room. Here's how: Right after we booked through Hotwire or Priceline, we called the hotel (the number is always on the confirmation page) and asked VERY nicely for our special requests. Some were less friendly than others, explaining that they'd write down our request but couldn't guarantee it, but it always worked out. And when we ended up with a King bed instead of 2 doubles or 2 queens, we simply brought our own air mattress and sleeping bag in (so I wouldn't have to sleep with 2 kids who turn octopus-like in bed!)

We had a tent and minimal camping gear in our car, planning to offset costs by camping a few days in Maine, but we ended up finding good prices on hotels there as well and, after a long drive, I could never quite wrap my head around setting up a tent.

On the last leg of our journey (Boston, NYC, DC), I struggled to find reasonably-priced rooms and waited too late the night before (since we were out exploring the cities all day) that using the discount sites got a bit stressful. We DID find an amazing deal (super-pricey but not relative to everything else) at the Ritz-Carlton at Battery Park in NYC. It was, by far, the most extravagant and memorable night of our trip. We were upgraded (it helps to have cute, wide-eyed kids with you!) to a harbor-view room and we literally had the best view of the Statue of Liberty there is in New York! Completely unobstructed, with the Brooklyn bridge to our left, the statue straight in front, and New Jersey to our right. They even had a telescope in our room that allowed us to see the statue up really close, clearer than you can see when you're standing at its base! It was truly spectacular!! There was even a little "show" of police boats, helicopters, and search lights out in the water that kept us entertained for hours that night.

We weren't always so lucky. 2 nights in Maine we stayed at a perfectly fine hotel except that our room was a hike up a fairly big hill and then another hike up a set up stairs! Boy, did we regret all the luggage we brought that night!! Our last night in Maine, my Mom found us a quaint old motel on beautiful Bailey's Island where we watched boats on the water all night! It was an amazingly beautiful place!

Food and Laundry on a Family Road Trip

We had another home exchange in DC (for a weekend) so while we were in both Quebec and DC, we were able to do laundry and cook meals at our home away from home - the nicest perks of a home exchange !! We also had many dinners in our hotel room: wine, cheese, bread,...

Here's a page on budget road trip food if you'd like to hear more of our meal tips.

What would I do differently?

I would pack 1/2 of the stuff we brought!! The clothes were fine. We brought exactly enough to get us by between laundry stops, but we brought FAR too many extras: Camping gear, extra sleeping bags, coats (our plan to escape Atlanta's July heat backfired as there was a heat wave everywhere we went - even in the 90's F in Quebec!!), long pants and sweatshirts (ha!), and extra toiletries that we never needed,... We also had a guitar, laptop, audio recording gear, and too many electronics and chargers that had to be brought in to a different hotel practically every night. We could have left the guitar at home since it was played only a few times (or at least have brought our little one). It was very difficult to find things and keep the car organized after the first few days of the trip. We also each brought in our suitcases/backpacks every night for the first week, until I finally got smart enough to pack 1 outfit + PJs + swim suits each in 1 bag and we left the rest in the car each night.

When we were leaving Maine and heading for Boston, I wished that we had planned to stay longer (I wished that everywhere we went!) and, for a while, I considered staying a few more days and skipping all of the big East Coast cities (Boston, New York City, and Washington DC) and just driving home directly (and less expensively than the big cities). Of course, since we had the home exchange lined up in DC, we carried on with our plans and loved every minute of each of those cities.

I don't think we could have done the trip any faster or slower than we did. It was a LOT of driving so it was nice (and necessary) to break it up with several real breaks along the way (7 days in Quebec, 3 days in Maine, 3 days in DC). We were all home-sick by the end but none of us would have cut out anything.

The People

One of the nicest things about our trip was seeing friends along the way. At our first stop, the small town of Parkersburg, WV, we were surprised to run into friends from Atlanta at the little town fair on July 4th. Very strange indeed!

In Montreal, we had lunch with 2 of my coworkers (1 who I've never met before after working together for 6-7 years!)

In Maine, I got to see 2 dear friends from high school (in Pennsylvania) who happened to have both ended up in the same area in Maine. An extra perk is that it's right near where I was born (but only lived 6 months and visited once as a child). I haven't seen these friends in at least 8 years and I'm certain we'll stay in touch now.

In DC, we spent time with a family who just recently moved out of Atlanta and who we miss terribly. It was a melancholy visit but it left us all with the hope that we'll still get together every once in a while and now we'll now value the time more than when we could just walk down to hang out on their front porch!

Extra Perks of a Family Vacation Road Trip:

One of the unexpected perks of the trip was that my boys became closer. We ALL became closer! My 12-almost-13-year-old, at home, had become a fairly negative, brooding tween who rarely said a kind word to his brother. The 2 of them rarely did anything together this past year and my oldest was constantly annoyed by his little brother. Over the course of this trip, they drove me absolutely batty with their playful wrestling and rambunctiousness (always especially punchy when we were staying in the nicer hotels!) but, looking back, it was a HUGE change to have them actually enjoying each other's company - and that hasn't stopped in the days we've been home either!

Being forced to work through conflicts in the close quarters of the car (with Mom listening in) was good as well. They both eventually started talking through things more than getting physical and hitting. My 12-year-old reverted back to that sweet little inquisitive boy who talked to me about everything instead of wanting to be alone in his room all the time.

We laughed together at how stressed out each of us got at times along the way (because vacations CAN be stressful even when they're fun!) At one point, after asking the boys to be quiet at least 5 times with them clearly not listening, I actually cursed at them. Later, we laughed about it and all I had to do when they weren't listening to me after that was ask "Do I need to curse again?" It got their attention!

We learned a little French together, listening to a book on tape. We're hoping to do a home exchange in Paris next Summer (so this trip was a trial run, although we'll do FAR less driving next Summer!!) Quebec City is a great way to experience Europe without actually going there and our whole family is looking forward to learning more French (and maybe Italian) this year in preparation for next Summer!

With school starting next week, I think our East Coast road trip was just the holiday my boys needed to really feel like they had a Summer break and to really feel like a family again!

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