Finally, the flights are booked and our much-anticipated trip to America’s ‘Deep South’ is fast approaching. The plan is a two-week road trip around the ‘Mojo Triangle’, the area between New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville which is the spiritual home of the Blues, Jazz, Rock N’Roll and Country. (Our cowboy boots are already polished and packed!)
There aren’t any direct flights from the UK into New Orleans, Memphis or Nashville so we will be flying into Atlanta, getting acclimatised for a few days and then flying on to New Orleans.
Atlanta itself is the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr, home of CNN and the headquarters of the original American champagne ‘Coca-Cola’.
Looking at many of the escorted tours, they fly to Atlanta, work their way anti-clockwise, up through Chattanooga on to Nashville then Memphis and down to New Orleans. As we wanted to be in certain places on certain dates (an expensive combination of birthday and wedding anniversary) we have chosen the clockwise route. After a couple of days in Atlanta and four days in New Orleans we will be picking up the car.
Tip: Don’t forget to ask for a ‘Rental Car’ as they’ll look at you blankly if you say ‘Hire’.
The Boring But Important Stuff
For this trip we will be renting from ‘Avis’ as we have used them before and found it to be painless – it is worth checking out the best location to pick up your car as we have heard stories of waiting times of 3 hours or more, we have previously spent over an hour with ‘Alamo’ in Miami. Not the best way to start your road trip.
Arranging the rental before you go is cheaper and easier and having all the insurance coverage sorted helps you avoid the hard sell of the rental agents, many of whom work on commission.
Tip: Hiring or even buying a secondhand SatNav before your trip is much cheaper than the daily rate offered by the rental company.
The Fun Stuff, Choosing Your Car
A Dodge Challenger 392, Shelby GT500 Mustang or a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 – These are the American muscle cars we fantasise about but unfortunately not that practical for a road trip. They are excellent for a couple with one bag the size of a small lunchbox but if you have any other form of luggage and don’t want it stolen from the back seat then I’m afraid they’re no good.
The ‘real life’ option depends on everyday practicalities such as budget and number of passengers. The golden era of American classics have long since passed and your option will probably consist of anonymous Japanese cars in shades of brown.
Our choice is an SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) although not that ‘sporty’ they usually have ample room. Last year we did upgrade to a Chevrolet Tahoe which was rather large and one hotel did let me park it in the disabled bay!
Tip: If the rental company do a walk around of the car it may be worth videoing it on your phone.
Now We’re Off
From New Orleans we plan to drive up and stay in Natchez (170 miles), stopping off to visit a ‘Gone with the Wind’ style plantation house on the way.
After Natchez, our next stop for 2 nights will be Memphis (300 miles). A long drive but we intend taking most of the day to get there, just soaking up the sights and sounds of Mississippi and Tennessee. Blue suede shoes at the ready we should get to Memphis late afternoon. Although we’re not big Elvis fans we have to visit Graceland and Sun Studios. Also looking forward to dropping into Lansky Brothers, Elvis’s original outfitters from the 50’s (before he went all rhinestone jumpsuits).
From Memphis it’s on to Nashville – ‘Music City’ (215 miles). Nashville is the state capital of Tennessee and the spiritual home of country music. We’ve arranged a night at the ‘Grand Ole Opry’ to really immerse ourselves in the country experience. Cowboy hats and boots at the ready, just like Gavin and Stacey’s ‘Nessa and Bryn’ as they sang ‘Islands in the Stream’.
The ‘Honky Tonks’ on Broadway look like a good place to spend a few hours. These are the live music bars where the up and coming musicians ply their trade, maybe we’ll meet the next Taylor Swift or Dolly Parton.
As well as Nashville we plan a day trip to Lynchburg (75 miles), famous for Jack Daniels. Strangely, despite being the home of one of the most famous whiskies the distillery is in a ‘dry’ county.
Finally its a 255 mile drive from Nashville back to Atlanta airport for our early evening flight back to the UK.
Tip: Don’t forget the time zones, Atlanta is one hour ahead of Tennessee time.
Further information about driving in the USA and the rest of the world can be found in this useful interactive graphic. There are some peculiarities, even in the USA which you may find odd. Luckily only once I have found myself on the wrong side of the road!
* PR collaboration