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Planning an East Coast road trip for the first time can be a daunting task. There are so many details that need to be decided before you even hit the road! We have created this guide to planning an East Coast road trip for first-time road-trippers since we were once first-timers ourselves! This road trip is geared towards planning a shorter, 10 day East Coast of the United States, city-based road trip! But these tips can be used to plan other road trips as well!
The East Coast of the United States is full of everything you could want on a trip: beautiful landscapes, underrated cities, and popular tourist spots. Since the East Coast of the United States is very drivable, going on a road trip is one of the best ways to see everything and anything you want! We went on a 10 day East Coast road trip during the “off-season” of many destinations. Doing an East Coast of the United States road trip during the off-season is nice because the crowds are diminished and prices are more affordable. Our 10-day East Coast road trip features popular destinations and underrated destinations alike. But you can easily use these tips to build your own road trip! Keep reading to see where we went on our road trip!
10 Steps to Planning a 10 Day East Coast Road Trip
Step 0 Consider Your Budget
Yes, there is a step zero to planning a road trip. Before you even plan the trip, know how much money you have for it. Don’t start planning a trip you don’t have money for or you’ll end up disappointed and angry! Be realistic with yourself.
We get it, the finances of a trip are the worst part. Unless you’re a savvy points user or travel hacker, most people need to set aside a nice chunk of change to travel. This is the time to think about your budget and look at hotel and activity prices, then make a good estimate. If you’re a student, look at our how to travel as a student guide to see how you can save money on traveling!
Our Step 0 $2000
Step 1 Determine the Length of the Trip
When planning a road trip, it’s all logistics and timing. The first thing we determined was how much time we really had to make it happen. 10 days was the maximum for us! And since many of the cities we wanted to visit were kinda far from one another, it made sense to have the trip be longer to allow for longer driving times.
Our Step 1: 10 Days
Step 2 Select Destinations
Make a list of destinations you want to go! For us, after coming up with a list of possible destinations, a quite extended list, to be honest, we had to step back and think about it how it could truly be executed in 10 days. With our original list, our trip would have taken at least a month! Unfortunately, as two working people, a month of vacation during December wasn’t realistic. So we needed to be realistic with ourselves. What could we really achieve in 10 days?
Our Step 2
Pittsburgh, Wheeling, Cincinnati, Columbus, Louisville, Nashville, Birmingham, Atlanta, Charlotte, Richmond, Washinton DC
Step 3 Narrow Down Destinations
This is where you need to narrow down your list. (unless you have unlimited days!) Think about your starting point and where you really want to go and how many days you want to spend in each place. Which destinations will have long drives between them? How long will those drives be? Will I be wasting days driving? We began to narrow down our destinations by selecting places that had no more than a 5-hour drive between them.
Our Step 3
Step 4 Pick Destination Duration and Activities
Next, we considered how long we wanted to stay in each place. This is the time to think about and browse the activities you’re interested in. How much time do you need to do everything you want? Some destinations on your East Coast road trip might need two or three days, while others might only need one. Start making a list of activities and things to do and create a roughly estimated time table for each day.
During our trip planning, we made sure to check out some activity booking services like Get Your Guide and Groupon for deals and unique activities! Get Your Guide offers admission for tours, museums, and other activities, while Groupon has a little bit of everything from deals on restaurants to tours as well!
Step 5 Map it Out
Get on Google Maps and start mapping! Add your destination to a Google Map in an order that makes sense for shorter driving times. Is there a place super out of the way? Should I eliminate this place? Could I add another destination to make it worthwhile? Are there any other places you haven’t considered? If your map isn’t looking very nice or logical, consider going back to your list of destinations and look at the map again.
Step 6 Select Hotels
Now it’s the fun part of the trip! Start browsing hotels on Expedia, Trip Advisor, Booking, Vrbo the list goes on! Browse all of the hotel booking services for good deals! Since you’re going to be doing a lot of bookings, consider signing up for a rewards program for one of them. Then you reap the benefits of being a member! Also, sign up for a cashback plugin like Rakuten or Honey so you can get cash back on your bookings! Both of these tools are easy-to-install web browser plugins that allow you to earn cashback on all of your eligible purchases! Simply activate the plugin and get shopping!
Even though we aren’t the best travel hackers, we do enjoy building points with a credit card. Consider investing in, or using a credit card that has point or cashback benefits since you’ll be putting lots of charges on a card. While planning hotels, keep thinking about your budget!
Step 7 Book Activities
Now that you’re officially booked in at a hotel or Airbnb, buy tickets ahead of time for your activities. Many museums and sites have online booking discounts! And booking ahead will help you to keep track of your budget. But don’t overbook yourself. Consider how long each activity will take and add at least another hour to it.
Step 8 Revisit Your Budget
With all of your hotels and activities booked, think about how much spending money you have left for food, gas, and spending money. If you’re running low on available funds, go back a few steps!
Step 9 Get Ready for your Trip
Now that your trip is planned, start getting ready for it by following our trip preparation guide!
Step 10 Pack for Your Trip
Follow our packing guides for how to pack for any trip! For a road trip, don’t overpack your car! But don’t forget some essentials. Since you’re going to be driving, pack your spare car key! Keys can get lost and a lost key on a road trip would be a nightmare! Pack a cooler in your car with some drinks and snacks. Gridlock traffic and road trip munchies happen and being hungry on the road sucks! Lastly, pack some cash and change for in the car. It’s likely you’ll be using toll roads and paying with cash is much easier.
Sample 10 Day East Coast Road Trip Itinerary
Here is the itinerary that we used for our 10 Day East Coast road trip! Check out the links for each destination to see what we did!
One Day in Wheeling, WV
One Day in Cincinnati, OH
Wheeling to Cincinnati Drive: 3.5 hours
One Day in Louisville, KY
Cincinnati to Louisville Drive: 1.5 hours
Two Days in Nashville, TN
Lousiville to Nashville Drive: 3 hours
Three Days in Atlanta, GA
Nashville to Atlanta Drive: 4 hours
Note: This portion of our trip was spent staying with family so our expense report does not reflect hotel cost in Atlanta for three days!
One Day in Charlotte, NC
Atlanta to Charlotte Drive: 4 hours
Charlotte to Pittsburgh Drive: 8 hours
Our 10 Day Road Trip Expense Report
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