Southern USA: 7 Tips for the First Time Visitor

While many people visit the United States every year, most travelers hit the big three – Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York – and rarely stray from that path. This makes the southern United States “off the beaten path” by default.

I don’t know why more people don’t travel to the south, but I’m sure they have images of red state hillbillies eating deep fried butter. While that may be true for a small percentage of the South, there’s so much more to it. I’ve narrowed down the list to the lucky seven things you need to know before traveling in the southern states.

1. Leave the Diet at Home

I know I said most of us don’t eat deep fried butter, but historically southern food is loaded with carbohydrates because it gave farmers energy for the long days in the fields. Staples include fried chicken, grits, green beans, collard greens and corn on the cob. There are, however, restaurants with a modern twist on Southern cuisine that have won as many awards as those in “foodie” cities like New York and San Francisco. James Beard award-winning FIG in Charleston is just one example. Along with the classic Southern food, the southern states now have a high foreign-born population, with plenty of African, Mexican and Brazilian influences.

2. Go for a Drive

Greyhound buses and Amtrak service the southeast, but you’re better off experiencing the area in a car, windows down and music blasting from the speakers. Many roads still exist that were used before the highways were built, which offer more scenic views. Specifically in coastal South Carolina and Georgia, take Highway 17, instead of superhighway I-95. It goes through all the best small towns.

3. Jam to the Music

Your first instinct may be to think of the south as the place for country music. While there is a lot of the genre, bands like Kings of Leon, R.E.M, Drive-By Truckers and Hootie and the Blowfish also call the region home, as do rap and hip hop stars like Usher and Missy Elliot.

4. Soak up the History

Sure, we may hold on to history a little too much (cough, Civil War, cough), but that’s also a good thing. While the rest of the country long ago bulldozed many of its historical buildings, towns like Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans aren’t too different than they were one hundred years ago, architecturally speaking. You can visit the site of the first shot of the Civil War (Charleston), see the church where Martin Luther King, Jr. preached his message of nonviolence (Atlanta), explore Elvis’ home at Graceland (Memphis) and roam the halls of inns that once housed pirates (Savannah).

5. Embrace the Kitsch

The roadside attractions are outrageous here. Gaffney, South Carolina has a water tower shaped like a peach, or a butt, depending on whom you ask. Marietta, Georgia, has a Kentucky Fried Chicken built into the shape of a chicken, complete with a moving beak and eyes. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is known for its tacky tourist shops, while New Orleans’ Bourbon Street is home to the “huge ass beers” and hand grenades bigger than your face.

6. Check Out a Variety of Landscapes

The area can’t be summed up in just one panorama. You have to experience the cities, like Atlanta, Charlotte, Charleston and Nashville, beaches of the Grand Strand and the Golden Isles, plains in Georgia and Alabama and the bayous of Mississippi and Louisiana.

7. Don’t Stereotype

Just as Australians can’t be summed up by Crocodile Dundee and as the French aren’t constantly wearing berets and eating baguettes, the people of the southern United States are as diverse as anywhere else. You might meet closed-minded people who have never ventured out of their hometowns, but probably not.

About the Author

Caroline Eubanks is a freelance writer and travel blogger originally from Atlanta, Georgia. She loves Funfetti cupcakes, Coca Colas for breakfast and is spending the year on a working holiday in Australia. You can follow her adventures on her blog Caroline in the City or on Twitter.

3 Comments

  • Domestic holiday packages said

    thanks for sharing post....

  • Larry Malarkar said

    Hey Caroline, my wife and I are planning to do a two month road trip starting October of the Southern US states. We will start in Atlanta - where we steal our daughter's car - and would like to do the trip Atlanta>savanah> jacksonville and then onwards following the I-10 but not using the highways all the way to Houston. <br>We are an Indian couple in our mid 60s, foodies and love music. We have the time to spend in more attractive towns, but badly need some knowledeable guidance from you or any of your friends who may have done something like this. I suspect I will have to cut/ paste several people's experiences.<br>Look forward to hearing from you<br>Larry Malarkar<br>Goa, India

  • Larry Malarkar said

    Hey Caroline, my wife and I are planning to do a two month road trip starting October of the Southern US states. We will start in Atlanta - where we steal our daughter's car - and would like to do the trip Atlanta>savanah> jacksonville and then onwards following the I-10 but not using the highways all the way to Houston. <br>We are an Indian couple in our mid 60s, foodies and love music. We have the time to spend in more attractive towns, but badly need some knowledeable guidance from you or any of your friends who may have done something like this. I suspect I will have to cut/ paste several people's experiences.<br>Look forward to hearing from you<br>Larry Malarkar<br>Goa, India

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