There’s nothing quite like taking a road trip – the open road, the ever-changing scenery, the good soundtrack to go with the good company. While it would probably take a couple of months to do a road trip across America, it’s entirely possible to cover a number of states and cities on the East Coast within a week or less, especially since there are a number of HI USA hostels along the way that make excellent overnight stops.
Wondering where to start? We’ve put together an itinerary from New York to Virginia, which includes awesome sights and hidden treasures along the way. This is not the type of road trip where you’ll be driving for long stretches at a time, but it will give you a good sampling of how diverse the United States is, how each city has its own culture and character, and how you can experience local life on a deeper level just by staying at one of our hostels. So buckle up and get set for an adventure out on the open road!
New York City to Philadelphia Driving Distance: 97 miles
The good times start at HI New York City hostel, where the friendly and in-the-know staff can help you make the most of your visit to the Big Apple, whether you’re looking to hit all the major sights or trying to discover the off-the-beaten-path gems. Once you’re ready to hit the road, it’s about a two-hour drive south to Philadelphia, which means there is plenty of time for some interesting stops along the way. Not too far outside of New York, in New Jersey, stop in Edison (named after the famous inventor who lived there) for a look at the World’s Largest Light Bulb. The giant globe sits atop a 13-foot tower, which is also a museum highlighting Thomas Edison’s work.
Not too far from that you can take a quick zen break at the bamboo forest at the Rutgers Gardens in New Brunswick. Walk through the grove along a winding path of tall stalks, which change colors with the seasons, before hitting the road to Philadelphia.
Philadelphia to Baltimore Driving Distance: 100.7 miles
To make the most of your stay in the “City of Brotherly Love”, stay for a night or two at HI Philadelphia Apple hostel, where you’ll make friends with fellow travelers over a community dinner or a $2 ghost tour. The hostel is within walking distance of some of the best that Philly has to offer, from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, to shops, restaurants and bars in the Old City. Next, it’s on to Baltimore in Maryland, another two-hour drive with a couple of sweet stops along the way. Be sure to have some cash on hand for the toll gates.
About an hour outside of Philadelphia is the spectacular Longwood Gardens. With more than a thousand acres of formal and naturalistic flowers and greenery, it doesn’t matter what season you’re visiting in as there’s always a cacophony of colors and fragrances coming from the various themed gardens. Take a walk through Peirce’s Park, admire the miniature trees in the Bonsai Display, or stop for a laze on the lawns of the Cow Lot Meadow.
Tip: The bathrooms at Longwood Gardens were nominated for Restroom of the Year in 2014, so they’re worth checking out for a potty break!
Baltimore to Washington, DC Driving Distance: 40.9 miles
HI Baltimore awaits, and once you get here you’ll again be greeted by super-friendly staff who can point you to some of the best that “Charm City” has to offer. There’s always something interesting happening, from art and culture festivals to historic sights and museums, plus all the in-house hostel activities on offer. From here it takes about an hour to get to Washington, DC, and you can opt to just make a day-trip by train to visit the country’s capital, or, once you’ve made the most of your stay in Baltimore, take to the road and spend the night at HI Washington DC. This hostel offers free, volunteer-led tours of the historic sights, and it’s conveniently close to all the things you’d hope to experience in this corner of the country.
Washington, DC, to Richmond Driving Distance: 109.4 miles
The last two-hour stretch of road trip takes your further south to Richmond, Virginia. As you leave DC, it’s worth making the out-of-the-way stop to the National Harbor for a photo-op with The Awakening, a 72-foot statue of a giant buried in the earth that’s struggling to get free. Then, about halfway to Richmond, get your fill of American history at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, which is one of the best places to learn about the Civil War. Take a self-guided driving tour of one of the four on-site battlefields with old headquarters and hospitals, or pop into one of the visitors centers for a quick snapshot of the history within this expansive park.
The final stop on your East Coast adventure with HI USA is the lovely HI Richmond hostel, which is housed in a renovated historic building close to the James River and the East Coast Greenway. Get the scoop on what to do, see and eat in the quaint and colorful city, and be sure to set aside a day or two for exploring the stunning natural beauty that surrounds this sweet spot.
HI USA Tip: Bear in mind that there’s likely to be lots of traffic along the way, so try and plan your trip outside of peak commuter hours, when traffic is at its worst.
Be sure to book your stay at all the hostels along the way at hiusa.org, and support HI USA’s efforts to build a more tolerant world.