I’ve always thought of traveling in the US as a gigantic undertaking. I imagined road trips over interminable deserts, on empty, sunbaked interstates that shimmer into the endless distance, across inhospitable mountain ranges, through dusty suspicious towns, and on and on across the continent to the ocean. Romantic, but time consuming. And as Bill Bryson has pointed out, most of the romantic roads have now been replaced with anonymous interstates, where you battle with delivery trucks driving too fast and try not to crash in the chaos of lane switching and under/over taking.
However, there are other kinds of traveling in the US, especially on the east coast where towns and attractions are relatively densely packed together. You only have to drive an hour from DC to be somewhere you might want to stop and sightsee; or the train can take you to Baltimore in under an hour, Philadelphia in about two hours, and New York in three – even Boston is less than seven hours away by train. Direct flights within the area aren’t too expensive either – you can get to Portland Maine in under two hours for about $250 (£161). So far we’ve flown to Maine for a week’s vacation driving around the MidCoast region and to Boston for a weekend. We took the train for a weekend in NYC and a daytrip to Baltimore. And I’ve traveled to Binghampton in upstate NY via a flight to Syracuse and a Greyhound bus(!) We’ve also driven from DC to Shenandoah National Park (1.5 hours), to Virginia vineyards (1 hour), and to the Historic Triangle on the Virginia peninsula (about 3 hours). We’re currently thinking about taking a long weekend to drive through West Virginia and Kentucky to Nashville (TN), and back through Georgia and the Carolinas – I don’t think this is too ambitious.
So what I’m really saying is that DC can be the perfect starting point to an East Coast American adventure. Certainly two of our family members found this to be true when they embarked from DC, in a white convertible mustang, on an autumn road-trip through upstate New York, New England and Maine. I was incredibly jealous of their itinerary, which took in the Finger Lakes, the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory, and fall foliage in Maine’s Acadia National Park before ending in Boston, where they got their flight back to the UK.
We do still think about the epic, cross-continental road trip, and might get the chance to do this when a couple of our friends get married later this year in California (and if we have enough holiday…). But in the meantime, there’s still plenty of America on our doorstep to explore.