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virginia to california road trip

When my best friend Staci asked me if I would help her move from northern Virginia to her new home in Huntington Beach, California, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.  I had already driven two coast-to-coast road trips before but never anything that took me through the deep South.  This was the perfect opportunity to knock a few states off my bucket list (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama), officially visit California instead of just passing through and spend some much-needed time with my bestie.

Driving cross country with a Uhaul trailer in early December has been a huge factor in our route planning which is why we’re skirting so far south.  Another priority of ours is checking out every quirky roadside attraction that we can find.  And finally, the budget.  Free or cheap is the name of the game on this road trip.  With all the costs of moving cross country Staci is looking to spend as little money as possible.  Challenge accepted!

Oh, and did I mention we’re doing this whole trip with her cat?  Yep, big boy Skittles will be riding out to California with us so all of our accommodations and activities have to be pet-friendly too!

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Skittles even has his own backpack so we can take him EVERYWHERE

We’re still figuring out where all the good (and free!) roadside attractions are but below is our itinerary so far.  If you’ve got an suggestions please feel free to share them!

Day One: Manassas to Birmingham

We drive down I-81 through western Virginia and eastern Tennessee, passing through Knoxville and Chattanooga before stopping in tiny Attala, AL, just north of Birmingham.

  • Pit stops:  Not sure that we’ll have time for any.  It’s an 11 hour drive and we can’t hit the road till the kids are in school which limits our options.  But I’m still on the lookout for quick roadside stops
  • Lodging: Motel 6 Attala (pets stay free!)

Day Two: Birmingham to New Orleans

We keep scooting south on I-59 till we get to our first big stop of the trip: New Orleans!

  • Pit stops:  Leatha’s Bar-B-Que in Hattiesburg, MS.  I’ve heard great things about it and this Southern girl loves pulled pork!
  • Lodging: Aloft New Orleans, just a block from Canal Street.  Not only do pets stay free but we do too!  I’m using my Marriott points at this hotel to keep our budget low.  Gotta love travel rewards!

Day Three: New Orleans!

Photo by mana5280 on Unsplash

We’re spending a full day in the Big Easy, exploring every nook and cranny and eating all the best foods that New Orleans has to offer! The main activity of our day will be the City Sightseeing bus tours and guided walking tours around the Garden District and French Quarter.  Then that evening we’ll make our way back down Canal Street to the Riverwalk, hitting every interesting bar and restaurant along the way.

Day Four: New Orleans to Abilene

Time to get back on the road as we continue making our way westward.  We pass through some big cities like Baton Rouge, Shreveport and Dallas before stopping for the night in small town Abilene.

Side note: We had the option of skirting through southern Texas along I-10, driving through Houston, San Antonio and El Paso all the way to California.  But after doing some extensive research I discovered that 1) Houston traffic is a nightmare and 2) I-10 in general is very very boring.  Those factors and the draw of Roswell and Route 66 is why we chose the northern route.

Day Five: Abilene to Holbrook

Today we take the smaller highways through Texas so we can pass through Roswell and hopefully encounter some aliens!  Then we make our way north to Albuquerque where we can begin coasting along Route 66 for the rest of our journey.

  • Pit stops:  A spaceship McDonald’s in Roswell and tons of roadside attractions along Route 66
  • Lodging: Wigwam Motel.  Yes, THAT Wigwam Motel, like in the movies.  We haven’t been able to find any quirky pet-friendly lodging up until this point so we’re taking advantage of all that Route 66 has to offer!

Day Six: Holbrook to Lake Havasu City

It’s a relatively short driving day, only 5 hours, to our next stop in Lake Havasu City where we’ll spend 2 nights so we can explore the area.

  • Pit stops:  Petrified National Forest outside Holbrook and more roadside attractions along Route 66
  • Lodging: Family members.  Cause we will never turn down free lodging!

Day Seven: Sightseeing!

Photo by Daniel Seßler on Unsplash

We’re taking another day from travel to explore everything in the area.  Obviously we’re going to see the Grand Canyon while we’re here, perhaps even making time to watch the sunset.  But we’re also going to explore nearby Bearizona Wildlife Park, a must-see attraction according to our friends.

Day Eight: Lake Havasu City to Huntington Beach

We’re in the home stretch as we complete the last few hours of our cross country road trip.  Our route doesn’t take us directly to Huntington Beach because we want to see more of Route 66 and visit Joshua Tree National Park.  But the good news is that we have plenty of time in the day to do both and still get to our destination before dark.

  • Pit stops: Joshua Tree National Park
  • Lodging: Home!

After reaching Huntington Beach I’ll have almost a week to explore the area before flying back home to Virginia.  I can’t wait for this budget friendly, kid free, fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants road trip!

Follow #VA2LA2019 on Instagram for posts and updates on our road trip!

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