Our round-trip in the South-east of the US was our best family holiday EVER (so far!). Even though we were planning this trip for what seemed like a while—boy was it worth it! It was just incredible! Five and a half weeks together with your kids is a blessing. It was something I couldn’t ever imagine doing. But, as soon as we put in the holiday notice with our jobs, I got planning right away. To start I was focused on two things:
– Finding good and cheap flights
– Finding a suitable home swap/exchange
Please read my blogs: How do I search for the cheapest flights and If you’re a first-time home swapper, START HERE where I share all my tips on these topics. I promise: it will save you so much money! Also, if you just don’t know how to ask for ample time off, see my blog How to maximize your time off from work.
Our round trip:
Orlando > Smoky Mountains (Highlands, SC) > Charleston > Savannah > Amelia Island > St Augustine > Space Coast > Miami > Key West > Sanibel > Tampa Bay > Useppa > Orlando
Our trip started in Orlando, where we landed and stayed overnight in a hotel. We switched on the tv and it was the moment that Donald Trump was endorsed as the Republican Presidential Candidate. We knew we were in America now.
The next day we drove North to the Great Smoky Mountains.
I had no idea just how wonderful the Smoky Mountains were. We were lucky to stay two weeks in a big, beautiful, wooden house on a river. The boys played between the rocks in the water. In the meantime, we followed the endorsement of Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Presidential Candidate. It was so lovely, and the villages were so charming; we could make a living out here!
I remember the moment when I saw the Smoky Mountains from the car; I couldn’t believe their beauty. The mountains were blue in color—just like the sea. The National Park is world-renowned for its beauty, diversity of flora and plant life, and of course the wildlife.
We were truly amazed by the gorgeousness of the ancient mountains in the The Great Smoky Mountains, the fantastic scenic drive through The Blue Ridge Parkway and quality of the Southern Appalachian mountain culture. The nature is so overwhelming that it’s no wonder that the Smoky Mountains is America’s most visited National Park.
Check the blog: 13 Best things the Smoky Mountains have to offer.
From the Great Smokys we went East, to the Atlantic Coast. It might be one of the most classic journeys: Highway No. 1. We drove in the heat all the way to Charleston and then to Savannah. Both towns are amazing: Gorgeous mansions, colonial buildings, and beautiful plazas; they are still breathing the history of the Civil War in USA. You can take a stroll, grab a coffee, and feel at ease in the park between beautiful trees. The trees have exceptional beard-like mosses, called Spanish Moss, hanging down their trunks.
We then visited the miles and miles of beaches on Amelia Island. They’re so inviting! They just beg you to stop and slow down, calling you to enjoy your time. Here we stayed in a hotel on Ferdinandina Beach, in a very lively and cozy village, a real jewel on its own.
Our journey carried on via St. Augustine to Cape Canaveral, before we arrived in Miami.
I never thought that Miami would be such a crazy city. We probably heard more Spanish being spoken than English. And let me tell you: the cocktails on Miami Beach were huge! We were lucky to stay on the 42nd floor apartment that we swapped with a majestic view on the Atlantic Ocean. Wow, what an experience! Here our visits to Miami South Beach and its famous Ocean Drive with its astonishing Art Deco architecture, and Lincoln Road with the shops were fun-filled.
The days in Miami were amazing and, after, we were ready to drive all the long way down to Key West. While the place is not exceptional, it was on our bucket list for quite some time—we just had to visit this place. And we don’t have any regrets! It’s just 90 miles away from Cuba, and you can really feel the Caribbean influence—more than anywhere else in the US. On the way back we stopped at the beautiful Bahia Honda State Park where we swam and looked at the tornado-battered ruins of the old railway. The water at Honda Bay is crystal clear and the sand is almost paper white.
We drove through Key Largo but skipped the spot as the island seemed to us a bit overcrowded and didn’t look inviting at all.
Check our blog: From Miami to Key West and back. Enjoying the drive with kids!
I guess we didn’t realize how long the drive through The Keys was, so, on our way to Sanibel we stayed at Residence Inn by Marriott in Fort Lauderdale. We arrived in torrential tropical rain. To Floridians, this is quite common, but for us Europeans, it really was quite an experience! I’ll never forget the feeling of stepping out of the car in heavy rain and feeling warm—if not hot—air in my face.
The Next day we drove through the Everglades National Park; definitely a place that’s worth a stop. Then we continued on, straight for Sanibel Island. We knew that once we arrived on the island we could finally slow down. Actually, we had to slow down because the maximum car speed on the island is 25 mph! Bikes are the preferred method of transport, and the main activity is collecting seashells. We slowed down, indeed! The wildlife is extremely overwhelming on the fantastic islands of Cayo Costa State Park. Our boys spotted dolphins, turtles, manatees and even alligators. And there were a lot of pelicans.
So now you may be wondering how much this round-trip adventure really cost us. Well, here are the facts and figures:
Budget: for five and a half weeks holiday with 4 of us: € 10.000,-
Spending: Totally € 10.750,-, including presents and clothing for the kids
|Flying tickets||4 tickets Amsterdam – Orlando||€ 3.250,-|
|Accommodation Hotels||Hotels 9 nights total||€ 1.250,-|
|Accommodation Home swap 1||Home exchange 12 nights Smoky Mountains, 5 nights Miami, 14 nights Sanibel, 5 nights Useppa Island||€ 0,-|
|Car rental||35 days including gasoline, insurance toll||€ 2.200,-|
|Attractions||4 x LEGOLAND, 4 x tubing, 4 x canoeing, 4 x Sanibel attraction park||€ 550,-|
|Attractions and activities||Visiting National Parks, Fishing gear, canoeing, gaming, pink pong table, picking fruit etc. – unlimited usage||€ 0,-|
|Food & drink||Eating out only during the travel dates,
Ice creams and coffees (lots of coffees) almost every day.
|Groceries||Breakfast at home, lunch in the cool box, evening BBQ or cooking at home.||€ 1.500,-|
Does € 10.000,- sounds a lot? It can! Remember that this is the all-in price for almost six weeks for four of us. If you’re looking to shave some money off, here are some tips:
- Fly budget and/or search for flights at the right time
- Drive less, no need to go all the way to (expensive) Key West
- Only stay in home swaps
- The paid attractions could be avoided as we had enough free attractions and activities (all National Parks are free!)
- Save spending on premium coffees like Starbucks.
1 Love Home Swap Fee: € 350,- per annum