Charleston Road Trip

I’m going to take a little break from blogging about my kitchen renovation and write a bit about my recent vacation to Charleston, South Carolina. My kitchen project will be done soon, so there will be more to report on, but my vacation was so inspiring that I wanted to have a few entries about it as well.

Alone and Empowered

First, it was very empowering to take this trip. It was the first trip I planned and successfully executed as a single mom. I set aside money, researched the area, booked the lodging, booked the entertainment, drove the 16 hours it took to get there, took care of my kids, and survived the heat…all on my own. It was awesome. I felt like a new person when I returned. More confident and richer in memories.

My sister suggested I visit, and I decided it could be a nice, little project for me. I had always wanted to visit Charleston because I had gone to New Orleans several times and knew the two cities were similar. The French Quarter in New Orleans is one of my favorite places to visit. The Muffuletta, beignets, St. Louis Cathedral, the architecture.  It is a beautiful…and delicious…place. My grandma lived there for over 20 years, so I went there frequently. I did go to Mardi Gras, and, yes, you can do that with a family. But it is the architecture that intrigued me. Probably because I love interior design so much. And I knew Charleston had old, historic architecture too. So, I wanted to see it. And I thought what better time than when I’m designing a kitchen. Maybe my kitchen could be influenced by Charleston’s history and architecture in some way.

I took my two boys, ages 8 and 11. And because I’m a single mom living on a teacher’s income, I couldn’t fly. I lease my car, and luckily I had some extra miles, so driving was a better option. I’d like to spend the rest of my first blog about Charleston discussing how to road trip successfully.

Break Up the Trip

First, I suggest breaking up the trip, especially if you’re the only driver. I drove to my mom’s near Chicago first, a three hour drive. The second day I wanted to get to Knoxville, an 8 ½ hour drive. And the third day I made it to Charleston, 5 ½ hours later. It was a long trip but doable. If you do lease a car and have to worry about mileage, make sure to map all your destinations and add up all the miles so you know you won’t go over. Remember to add about 300 while you’re there too. My lease allows 15,000 miles a year, so I had plenty left over. Make sure you’ve serviced your car as well…oil changes and such. You don’t want car trouble on a trip like this!

Stretch Breaks

Also, while I was on the road, I made frequent stops for gas or for lunch to stretch and walk around. Every time I got gas, I’d stretch my back and legs. I’d get something to drink and use the restroom. Breaks made the trip a little longer, but were necessary.

To save money, we got a hotel with a free breakfast in Knoxville. We also packed our food for our lunches. I packed sandwiches, yogurt, fruit, cookies, and soda and juice boxes for our picnics. When it was time for lunch, I’d exit and search for a nearby park on my phone and drive there. We’d find a picnic table, eat, use the restroom, and the kids could play on the playground for a little bit before we headed back on the road. 

Stay Safe

Being single, I only traveled during the day for safety reasons. I’d add about an hour and a half for breaks to the time we had to travel that day, and picked the time I’d want to arrive. Then I’d count backwards and set my alarm accordingly. Usually I was able to sleep until 6:30am, which wasn’t too bad. It felt a little like 5:30am once we crossed time zones, but that wasn’t too bad either. 

Time zones can be frustrating. The way out I lost an hour, so I didn’t get to the hotel until 7pm. Still daylight, though, because it was June, so that was good. But the way back I gained an hour, so I got to my mom’s for dinner that night. 

Remember to charge your phone and keep it charged in the car. I was constantly using my GPS and that drains a battery. However, using my phone as a map helped me avoid some traffic, helped me find all my locations, and allowed me to search for parks. I also used Yelp quite a bit when I arrived in a new city to help me find a place to eat dinner. 

Check the weather as well before you set out. I was driving through the Appalachian Mountains and it’s pretty awful driving those roads if it’s raining hard. Driving the curves next to a semi in pouring down rain is scary. You’d need to allow extra time.

Keep Pets at Home

If possible, keep your pets at home. Finding parks that allow dogs is sometimes a challenge. Finding hotels and lodging that allows dogs is doable, but also challenging. And in Charleston, dogs are not allowed on the beaches. 

Car Entertainment

I brought a backpack full of activities for the kids. Paper airplane making kits, coloring books, puzzles, books, etc. They do have their iPads as well. We also downloaded a couple of audiobooks and plenty of music to listen to. If you download a nice playlist before you travel, you stream less and use less data. I’ll talk more about these ideas in my blog about traveling with kids.

Splurge on the Hotel

The hotel I found in Knoxville was a little sketchy. I’d suggest splurging for a nicer hotel, especially if you’re female and traveling alone. And if you have time to use it, maybe make sure it has a pool for the kids. 

How to Pack

When packing, put things you won’t need on the drive on the sides of the trunk. Put your suitcases and other things you’ll get out each night in the middle so you don’t have to rearrange your trunk every morning. Every time you stop, throw away the trash you accumulated since the last stop. You don’t want your car turning into a garbage can. You’ll have to clean out your car when you return (so much beach sand), but keeping it organized as you go will make life simpler.

If you think through all of these things before you leave for your trip, you’ll road trip successfully like I did. It all went very smoothly and everyone stayed relatively happy.


  1. Ron Kesterke November 2, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    Spending more on a hotel you know will be good is smart. Most bad traveling experiences I have had is when the hotel was not a good choice, especially when I tried to save some money.

    • Kara November 2, 2019 at 6:02 pm

      I agree. You would know!