One of my dreams has always been to do a driving tour of New England. I just loved the idea of packing up the car and heading down some forgotten country road, taking in the scenic views, and stopping at cute little general stores and antique shops, while neighborly locals greeted us with salutations like “How-ai-ya?” and “You can’t pahk yer cahr he-ya.”
And that’s just we did for two weeks last June as my wife and I, along with our two young children, left Beaver, Pa., and embarked on a Griswold-ian adventure in the not-so-cozy confines of my Hyundai Sonata. Considering we’ve never spent more than a couple hours in the car together, this was either going to be the family vacation of a lifetime or the vacation of our nightmares.
In the end, it was one of my favorite trips ever. The kids were amazingly well behaved and kept the are-we-there-yet’s to a minimum (thanks to their Leapsters and plenty of batteries). They loved that we often had ice cream for dinner, and they were pretty much happy as long as the hotel had a pool. (They also fought over who was going to run and get ice for Daddy’s end-of-the-day cocktail.)
We also learned a-thing-or-two as we road-tripped. Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you aiming to amble the roads of New England:
- Ask Facebook I knew I wanted to go way up as far as Vermont and Maine, but other than that I had no idea where we should go or what we should do along the way. Enter Facebook. After posting for tips on places to go and things to do, I was happily swamped with ideas from my friends.
- Leave Time for Discovery New England is jam-packed with off-the-beaten-track treasures just waiting to be found. I used the info gathered from friends and charted a Google Map with a general course for our trip, understanding our route would vary depending on what discoveries we made along the way.
- Avoid Highways When possible, travel the back roads and you’ll find the coolest places (like this spot).
- Be Ready to Hike Always have a backpack, water, snacks handy for an impromptu hike. New England is just begging you to get out and hit the trails.
- Save on Rooms With so much to see, you won’t spend a lot of time in your hotel, so don’t be afraid to go the budget route. That said, splurge at least once, like we did at the North Conway Grand Hotel.
- Skip NYC I would avoid New York City (it’s not really New England, anyway – see below) on road trips. You’ll save money and avoid the hassle of parking and driving in a city designed for walking.
- Stay a While I’d cut the number of stops and stay two nights at each. All that checking in and checking out can wear a guy out.
- Consider a Tent I’d have liked to spend a bit more time in the great outdoors. We wished we had camped out for a night or two along the way.
In fact, we had so much fun last year that it started a family tradition that we plan to continue this year with an odyssey around the Southeastern U.S. (stay tuned!)
The ROAM Report : New England Road Trip
Travelers : Valentine, Cassie, Antonella (7) and Isaac (5)
Date : June 2015
Itinerary : 14 days, Oneonta, NY; Brattleboro, VT; Burlington, VT; North Conway, NH; Portland, ME; Pembroke, MA; Boston, MA; Newport, RI; New York, NY; Hershey, PA
Budget : Around $185/day for lodging/food (mostly ice cream)
The Good Stuff
Watkins Glen State Park Our very first stop along the way (besides a brief respite at a rest stop so Daddy could take a 20-minute power nap) was Watkins Glen State Park. I don’t know about you, but to me “Watkins Glen” always meant “car racing.” Little did I know that it’s also home to the “Grand Canyon of the East.” Located in the Finger Lakes region of New York, this stunning natural wonder features 2 miles of breathtaking gorge, with 200-ft cliffs and 19 waterfalls along the way. Although the path is paved and safe, we only managed to hike about half way up before the kiddos asked to call it quits out of exhaustion (and the promise of ice cream). But it was worth every step.
Bookstores I’m a writer, and I love, love, love books. For years I’ve been trying to draw an independent bookstore to my hometown, to no avail. So when we traveled through New England and found at least one independent bookstore in every town we visited (sometimes two or more), you can imagine how happy (and jealous) I was. The kids were equally pleased.
In Oneonta, N.Y., we visited an awesome bookstore called The Green Toad, where I purchase a notebook with a typewriter on the cover (big surprise). At Saratoga Springs, N.Y., we get “lunch” at Ben & Jerry’s and then peruse the town, where we find Northshire Books, one of the Best Bookstores Ever! (Notice a trend here?) In Brattleboro, Vt., where apparently wool socks and hiking shoes are mandatory, we find THREE bookstores within ONE BLOCK: Brattleboro Books, Mystery on Main Street, and Everyone’s Books.
In Portland, Maine, we find an enormous bookstore, Sherman’s Books and Stationery, that was so jam-packed with books, I could have spend the entire day there. And in Portsmouth, N.H., we walk around the charming, European-esque town and find — are you ready for this? — Book & Bar—a used bookstore/bar! People are sitting around reading and drinking good beer at the same time! Unbelievable.
Burlington, Vermont I’d love to go back and spend more time in Burlington. We had an amazing day there along the city’s pedestrian-only street, enjoying live music and perusing the many quaint shops and eateries. I even got a chance to drink a legendary Heady Topper—the top IPA, according to Beer Advocate – that is made by The Alchemist Brewery just outside of town.
York, Maine On the way to Portsmouth, we stopped off at York, Maine, along the way to get saltwater taffy at The Goldenrod and ended up sticking around awhile. York is the quintessential Maine town: right by the ocean, nice beach, great playground, charming shops. We stop at Nubble Lighthouse, where the kids have a blast crawling over the rocks, and my son emphatically declares: “I feel like Spiderman!”
The Not So Good
J’s Oyster When I asked my Facebook friends where we should stop in Maine, many of them recommended J’s Oyster in Portland, where, they said, we would find “the best lobster roll we’d ever had!” Considering I’d never had a lobster roll and didn’t even know what a lobster roll was, we figured we had to go there. Well, although we got to eat outside by the water, which was nice, I wasn’t all that impressed with the meal: $18 for what I felt was a lackluster lobster roll (I just don’t get the hot dog bun thing). Plus, my son’s hot dog was as pink as a bottle of Pepto. (What’s up with that?) Mussels were good, though. And right before dinner we got to ride the ferris wheel for a mere $24. Boy, what a deal.
New York City When we planned this trip through scenic New England, I never thought we’d end up in New York City. But when my wife’s friend heard we were passing by and offered to let us stay with them, we couldn’t pass up a free night’s stay. Unfortunately, the hustle-and-bustle of NYC can be rather shocking after you’ve spent the past 10 days on the quiet, forested back roads of upper New England. Some of the lowlights:
- We get to NYC and I immediately go the wrong way on Broadway and almost wreck into an oncoming car. At first we can’t find any overnight parking. We finally succeed and it’s a real bargain—$87 a night!
- We take the subway to Times Square, where within minutes I pay $5 for photo of my son with Not Ironman, Not Hulk, and Not Puss in Boots. Meanwhile several women walk around completely naked and painted like U.S. flags. Only in America!
- I wake early the next morning and go down to get breakfast at a local bakery—$42! Yikes.
- After stopping by a playground in Central Park, we walk through FAO Schwartz before it closes forever and then visit the American Girl store, showing my daughter a bunch of dolls she’ll never have. Then we have lunch at a kimchi place and spend another boatload of cash. I love NY!
- We have a crazy time getting out of the city around 3 p.m. through the bottleneck traffic of the Lincoln Tunnel.
- My favorite part of our time in the Big Apple was when my son asked me, “Hey, Dad, what’s that smell.” “That’s New York,” I replied.
by Valentine J. Brkich, June 2016
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Keywords: family vacation, family travel, travel with kids, family road trip, new england road trip, new england book stores, road trip with kids