It’s been many years now since I’ve last been to the great city of New Orleans and a revisit was long overdue. I’ve done a road trip to New Orleans before and I thought I’d do it again, this time with a few more friends. During my first trip, I did a few stops on the way down; this time, however, we drove straight down to NOLA – through snow, rain and traffic.
Our Travel Route
I live south of Boston, charting a route to New Orleans clocks us in at smooth 23 hours. As I start planning the course, I’m thinking this’ll be easy.
The original plan was that we’d set off on our road trip to New Orleans at 6 PM after work. There were 4 of us total, we would divide into teams of 2. The first team of 2 would take the first 8 hours, alternating between the team members. There would always be one driver and one person to keep them company (and awake).
While one team drove, the other team would sleep as much as they could and be fresh for their turn to tackle the endless expanse of grey asphalt.
We needed to pack light as it was a small car and we’d be fitting 4 people’s junk in the trunk.
Some of the essentials for a road trip to New Orleans:
- Breakfast food
- Non-messy snacks
- A few shirts
- Napkins and paper towels
- Extra grocery bags that we used for trash
- Books on tape
- Cell phone/electronic chargers both car and wall outlet
The First Few Hours
I planned this road trip to coincide with the week of Thanksgiving. It is fairly common to also get the Friday after Thanksgiving off from work, so I chose this week as it would require the least amount of requested time off. Some of our managers are slave drivers and make us feel guilty for taking time off.
In the past, Thanksgiving week was rarely plagued by weather extremes; this year, however, Mother Nature had it in for us.
We left the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, thinking most traffic holiday traffic would occur on Wednesday.
As early as the week before we left, the news and radio stations were doing some fear mongering about a crazy winter storm coming around Thanksgiving. They were constantly harassing us and telling everyone to leave early for their holiday plans.
Apparently most people took the advice, because no sooner we got on the highway did we hit dead-stopped traffic.
In what normally is a 45 minute ride past Providence, took us nearly 2 hours. A bad start to our glorious road trip to New Orleans.
Even with the set back, we were still on track to avoid the huge winter storm.
After the Traffic
The rest of the nighttime journey proved to be fairly uneventful.
We stopped every 3 hours or so for bathroom breaks, filling the tank (which was only 1/2 empty every time – I LOVE the Corolla’s fuel efficiency) and grabbing more coffee.
This proved to be the theme of the whole trip, stopping every 3 hours to stretch, pee, get gas and coffee and mosey along.
We were making good time, the first team (me and Matt) had driven a good 11 hours when we decided to switch off. Unfortunately I have no pictures for you, it was dark and there was literally nothing to see, sorry!
Waffle House, Sunrise and Rain
It was now 5 AM and we were well into our New Orleans road trip. We were hungry, tired to the point of hallucinating and needed to pee. One of our goals this trip was to stop at Waffle House since Jen (passenger #4) had never been. It’s like a rite of passage for all Northerners when they venture to the South.
If you’ve never been to a Waffle House, I highly recommend it. It’s a 24 hour, cheap diner that serves quick, decent food. It’s one of the few things I wish we had here up north, IHOP just isn’t the same.
At this point, no one had really slept. The team in the backseat dozed off for 20 minutes or so but all of us were running on adrenaline and excitement for New Orleans, which kept us mostly awake.
We set out again from WH on our New Orleans road trip and, at some point in Virginia, the sun began to rise. I never realized just how big Virginia is. Coming from the Northeast, all of our states are tiny by comparison. If you check out the route above you’ll see that we were driving diagonally through the largest part of Virginia, I swear it felt like it was never going to end.
And then it started to rain…
We knew were in trouble, but Weather.com was still showing us as missing the big storm (or at least missing the snow part of it). We continued along the highway as fast as we safely could go.
What happened next probably the worst outcome we could imagine.
We were driving through the Appalachian Mountains and directly into the heart of the storm.
Tired in a Snow Squall
It was one of the scariest few hours I’ve ever experienced; we were delusional from lack of sleep, driving in foreign territory and traveling through the heart of one of the scariest storms I’ve seen in a long time.
In hindsight, we probably should have stopped somewhere for a few hours to let it blow over; but we were running many hours behind due to the initial traffic and the pit stops and the weather app was still telling us we would get through it quickly.
Of course there’s always time to take a selfie, even when you’re terrified.
Fast forward 2-3 excruciating hours later and we did finally clear the storm incident free. It was like the heavens opened up! When we came out of the other side, it was warmer than our trip to Gloucester a few weeks prior and the snow had all disappeared. It was a huge relief.
My Fingers Turned Blue
During these horrific few hours, I looked down at my hands to notice that my fingers had turned blue.
You can’t see my blue fingers too clearly in this picture, but trust me, it happened and I was a little freaked out. I still had sensation in my fingers and I could still move them. I have no idea what happened.
My only guess is that I was dehydrated from only drinking small amounts of coffee for hours on end (limiting my fluid intake to prevent excessive pee breaks) and I was basically immobile in a car seat. They did eventually return to normal when I started rubbing them and moving about. It was pretty weird.
The Rest of the Trip
The rest of the trip was uneventful, well except for the time we stopped for gas and it was the cheapest gas I have seen in a very long time. In Alabama, we were able to snatch gas for $2.33! What black magic is this?
And here’s a not-so-great picture of Birmingham, Alabama as we drove through it on our road trip to New Orleans: one of the few things we got to see in the daylight. So much of this trip was snow or night driving.
And the sunset at almost the 24-hour-mark-in-the-car on our road trip to New Orleans.
Making it to New Orleans
Eventually we made it to New Orleans! In total the trip took about 28 hours. New Orleans is one hour behind so we arrived at 9 PM. After parking the car and checking in to our room at the Hyatt (which we got at an awesome rate), it was time take a quick breather before exploring the city.
Tips for Your Road Trip to New Orleans
- Don’t do more than 12 hours of driving at a time. We figured out that 12 hours is about the time when everyone is sick of being in the car. It also seems to be the safest length before the driver starts to lose focus or, worse, hallucinate.
- Add one hour for every 6 to your estimated time of arrival. Google Maps seemed to be pretty poor at predicting arrival times for journeys longer than 4 hours, but it makes sense: it’s difficult to predict traffic patterns that haven’t happened yet. We also tended to stop every 3 hours for a 15 minute break, these two things added about an extra hour for every 6 that Google Maps predicted.
- Bring “long” listening material. Listening to music and radio stations gets boring very quickly. Thank god Jen brought 2 audio books (the Mindy Kaling and Chelsea Handler biographies – which were pretty interesting). I also have unlimited data so we opted to listen to a lot of movies and TV shows on Netflix and Hulu. It makes the time go by a lot faster.
- Don’t freak out if your fingers turn blue. Mine did and I think it was from lack of hydration and movement. It’ll go away shortly after you get out of the car.
- Don’t expect much sleep to happen in the car. I underestimated how difficult it is to sleep in the car for longer than quick naps, it’s worse than trying to sleep on an airplane. This ties into tip #1, don’t expect to sleep while others are driving and instead opt to crash at a cheap motel.
- Bring snacks to reduce down time. Snacking while in the car is essential if you want to skip the hassle of stopping for meals every couple of hours. You can really save a lot of time that way.
- A constant barrage of coffee will keep you awake. It was integral in our long overnight driving stints, we would just constantly drink coffee. Even if it had been longer than 24 hours since we slept, it still worked enough to keep us driving.
- When in doubt, nap for 20 minutes. The 20 or so minutes we did get to nap was enough to recharge us for at least another 2 hours of driving before we would begin to fight the sandman again.
To come: what we did in New Orleans after staying awake for almost 38 hours, being in a car for 28 hours and being completely out of it the whole time. Stay tuned!
Have you ever been on a road trip to New Orleans? How was it? Have any tips to share? Comment below and let me know!