East Coast Van Road Trip

East Coast Van Road Trip

With 22 years of memories in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Z by my side, it was a natural choice to kick off our van life journey on the East coast following the sale of our home, as mentioned in our previous article: Introduction to Van Lifestyle. We were no longer bothered by the question of how to build a van home. It was time for adventures!

Although we had explored many cities/towns in that region, there were still many places left to discover. As we set off, our goal was uncertain - whether it be visiting every national park or ticking off every state one by one. What mattered most was that we were finally on the road, free from our mundane routines.

How to Plan for a Road Trip

The best way to plan a road trip with multiple stops is by planning meticulously. If you're planning a roadtrip, there are several things you should consider. Below are essentials for life on the road that will help ensure a smooth and safe east coast RV / van road trip. 

  1. Weigh your vehicle at a weigh station on a major highway. Thus, you’ll know the exact weight in tons. This is important as some roads/bridges cannot support heavy vehicles.
  2. Measure your solar panels' height. Write it down on a piece of paper. Tape it on your dashboard so you are aware when crossing through tunnels as well as under bridges. This will help prevent unexpected accidents, especially before entering parking garages.
  3. Make sure you have a spare tire together with appropriate tire-changing tools. Make sure that the jack is appropriate for your vehicle’s weight. Also, have a 12-volt automatic air pump to pump your tires or deflate them when you get on the beach. Check to see that the air pump handles your PSI load.
  4. Pack a first aid kit. When planning a camping trip as part of your van life adventure, it's essential to pack all of your necessary medications along with other van life essentials.
  5. Check your camper van’s interior water system for leaks and be sure to have an extra pump on hand in case the original one fails.
  6. Ensure that your electrical system is in proper working condition. Have a licensed electrician with expertise in 12-volt systems conduct a thorough inspection.
  7. Bring your passports with other important travel documents, such as global entry cards, proof of covid vaccine, your pet’s vet/vaccine records, etc. Make sure they are not expired. If you can’t keep all those things in mind, get a camping road trip planner!
  8. Before driving on the road, we like to say, “batten down the hatches!” Safely storing items in your van is crucial, consider how items will shift during the drive and take proper steps to ensure they are fastened. Secure all cabinets. Don’t forget to lock them. Turn off the propane and water in the control panel for safety reasons. We also recommend turning off your water pump in the control panel to reduce pressure in pipes when you drive.
  9. Make sure you have good car insurance. Consider insuring not only the vehicle but the interior build of the van. It may be more expensive, but it's worth it since you’ll have peace of mind.
  10. We recommend you download the “i-overlander” app, which is a free app that will save you time when looking for overnight spots. You can also access it via an internet browser link: https://ioverlander.com. It’s great for those who don’t know how to plan for a road trip because the map and parking places are loaded without cellular service. This saved us many times!
  11. You can also download one more app - Harvest Host.” It allows staying at farms as well as wineries for a yearly membership fee. In addition, Harvest Hosts' Code of Conduct highly encourages making a purchase from your host or donating to support them. Many of our Harvest Host experiences were memorable; however, staying in them often can rack up the bill quickly.
  12. Consider purchasing an annual national parks pass, which will save you a lot of money in the long run. It’s an annual fee of $80 per vehicle. You can purchase it online here or in any national park.
  13. Traveling in the south during the summer can be uncomfortable due to high temperatures and humidity levels. A portable air conditioner can provide relief; you can find what worked for us here. Investing in a small portable air conditioner can make for a more comfortable trip.

planning a camping road trip

How to Choose East Coast Vacation Spots

Regarding destinations, Florida and South Carolina are great states to explore during the winter. Maine is beautiful during the summer, although Acadia National Park can get very crowded, so plan accordingly. New Jersey and New York might be an unexpected surprise, with beautiful serene country parts. Some places we’ve stayed at include corn and llama farms, which were very quiet. In Maine, overnight parking can be hard to find, so we recommend using the i-overlander app to find spots. As we keep on telling our story, we’ll include some other east coast vacation spots recommendations as well.

Embarking on a journey down a well-known U.S. Route 1, we set out from North Carolina to West Palm Beach, Florida, where we spent some time with Z's parents. While our ultimate goal was to reach the rugged coast of Maine, we decided to first head south before making our way up.

east coast vacation spots

Check out Scenic Spots While Journeying to New Jersey

Some places you might consider stopping on your way to New Jersey include:

  • Washington, D.C., for a glimpse of the nation's history and monuments.
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for a taste of its famous cheesesteaks and historic sites such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.
  • The Outer Banks, North Carolina, for a scenic drive and admiring wild horses.
  • Baltimore, Maryland, for its seafood and historical sites like Fort McHenry and the USS Constellation.
  • Richmond, Virginia, for several historical sites, such as the Virginia State Capitol and the White House of the Confederacy, both must-sees for history buffs, and an array of delicious restaurants and charming boutiques.
  • Annapolis, Maryland, for its nautical history and the United States Naval Academy.

van life bloggers

These are just a few examples, but there are sooooooo many other great places to visit, depending on your interests.

We then traveled from New Jersey to Connecticut, where our dog breeder lives, so our dogs could see their families while playing with other Salukis. It was a cherished experience that allowed us to bond with our dogs as well as gain a deeper understanding of Connecticut.

Looking for the best places to try seafood at? We couldn't resist trying some famous seafood in Cambridge. We made a pit stop at Alive & Kicking Lobster, where we indulged in a mouth-watering lobster roll. The clam chowder was an added bonus worth every bite.

Dive into Maine’s Unique Culture

As we continued our journey through New England, we passed through some really neat coastal towns such as Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Kennebunkport, Maine. We made sure to stop to admire some of the state's iconic lighthouses, including a well-known Portland Head Light and Nubble Light. Finally, we reached our destination, Portland, Maine, where we were eager to fully immerse ourselves in its local culture. From savoring delicious seafood to exploring beautiful lighthouses and historical sites, our journey through New England was an unforgettable experience.

van life blog

What Is the Best Time to Travel in a Van

Best time to travel? In general, the shoulder seasons of spring and fall tend to be perfect times to travel the U.S. Route 1, as the weather is milder and there are fewer crowds. However, since we sold our home in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the dead middle of summer, we were left with no choice. We found ourselves facing the sweltering July heat head-on. Our van was put to the test quickly. I am happy to report, it performed well despite all circumstances. We quickly discovered the importance of creating a window draft using two Max air fans, and a small but mighty portable AC we picked up here proved to be a lifesaver. But, it was the insulation of our van that truly helped, keeping the cool air inside despite the blazing sun outside.

Route of Our East Coast Road Trip

If you’re headed on U.S. Route 1 towards Florida as we did, we definitely recommend stopping at Wilmington, NC; Charleston, South Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; and St. Augustine, Florida. Below, we offer some details of our route for an east coast road trip. Enjoy!

van life tour

What to Do in Wilmington, NC

First on the list is Wilmington, North Carolina. Wondering what to do in Wilmington NC? This charming port city is steeped in history and offers a glimpse into the past with its well-preserved antebellum homes and historic district. Visitors can explore the Cape Fear Riverfront, take a stroll through the lush gardens of Airlie, or visit the historic battleship USS North Carolina.

vanlife with dogs

What to See in Charleston, SC

Charleston, South Carolina, is a must-see destination. Known for its architecture, charming cobblestone streets, and rich history, Charleston is a city that exudes Southern charm. We also found Charleston to be very pet friendly and walkable. Visitors can take a tour of the historic district, visit the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, or take a boat ride to Fort Sumter. This city is one of our favorites, and we can't wait to return to it! Please let us know in the comments below if you have been to Charleston and what you ended up doing there.

Charleston historic downtown

What to Do in Savannah, Georgia

Another great stopover is Savannah, Georgia. You can walk or bike almost anywhere here. It’s really magical to be under those moss-draped oaks while discovering the antebellum architect. This city truly transports you back in time, as its rich history comes alive with every step.

What to See in St Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine, Florida, is a great destination. This is the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement in the continental United States. What to see in St Augustine? Visitors can explore the Castillo de San Marcos, take a trolley tour of the city, or visit the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. You'll undoubtedly have a great time exploring the local culture, food, and landmarks.

During our journey back from Florida, we made a quick pit stop in Charlotte, North Carolina, to install new shocks for our van. It's worth noting that, given the added weight of the interior build of the van, it may be wise to consider upgrading to more durable shocks and struts to better withstand the wear and tear of the road. If you're visiting Charlotte, NC, don't miss out on the chance to experience the thrill of the U.S. National Whitewater Center, home to the world's largest man-made whitewater river. This outdoor recreation center is a must-visit for adventure seekers, offering a wide range of activities, including whitewater rafting, kayaking, zip lining, rock climbing, and more.

spots in Savannah

What Are the Blue Ridge Mountains, NC

After our mechanical issues were resolved and the heat of the summer bearing down on us, we were eager to escape the sweltering temperatures and enjoy some cooler weather in the mountains. What are the Blue Ridge Mountains, you may ask? The Blue Ridge Mountains are a part of the larger Appalachian Mountains range, which stretches from Alabama to Maine. They get their name from the bluish tint that can be seen from a distance, caused by the release of isoprene from the trees that grow in the area. The Blue Ridge Mountains are known for their abundant wildlife including black bears, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, Carolina flying squirrel, and more than 200 species of birds. We also took a scenic drive through the Blue Ridge Parkway, also known as America’s Favorite Drive, which winds through the mountains and offers stunning views of the bluish tint landscape.This is especially beautiful during the fall season, when the leaves of the trees in the area turn vibrant shades of red, orange, and gold.

We wanted to take a break from sleeping in the van, so we found an Airbnb close to Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains and in the eastern United States, standing at an elevation of 6,684 feet or 2,037 meters. To reach the summit, we took a challenging hike, which rewarded us with a breathtaking view of the peaks and valleys below. If you are not keen on hiking, the summit of Mount Mitchell can still be enjoyed by car via a winding road that provides a pretty scenic drive to the top. Reaching the peak of Mount Mitchell was a perfect way to escape the heat and allowed us to reconnect with nature.

Asheville, a charming mountain town located about three hours away, is surrounded by the breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains and offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and more. Whether you're looking to explore the mountains or simply relax and enjoy the town's laid-back vibe, Asheville is definitely worth a visit. We spent our days exploring many art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants that make up the city's vibrant downtown. Asheville's dining scene will not disappoint!

We recommend visiting these two beautiful places to anyone looking for a break from the heat and a chance to experience the natural beauty of the mountains. The cool air and breathtaking views were a welcome change from the scorching heat of Florida.

Blue Ridge Mountains

During our road trip, we encountered an unexpected setback when Z pulled his back and was in excruciating pain. We knew we had to find a shiatsu chiropractor therapist quickly, and fortunately, we were able to locate one in New Jersey who could help him.

Although the detour was unplanned, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We had the opportunity to explore the charming town of New Jersey and experience its unique local culture. The unexpected stop reminded us that road trips can be unpredictable and sometimes require flexibility, but they can also offer memorable experiences.

It's always a good idea to be prepared for the unexpected when traveling, whether it's a flat tire or unexpected weather conditions. Planning ahead and having a backup plan is a key part of how to plan for a road trip.

What is New Jersey Known for

The region we were traveling through was more than just scenic nature and delicious food. From entertainment and casinos to beaches and charming coastal towns, the area offers something for everyone. For example, Atlantic City is a popular destination for a fun beach getaway and a chance to try your luck at the casinos. Meanwhile, Cape May is known for its Victorian architecture and beautiful beaches, making it the perfect destination for a peaceful coastal retreat. Fun fact, our very first Harvest Host experience was in New Jersey!

New Jersey beach

What to See in Rhode Island

From New Jersey, a great stop along the way to Maine would be Newport, Rhode Island. During our road trip on the east coast, we were blown away by Newport's stunning coastal scenery and historical charm. Here are some activities to consider when visiting Newport, Rhode Island:

  • Take a stroll along the famous Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile path that offers breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and the grand mansions of Newport's Gilded Age.
  • Visit the Newport Mansions, a collection of grand estates, including The Breakers and Marble House, owned by some of America's wealthiest families in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • You can also take a boat tour to explore the harbor and see the famous Newport Bridge.
  • For beach lovers, Easton's Beach is a perfect spot for swimming, sunbathing, and fishing.
  • If you're a sailing fan, Newport is also known for hosting an annual America's Cup sailing race.
  • Another stop on the way would be Mystic, Connecticut, known for its seaport and aquarium, and the Mystic River Bascule Bridge, also known as the Mystic Drawbridge. It's a must-see!
  • Lastly, we visited Watch Hill, a historic district in Westerly, Rhode Island, a popular spot among Taylor Swift fans. East beach is claimed to be the most beautiful beach on the entire eastern seaboard. Have you visited other beaches along the east coast that give East Beach a run for its money? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Rhode Island tourism

We made sure to include Yale University in our itinerary and visited it first before heading to Boston. Yale is located in New Haven, Connecticut. We were able to explore the beautiful campus, admire the architecture, and learn about the rich history of the institution.

What are some interesting facts about Yale University

Here is what we learned: 

  1. Yale University was founded in 1701, making it one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the United States.
  2. The University is named after Elihu Yale, a British merchant and philanthropist who donated a substantial amount of money and goods to the institution in the early 18th century.
  3. Yale is spread out over 1,000 acres of land.
  4. Some of the most famous graduates of Yale University include Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, as well as Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Samuel Alito.
  5. Yale University is also known for its impressive collection of art, including works by Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, and Jackson Pollock.
  6. Yale's mascot is the bulldog, and the University has a long-standing rivalry with Harvard University, dating back to the first intercollegiate athletic competition in North America, which was a rowing race between the two schools in 1852.

Yale University exterior

What Are Some Interesting Facts about Harvard University

After visiting Yale, we then made our way to Boston, where we stopped by Yale's rivalry, Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The campus was so much larger than we anticipated. Some parts felt like we were in a Harry Potter movie. Inspired by Harvard’s athletic facilities, I wanted to get my daily run in, allowing me to explore the campus even further.

Some interesting facts about Harvard University:

  1. Harvard is the oldest University in the United States, founded in 1636.
  2. The University's motto is "Veritas," which is Latin for "truth."
  3. Harvard has produced eight U.S. presidents, more than any other University.
  4. The Harvard Library is the largest academic library in the world, with over 20 million volumes.
  5. The University's endowment is the largest of any academic institution in the world, valued at over $40 billion.

The contrast between the two universities was quite striking, with Yale having a more modern and progressive atmosphere while Harvard had a more traditional and historic feel.

Maine in pictures

In our next article, we will delve deeper into the state of Maine, highlighting all that it has to offer. We will explore why van life in Maine is underrated, why the food is like no other,  and why it’s a must in your van life travel itinerary. From its natural beauty to its unique culture, there is much to discover in Maine. You don’t want to miss it!

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