Why a road trip?
We just got to Miami where we’ll be spending the whole summer! Norman lives here because of work and I’m so excited to have our complete family under one roof. All it took was 3 days on an epic cross country road trip with kids.
Our friends and family thought we’d lost our minds when we told them we’d decided to drive here…across country…with a 12 and 6-year-old. To be honest, there were moments when I agreed with them. But we ultimately decided it was the best choice for us based on a few different factors:
1) We really wanted to have our own car for ease of getting around. As well as for the inevitable trip up to Orlando (because duh, Disney World!) And two months is just too long to rent a car.
2) It was a great opportunity to show our kids a little more of the country we live in. Especially the parts we’re less likely to travel to directly. Downtown Mobile, Alabama for example is adorable! But when will I ever have a reason to visit?
3) We’re not a family that travels light, especially on a road trip with kids. Plus we’re here for a whole summer! The luggage fees alone would’ve been insane for us. It made much more sense to just load up the trunk and hit the road.
If you’re planning a trip to Miami from LA and are curious about costs of flying vs driving, it more or less breaks even (not including checked bags). Pictured below is a breakdown of how much we spent on the road one way.
We remained fairly frugal while exploring the cities we passed through so keep in mind that this is a rough estimate and can vary greatly depending on fuel efficiency (we drive a 2016 Nissan Altima that gets about 30 mpg), hotels (weekend vs weekday rates), and your personal itinerary.
In an attempt to get to Miami as quickly as possible, we stayed on the I-10 the entire time. We chose our stopping points based on the route. However, if you’re down to take some detours, the possibilities are practically endless. On a road trip with kids, it’s important to remain flexible. But this is what we found to be the most efficient travel itinerary.
Day 0: Los Angeles, California to Tucson, Arizona
I labeled this “Day 0” because we didn’t really count it as a day of our trip. From home to hotel, the drive to Tucson took about 7.5 hours. Since our family has already taken road trips through Arizona, we left at night and gave ourselves a “head start” while the kids slept in the car. We timed it so that we arrived at the hotel just after midnight. This gave us plenty of time to sleep before waking up and “officially” beginning our road trip the next morning.
I booked our room at Red Lion Inn & Suites for only $60 using the Hotel Tonight app. It was in a great neighborhood and felt very safe. The room was spotless, and the bed was incredibly comfy. Notice though, that I said bed and not beds. The downside to Hotel Tonight is that you don’t get to choose the type of bed and It assumes 2 people per room. So while the hotel itself was practically perfect, the 4 of us sharing one queen-sized bed was less than ideal to say the least. We looked a little like Charlie Bucket’s family from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but we made it work.
Day 1: Tucson, Arizona to San Antonio, Texas
The next morning, we enjoyed the hotels free breakfast. Then we headed to Amy’s Donuts to check out their extensive variety of internet-famous donuts and adorable Instagram wall. Pro tip: Snack stops are very important on a road trip with kids.
El Paso, TX
Our next stop was El Paso for lunch. We went to an outdoor shopping center called The Substation that had a few different dining options. We found ourselves torn between an upscale casual pizza place and casual American fare at a small place called Eat. With our 6-year-old picky eater, we decided that Eat might have more options. Eat did not disappoint. The little one had chicken strips with fries and the big one had an insane burger that included bacon and mac n cheese, on a donut bun. Best of all, there were Beyond burgers for me and Vince. The Substation also had this brilliant little photo op. It’s essentially a giant greeting card that read “Greetings from El Paso.”
San Antonio, TX
There were a few un-noteworthy stops between El Paso and San Antonio. But you will mostly cows and grass and cows eating grass. But we found fun ways to keep busy in the car. There was a Disney sing-a-long (of course), backseat video games (thank you Nintendo Switch), coloring books, yummy car snacks from local gas quickie marts, and great conversation. A word of caution: the drive from Tucson to San Antonio is relentlessly long. I don’t recommend attempting it if you are the sole driver or if you fatigue easily. But we managed just fine and arrived at our hotel just after 1am after crossing a time zone.
I wish I could tell you that the HoJo San Antonio that I paid $102 for was as nice as our $60 room in Tuscon, but that would be a massive lie. It was disgusting!
Located under a freeway in an area comprised mostly of closed businesses, it felt a little sketchy from the moment we arrived. Had it not been 1am I would have demanded a refund and left. A road trip with kids is hard enough without needing to find a last minute hotel room at 1 in the morning. The man at the front desk was very warm and friendly. Unfortunately, the entire lobby smelled of cat urine (as a former cat mom, I’m very familiar with that scent and this was undeniable).
We arrived in our room and while it did not smell of urine, there was a very strong not-necessarily-pleasant pine scent. The room was large and included a full-size refrigerator and stove top–both of which were dirty. I didn’t have the nerve to open a cabinet so I’ll never know what was in there or whether it was clean. The decorative pillow on one of the beds had stains (the gross, black-light kind) so we tossed it on the floor. The other bed had sheets that looked like they’d been slept in and were wrinkled and dirty. I called down to the front desk to request clean sheets. And while they were happy to give us a new set, we had to go get them and put them on the bed ourselves. I won’t bore you with any more details but breakfast the next morning was awful as well.
We wanted to go check out the downtown area and Riverwalk, but instead we decided to just get out of there as quickly as possible. Sorry San Antonio!
Day 2: San Antonio, Texas to New Orleans, Louisiana
Attempting to make San Antonio a distant memory, we set a coarse toward downtown Houston. At The Downtown Aquarium we were able to be seated fairly quickly and the atmosphere was incredible. The dining room is among huge aquariums with a wide variety of fish. The food was decent and surprisingly not too overpriced. Downstairs from the dining room is a touch tank that you can experience for an additional fee where you can observe and interact with tide pool animals and sting rays.I suggest doing this after dinner.
Outside of the aquarium are other cute carnival-like amusements including several rides and games and it all sits in the heart of Houston’s downtown theatre district.
New Orleans, LA
We got to New Orleans around 9pm and the French Quarter was still alive and kicking. Vince and I had just been in NOLA earlier this year for our dear friends’ wedding. We were super excited to be back to show the kids all the things we loved about it. We checked in to Chateau Hotel, located right in the heart of the French Quarter and it did not disappoint. When visiting New Orleans you have to go in knowing that the city is old and slightly musty and that is part of the charm, this hotel was no different. The lobby is absolutely beautiful with a grand chandelier and a friendly staff.
Our room was small but absolutely adorable with french doors that led to a shared patio, overlooking the hotel’s courtyard and fountain pool. The only downside is that parking is not readily available in the french quarter. Most hotels do have parking available for guests but they cost anywhere from $25 to $45 per night. Ours was $38 after tax and across the street from the hotel. So be sure to account for that in your budget.
The beds were comfy as well but with the city all aglow, we weren’t ready for bed so we took a short walk over to the famous Cafe Du Monde for the kids to experience their first authentic beignets.
Day 3: New Orleans, Louisiana to Orlando, Florida
New Orleans, LA
The best way to experience the French Quarter is on foot so after checking out of the hotel we put our bags in the car and spent the morning exploring. Roaming the French Quarter was probably my favorite memory made on this road trip with our kids. We headed to Cafe Beignet for breakfast and of course more beignets. It saddens me to report that this adorable cafe is now ruined for me since seeing a cockroach crawling on the muffins in the display case. I discreetly whispered about the roach to the cashier and the staff immediately removed and dumped the affected pan. But it was too late for me. I’d already had my beignets and I never to eat there again.
Moving on, we strolled through the city recalling tidbits of history and stories from the ghost tour we’d taken when we were last there and sharing them with the kids (they were pretty in to it) until it was time for lunch. For lunch, we insisted that Caleb try a Po’Boy or a Muffeletta…two New Orleans staple sandwiches.
A tip for fellow vegetarians: NOLA is not a vegetarian-friendly city, but you can get the essense of a muffeletta by ordering it without meat. In my personal opinion, what really makes the flavor of the muffeleta is the olive salad they top it with. And most places will make you a muffeleta with only olive salad, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and cheese. But the price will remain the same as if you’d ordered it with meat so you’re essentially paying for olives on bread. I’ve learned to ask for mine with extra olive salad and extra cheese and find it to be satisfying enough. Still looking for a place that offers vegetarian gumbo, but I’m not hopeful that it exists.
Biloxi, MI and Mobile, AL
I’m noting these two towns because as I mentioned earlier, they’re places I’ve heard of but likely never would’ve traveled to if it weren’t for this trip. Both are adorable little American towns in their own right, Biloxi being right on the gulf (there’s a casino there, if you’re in to that) and Mobile having a ton of unexpected art and culture in its downtown area.
Knowing me, you’d probably assume that I’d be very familiar with this city. But it wasn’t until we arrived that I realized that the only place I’d ever been in Orlando is Disney World. So driving into town from the highway was pretty cool. For the first time, it really sunk in that the entire city is almost completely comprised of resorts and themeparks. We didn’t spend any time here because we already have plans to come back in a week. We stayed the night at Days Inn Kissimmee and it was just fine.
Quaint and inexpensive…nothing more than you’d expect for a motel, but it was clean and comfy and everything the Howard Johnson in San Antonio was not. (Yep, I’m still salty about it.)
Day 4: Orlando, Florida to Miami, Florida
The drive from Orlando to Miami is a quick, 4 hour drive. After living in Las Vegas for several years and making the frequent 4 hour drive to Los Angeles, this was a piece of cake for us. Do note that there are several toll roads between Orlando and Miami. We were able to make use of Norman’s SunPass which allows you pre-paid toll road access, but if you’re not local, it’s not a bad idea to have some change handy to ease through the toll booth.
And here we are! This was a great trip and my favorite part was all of the quality time I got to spend with the kids. My kids love travel and history like I do so it was fun to both teach them the things I knew as well as make new discoveries in each city.
Miami is beautiful and I can’t wait to share all of the adventures we have here!