Ever since we moved back to Tennessee, SVV’s and my travel style has evolved. Gone are the days when I was an elite member of three different airline alliances; now, the majority of my state-hopping is done by car—and I prefer it that way. After all, road trips are way more fun, and Southern fall road trips are basically the best. Wouldn’t you agree?
Being a control freak, I get a certain sense of pleasure out of charting my own course; plus, you get to skip the hassle of airports, TSA, delays, and cancellations and just go. With Tennessee bordered by eight states, it’s easier than ever for me to gas up the tank and go on a whim. In September, SVV, Ella and I buzzed over to Barnsley Gardens for a wedding. Earlier this month prior to my European sojourn, I zipped back down to the mountains of northern Georgia just for the night to see my five-year-old bud Mayhem (and her parents).
Ever since SVV and I started traveling as a pair a decade ago, we’ve been loyal to Enterprise Rent-a-Car, mainly due to the prices often being lower and the ease of booking (plus, the electronic check-in and staff make any “issues” ridiculously easy to fix), so it’s fun to team up with them to talk about fall travel. Year after year, September and October seem to consistently be our busiest months travel-wise, and that’s because it’s finally shoulder season when temps fall along with the price of hotel rooms, not to mention the crowds.
Gone are the days when everyone owns their own car, too; in fact, many of my city-dwelling friends in Seattle, San Francisco, Austin and beyond have opted to save on the cost of monthly car maintenance, payments, and insurance; instead, they simply rent one whenever they feel the urge to head out of down. Even my sister and her husband went to our local Enterprise outpost in my hometown of Tullahoma to rent a car to drive to a wedding in North Carolina last week. It couldn’t have been easier—and they both were able to keep from putting miles on their own vehicles.
Next question to consider: Where to go on your Southern fall road trip?
Personally, SVV and I been fortunate enough to have taken some most excellent road trips over the past couple years, but there are still plenty that top my list for fall months. Note: All drive times are from a starting point in Nashville, Tennessee.
While my father went to school in this great Alabama college town and we’ve been a handful of times, there’s no better time in Auburn than at the height of football season (OK, maybe the year they were national champions would have been better, but still…). The weather is balmy and glorious, the trees are changing, and some of the best games—like the annual Iron Bowl against Alabama—take place during this time. Plus, Auburn is seeing a bit of a culinary boom with a few notable new restaurants, like The Hound and The Depot (both owned by my childhood pal Jana), having opened in recent years.
Drive time: 4 hours, 30 minutes
image via Auburn and Opelika Tourism Bureau
I’m a fan of going to the coast during shoulder season; I don’t like braving crowds of beach-goers, which is why heading to the coastal Carolinas would be perfect in the off-months (and it’s not too cold yet to sit out in the sand with a beer in hand). I’ve never been to the Outer Banks, and this area is off the beaten path—at least for me, being based in the Nashville area—that driving is really the only way to reach them in a reasonable time frame. Bonus: If you’re a North Carolina newbie, you can tack on stops in some of the state’s best towns, like Asheville, Raleigh and Chapel Hill, along the way.
Drive time: 11 hours, 40 minutes
image via Outer Banks Visitors Bureau
Did you know this scenic parkway stretches 444 miles from just west of Nashville in Middle Tennessee all the way down to Natchez, Mississippi? SVV and I are exploring the famed Natchez Trace Parkway over the course of the year and couldn’t be more excited for all the adventures that way. You can drive it over a weekend or—as we recommend—take it more slowly, really diving into the history and the culture of this U.S. icon.
Drive time: 8 hours
Pumpkin patches, apple picking—and impressive Southern literature. I’ve always wanted to make a trip to Mississippi’s most cultured town (and the home to William Faulkner, not to mention Hotty Toddy!) to see its charming square and tailgating mecca, the Grove. Of course, with the Southern Foodways Alliance being based there—and so many of my globetrotting writer friends making the fall pilgrimage to Oxford every October for SFA—you know why I really want to go: to eat all the delicious food the town clearly has to offer! City Grocery, I’m coming for you.
image via The Paris Review
Drive time: 4 hours, 30 minutes
Once you’ve got the car and destination settled upon, next up: lodging. While Airbnb is a great way to find last-minute accommodation if you’re flexible, I’m also a fan of Hotels.com and the app Hotels Tonight, which allows you to search for unsold hotel rooms at a discount.
Which are your dream Southern fall road trips? What do you want to do? Who would you go with?
This post was last updated in November 2019.