My mom turned 60 the week of Thanksgiving, and so my brother, Kevin, and I decided that we would plan a family vacation — something we really hadn’t done in the better part of a decade — to celebrate. I love to give people experiences instead of stuff. This vacation was a chance to be in the moment (I barely glanced at e-mail all week), give back as adults and create some great memories with the fam. It was awesome to include Joe in a family event less emotionally fraught than wedding planning, too. Grab a mug of tea for a recap with all the details!
We chose Savannah because we were interested in going somewhere that would be warmish in late fall, that had sightseeing potential (but wasn’t super cheesy touristy) and since my mom had always talked of visiting neighboring Hilton Head and Savannah is the birthplace of Girl Scouts, it felt like the right fit. I’m so glad we made this our destination! We had just the right amount of time to explore, and the city was super easy to navigate. And Spanish moss. Everywhere.
Kevin and I wanted to cover most of the trip expenses because, let’s be real – it’s not much of a present if you’re like “Yay! We’re taking you on a vacation! Now buy your $500 plane ticket!” but we’re on a budget and so we started to look into driving the nearly 1,000 miles there. I got a pretty sweet deal on a Ford Escape by calling and pre-paying with Avis (unlimited miles) and we listed all four adults as drivers for the 14+ hour trek. Kevin is a consultant who has a ridiculous stash of Marriott points and gets government hotel rates, so he hooked us up with lodging. Of course, we downloaded Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil audiobook and listened to part of it on the way there.
Day 1: Chicago to Asheville, NC. With a spontaneous pit stop at a fried chicken place worthy of a historical marker.
We decided to get the long drive out of the way first, stopping at a rest area for a picnic lunch and then making a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit the original KFC/Colonel Sanders Cafe in Kentucky, which was just goofy and random enough to make us feel like we were on a genuine road trip.
We stayed at the Grand Bohemian in Asheville, which was pretty luxe (thanks, Kev!) and right outside the Biltmore Estate. The hotel sent up champagne and snacks to help toast my mom, since we’d set out on her actual birthday, and we were able to get a late dinner of awesome burgers at the Village Wayside, a short walk down the street. (It was tempting to go to the fanciest McDonalds and Hardees we’d ever seen, but I’m glad we stuck to local flavor!)
We got up early and headed to the Biltmore for a tour of one of the country’s oldest and most opulent privately owned residences. I assumed it was owned by a nonprofit Foundation, a la Des Moines’ Salisbury House, but not so. Tickets are pricey, plus you could pay an extra $10-20 for an audio or guided tour. But the grounds and home are a marvel and my mom really wanted to go. We started in the gardens and then wound our way through the two-hour self-guided house tour. We scoped out downtown Asheville quickly, “fueling up” at Asheville Brewing Co. before we hit the road. Note: Planning a trip through Asheville and Savannah while pregnant and unable to partake in the alcoholic beverages is a mild form of torture.