Looking for a travel guide to America’s Deep South – home to impeccable manners, charming accents, fried chicken, and peach pie? As a third-generation Minnesotan I know NOTHING about life south of the Mason-Dixon line, so I brought in a local to share her best Southern travel tips with us!
Howdy ya’ll! I’m Lauren and I grew up in a small town in South Carolina that had a post office, a church and a rodeo. I lived in and traveled around the Deep South for 25 years until I moved to Seoul, South Korea and everyday I miss those southern drawls and starry skies. But don’t worry, I’ve found a way to make sweet tea here.
I grew up playing in creeks, attending the rodeo and church regularly and sitting on big porches in rocking chairs. It truly is a beautiful way of life in the south and I hope you can experience it one day.
MUST GO IN AMERICA’S DEEP SOUTH
Charleston, South Carolina is truly the gem of the south; if you only have one chance to visit the south, Charleston has it all the southern charm you need. Charleston boasts southern hospitality with that charming southern drawl and it is one of our most beautiful and historic cities.
Spend the day with the locals on Folly Beach and indulge in a rich array of local foods and markets along Rainbow Row. Right down the road, boasting similar qualities but shaded by Live Oak Trees laden with Spanish moss is Savannah, Georgia. And for the wide-open beach bums who want water sports and/or no city distractions see the expansive Outer Banks.
New Orleans, Louisiana is a must to see the French Quarter, eat Beignets and stroll down Bourbon Street. Nashville, Tennessee is the home of country music where you can rub shoulders with stars on any street corner.
Athens, Georgia is home to the beautiful, historic UGA campus and where REM and the B52s both got their start. Athens’ historic downtown boasts of 95 bars within 3 small blocks with more local art, music, food, breweries and shopping than any other small town.
For a mix of the city life but to still enjoy the mountain retreat scene spend some time in Chattanooga or Gatlinburg. For the ultimate mountain retreat experience where you can stay in a log cabin, wear plaid, chop your wood and buy local handmade crafts look for small towns in the Smoky Mountains or along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Make sure to check these smaller towns festival and fair schedules as they have the best events, like the Green Bean Festival or The Possum Drop! Regardless if you stay or not, these places have the best scenic mountain drives around, so be sure to take the long way and stop at as many overlooks and jam stands as you can.
MUST DO IN THE SOUTH
Carnivals and Fairs
A classic southern summer and fall activity are carnivals and fairs. Go ride the ferris wheel and eat a funnel cake. Likely they will also have a country singer doing a live concert at these events and that is something you don’t want to miss! Put on your cowboy boots and cowboy hat and hit the open field for an evening of dancing and live entertainment under a blanket of a thousand stars.
Speaking of dancing, try to catch a lesson in line dancing or shag dancing if you can. Make sure you get outside to ride ATVs, go mud slinging and if you’re near a swamp take an airboat out to see the alligators.
And for all the fans of adrenaline and fast cars, make sure you catch a Nascar Race or a monster truck show. Most southern of all: attend a rodeo! For those looking for a more quintessential and quiet experience do a farm stay where you can milk a cow, collect eggs, till the land and ride a horse.
MUST EAT IN THE SOUTH
The south is famous for its ability to deep-fry anything and then add butter, salt and sugar. While it may not be the healthiest region of the land, it very well could be the tastiest. A southern staple with any meal, at any time of the day is a cold glass of sweet tea.
You should also try Cheerwine, Cherry Lemon Sundrop and for an adult beverage try Firefly vodka or go to a moonshine tasting.
For breakfast eat biscuits and gravy or shrimp and grits. For the rest of your meals you have a lot of great options, most will include a fried dish or two.
Deep pit barbecue
Famous southern meals are Chicken-n-Dumplins and Deep Pit BBQ. You will also want to find good places that serve Soul Food and Creole Food. And don’t forget to eat your veggies: fried okra or squash and collard greens.
CULTURAL TIPS FOR TRAVELING IN THE SOUTH
Southerners are known for their hospitality. When you are out in public everyone will speak to you, wave to you and will lend a helping hand. So be sure to return the favor.
Hold open the door, especially for a lady, say excuse me, don’t push past someone, be a gentleman and be patient. These manners and common courtesies are highly valued in southern towns and will make it much easier for you to make friends and get assistance when needed.
Most importantly, learn your ma’ams and sirs. Respect when addressing someone, especially your elder is the key to winning a southerners heart. Answering questions with a ‘yes ma’am’ or ‘no sir’ will truly make your interactions much more pleasant and successful.
Know that directions can tend to be more ‘loose’ and landmark based. Hearing someone say ‘just go round yonder and turn by the Wal-Mart’ is likely. So be sure to ask for clarification or bring a GPS as dirt roads lined with cornfields can go on for miles and miles with no signs or gas stations.
It gets hot, sticky and itchy in the south. During summer months (April-October) it gets very hot and humid and the bugs come out to bite. So dress accordingly, bring sunscreen and bug spray.
The south is wonderful and hospitable and people will want you to stay and sit and chat, but one area they struggle with is being multi-lingual. The main second language spoken in the south, in general, is Spanish but on a very basic level. So have a good translator app and be prepared with your patience if English isn’t your first or best language.
We respect God and Country and by ‘Country’ we mean the south because those city folk from up north just don’t get understand us sometimes. And on Sundays most everything will shut down so you can attend church. Alcohol won’t likely be sold and everyone will drive nice and slow…
And last, a word of warning: when someone says ‘bless his heart’ know that it doesn’t always carry the kindest connotation…
cheap travel tips for THE SOUTH
The southern states are very expansive and farmlands cover a great deal of the area. Therefore traveling around can be tricky, even in major cities. Southerners are car people. Everyone owns a car because public transportation is almost non-existent.
The best thing you can do on a trip to the south, especially if you are going to be traveling to multiple places is to rent a car. This will also allow you to see some of the South’s greatest natural beauties that you can’t get to on any bus routes.
Speaking of natural beauty, the south is very proud of their land and much of it is reserved as some type of government-protected parks. A great way to see these hidden gems and to have very cheap lodging is to camp. It is very fun pastime for southerners and you will likely make some new friends around the campfire.
Airbnb is likely cheaper than a hotel and a much better way to experience Southern hospitality. Here’s a two-bedroom house in Savannah for $50 a night and here’s a creek-side log cabin in Boone for $60 a night. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking!
Hostels are non-existent. Food is very moderately to cheaply priced compared to the northern states and so is gas.
I hope I’ve given you a tiny glimpse into how diverse and welcoming the Deep South is. If you have any questions please ask in the comments and I’ll be around to answer.
Thanks so much for sharing, Lauren! I’m sure we have plenty of Southern readers – what would you guys add to this list?