You want to surf ocean waves and your partner wants to climb a mountain. But vacation time is only long enough to visit one state. Try Georgia. It has everything you both want within a few hours drive. There are beaches, mountains, golf, museums, foodie hotspots, natural wonders and lots of fun. The state is divided into nine regions; each has enough fun activities to keep you happy for far longer than the average vacation.
Start on the coast and visit Savannah for a special treat of true Southern charm. You get history as well as beach fun. There’s Cumberland Island with its ruins dating from Georgia’s founding to the Carnegie era. The feral horses roam the island as they have since colonial days. Since there is no bridge to the island and the ferry only brings up to 300 people daily, the beaches are pristine.
Want to move into the 20th century, try Jekyll Island with its gilded age cottages of the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts. For a more historic spot, head for St. Simons Island. It’s 1870 Lighthouse and Antebellum homes will take you back in time.
How about heading inland to Plantation Trace. Albany has such varied attractions as The Flint River Aquarium and the Civil Rights Institute. You might hear the Freedom Singers at the former Mount Zion Baptist Church. Be sure to tour Resora, once a plantation and now a commune to help discriminated farmers earn a living and everyone learn about the area. Shirley Sherrod, who heads it, sees it as, “A place where we can both farm the land and enrich the minds of people.”
Don’t miss the stature of Albany native, Ray Charles. Nature lovers and artists must view Radium Springs, one of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders.
Columbus is another must see in the Plantation Trace. It’s a trip in time. Columbus Museum combines art and history. Its Civil War Naval Museum is the only one in the world. National Infantry Museum was voted #1 Best Free Museum by USA Today. The Springer Opera House and Liberty Theater showcase the cultural side.
Go southeast and tour Magnolia Midlands. Vidalia and Statesboro are just two must-sees here. Visit the only place in the world where Vidalia Onions are grown and sample some of the ways to cook these sweetie pies.
Meet Georgia Southern University Wildlife Center eagle mascot, Freedom in Statesboro.
Fitzgerald is an unusual spot in the Deep South. It was founded as a retirement place for Union veterans. Surprise, they were welcomed. You will be too.
Veer west and discover Presidential Pathways. Follow Jimmy Carter’s (and maybe meet him as he attends and teaches at the local church) campaign start-up.
Americus offers one of the nation’s most unique hotels, The Windsor. There is a working antique mahogany phone booth. The Windsor was where Jimmy Carter and Franklin Delano Roosevelt planned campaign strategy. It has its share of ghostly inhabitants also.
Historic Heartland sits in the center of the state. Enjoy this itinerary for one special tour of antebellum Georgia.
To the east is Classic South. Kayak the Augusta Canal to see ruins of the arsenal and mills that were once the workhorse of the Confederacy. In Washington you’ll find more antebellum homes that you can visit in a day. Maybe search for the lost Confederate treasure at Callaway Plantation.
At the top of the state you have mountains, The Northeast Georgia Mountains bring you into Appalachia. From Blue Ridge’s Scenic Railway on through Blairsville, home of Vogel State Park and Byron Herbert Reece Homesite, to Hiawassee, where Lake Chatuge’s blue waters reflect the majesty of peaks like Brasstown Bald, the state’s highest mountain.
The mountains continue to the west, called Historic High Country. At Dalton’s newest attraction, Dalton Distillery, you can taste the only moonshine made from sunflower seeds.
Booth Western Art Museum and Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville are worth a visit.
Did you know Pine Mountain was America’s first legal gold mine? Find out all about it at their Gold Museum.
For the most quirky, you want to stop at Tunnel Hill and see the where General Hood’s leg is buried. Don’t miss Paradise Gardens where Howard Finster’s finger spoke to him and told him, “Paint religious art.” Old Car City at White is a “guys” special. It’s a cross between a junkyard and a car museum.
Atlanta Metro claims the smallest but by no means the least section in the central part of the state. Of course, you want to visit Atlanta for history along with urban delights and a big business scene. There are other places besides Atlanta to visit. There’s Roswell with a unique history and lots of nature. It’s also a foodie destination with hundreds of award winning chef-driven restaurants. Alpharetta is a perfect Girlfriend Getaway with lots of shopping.
When trying to please persons with varied tastes, you’ll be humming “Georgia on my Mind.”
You could spend a day or a month or more depending on how much of the stare and to what depth you want to see it.
Because of the change in climate between the coastal regions and the mountains in the north, best time varies depending on your destination. Winter in the mountain area is sometimes snowy and driving difficult because of icy roadways. Some roads will be closed.
For the rest of Georgia, winters are mild and crowds are less.
January (1st): New Year’s Day
January (third Monday): Martin Luther King Jr. Day
February (third Monday): Presidents Day
May (last Monday): Memorial Day
July (4th): Independence Day
September (first Monday): Labor Day
October (second Monday): Columbus Day
(not the same as Native American Day, which is only celebrated officially in two states, on September 25th)
November (11th): Veterans Day
November (fourth Thursday): Thanksgiving Day
December (25th): Christmas
Georgia is located in the Eastern time zone.
To check the local time in Georgia, click here.
Daylight Savings Time (DST) happens in the spring (on the second Sunday morning of March at 2 a.m.). It’s when clocks are advanced one hour so there is more daylight later into the evening. In the fall (on the first Sunday morning in November at 2 a.m.), clocks shift back one hour to standard time. The entire U.S. (except Hawaii and most of Arizona) participates in this ritual of ‘springing forward’ and ‘falling back.’
Mostly casual. Some dining is more dressy in Atlanta and some larger cities.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in $US.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11–25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26+ per person
$ => Rooms less than $150 for a double
$$ => Rooms $150–$300 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300+ for a double
$ => Up to $15 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$ => $16–22 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$$ => $23+ for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11–25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26+ per person
Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings.
Have Car, Will Travel
Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.
There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.
Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities and college towns in the U.S., Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transportation, so you don’t need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You can’t go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Open the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. You need to apply for membership and download the app in advance. Memberships cost about $7 a month; rentals are about $8 to10 per hour; gas and insurance are included. Foreign drivers can apply and you don’t need to pay a monthly fee if you’re an occasional driver (from $25 per year for a membership).
Ride-sharing companies, Uber and Lyft, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.
Money Saving Tip: Costco, because of its behemoth size and price negotiating power, offers great low prices for most major car rental companies. Yes, you need to purchase an annual Costco membership first, but it more than pays for itself with what you’ll save with a typical week’s car rental (i.e. searches turn up a mid-size car through Costco for $225 and a comparable car through another aggregator for $325.)
Did You Know: Budget Car Rental offers drivers residing at the same address (i.e. unmarried partners or BFFs) complimentary extra driver coverage. Other car rental companies charge upwards of $10/day.
Hopefully, your trip to (or within) the U.S. goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?
Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:
Trip Cancellation: About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical: Health services in the U.S. are expensive for the uninsured. This is a major reason to consider purchasing insurance. Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.
Trip Interruption: For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.
Travel Delay: Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Baggage: Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.
Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.
Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If you’re traveling to a hurricane-prone area during hurricane season, for example, you’ll probably want some coverage “just in case” … no matter what.
Your English language skills are also an important factor. Insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.
How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework; check around. The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregator sites like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).
If you have pre-existing health conditions: Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
Credit card insurance: If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.
For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.
U.S. dollars come in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. They are all the same size and color, so non-Americans have an understandably tricky time telling them apart. The $2 bill is in circulation but rarely seen.
Coins in wide circulation include the penny (one cent), nickel (five cents), dime (ten cents) and quarter (25 cents). The 50-cent and one-dollar coins are seen occasionally.
Smaller businesses may not accept $50 or $100 bills, so have twenties or smaller bills in hand. ATMs usually dispense $20 bills.
If you get money from an ATM machine, you may incur charges (often $2 or $3 per transaction). Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, U.S. banks will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Many grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets let you get a limited amount of “cash back” when paying for your goods — this is an easy way to get cash while on the go.
Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout the U.S.
Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. This goes for U.S. residents traveling out of state. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card — which doesn’t make sense if it is lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access.
Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.
Tipping is a cost you must build into the budget for any U.S. travel experience, whether urban or rural. Tipping is most relevant to dining out and hotel stays, but other costs should also be taken in to consideration. General guidelines include:
For excellent service, plan to tip 20% on the total bill, before taxes. For less-than-stellar service, 10-15% is customary, as an imperfect experience is often not solely the responsibility of the server. In many states, servers work for below minimum wage and live mostly on tips, so consider the ramifications of your tipping decisions.
To complicate matters, many restaurants in the major metropolitan areas — New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco — are moving to a no-tipping model in which service is included. The verdict isn’t yet in on whether this new model will stick, so be sure you understand the tipping policy at each restaurant you visit.
Oh, and one more complication: Sometimes a tip is automatically included, usually for groups of six or more people. But at least it will be itemized in plain sight on the bill, if you look closely for it.
Most bell staff receive $1 to $2 per bag they assist with; if someone carts all of your bags up to your room, expect to tip $5 to $10.
Tips for housekeeping are also good form. The rule of thumb is $2 to $3 per day and about $5 per day in higher-end properties.
At properties with concierge services, consider tipping concierge staff who assist you in planning activities, making reservations or acquiring tickets around $10 to $20 per day. Concierge staff do not normally expect a tip for simply orienting you with driving directions or public transportation info. Car valet staff expect $2 when returning your car. Spa employees (massage therapists, aestheticians, etc.) usually see 20% tips on their services, whether performed at the spa or in your room.
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and drug stores will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.
Sales Taxes, Lodging Taxes & Resort Fees
In Georgia, the combined total for state and local taxes on all retail goods and services varies from 6% to 8%, depending on where you are. In general, cities, particularly Atlanta, have higher taxes than rural areas do. Taxes are not usually included in display prices, unless otherwise stated.
Lodging tax also varies by location in Georgia, ranging from 3% to 8%. This tax applies whether you are staying at a private vacation rental, a bed-and-breakfast, or a full-fledged hotel. Taxes are not usually stated up front in the advertised room rate. Neither are the mandatory nightly “resort fees” being charged by an increasing number of hotels. Sometimes this fee covers internet access, parking, and a few incidentals, while at other times it’s merely a surcharge for amenities that should be free. Beware that third-party booking agents, especially online, often don’t include resort fees in their reservation charges, so you may be unhappily surprised by the final bill when you check out.