Having long harboured a desire to ‘road trip’ in America, we decided to take the plunge this year and head Stateside with our two children, aged nine and eight, for a trip around (part of) New England. After some minor experience of motorcaravanning in Dorset earlier this summer we were all looking forward to a full trip, whilst still a little apprehensive about how a 10-day road trip like this would pan out.
Of course, this was to be a fly-drive holiday in the USA, so we had to check out the motorhome hire options. With the help of Linda and her colleagues at The Motorhome Experts we chose a Cruise America Intermediate RV (which is 25ft-long and sleeps six), and Linda helped us to plan a route that would enable us to start and finish near New York whilst taking in as much of New England as possible, including Cape Cod and a visit to family in Connecticut.
In hindsight, I was incredibly grateful for the experience of The Motorhome Experts team in putting our journey together. It is easy to forget just how big America is and just how slowly one tends to travel in an RV compared to a normal road car – especially if one wants to take in the sights along the way. I have no doubt that we would have ended up overreaching ourselves had we been left to plan the whole journey ourselves.
Having enjoyed a couple of days in Brooklyn after flying into New York and seeing the sights (and shops) of the Big Apple, we headed for Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey, on the Monday afternoon to pick up our RV. After a very friendly welcome from Pat, who runs the Cruise America franchise in New Jersey, and a quick orientation and introduction to the vehicle, we were ready to hit the road.
Whilst it seemed like exactly the right idea to avoid the interstate highways on the first section of our journey, and the plan told us it would only be a short, 50-mile hop up to Newburgh in Plattekill, New York, that first journey was tricky! Getting to grips with the 'van was OK; it was big, but then so are the roads. Harder was orientating ourselves from the step-by-step instructions, to the map, to the road signs – once we had mastered the road naming conventions and realised that we should have turned left out of the rental centre (not right!) we found it easier.
Nevertheless, it was a journey that should have taken not much more than an hour and it ended up taking three, meaning we got to our first US campsite in the dark and with two tired kids who had been promised a swim on arrival. However, the beauty of touring in a 'van as well equipped as the Cruise America soon hit home as within half an hour we were sitting down to dinner quickly prepared in the kitchen.
The next morning, after enjoying coffee and great free pancakes provided by the KOA Newburgh site, we set off in the rain on our first big driving day to make our way up through the Catskill State Park towards Saratoga Springs and our second campsite.
The rain relented for us to enjoy a stop in the legendary town of Woodstock and gave us time to pick up the vibes of this hippy community. And whilst the 1969 festival actually took place several miles away, it was a great opportunity to see how the spirit of that event lives on.
As we took to the road again, so the rain got heavier and the Catskill Mountains we were driving through got higher. Whilst it was a shame not to be able to enjoy the views of this incredible New York state park, it was pretty awesome to be driving through such a dramatic storm – I was certainly grateful for the CA’s tow/haul mode that made the steep downhill sections a little easier and eased the shifts on the automatic transmission.
Despite the storms we managed to make it to the Deer Run ‘Adventure Bound’ campsite outside Saratoga Springs in time for the children to enjoy both swimming pools and to get a fire going for the authentic US camping experience. Perfect.
The following day we stayed at the campsite to recharge batteries, enjoy the great children’s activities on offer (including inflatable water slides!) and to explore a little bit of the surrounding area. We also enjoyed checking out some of our neighbours on the site. Our little 25ft RV felt distinctly out of place amongst the enormous motorhomes and caravans so many Americans like to park at campsites like this one for the summer. Many were resplendent with well-tended gardens, and all, of course, proudly flew the US flag. Next time we tour in the USA we will take a Union Jack to raise on our pitch when possible!
From Saratoga Springs we headed east for the longest driving day of our tour, in which we drove through four states (New York, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts) and began to understand just what a stunning country the USA is. Vermont, in particular, offered us vistas and views that took the breath away at almost every turn and we vowed to return to explore more of this on a future visit.
The route took us through historic civil war and US Revolution battle grounds (Battleboro, Bennington) and 160 miles later we arrived in Rutland, MA, to meet my cousin and aunt who live nearby. An evening swim in the stunning lake at the Rutland State Park and a great ‘eat outside’ dinner in a local diner meant we arrived in the dark at our next campsite amongst the pines in Ashby, MA.
Waking to the warm sunshine dappling through the pines and the sound of a babbling brook behind the 'van was one of the highlights of the tour. This fantastic little site on the Massachusets/New Hampshire borders was a real gem. No grand motorhomes here, just good old fashioned camping, friendly neighbours, hot showers, an ice cold swimming pool and a fascinating museum of 1950s/60s arcade games and memorabilia collected and curated by the campground owner. We stayed a morning but would have happily stayed for a week, were we not heading to Boston that evening.
A short drive, using the interstate for the first time, took us to the Canoe River campground in Mansfield, on the outer suburbs of Boston. A free shuttle from the campsite to the nearby train station, meant we were able to set up camp (alas this site was a far cry from the great site in Ashby), then catch the train into Boston.
We had pre-booked tickets to watch the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, a real ‘bucket list’ venue for me, and met my cousin who helped explain the rules and what we were watching. What an amazing experience! A Friday night game, under lights, with close to 40,000 Red Sox fans was something none of us will ever forget. From the hot dogs to the home runs via the ‘jumbotron’ big screen and incredible views from the bleachers which, despite being in the cheapest seats available, offered a full, uninterrupted view of the action, this was a once in a lifetime experience that more than made up for the rather shabby campsite.
The following day we took the train again, avoiding having to drive anywhere near or through Boston’s complicated road system in our 'van, and ‘did’ Boston.
Boston is very different from any other US city I’ve visited. Whether it was the hot, stormy weather, the strong Irish influences or the unbelievable Italian restaurant we visited in the evening, it is a crazy place. Easy enough to navigate around on the subway system and small enough to walk around the major sights downtown and in the harbour area, its a great place to visit for a day trip. The fact we could take the train in and out, about 45 minutes each way, from our campsite in Mansfield, meant we didn’t need to worry about driving through or around the city.
From Boston we headed, like so many Bostonians do over the summer months, to Cape Cod. First of all we stopped to take in the excellent museum on the site of the first settlement established by the English settlers at Plymouth. The Plymouth Plantation is a fantastic recreation of those early settlements and with actors and native Americans helping to create the scene, is a great way for children and adults alike to understand how the country we know today was established.
Cape Cod was everything we had imagined it would be, and more. Long, sandy beaches, stunning sunsets and amazing seafood were all within a walk of our campsite at Shady Knoll in Brewster. Brewster is about halfway up ‘the Cape’ and therefore a good base from which to explore the area. In fact, given that so many beaches on the Cape are private, and those that aren’t are very expensive or difficult to park at, we decided to walk the mile and a half or so to the beach from our campsite and spend the day there rather than drive around all day. It was a perfect way to spend time on Cape Cod, and whilst we know there is much left to see on a future visit, a good drive up and around the Cape on our last day there meant we left feeling we had enjoyed a true Cape Cod experience, although we definitely want more.
From the Cape we turned west and began the journey back towards New York. We stopped in Portsmouth and Newport, Rhode Island, and enjoyed visiting the Great Gatsby style mansions on this tiny island state, as well as a great afternoon on one of the enormous beaches outside Newport. From here we drove to Mystic, Connecticut, and on to Guilford, on the outskirts of New Haven.
New Haven is the home of the world-famous Yale University campus, and we spent an afternoon amongst the cloisters and libraries of this iconic seat of learning. A cruise around the Thimble Islands – a collection of 20 or so islands each populated with amazing houses – between New Haven and Guilford was a real treat, as was genuine New Haven Pizza that we enjoyed with my aunt in her home in Guilford.
Our last night in the 'van was spent parked on my aunt’s driveway, affording us the chance to pack and clean the RV after 10 days on the road. A 5am start to avoid the commuter rush hour traffic on the busy roads between New Haven and New York/New Jersey meant we were able to get the 'van back to the Cruise America centre in Lake Hiawatha on time and in one piece – 1089 miles and many fantastic experiences later, and we were back in the cab on the way to New York.
This was a truly memorable way of visiting a stunning part of the world. It was a great introduction to touring, and the Cruise America 'van was everything we needed and more.
My family and I cannot recommend a trip like this more highly. New England is a fascinating, beautiful and diverse part of the USA and easily achievable on a 10-day trip. And thanks to The Motorhome Experts and our super 'van, it was a real pleasure to tour. We will go back to New England one day – and this will not be our last motorhome holiday!