Around the US Northeast in Seven Days
February 7, 2012 8:26 PM   Subscribe

We need a sanity check on this trip, please! My partner and I are planning on getting out of South Carolina by this summer. We know we'd like to live further north, but there are five places we're considering and we're trying to plan the most economical yet useful trip to help us decide. So: what is the cheapest way to visit Pittsburgh, PA, Syracuse, NY, Burlington, VT, Portland, ME, and Providence, RI in a week?

We have about a week to go investigate places we're thinking of living in. Neither of us have any experience of living in any of these places as an adult, but we've been doing research online and have narrowed down the aforementioned places as our most likely candidates. Our plan right now is to fly up to Pittsburgh from SC, rent a car there and drive it up through New England, and then drop it off in Providence and fly back to SC from there. We realize that this will not give us a great deal of time in each place, but we both adjunct at our local university so Spring Break week is about as much time as we're going to get for this trip prior to the end of the semester (which is when we're hoping to move!). From what we've found on sites like Orbitz and Kayak, it seems that this is going to be pretty pricey - picking up a car in Pittsburgh and dropping it off in Providence is going to cost us ~$500 for the week, not to mention costs for flights and the like. If there is some other way of getting around over this time - or if there would be a better pick up/drop off city that would still enable us to hit all of our intended destinations - we are certainly flexible in that regard.

Are we overlooking any other approaches, or is this just how much a multi-city trip like this is going to have to cost? We are certainly happy to take any other transportation mode we can, so long as we can get there and back in a week. Our budget is tight, our days for the trip are numbered, yet there's a lot we feel like we need to see (and yes, we have discussed cutting out some of our stops, but unless we cut out Pittsburgh it doesn't seem like it would make a huge difference - and we're considering Pittsburgh seriously enough that the trip would not be very useful if we didn't visit there). If you have any suggestions about how we can do this for less, we would be grateful to hear them!
posted by DingoMutt to Travel & Transportation around Providence, RI (9 answers total)
Best answer: Are you absolutely sure you couldn't do Pittsburgh on a separate long weekend? Maybe do air bnb something? Because as far as I can see, Syracuse to Vermont to Portland to Providence is totally do-able, with about two full days in each. You could even fly into Boston or Providence and return the car there --- it's be one long(ish) day of driving to return, but you'd save a bunch in the car. Ptown's less than an hour from Boston, portland's about a three and a half hour drive, I'd guess about four hours from Portland to Brattleboro and same from Brattleboro to Syracuse. If you did it that way--fly up on a Friday, two days in Ptown, Monday morning head to Portland, Wednesday morning to Brattleboro, Friday morning to Syracuse, return to Boston Sunday morning --- you'd have enough time to get a fair sampling of each place. Then maybe a separate weekend in Pittsburgh? You could skip the car for that one.
posted by Diablevert at 8:43 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just drive? Assuming you have a road-worthy car, driving from SC to Pittsburgh only adds 8.5 hours to your trip on the way up, and you're 15 hours from Providence on the way back. If that isn't an attractive option, fly in and out of DC. You have a total of 9 days, so this actually seems comfortably doable to me for a road trip with your stops.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:45 PM on February 7, 2012

The big deal is really picking up the car and dropping it off elsewhere. I fairly regularly drive around between Burlington and Portland and Providence [and sometimes to Syracuse] and it's a solid 4+ hours between most of those spots except for Providence and Portland. So I might think about flying into Albany and doing the trip in two loops

1. Albany, Burlington, Portland, Providence

then one long driving day to Pittsburgh

2. Pittsburgh to Syracuse to Albany

Looking at you can get a car for about $250 for the week this way, though you'd probably eat it up with the extra gas (and I'm not sure when Spring Break is so the prices may skyrocket). And yeah my second suggestion would be to drive your own car up there and just do it that way. You're really packing in too much to have much time to spend in any of those places (though buzz me if you're coming through Vermont!) and you might be better off doing Pittsburgh as a separate take-the-train trip.
posted by jessamyn at 8:47 PM on February 7, 2012

I also think Pittsburgh is the hard one for that trip. Providence is a nice, easy airport.
posted by quodlibet at 9:06 PM on February 7, 2012

Yeah, you could do it. You would spend most of your time in a car and you will spend a lot of money on food, gas, rentals, and hotels and not really know anything meaningful about the cities you visit.

It would be wiser to figure out what you both want in a city, what you both can't stand and narrow down your choices. Then, talk to people who live there, find blogs about the city and topics that interest you. Visit a city and you will see buildings and places to drink coffee. Talk to the people who live there and you will know about good neighborhoods, fun places, how people survive under 20 feet of snow.
posted by munchingzombie at 9:12 PM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Hrm. I drive from Portland to Pittsburgh twice a year. It's about 11 - 12 hours to get from here to there, driving straight through.

There are basically two routes: one goes through Hartford, the other goes through Albany.

There is no easy way to get from Burlington to Portland. Pretty backroads routes, yes. Highway routes are not direct.

So, I would do this:

Land in Pittsburgh very early in the morning. Spend Day 1 in Pittsburgh.

Day 2-3: First thing (say 8 - 1) drive the 5 hours from Pittsburgh to Syracuse. Spend the afternoon of day 2 and the morning of day 3 in Syracuse. Afternoon of Day 3 drive the 5 hours from Syracuse to Burlington, VT. (Say 2 - 8 pm)

Day 4: Spend all day in Burlington. Leave about 5 pm to drive the 5 hours to Portland.

Day 5: Spend the day in Portland. (This means two overnights in Portland. I live here, I'm biased. But I also think you'll need to rest by this point, because you'll be exhausted.)

Day 6: Get up super early (say 8 - 11) and drive the three hours from Portland to Providence. Spend the rest of this day in Providence.

Day 7: Spend whatever time is left before your flight in Providence, then fly home.

But frankly? Don't do this in the summer. Do it NOW. Anyone can love Burlington or Syracuse or Portland in June or July (or even sweltering August). The real test is how much you love those places in February or early March, when there is a foot of snow (at least) on the ground and it's cold and you don't really want to walk anywhere, not even out to your car. (Also, hotels will be a LOT cheaper.)
posted by anastasiav at 9:19 PM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, that sounds like a lot and I don't know how you would swing it with enough time to experience each place.

I grew up on LI and in NYC, traveled to all of those places many many times by car, except for Maine.

PLUS... I decided to transfer to the University at Albany way back when, based on a great summer I spent there... BIG MISTAKE. I've lived through two Albany winters. Been to Syracuse during that time, as well. Got eloped once in the winter in Vermont. It's totally different away from the coast in winter. TOTALLY. Like never ever again, different. In the summer? Absolutely lovely!

If snow and grey days are your thing, go for it. It might make a nice change, as I'm also familiar with the southern states in the winter. But I beg you to re-think visiting during the nicest weather they have in the north east all year as a way to tell where you might be happy.

I applaud your initiative! And yes, move somewhere new!

Just. Y'know. Check it out at its worst. Then you'll know.
posted by jbenben at 9:21 PM on February 7, 2012

If money is tight and you're ok with trains, I'd suggest flying into Pittsburgh, then Amtrak it to Providence (looks like there's a 13 1/2 hr trip for 80 bucks, so times 2 equals $160, which I assume is MUCH cheaper than the whole pick up a car and drop off elsewhere fee). Then rent a car in Providence, do a loop of the other cities, come back to Providence to drop off the car and fly out of Providence Airport (not sure about the other cities, but I like that airport quite a bit).

Drop a line if you make it to Pittsburgh. I'm still exploring, but so far I think it's a gem of a city. Have a great trip.
posted by jng at 11:33 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry for the super-late follow up (I can't believe it was so long ago that I asked this question!), but thank you to everyone who gave us advice. There were a lot of great suggestions here, any of which would have worked well; as it was, we decided that for us it would be best to have a little more time in each city and a little less time on the road, so we ended up going with Diablevert's advice to do Pittsburgh on a separate trip. At first we hadn't thought that would be affordable, time- or money-wise, but in the end I think it worked out well. With the extra time up in New England we ended up going to a few cities we hadn't originally planned on, and then we took a 3-day trip to Pittsburgh a few weeks later. In case you're curious, we've chosen Pittsburgh as our next spot and are in the process of apartment hunting now! We'll definitely drop you a line once we get sorted, jng - perhaps a Pittsburgh meetup is in order!

And jbenben, thanks for your advice about checking out these places during the winter as well as the spring - I think my original question made it seem like we weren't familiar with real winters, but we've both spent a lot of time in the northeast and midwest, just not those specific places as adults (actually I had a pretty similar experience to yours when I interned in the midwest one summer, and liked it so much that I accepted a job offer for a position starting in January - I never lived down showing up to work that first day with snow clogging up my open-toed shoes ... but I'll be ready this time!)
posted by DingoMutt at 7:50 PM on May 31, 2012

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