Jennifer Morris hits the road between Washington and Boston and finds a self-drive break offers independence and flexibility.
"The battlefield tours are all done for the day, ma’am."
I look up, incredulous, before turning to my fiance, Jamie, tears springing to my eyes.
We slope away from the queue to a quieter corner of the Gettysburg National Military Park museum and visitors centre, Jamie somewhat alarmed at my sudden distress. I’m not sad as such, more frustrated that we’ve spent so long over our pizza that we’ve missed the activity I’ve heard such good things about: a lively guided bus tour of the monuments scattered for miles around the fields of Gettysburg – the site of one of the most important battles of the American Civil War in 1863.
I am perhaps a bit over-tired too.
Five minutes on from the embarrassing teary incident and we are back in the car, but not defeated. Having purchased the dedicated audio CD, we set off on a self-drive tour. I pat the dashboard of our little Mazda3 from Avis, incredibly thankful we’ve opted to hire a car for our whistle-stop east-coast voyage from Washington DC to Boston.
Our road trip had begun just that morning. While we wanted to remain flexible with our accommodation for some of the trip, we decide to bookend it with stays at the Watergate hotel in the capital and the Four Seasons in Boston.
After two nights in Washington, we jump in a taxi to an Avis pickup point a little outside the city centre: Blair Road. More centrally located branches are available, but what with the driving-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road business, we think it best to set off from the outskirts.
Within 15 minutes of arriving at the quiet little Avis counter, the car is poised at the exit, impeccably clean and with the engine running. It is only once we pull outthat we realise the car doesn’t have a satnav – my fault rather than Avis’s – but focusing intently on not crashing, we aren’t inclined to turn back and ask for one.
Thankfully, though, the car has USB charging ports and we use my trusty smartphone to navigate - thank goodness I have free roaming data for the US.
One of the things that strikes me almost immediately about our selfdrive is that we see so many things we wouldn’t have if we didn’t have our own car. Within the first half hour, we are faced with an enormous white building with golden spires looming ahead, and a quick Google search reveals it to be a Mormon temple.
For us, it is just as intriguing to peer into the endless American fast food joints along the route such as Taco Bell. Of course, other US road trip routes would have offered prettier scenery, but we are here for the iconic cities.
Our first overnight stop is an apartment in south Philadelphia. We park right outside and are tucked up in bed within an hour. The next morning we load our suitcases back into the car, lock up, and set out on foot to jog up the famous “Rocky steps”, admire the Liberty Bell and visit Reading Terminal Market for a Philly cheesesteak.
Strolling back to the car that afternoon, we discuss how the flexibility of a car means that on our way out of Philly we can swing by Mighty Micks boxing gym in the suburbs, as it turns out with the speakers blaring Eye of the Tiger – despite lots of eye rolling from me.
We decide to call in on our friend Georgie, who lives in Queens, New York. We accidentally end up driving straight past the Statue of Liberty and through the middle of Manhattan. It’s quite surreal looking up at the Empire State Building as we listen to every New York-themed song we know while navigating a sea of feisty yellow taxis. But soon we are parking up just a block away from her apartment.
After a stiff drink for driver Jamie, we all head out for dinner at a Jewish-Japanese fusion restaurant in Brooklyn, Shalom Japan, followed by a nightcap on Georgie’s rooftop, overlooking the New York skyline.
Next morning, she waves us off to Rhode Island, filled with the joy brought by an unexpected reunion.
This is set to be our longest drive yet, but soon the scenery changes again along the i95: we are in beach country.
Visiting Jamie’s great uncle Ken – 93-years-old and still cycling and driving everywhere – it feels good to be able to offer to drive us all for lobster rolls, barbecues, lighthouse visits and beach walks.
After a few days in the sun, we set off for Boston. We make our way to the Four Seasons and hand our keys over to the valet. After a restful final few days soaking up the Boston vibe – ticking off a visit to Cheers bar and a Red Sox baseball game – it is time to collect the car for the final time.
Having forgotten to fill up, we are relieved to find a petrol station en route to the clearly signposted Avis drop-offat Logan International airport. We pull up and, after a swift inspection by friendly Andrew, we are on the shuttle bus to departures.
As we wait at check-in, we reflect on what has only been a 10-day trip, but has formed lifelong memories – thanks in no small part to our trusty wheels.
Book it: First Class Holidays offers a nine-night trip with stays in Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston and flights from Heathrow for £1,509pp (not including car hire). Avis offers seven-day car hire for about £396, including a one-way drop-off charge.
Lynette Dungey head of travel, international Avis Budget Group EMEA
HOW POPULAR ARE FLYDRIVES?
They are growing in popularity and agents should remember to suggest renting a car when booking a holiday. It’s almost certainly better value when you consider the cost of transfers and excursions, especially for families and groups.
WHAT MAKES THE US A PARTICULARLY GOOD OPTION FOR CAR HIRE?
Roads are great in the US, and there is an abundance of automatic vehicles to make the change from driving on the left-hand side of the road to the right easier.
ANY RECENT UPDATES ON AVIS’S FLEET?
Our global fleet now includes more than 100,000 connected vehicles and we’re aiming to have our total fleet connected by 2020. This will mean better transparency for our customers and more streamlined services, including keyless entry.
WHAT ARE SOME OF AVIS’S USPs?
From our acquisition of Zipcar in 2013 and our Avis mobile app to being the first car rental to offer key drops, we have been unafraid to take risks to move our core business forward. Innovations such as our FAN (flight arrival notification) technology and our MDMS (maintenance and damage maintenance system) are just two recent examples of what we do to help give the most streamlined service to our customers.