7 reasons to visit the South right now

I had visited the Southern region of the United States many times before my parents made the move to South Carolina after my Dad retired from the military. However, other than my love for New Orleans, I had no desire to spend any extended amount of time in or around the area. It's too humid, the food's too heavy, and there's nothing appealing-- oh, how wrong I was. How ignorant.

I've been in South Carolina since December. While the heat is fierce, other than that, I've found myself in a desperate love affair. At times, I've even questioned whether I want to continue with my plans beginning in June. Seriously. I've thought about nixing every dot on my map, my 'long term plan', to just stay sippin' iced tea.

Here are 7 reasons to come South, like, today...

1. The food

I've been a fair few places, and I promise you between the street tacos in Nashville, the food trucks in Austin, the buttermilk biscuits in Charleston, the ice cream in Savannah, and the Cajun cuisine in Louisianna you'll be in the best part of the country for food. Food bloggers are flocking to the many grand openings that are currently taking place in Nashville and Charleston. My list of cafes to visit and restaurants to try is ever-growing. If you're a foodie, this is truly the only reason you need to visit. A note for vegans and vegetarians: there are a shocking number of hip eateries. You will not go hungry in the land of barbeque, I promise. 

2. The people

Southerners are just the friendliest. They compare, and maybe even outdo, the hospitality of New Zealanders {if you know me, you know how hard that is to even type}. Down here, you'll never be a stranger. Take my work as an example.

I worked at the University I graduated from this time last year and the climate was tense and isolating. I'm currently working for a different college down South and my experience with the people has been a surreal juxtaposition, even though my role is temporary and my colleagues know I'm on a limited contract. Here, I've not felt like I've had to 'earn my way in.' I was invited on lunch dates almost immediately, exchanging numbers and Instagram handles right away.

Be it a combination of independence due to traveling lots and introverted-ness I've developed with age, whatever it is, I'm used to having friends in far corners of the world, only close for short periods of time or on time-limited adventures. I don't feel the need to extend my network often. I do well with the quality group of people I have. But, man, the people down here have taken me into their arms and there's been no shortage of laughter. My mother's neighbours are, likewise, super caring. They bring us casseroles and tea cakes multiple times a week, checking in on us with phone calls regularly. Even my dog gets treated with extra kindness down here, as the older woman who lives across the way checks on her in her outdoor pen often. I've walked into coffee shops in Charleston and felt like I was walking into a family member's living room. Come visit and I promise you'll make friends! 

3. The scenery

I'm a sucker for the mountains in Montana, Washington forests, the skyline of Manhattan, and the everything of New Zealand. But something about Palmettos lining cobblestone streets is so easy on the eyes, you might think you're walking through a movie set. Celebrity couples host their nuptials in the area {Blake Lively married Ryan Reynolds near Charleston and Solange Knowles got married in the Big Easy} for the same reason there are so many movies filmed down this way {Forrest Gump, The Notebook, Gone with the Wind to name a few}-- because it's an aesthetically romantic setting. 

4. The history

There's history everywhere you go, I get that. The history of the Southern U.S.A is both tragic and beautiful. Regardless of the darkness, or perhaps because of it, it's vitally important. It's the origin story of this nation and we cannot forget or ignore it. A large portion of my life was spent in Europe, and I'm not too proud that I have better knowledge of European history than I do the country of my birth. Living back in the states, particularly in the 'lower-right', has peaked my interest in the American story. The gorgeous plantations I often look at in starry-eyed wonder as if they fell from the pages of fairytale books are the same places where disgusting human rights violations occurred. The Civil War battlefields where families were torn apart stand in contrast against the homes built by those who journeyed across the Atlantic to start a new life on the American coast. There is much to be learned. 

5. The price point

Unlike New York City, Boston, Seattle, or Chicago, Southern metropolitan areas like Charleston, New Orleans, and Savannah are incredibly reasonable. The Backpacker Index per day for New York City is $99.  Comparatively, a day in Charleston by the same index is estimated at $45. That's less than half! NOLA is listed at right around $70 for a day. Austin clocks in at $57. Of course, those are just estimates and it all depends on what you're wishing to do in each place. There's no denying, however, that the cost of living is freakishly low below the Mason Dixon {minus D.C., obvi}. If you're looking to travel for cheap {basically always me}, the bottom half of the country has more to offer for less of your hard-earned dollars. 

6. The weather

Temperatures in the lower half of the country stay warmer year round. This is obviously up to personal preference. However, it seems to be sunshine and warm ocean breezes that people flock to. South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida...they all have tourists jumping at the chance to spend time on their coastlines. Even in February, here I needed little more than a turtleneck to stay toasty. If you're looking for a tan, even in the 'off season', chances are the South's gotchu!

7. The culture

The first time I went to Louisiana was like an out-of-body experience. The music, the food, the diverse demographics that exist-- it all took my breath away. Time passed, and while NOLA stuck out in my head, the vivid cultural differences that exist seemed to play tricks on my mind. Like I was dramatizing it all. Or so I thought until I spent time exploring as much of the area as possible. The Carolinas to Tennessee to Alabama, it's a different world from the Northern states. Yes, some of those differences create a massive divide {political views}. Some are not to be proud of and others are down right tragic {literacy rates}. But if I've learned anything in my time here, it's that all the things I love about the South {points 1 through 6} culminate in a culture that's truly unique and worth the price of a plane ticket to observe. 

Pat Conroy said:

"You remember the South like a good lover. Her scent is one of Honeysuckle and Jasmine. Her voice sound like Jazz. Her history is dark, brutally twisted. And she'll make love to your memory long after she's gone."

And that's about as poetically true as it gets.