5 Movies You Should Watch Before Visiting Louisiana (And 1 You Should Totally Skip)

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Ahh, Louisiana. The land of Spanish moss, high humidity and Sportsman’s Paradise is a favorite setting for Hollywood screenwriters. The many movies that have been set in the state range from hackneyed stereotypical tripe to authentic character pieces that illuminate the vast range of characters you’re sure to find on a trip to the Deep South state.

Here are 5 movies to watch to get you in the Louisiana state of mind before you venture South—and 1 movie you can definitely skip.


The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood(2002)

I know, I know. It’s clichéd, saccharine and schmaltzy. I still love it. I read the books before the 2002 movie came out and fell in love with this group of women (strong female friendships get me every time, as you’ll see below). Don’t watch it expecting to get an accurate picture of life in Louisiana. Do watch it for the gorgeous shots of non-New Orleans (you know, the majority of the state?), as well as for a depiction of a rowdy group of friends that even though they change as the years go on, they remain committed to each other. Ya-ya!

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Again, this is definitely not a realistic depiction of New Orleans or any other part of the state, for that matter. Remember, it’s about vampires. You will see scenes filmed in the French Quarter, which you can try to spot during your visit. Can’t tell one historic building with ironwork balconies from the next? Try one of the walking tours to learn about the darker side of the Vieux Carre. Depending on which tour you select, your tour guide will tell you all about the notorious residents of the Quarter like Madame LaLaurie, as well as the tale of a vampire sect that once tried to invade the city. For real. (I’m not in any way associated with Haunted History Tours; I’ve just taken many of the tours and really loved them.)

The Skeleton Key (2005)

The Bayou. And voodoo. That’s what everybody thinks of when they think of Louisiana, right? This supernatural horror movie starring Kate Hudson is down-right creepy, but in a good way. Most of the movie takes pace in an old mansion, but you do see a few of the characters take a little trip to Algiers Point, just across the river from the Quarter. Watch this movie, and if you drive River Road to tour the plantations, I dare you to stop in one of the country stores along the way. Don’t be surprised if you jump a little every time someone walks through the door, triggering the jangly bell.

Steel Magnolias (1989)

Talk about a powerhouse cast: Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah, Julia Roberts, Olympia Dukakis and Shirley MacLaine. I can’t count the times I’ve watched this movie about the love—and strength—a group of Southern women feel for each other. About half of those viewings occurred in my sorority’s chapter room. You see, the real woman the main character is based on was also a member of our sorority (Phi Mu). It was originally a play that Robert Harling wrote about his sister’s life.

A Love Song for Bobby Long (2004)

I saved the best for last. Set in contemporary New Orleans, this small movie that was largely ignored at the box office tells the story of Pursy (Scarlett Johansson) and her momma’s “friends,” Lawson Pines (Gabriel Macht) and Bobby Long (John Travolta), two literary-minded alcoholics determined to go through life with zero ambition. Family secrets are unearthed in between gorgeous shots of the real New Orleans, in all of its entropied beauty.


Not every movie is a winner. Anyone who had the misfortune of seeing From Justin to Kelly can tell you that. While The Big Easy (1986) isn’t the worst movie ever, I’ll admit to getting swept up in Dennis Quaid’s swagger, if not his sad attempt at a Cajun accent, it does play up the worst Louisiana stereotypes in the worst way, like when Remy calls everyone cher. If you love this movie, that’s great, but do yourself a favor and don’t mention it to locals while visiting unless you want to see exaggerated eye rolls followed by dramatic sighs.

Did your movie make the list? Let me know in the comments if I overlooked your favorite Louisiana-set movie, or if you disagree with my list.

My 2018 Travel Bucket List + Your Own Planning Worksheet

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main image, Key West: flickr | Steve

I love to travel. I mean I really, really love to travel. But while I was living on the West Coast, I often didn't have the funds to travel the way I wanted. So for that reason and many others, I decided to move back to the East Coast in May of 2017.

In my two weeks on the road, I marked many places off my travel bucket list like Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, Oklahoma City, Dallas and Southfork Ranch. My 10-year-old self was thrilled by that last one!

A few images from my cross-country trip:

For 2018, I'm trying to plan at least the places I want to go for the year. For multi-day trips, I thought six separate trips was a good goal to shoot for. I'm sure I'll have other day trips or overnight trips closer to home as well. My 2018 travel bucket list:

1. Back to New Orleans

I lived in New Orleans for two years and have been itching to make my way back ever since. I think 2018 is the year I do it. This is the perfect time to visit New Orleans as the city is celebrating its 300th birthday all year long. In preparation, the city is rolling out the carpet for visitors all year with city renovations and major events.
A trip to New Orleans should be on everyone's Southern travel list. Between Audubon Park's centuries-old oak trees to the people watching in Jackson Square, it's a vacation to remember.
Best time to visit: Anytime from September to June.

2. Outer Banks

The North Carolina coast is one of my favorite spots on Earth. I've lived in Wilmington before (and even went to school at UNCW for a few years before transferring). I vacationed in Emerald Isle and Long Beach as a kid. But I've never driven the Scenic Route from one end of the Outer Banks to another.
A 200-mile string of barrier islands, the Outer Banks is a quintessential coastal experience. Everything from lighthouses and miles of beachfront to quaint English-style towns and fishing villages are ready to explore.
Best time to visit: Try to schedule your trip between late May and August to catch a showing of The Lost Colony, an outdoor play performed each summer on Roanoke Island.

3. Kentucky and
4. Memphis

The crazy thing is that in the four years that I lived in Nashville, I never made my way to either Kentucky or Memphis! I traveled to a few other places in those years, but never to the two closest travel destinations.

When I drove from California to North Carolina in May 2017, my rough plan was to go through Memphis, then drive around Kentucky for a few days. By the time that leg of the trip rolled around I had been in the car with my cat for the entire two weeks, with my mom joining me for the last week. I was tired! So I cut the trip a little shorter and instead stopped in Chattanooga and Knoxville.
Kentucky – A diverse state known for thoroughbred horses, bourbon and coal mines, Kentucky is at once genteel and delightfully “down home.”
Best time to visit: Fall and spring are ideal. If you want the essential Kentucky experience and don't mind crowds, visit during the Kentucky Derby in May.

Memphis – Home of the Blues, Memphis is also home to Elvis Presley's Graceland, while the city displays a charmingly rugged character.
Best time to visit: Spring or Fall to avoid sultry summers or frigid winters.

5. Key West, St. Augustine or Sarasota

I know I want to visit Florida in 2018, but I still can't decide which city it'll be. I've been to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Clearwater, and I even lived in Jacksonville when I was a toddler (and visited there as a teenager). I've always wanted to drive down A1A all the way to Key West, see the Hemingway cats and go snorkeling off the coast. Some recent research has made me put Sarasota and St. Augustine on the short list as well.
Key West is synonymous with a laid-back, beachy lifestyle, while Sarasota is a modern city with a vibrant arts scene on Florida's Gulf Coast. St. Augustine, the oldest European settlement in the United States, has tons of old-world charm.
Best time to visit: Florida's subtropical climate means that it never gets too cold to visit. You might want to check the forecast during the latter part of hurricane season (May through November).

Figuring out which places to visit was a fun exercise, and it felt good to see my trip list once I planned them out. Want to figure out which trips to take in 2018? Download my Bucket List Trip Worksheet here for free. No signing up for my email list, no strings, just download the PDF. Although, I'd love to have you join my email list! Just click on the form to the right, or the link down in the footer.

Visiting Ruby Falls in Chattanooga

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If you haven't visited Ruby Falls in Chattanooga, you need to schedule a trip pronto. Maybe I'm biased because I have a love of waterfalls, caves and caverns, but experiencing Ruby Falls was one of the highlights of my three-week cross-country trip. In fact, I found Chattanooga so charming and interesting that I'm eagerly anticipating going back for a longer visit.


Ruby Falls
Ruby Falls is part of a larger attraction, Lookout Mountain, which could easily be an all-day experience. We only had a few hours in the morning, so we opted to do just the Ruby Falls tour. The drive from downtown Chattanooga to Ruby Falls was full of winding roads (with my mom acting like I was about to drive off the mountain!). The parking area closest to the lobby/gift shop practically hangs off the mountain – when we left and I had to back out of the space, I was thankful I wasn't in a manual car!


So what is the big deal with the Falls? Named after the wife of the Falls' discoverer, the waterfall is located more than 1,120 feet below the surface of Lookout Mountain. A huge tourist attraction, Ruby Falls has welcomed thousands of visitors each year for 85 years. As they like to say on the tour, it never rains and it's always 60 degrees in Lookout Mountain Cave.

The view of Chattanooga from Lookout Mountain.

The view of Chattanooga from Lookout Mountain.

What makes the waterfall so special is how it was discovered. Construction on the mountain began underground in 1905 to create a railway tunnel, closing the cave's natural opening. Leo Lambert, a cave enthusiast, wanted to reopen the cave and create a tourist attraction. His laborious digging through limestone often involved him in spaces no taller than 18 inches that didn't allow him to stand up the entire day he was in the cave. Plus, the only way out at the end of the day was to crawl backwards (for hours) until he got to an opening where he could stand up. Talk about dedication! What kept him going was the sensation of a breeze. This told him that there was an opening up ahead somewhere. He thought his digging would lead him to another natural cave opening. The location of the waterfall's water source has never been found!

The details
Ruby Falls
1720 South Scenic Hwy
Chattanooga, TN 37409
Prices range from $11.95 to $19.95 for the Ruby Falls tour. Additional prices (with bundled tickets available) for Lookout Mountain, the ZIPline adventure and nearby Rock City.

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While in Chattanooga, make sure you stop by the MoonPie General Store (429 Broad St, Chattanooga, TN 37402)! MoonPies (which consists of two round graham cracker cookies sandwiched between a marshmallow filling, then covered in a flavored coating) have been made daily at the Chattanooga Bakery since April 29, 1917.

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The general store has a hot dog lunch counter, nostalgic gifts, and loads and loads of MoonPies in flavors like strawberry, caramel, banana, and, of course, the traditional chocolate. For the ultimate Southern treat, pair your MoonPie with a nice, cold RC Cola.

Southern cities with their own twist on the ball drop

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Photo credits: (clockwise) Mobile: Tad Denson – MyShotz.com, Mount Olive, New Orleans.

Sure, you can start planning for a Times Square New Year's Eve trip at least a year in advance, and spend the WHOLE DAY in the freezing Manhattan cold to witness the dropping of the iconic ball. Or, you can stay warm and cozy in your home watching the same ball drop. But you've done that before, right? It's not too late to do something a little different this year to ring in 2018. Here in the South we have our share of ball drops, sure, but we also like to show off our personality a little – especially when there's a chance that out-of-towners and newcomers might be in attendance. Read on and find out all the places throughout the South who have their own spin on saying goodbye to 2017 and hello to 2018.


Mobile: The lowering of a 600-pound, lit Moon Pie is merely the finale of a full day of revelry at Moon Pie over Mobile. Other events include the cutting of the largest edible Moon Pie in the world, a second-line parade, and a music festival headlined this year by George Clinton. Why Moon Pies? They're a traditional throw during Mardi Gras, which predates New Orleans' Mardi Gras celebrations.

Wetumpka: This small city near Montgomery commemorates something big each New Year. A meteorite is dropped at the Old Courthouse annually in honor of the meteor that fell to earth 84 million years ago, leaving a 5-mile-wide crater and what is considered Alabama's greatest natural disaster.


Fayetteville: Eight stages of music gets the crowd pumped for the main event – the dropping of a stuffed, illuminated hog at midnight. It's all part of the Last Night Fayetteville celebration.


Florida is split between Central and Eastern Time Zones.

Eastern Time Zone
Key West: You have a couple of options if you decide to venture all the way down to Key West for New Years. At Sloppy Joe's Bar, the “traditional” dropping of the Conch Shell happens, while at theChive, it's a unicorn. The Lowering of the Pirate Wench happens at Schooner Wharf, and drag queen Sushi descends from the balcony of the New Orleans House in a giant red high heel.

Miami: The New Years celebration in Bayfront Park is called the largest free event in Southern Florida. You might think that Pitbull headlining the show would be the biggest draw, but for many locals, it's seeing their beloved and iconic 35-foot “Big Orange” (Florida is known for its orange exports, after all) rise 400 feet to the top of the Intercontinental Hotel and then drop at midnight.

Orlando: Don't want to travel all the way to Miami? Orlando has its own Orange Drop as part of a block party on Church Street.

Sarasota, Florida: A glowing pineapple is the fruit of choice in Sarasota. This annual free event, which also includes live music, concession stands and amusement rides, takes place in downtown Sarasota. A fireworks display over Sarasota Bay caps off the evening.

Central Time Zone
Panama City: Live music at this free, family-friendly celebration starts at 5:30 p.m. kids will want to stay for the 8 p.m. dropping of 10,000 beach balls and a fireworks display, even if they can't stay awake for the dropping of the giant illuminated beach ball at midnight followed by more fireworks.

Pensacola: Another free event along Florida's Gulf Coast is the Pelican Drop in downtown Pensacola. Details of the Countdown to 2018 event have not been released yet.


Atlanta: Probably one of the most well-known New Year's Eve celebrations, the Peach Drop up until last year occurred at the Underground. To ring in 2018, however, revelers will need to go somewhere else. While a new location hasn't been announced (even at this late date), rumors are circulating that it'll be just a few blocks away at Woodruff Park with the peach dropping from the side of the Flatiron Building.

Macon: The city hosts an International Cherry Blossom Festival each spring, with cherry blossom-themed events sprinkled throughout the year. For New Year's Eve, a 6-foot wide lighted ball made of metal cherry blossoms covered in pink lights is the star of the show.

Savannah: In a decidedly Savannah twist on the traditional ball drop, the ball is replaced with a to-go cup, and it's raised, not lowered. Put it all together, and you have the annual Up the Cup Countdown hosted by Savannah Waterfront Association on historic River Street.

Tallapoosa: Filed under “We have to see this once in our lives,” this West Georgian town was originally named Possum Snout. To honor their heritage, the citizens of Tallapoosa drop a stuffed possum in a ball covered in holiday lights each year instead of a ball. Oh, and there's food and music, too. But you'd come for just the possum, right?


New Orleans: Head down to Jackson Square early if you want to view the annual dropping of the fleur-de-lis. You'll also get the chance to hear live music, watch fireworks, and see a simulcast of the Times Square celebration (after the New Orleans celebration is aired as the New Years' Rockin' Eve Central Time Zone celebration) as part of the free event open to the public.

North Carolina

Carolina Beach/Kure Beach: A free, family-friendly celebration is scheduled, which includes a DJ, dancing, a giant beach ball drop, followed by fireworks. The Pleasure Island celebration rotates between the two beaches, with the 2017 celebration happening at the Carolina Beach Boardwalk.

Charlotte: The Queen City shows off its royal roots with a lighted crown that is raised, not lowered, at midnight to symbolize the “rising of a new year.”

Marion: The mountain town celebrates its Gold Rush history with a lighted gold nugget in place of a ball for its free New Year's Eve celebration.

Morehead City: The coast being the coast, the item dropped at the stroke of midnight is, well, coastal. A crab pot is dropped. A drop just for kids happens at 6 p.m., with the free celebration including stilt walkers, magicians and fireworks.

Mount Olive: Since 1999, the lighted, three-foot New Year's Eve Pickle has been lowered down the Mt. Olive Pickle Company flagpole at 7 p.m., which corresponds to Greenwich Mean Time. In addition to music and entertainment, the free celebration includes a canned food drive to benefit the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.

Raleigh: The City of Oaks celebrates the New Year with a huge downtown celebration each year culminating in the lowering of a 900-pound copper-and-steel acorn.


Memphis: A 10-foot guitar drops 100 feet over Beale Street at midnight as part of the city's music-packed celebration.

Nashville: Music City goes all out for the New Year. The free event is packed annually with musical stars, and this year is no different with a lineup that includes Keith Urban, Maren Morris and Cheap Trick. At midnight a 15-foot music note covered in 100 feet of lights is lowered 145 feet over Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park in downtown Nashville.

After searching, I still couldn't find unusual NYE celebrations in Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia or West Virginia. Did I miss any in those states? And did I miss any other only-in-the-South NYE celebrations in the other states? Let me know!

My Favorite Travel Quotes

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I love inspirational quotes. It's a weakness, I know. And if those inspirational quotes are about traveling...well, I'm a goner! Read through 25 of my favorite travel quotes and see if any of them spark a desire to explore new locations. Don't worry – a part 2 (and maybe parts 3,4, etc.) will be coming soon. In the meantime, download some wallpaper for your computer or pin these to Pinterest

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1: “We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin

2: “No place is ever as bad as they tell you it’s going to be.” – Chuck Thompson

3: “Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

4: “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide

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5: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – H. Jackson Browne's mom (really)

6: “Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” – Ray Bradbury

7: “Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions.” — Peter Hoeg

8: “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” -Martin Buber

9: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch

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10: “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

11: “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag

12: “A great way to learn about your country is to leave it.” -Henry Rollins

13: “A ship in a harbor is safe, but it not what ships are build for.” -John A. Shedd

14: “I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

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15: “Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” – Anita Desai

16: “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert

17: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine

18: “Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

19: “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michener

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20: “I’m in love with cities I’ve never been to and people I’ve never met.” - John Green

21: “People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

22: “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous

23: “Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” – Anonymous

24: “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” – Anonymous

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25: “Oh the places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss

What about you? What are your favorite quotes? Let me know in the comments below. And don't forget to sign up for my newsletter to stay up to date on new posts.

Photo credits: 1: Savannah; 5: Key West; 10: Nashville, TN; 15: Bywater, New Orleans; 20: Sarasota, FL; 25: Colonial Williamsburg