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If you plan to visit the southern U.S., timing is everything. In the winter, there’s no snow to cover the barren trees. In the summer, the weather can be unbearably hot. So unless you like wasteland or a sauna, avoid these times. From March to May and from September to October, just when the weather is starting to get a bit better or get a lot worse in the North, southern states enjoy a warm but usually not oppressive stretch of weather.

Many guidebooks tend to neglect this part of the country, but others do it justice. The books put out by the American Automobile Association are good, plus the AAA can set you up with maps, plane tickets, and hotel reservations.

If you don’t belong to the AAA or know anyone who does, the Internet may be your best source of information. You may choose to drive, as traffic is light in all but the biggest cities, and never approaches the kind of gridlock seen in places like New York and Chicago. If you choose to fly all or part of the way, you’ll most likely end up in Atlanta or Charlotte, North Carolina. Both are great places to start, once you get out of the airport.

There’s really too much to do and see in the region to make any sort of concise list. Plan one to two days ahead and build in plenty of time for diversions and delays. They’re pretty much a national pastime south of the Mason-Dixon line. If you sit down in a diner or have car trouble, for instance, you’re sure to get help, but maybe just not right away. Be patient — the locals are just being friendly.

One suggested route is to start in Atlanta, which has enough in its museums, historical attractions, sports teams and restaurants to support an entire vacation. If you must leave, head west into Alabama, either to Birmingham or Montgomery. Both cities are proud of their history in both the Confederate years and the civil rights movement. If you head along a northern route you’ll hit yet another historic city, Jackson, Mississippi, and eventually the Mississippi Delta. U.S. 61, which runs north parallel to the river, is known as “Blues Highway,” and with good reason.

If you head along a more southern tack, down Interstate 65 to Interstate 10, you’ll go through the port city of Mobile and along the Gulf Shore. The beaches will probably entice as much as Mississippi’s casinos.

No matter which route you take, you’re bound to end up in New Orleans. Forget history for a while (but just a little while) and enjoy the South’s party capital. It’s true — the party never stops on Bourbon Street.