Tips For Driving to Florida
It’s safe to say that Florida is one of our favorite destinations. With its sandy beaches, friendly people, gorgeous resorts or hotel options and more activities than could ever be explored – there is truly something for everyone. The best way to break down our adventures to Florida is to first share how we survive the drive. We have flown before, but that was with just one baby and now the plane tickets, car and car seat rentals and accommodations for five people just aren’t financially feasible. By skipping the cost of plane tickets we are also able to extend the length of our trip. For 12 years we have driven, this even predates kids. My husband and I packed into his parent’s minivan with his adult siblings and away we went. So to say this is a drive we know well is an understatement.
Driving to Florida requires smart packing, an infinite amount of patience and to know whether you will do it straight like a “trooper” (the term used for Ontario License Plates headed south) or to stay overnight midway. There are pros and cons to both. You should consider the ages of your children, previous experience on long car trips, your ability to drive at nighttime and length of vacation. After a few years of stopping midway (Columbia, South Carolina was our mark and we loved the Wyndham Hotel) last year we decided to try our hand at a straight shot. It was surprisingly easier than stopping and saved us $200 USD in hotel fees. There was a 2-hour window in the middle of the night when emotions ran high but hey, we survived. This year we drove straight through on the way down and it was very hard for our 2.5 yr old to settle at night so we stopped at a hotel on the return trip for a 7-hour nap. I think the only way to know whether you CAN do the drive straight, is to just try it.
Which route to take?
There are many great route maps and books available to determine which way to take. You can hit the mountains of West Virginia (I-77) for stunning middle America views or through the Southern States (I-75) with more options for food and stops along the way. We have always driven through West Virginia and the Carolina’s and for what it lacks in food options it makes up for in scenery (unless it’s snowing then the white knuckling through the mountains can be intimidating). Last year we came home through the Southern States and I was able to drive more at night because the highways were well lit, with multiple lanes and fewer large trucks. However, this route is through several major cities and the traffic and construction can cause delays.
Whichever route you take my tips for a great drive are as follows in no particular order;
- When the kids are coming off the rails, stop off the highway in residential neighborhoods. There will always be a school or a park to burn off energy. Grab your packed food or takeout and get some fresh air. Play running races, tag games, try yoga or stretching activities. We like to bring soccer balls and scooters. Anything that gets the limbs moving and blood circulating.
- Each time you fill up your gas tank take the opportunity to unload a bag of garbage from the car. Food bits, coloring sheets, coffee cups. It all helps to arrive in Florida with less of a garbage dump in your car.
- Use your own hand sanitizer after every park play, washroom or bathroom break! Trust Me!
- Bring bottled water because refilling can be questionable and buying is expensive.
- Hotels with rooms for families of 5 or more can be $200 USD or more so plan ahead. Hotels along the highway can be quite busy with conferences, tournaments, etc. Use apps like hotels.com, expedia.com etc to book a hotel on one of your meal stops (use the wifi) to get a better deal than at the hotel desk.
- Try to avoid sitting in restaurants for meals. The wait times can eat into your total travel time and dinner at a table is just like sitting in the car!
- Pack disposable bibs. You can get them from fast food chains or the dollar store and throw them away after each meal. Less mess to put back in the car.
- Every stop for gas or food is a mandatory washroom break or diaper change for all! No exceptions. Guaranteed as soon as you get back on the road you will hear “I have to pee!”
- Do not pack citrus fruits or cucumbers as snacks. Every. Single. Time. the border security has confiscated these from us, go figure!
- Leave as early in the morning as you can handle. We aim for 330am if planning to stay in a hotel midway. You need to travel at least 13 hours driving distance, which is about 16 hours minimum of actual car time if you manage only 4-5, 40-minute stops. Maintaining this distance means your second day on the road is shorter and you will arrive in Orlando by midday or southern Florida by dinnertime. Leaving this early in previous years meant the kids slept from 330am to 9am, which was a natural breakfast stop after covering a significant distance.
- Food options can be limited on the I-77. We usually stop to have a hot breakfast, a packed lunch at a park and Cracker Barrel for dinner every year. The kids think Cracker Barrel is a destination and by that time of day, Mama needs whatever keeps them entertained. McDonald’s is available everywhere and sometimes not much else. With Apps like Yelp and Wayz, you might find other options further off the highway. But again, be careful not to drive too far off the highway into towns or cities. Getting lost, off track, sitting and waiting longer then is necessary plus still needing fuel eats into your travel time.
- We like to track our fuel consumption, record the destination, time and length of our stops, and funny information relevant to the stop. After 7 years of driving with kids, we have some good one-liners. “3:23pm Emergency Stop at the North Carolina Rest Area for Ben’s poo nightmare!” “9:15am, 1 hr 20 min stop to fuel up, have breakfast and spend 50 minutes finding Jack’s bear” – Its all part of our history and our adventure.
- Rest Areas in America have washrooms, ample parking and tree-lined areas to run and play or to close your eyes for a much-needed nap. They are security patrolled, well-lit and often full of “troopers” also making the trek south.
- The further south the more interesting the signage can be. Don’t be surprised to be advised “watch for poisonous snakes” or “greet state inmates picking garbage with a smile”(that’s an actual sign!)
- Be flexible and patient, slap on a smile when you want to cry and remember that its short-term pain for long-term gain.
- Stop when you need to but press on when you need to get a little bit further.
- Let go of some of your normal rules about snacks and screen time. Once you arrive the last thing they will want is a screen with all the Florida fun and fresh air!
- Take the opportunity to listen to a good book on tape, catch up with your spouse, prep your taxes, make family photo books on your computer – all that time in the car can be very productive!
And remember, as hard as the drive is that first time. Every year it gets easier and when you roll into your rental unit, or you pull into Disney and the sun is shining and the temperature is above freezing, its all worth it!