New Year, New Travels
Necessity is the mother of invention and sadly — for us — the “father” of new experiences. The year 2012 started sadly for me with the loss of my father, and ended much the same way with the loss of my father-in-law. Thanks to him we have had many wonderful visits to see him in Florida, and his sudden passing presented us not only with grief and sadness but also with a new challenge. We had an unplanned and un-budgeted-for family road trip to Florida. Flights were out of the question. We had to drive.
I may have mentioned it here before once or a dozen times, but we are not car people. My kids complained for the ten minutes we’d have to drive to activities or the grocery store. They did amazing on our family road trip across Alberta. But the longest leg on that trip was four hours. The drive to Florida from Toronto takes anywhere from 20-24 hours depending on where you’re going and which route you take. I reached out to my wonderful family travel community for advice and got some great road trip tips that served us well.
The general consensus was to break it up into at least two days, with at least one overnight stay. According to our various online map generators, our drive to Florida would take roughly 21 hours. And that’s not accounting for stops for gas, washroom breaks, food, etc. We needed to get to Tarpon Springs, which is just outside of Tampa. The drive to Tampa is a bit longer and not as direct as the one to Orlando, thus the additional couple of hours.
And we did it, and we survived! Here is the gist of our trip:
Our First Family Road Trip: Getting There…
For the drive down we left at 9pm after our daughter’s Christmas concert. We packed up the car while silently cursing at the size of the Christmas gifts that we had to bring with us. I modified my road trip tips for a longer drive… The car was recently tuned up and I had a cooler bag and a snack bag within reach. I also had a bag of supplies close by with wipes, a stash of grocery bags to use for garbage and/or carsickness. (We were blessedly vomit-free in both directions!) I had all of our documents and our map and directions info on my iPad — these were the (ha!) days before everyone had GPS and using data in the US for us was unthinkably expensive.
Our son (then 3.5yrs) fell asleep by 9:45pm, and my daughter was up a little later. But both of them mostly slept straight through until a rest stop around 8:30am in North Carolina. We stopped for breakfast in Statesville, NC for about an hour, where I also got the kids out of their pajamas and washed faces/brushed teeth. We continued on to Savannah and got there around 3pm. Savannah was my stop choice even though it was much further than halfway. But I always wanted to visit there and I’m glad we made the effort. We were pretty much write-offs after checking in to our hotel and getting dinner, but we had a great sleep. My husband and I were both out by 8pm which is unheard of for us grown-ups! We then had a wonderful morning exploring Savannah before continuing on to Florida.
Our First Family Road Trip: The Second Leg…
We left Savannah for Florida at 1:30pm, and got to my brother-in-law’s place in Tarpon Springs by 7:30pm. Oddly, the second leg of the drive, at 6 hours, felt a lot longer than the first, which was 18 hours altogether.
Our First Family Road Trip: A Visit to the Mouse
We delighted the kids with a surprise visit to Walt Disney World after spending Christmas with family and attending my father-in-law’s memorial. More on that later, of course, but suffice to say a visit to “The Happiest Place on Earth”, no matter how busy, is wonderful during the Holiday Season and a great place to lift your spirits and close out a challenging year.
After our magical visit we figured we’d just dawdle our way back north to Toronto after visiting Disney, but we all just wanted to get home.
Our First Family Road Trip: Getting Home…
We’d decided to spend the night in St. Augustine, for pretty much the same reason we opted to visit Savannah on the way down. I heard St. Augustine was beautiful and historic and I was hoping for a little wander.
But my husband wasn’t feeling well and we were all shattered. So instead of exploring America’s oldest town, we checked into a hotel near I95, had McDonalds for our New Year’s Eve dinner, and headed for home at around 11am on New Year’s Day. We were going to play it by ear, but ultimately decided to “Give ‘er” and go for the drive home straight. We stopped for gas and snacks in West Virginia. There I changed the kids into their jammies (troupers after being in the car all day) and we blasted into the night.
We made it home from our first family road trip shortly after 5am. We carried the sleeping kids to their beds, unloaded the car as quickly as we could, and fell into bed ourselves. Luckily, the kids slept until 9:45, so we actually managed a solid four hours of sleep. It felt awesome.
The family travel community was incredibly supportive and offered a wealth of tips, but probably the one that stuck out most came from Linda Kramer who used to run a blog called Travels with Children.
She said, “If the kids are happy, keep driving no matter how hungry YOU are or how much you need to use the bathroom. The kids will let you know when they’re restless, and that’s a good time for a break. If they’re quiet and content (or especially sleeping) do not interrupt it or you may not get the peace back again for quite some time.”
Final Thoughts on Our First Family Road Trip:
Although the reason for this trip was sad, I’m glad we did it. The drives were actually quite cathartic after our crazy year. My husband and I managed to have long conversations about important and unimportant things that we never seem to have or make time for.
Also? This trip felt empowering. We would never have attempted this drive unless we had to. And since we did it, so many places that seemed out of reach since we could not justify the cost of flights became totally doable. New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia… Eight to ten hour drives were no longer daunting. The next one we did was North Carolina!
Our only regret was not realizing the power and freedom of the family road trip much sooner.
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