Our First Family Road Trip… We Did the Drive to Florida

New Year, New Travels

Belleair Beach, Gulf Coast, Florida Beach, Drive To Florida
Our First Christmas in the Sand Instead of Snow

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.

Drive To Florida, Savannah With Kids, Stop In Savannah
A Gorgeous Savannah Morning

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

Magic Kingdom, Cinderella's Castle, Walt Disney World, Drive To Florida
Their Reward for Spending 24hrs in the Car

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) 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.

Our only regret was not realizing the power and freedom of the family road trip much sooner.

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Main photo by Luqman Yasin on Unsplash

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11 Responses to Our First Family Road Trip… We Did the Drive to Florida

  1. Traci at #

    You are both troopers! Our NY-FL drive was a haul I hope never to repeat, but it did allow us to see parts of the country we’ve never seen before.

  2. Marcia at #

    I’ve made the Indiana to Florida road trip many a time with my kids and I’m happy we finally settled in Tampa. Those long car trips can be daunting and then add it the prep work and clean up after the trip and it reminds me while I only attempt them once or twice a year. We produced a very fun family video on getting your car road ready for vacation. You can check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDzTfYyn9ms&feature=youtu.be.

    I also wrote a blog about the 8 Essential Items to Pack for a vacation. I’d love to share it:

    http://destinationsafety.com/8-essential-items-to-pack-for-vacation/

    • Lindsay at #

      Neither of these contents are available Marcia at #
      Care to repost please?? Thanks

  3. Jenny at #

    I have heard that Florida is a great place to stop if you’re thinking of taking a road trip with the family. They have so many different theme parks!

  4. Willis at #

    Hi just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a few of the

    pictures aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.

    I’ve tried it in

    two different web browsers and both show the same outcome.

    • Corinne at #

      Weird – they’re loading ok for me. Thanks for the heads up, Willis!

  5. Silvia at #

    I appreciate, cause I found just what I was looking
    for. You’ve ended my four day long hunt! God

    Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye

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  7. chinni at #

    Traveling from IL to FL this month end with my family in my camry car with full packed luggage .

    Would like to know where I need to break my journey which area wil be a good

    What measure I need to take during this trip will be there any snowfall or storms or any hurdles which you can think about.

    How to break my journey which help me to take a safe journey and to avoid long driving stress.

    Please suggest me ..

    • Corinne at #

      Hi Chinni! Safe travels to you. When we did the drive it was shortly before Christmas, and we literally traveled through four seasons. The blizzard in the Smokey Mountains (at night) was particularly scary. Best to be prepared for anything, and don’t rush. Good luck!

  8. Hi,
    This is an amazing article and you explained it very well I loved it.
    Thank you for sharing this great post.

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