We’ve done it many times – In fact, a total of 17 times in the last 14 years. We know the drill and it is somewhat routine now, but it always seems to be a new adventure each time we decide to drive to Florida. This is not your ordinary road trip. For us, this means traveling over 1600 mi (2600 km) ONE WAY, in a vehicle. To some, this may sound like nails on a chalkboard, being stuck in a vehicle for that long, but it’s the way we roll.
We are a bit of a last minute crew. I wouldn’t necessarily say spontaneous, it’s more like let’s contemplate it for a long time and then bam, we decide quickly. This trip was no different. We made our final decision on Wednesday afternoon and we left on Saturday morning. Luckily, both G’s work and mine are relatively flexible with vacation times. G is self-employed so as long as there’s a downtime and I’m not in the middle of a big deliverable at my job, we are usually good to go.
After several trials at this, we have found a sequence that works well for us. We like to schedule for 4:00 am departure on Saturday morning. We start packing on Thursday and finish about 90% of it. We then get home from work on Friday and finish the last of packing and preparations, including getting the food and snacks into a cooler. This is really important, snacks for a long drive are life savers. We always pack a snack that we CANNOT travel without – A fresh loaf of sliced bread and a new, unopened jar of Nutella. (My condolences to all the people with tree nut and gluten intolerances). Perfect for that extra little pep late in the day, when we’ve been traveling for a while. Everything then gets packed into the vehicle and we try to get to bed by 9ish.
As someone who occasionally suffers from insomnia, this is not easy for me but I have figured out a trick. Starting around 6:00 pm, I slowly drink two glasses of red wine and it really puts me to sleep. I know that it’s probably the worst way ever invented to fall asleep before a big trip, but it really works for me. My head hits the pillow by 9:00 pm and I actually fall asleep easily. My eyes seem automatically open up at 3:00 am, usually without an alarm – No hangover or groggy feeling at all. I am a bit of a lightweight when it comes to drinking, especially wine, so it doesn’t take much for me – LOL. I am in no way condoning drinking yourself to sleep.
I hop into the shower shortly after waking up to make sure I’m fresh and awake. The rest of the house slowly wakes up and gets the last of their things ready and by the door. We drive-thru one of the Tim Hortons that is open 24 hours and pick up some breakfast (bagels with light cream cheese), coffee and juice. The tires roll onto the highway heading south by 4:30 am.
The vehicle is quiet for the first few hours. It’s dark, there aren’t many vehicles on the road and the kids usually recline their seats and fall asleep. We get a few hours of good driving in before the morning light starts shining and begins to wake everyone. This usually marks the first stop of the day. A quick stretch, refuel and a couple of fresh cups of coffee and we head back out, ready for the road ahead. Both G and I enjoy driving but I usually do most, if not all the driving during these long road trips. I really enjoy driving and it usually relaxes me.
Our goal for the first day is to make it to the Florida welcome center in Yulee, Florida. If all goes well, we arrive at 12:30am. That makes for a 20h30m trip the first day. It is a far distance, and admittedly, we are usually pretty tired by the time we get there.
In the past, we would try to find a hotel to sleep for the night, but the last few years, we’ve parked at the welcome center, reclined our seats and slept. No, it’s not a five-star sleeping arrangement, but there is no worry about finding a clean, available hotel room and then needing to haul our butts and luggage into the room at midnight. The center is security patrolled and there are many cars parked, doing the exact same thing as us. We get a few hours of sleep and get back on the road to complete our final 6 hours of driving. The actual welcome center doesn’t open until 8:00 am, which we usually miss. If you happen to get there during the normal business hours, they have information for practically everything to do in the state of Florida, PLUS, they serve free Florida Orange and Grapefruit juice. Highly recommended.
Yes, we might sound crazy, but here’s the thing. We have been doing this since the kids have been born. In our busy, hectic lives, we rarely have time to talk. I don’t mean, the typical “How was school?” or simple discussions that we try to fit in at the dinner table. I mean, real discussions, that you have both the time and a captive audience. Being in a vehicle for the better part of 2 days gives you just that. We have had some really in-depth conversations, where our kids have opened up to us and conversely, we have opened up to them in ways that I am certain we wouldn’t have been able to do any other time. I have truly cherished those times.
The kids are at an age that they should probably be hating this sort of thing, being in a vehicle with their parents for 2 days, but they don’t. They may put up a bit of a fuss once in a while, but it is clear they actually enjoy this time as well. There will come a time where they may not want or not be able to take these long trips with us. I know I’ll be sad when that day comes, but I will feel better knowing that we had so many great moments together and created lasting memories. So whenever someone cringes about being ‘stuck’ in a vehicle together for 2 days, I proudly say that I wouldn’t have it any other way.