No strollers, no diapers, not breast feeding – this was the best road trip from Toronto to Florida yet!
This was the 6th time in five years that my sister and I and our kids made the trek from Toronto to Florida via highways! Yes, it definitely gets easier each time, but what a huge difference now that all the kiddies are older (the youngest is 3).
Our Route from Toronto to Florida:
In decent weather, we always take I79 to I95 (see Google map) down through the West Virginian mountains, on to South Carolina and then eventually through Orlando where we stop for a few days. Finally, we drive across the State towards Tampa to the beautiful, warm Gulf Coast.
The drive through the mountains are scenic and gorgeous, but sometimes endless. When it rains, it can be terrifying and when it snows – forget it! We have detoured for one reason or another every single time and made it onto a county highway, and this time was no exception. It makes the ride much more interesting to drive through towns where people live right on these highways! We found authentic chicken shacks, explored gas station markets which is always fun and got to see more than just six lanes of highway.
*In winter, I totally recommend playing it safe and taking I75 south. It’s much more boring and takes you through super busy Atlanta, however is pretty much flat and event less all the way south.
Road Trip Dining:
In an effort to be financially efficient, we always bring food in our car cooler (plugs into lighter outlet), plan our meals and eat a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while on the road. Sometimes we buy healthy (and suspect) snacks from gas stations and Walmarts along the way. There are endless fast food restaurants on the way. I wrote a whole blog about eating healthy on the road with kids here.
Rest Stops Along the Way:
Google gives about 21-22 hours to drive from Toronto to Florida, but we usually make it in two very full days. Fortunately, there are plenty of State-run, well maintained rest stops along the way.
We stop every 2-3 hours (four if everyone is napping) at the various rest stops and gas stations along the way where we eat, use the bathrooms and run around! It may seem like a lot of stops, but I suppose we’re so used to it, and besides when travelling with four children ages 3-12, we don’t have much of a choice!
State funded rest stops along the highways are great – clean, well-maintained restrooms, vending machines and hotel coupon books!
Finding Hotels along the Way:
We always make it to the same hotel our first night (Country Inn, Princeton WV – approx. 10 hours on the road with stops) although this time most rooms were sold out so we had to pay a premium price for a bigger room. We did try really really hard to make it further south this time, and for one reason or another met so many barriers, that lo and behold, we ended up here again! Breakfast, although soooo gross, is included in many of these hotels so that’s a bonus.
To find other hotels along the way, we always stop at the rest stops in each state we’re in to pick up the coupon books for hotels – a must!
*Try to find a hotel earlier than you plan to stop, in case they are all full! We have driven from small town to small town in the dark only to find all hotel rooms are booked up because of sports conventions, big mining projects or firearm tradeshows.
For the first four road trips to Florida, we were actually excited about the buffet breakfasts at the hotels. The kids loved the Fruit Loops, which were a HUGE treat and I loved the variety. But now, after many years of healthier eating, I can’t event bring myself to eat much of anything at these buffets. The eggs look like playdough, the bread is just sugar bread, the yogurt has aspartame, the maple syrup is not actually maple syrup and the waffles are a mystery. The truckers go crazy for these breakfasts but I’m sure it’s because people don’t really know that this is not real food! Needless to say, I ate bagels and cream cheese or toast with butter.
*Obviously the better the hotel, the better the breakfast! The breakfast at the Hampton Inn in Georgetown, South Carolina was great! All natural yogurt, fresh fruit and decent breads and the dining room was so comfortable with all its leather lounge chairs. A breakfast at a Microtel on the other hand didn’t even include fresh cream or milk for coffee, so we took a walk to the local Dunkin’ Donuts with all it’s colorful iced donuts – what an experience!
Side Trips, Attractions & Myrtle Beach
I know there are many guides to attractions when road-tripping through the US, but this is not one of them! When travelling with four kids, our goal is to simply make it to our destination!
Aside from rest stops, gas stations and the occasional Walmart which can be an attraction in itself, we mostly do not venture far from the highway unfortunately.
However, as I mentioned, now that we weren’t burdened with diapers and strollers though, this time we decided to detour on the way home to Myrtle Beach, SC – somewhere I’ve been meaning to visit for years! After swimming in the way too warm Gulf Coast during our time in Florida, it was so great to make it to the wavy Atlantic Ocean. Although we only stayed in Myrtle Beach for one day, it was so worth it and now I know I will make more of an attempt to make it back. Read about our day in Myrtle Beach here.
Car vs. Plane
No I don’t live for two day road trips and yes I would love to make it to Florida in 3 hours by air – however, there are a lot of pros to driving your own vehicle down south. First, it’s a big savings when factoring in six people. The further south you go, everything gets cheaper. We split the cost for gas (approx. $700) and hotels (approx. $400) and try to stay away from restaurants which can be very expensive. And although you can get great airfare deals at times, it’s so convenient having your own vehicle. We have the kids’ car seats, toys and all our luggage stowed away and don’t have to bother with rentals, etc…
Yes, it’s a long drive – but once we make it to Florida – every last hour is worth it!