How To Drive 1,000 miles to Florida in a Single Day

September 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

In the fall, a young family’s fancy turns to thoughts of warmth.

When we lived in Indiana, I eagerly looked forward to the fall, my favorite time of year. The cool, crisp air, the changing leaves, the apple cider harvest. Now that I live in Florida, I’m just waiting for it to be less hot.

But for many people, fall is the gateway season to “I’m miserable when it’s so cold the air hurts my face.” They start making plans to head south to escape the bitter cold and snow.

Epcot in Orlando, Florida during the Flower and Garden Festival in May

Epcot during the Flower and Garden Festival in May

If you live in a place that gets bitterly cold each winter, it means you’re at least several hundred miles from Florida, and you just might be making plans to come down for a while. Depending on where you live, the big question is whether you should stop for the night and stay in a hotel on the way, which will dip into your travel budget.

For many years, we faced this question when we drove from Indianapolis to Orlando for vacation, and had to decide whether to make the 1,000 mile drive all at once, or split it into two days. If we split the trip each way, we shorted ourselves a day of actually being in Florida. So, for several years, we piled the kids into the car, and make the journey in one sitting.

We could usually make it in 20 hours because of frequent stops (see below) and traveling with three small children. But lately, I’ve been able to do it by myself in 16 or 17 hours.

Here’s how we did it.

First, understand that you’re going to be dead tired afterward. Don’t plan on hitting the parks as soon as you arrive. Take a light excursion out, and come back to the hotel to relax. Otherwise, you’ll never recover. And when you leave, plan accordingly so you get home on a Saturday. You’ll need all of Sunday to recover as well.

Plan your route on Waze AND on Google Maps. I can’t recommend Waze enough. It has helped me avoid several traffic jams. If Waze suddenly diverts you for no reason, follow it. Unlike my old GPS, which seemed to take long, awkward routes into traffic jams, Waze keeps me out of them. It relies on up-to-the-minute traffic data, and spots traffic jams miles away.

Figure out where you’ll be during rush hour. The worst drag on your time is to hit a major city when rush hour starts. That will add at least 90 minutes to the trip. Leave home so you’re headed out of that city before rush hour even starts. For us, Louisville, Nashville, and Atlanta were the problems, so we had to leave at 3 am, which helped us avoid all three. (See below.)

Leave at 3 a.m. People always thought we were crazy for this, but it was our golden hour. We could get through Louisville, Nashville, and Atlanta and miss their rush hours with time to spare. It also let the kids sleep longer, and they would be out for a good five hours into the trip before they woke up.

Avoid frequent stops. For a while, we tried stopping every half-tank of gas. We never wanted to be caught with an eighth of a tank and stuck in construction traffic. But each stop would take 20 minutes or more, which added a lot of time. Now, we stop every 3/4 tank, which saves us a couple hours in the end.

Have a DVD player. We were fortunate to have a DVD player installed in the car, and the kids would watch movies for hours, wearing wireless headphones. My wife and I could have conversations, or nap, and the kids could watch and not even be aware of how long they were sitting there.

Switch off and take naps. This is crucial! My wife and I would trade off every couple of stops, and the other person would take a nap. We didn’t have to do it every time, but a good nap every six hours was a big help, and let us keep driving.

Pack breakfast, lunch, and snacks. But definitely break for dinner. You’ll want a nice long break from the car so you can stretch your legs and give the kids a chance to run around. This saves you money as much as it saves time. But if you buy all your meals on the road, you can save time eating in the car.

Let your kids run and play on breaks. They need to burn off some energy, so give them a chance to run it out. It helps keep them from acting out in the car.

That’s how we traveled to Florida for years. It was always tiring, but it saved us a few hundred dollars per trip, which we could then use to buy one small lunch in one of the theme parks.

How do you handle long car trips? What are your helpful hints? Leave us a comment below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers, used with permission


Erik Deckers is a travel writer, as well as a content marketer and book author. He is the co-author of Branding Yourself, No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine. Erik has been blogging since 1997, and has been a newspaper humor columnist for over 20 years

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