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Road Trip to Florida: Is Driving the Affordable Way?

by Ray Chong
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We’ve had a record-setting frigid winter this holiday season, and many of us who live in the cold Canadian or Northern U.S. regions get the urge to escape the winter blues and bathe in warm Florida sunshine. Thinking about relaxing on sandy beaches, a family adventure in the theme parks, embarking on a cruise ship to the Caribbean islands, hitting the golf courses or March Break celebrations in Florida is enough to make you smile.

The weaker Canadian dollar, at approx. C$1.25 to purchase a US$1.00, has become a significant obstacle on whether you can afford to vacation in Florida. If you are concerned with your travel budget, you should consider a road trip to Florida.

Road Trip to Florida: Driving is the Affordable Way
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Why is driving to Florida from Ontario an affordable option?

U.S. gasoline prices are averaging around 65 cents (Canadian) per litre in many US states. It’s been some time since we have seen such affordable gas prices and you should consider driving instead of flying.

When it comes to planning a road trip from Toronto to Florida, I suggest you allow around 20-24 hours of driving time. Your time will increase depending on the number of stops, delays and your destination.

During Christmas, we completed a leisurely 2-week Toronto to Florida road trip ending in Miami. Along the way, we had fabulous sunny weather, and we stopped at some Florida tourist areas in St. Augustine, Melbourne, and Ft. Lauderdale. Florida has something for everyone, fantastic historical sites, beaches, nature, sports and urban activities.

So, just how much does it cost to drive from Toronto to Florida?

We drove round-trip, in a mid-size 4-cylinder car, to Florida using approx. C$270 in gas. When combined with 2-nights of hotel and food, our total expenses came to about C$500 to drive down and tour around Florida by car. That’s per car not per person. Driving from Toronto to Florida with a family of 4? Keep reading.

Airfare to Florida ranges between C$400-800 per person depending on seasonal demand and the airline. The budget needed to fly a family of 4 to Florida, including the cost of airfare, parking/taxi fees, luggage fees, food and even car rental expenses are estimated conservatively at C$2,000-3,000.

When you compare flight costs of C$2,000-3,000 vs $500 to drive to Florida from Toronto for a family of 4, you can quickly make a driving trip into an affordable vacation and help offset our low Canadian dollar.

Further, driving also gives you the freedom of adventure. There are so many fabulous places to stop on the way to Florida from Toronto. A road trip to Florida allows you to visit beautiful scenic and historical areas, meet friendly locals and for me, power shopping at the outlet malls along the interstates.

Road Trip to Florida: Driving is the Affordable Way

Over the past 20 years we’ve completed many road trips to Florida, and as a result, we’ve learned that you need to be aware of weather conditions, learning about the U.S. Interstate highways, driving times and finding places to eat or sleep. A real sign that we are “Road Warriors”? We can proudly navigate our way along the Interstate highways travelling to Florida by car without paper maps or digital devices!

Please read our previous articles about preparing yourself and your car for a road trip.
Road Trip – Car Checklist
10 Road Trip – Rules
Driving to Florida – Is it really for you?

Driving Time versus Flying Time

Friends and family often comment on the long drive time needed to complete a Florida drive. We have found that driving round trip to Florida only adds two days to our entire trip.

It’s important to realise that flight travel is not merely about the flying time. You may need to wake up early allowing the extra time required to get to the airport, perhaps park your car, check in about 2.5 hours before the flight, sometimes add a connecting flight, border security, gather your luggage and get a car rental. When flying, we’ve found that from the time we wake up to the time we arrive in Florida, it can take up to 12 hours or longer with delays.

You can drive for about 12 hours during the first day and arrive in sunny Florida by the second day. Many first time drivers who have completed the road trip to Florida have commented that the drive was a pleasant experience. But you have to be realistic with your comfort zone because a daily 12-hour car ride may not agree with everyone.

Road Trip to Florida: Driving is the Affordable Way Mountain Tunnel

How to Tips for a Successful Road Trip to Florida

After years of road tripping, I have found that the modern digital world with cell phones, GPS and computers devices have enhanced our travel needs, but the timeless tradition of driving along an asphalt pavement has not changed. I also found that I enjoy the solitude of being in a vehicle and the quality time to relax and talk with our travel companions.

Choose your driving route.
From the Toronto area, there are two popular ways to enter the U.S. Interstate highways, one from the Windsor/Detroit Bridge for the I-75 towards Orlando. Alternatively, you can use the Niagara/Buffalo area bridges for the I-79/77 and I-95 towards the Florida Coast. Check with CAA or Google Maps to get printed driving directions for a safe and enjoyable drive. Don’t rely entirely on your digital devices.

Read this article: What Your GPS Doesn’t Know May Hurt You!

Road Trip to Florida: Driving is the Affordable Way | Calculated Traveller Magazine | #Florida #drive #road #trip #car #family

Check the weather forecast in your driving region.
I use a Weather App to check the 3-day weather conditions and look for potential poor driving areas so that I can plan an alternative route as needed. When deciding whether to drive I-77 or I-75 to Florida, the I-75 route has less chance of major snowfall while the I-79/77 route passes through mountain areas with an increased risk for snow during winter.

I also use the GasBuddy App to find regions with lower gas prices when you need to fuel up. Your savings can add up at the pumps too. Cheap gas is usually found in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia so gas up when leaving those areas.

When and where to stop for food and hotel
Our routine is to start our drive at around 4 am and make our way through US Customs in the early morning to avoid cross-border traffic. We then plan the drive along the Interstate highways, which provide safe and convenient stops for gas, rest breaks, welcome centres, food, shopping and hotel.

Since we are leaving early we grab breakfast along our route but often bring along granola bars, muffins etc. and just eat in the car.

Routes Driving South
Below is an example of estimated driving times and destinations heading south along the I-79/77 and I-95 routes from the Toronto area and entering the USA via the Peace Bridge in Buffalo NY.

Remember, know your limits, plan your stops and enjoy the drive.

8 hours from Toronto to Beckley WV
12 hours from Toronto to Charlotte NC/Columbia SC
18 hours from Toronto to Savannah/Brunswick GA
24 hours from Toronto to Miami FL

Road Trip to Florida: Driving is the Affordable Way GPS MAP

Route Driving North
To follow are estimated driving times and destinations heading north from Miami, Florida along I-95, I-77, and I-79 to Toronto, Ontario.

8 hours from Miami FL to Savannah GA
12 hours from Miami FL to Charlotte NC/Columbia SC
18 hours from Miami FL to Beckley WV
24 hours from Miami FL to Toronto ON

US Interstate Highways
Again, I’m going to stress that you don’t blindly follow your GPS or cell phone apps because you may input the wrong information or be in areas with dropped service. You should have a general idea of your route in case your digital devices fail.

The U.S. Interstate highway system was planned out in a grid system across the U.S. and was primarily developed for National Defence purposes to connect and ensure quick deployment of military troops, along with evacuation of residents for emergency situations. Today, it’s also important to quickly move people and goods across the country.

The key things to know about the Interstate system are the odd number Interstate highways follow along in a North/South direction. The lowest designated number start in the West and increase as you travel east. For example, the naming of Interstates I-75, 77, 79, 81 or 95 increases as you go east.

Similarly, Even number Interstates follow along in an East/West direction with the lower designated numbers starting in the South and increase as you travel north. Driving north, Interstate I-10 is located in Florida, and while driving north, you will approach the I-90 in New York State.

Road Trip to Florida: Driving is the Affordable Way | Calculated Traveller Magazine | #Florida #drive #road #trip #car #family

Driving from Ontario to Florida can easily save you lots of money plus you get the added adventure of visiting the various regions of the U.S.

On our recent road trip, we admired the scenic beauty of the Appalachian Mountains and found amazing deals at various Outlet Malls. In Florida, we experienced the historic charm of St. Augustine, walked along the sandy beaches in Melbourne and Ft. Lauderdale and ate tasty Cuban pork sandwiches in the vibrant area of Little Havana in Miami. (Sorry not done yet.) We also cruised out of the Port of Miami towards the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean islands.

Best of all, the freedom of stopping at the various tourist areas made the drive so much more fun and enjoyable. When driving back home, we waved thank you to the cheap gas and the beautiful memories of another affordable road trip to Florida.

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Travel assistance provided by Visit Florida. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Looking for ideas for when you get to Florida?
A One Day Key West Florida No Holds Barred Adventure!
Sailing the “Venice of America” Aboard Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi
11 Things to do in Miami Florida

For places to stop during a road trip to Florida:
10 Reasons to Visit Hilton Head Island Before/After Your Cruise
Crown Reef Beach Resort and Waterpark, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
A Traveller’s Guide to St Augustine Florida – History and Fun

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Tara November 26, 2019 - 11:33 pm

Hello! I am driving down with my 13yo daughter and our Boxer next month. I have a Honda CRV AWD. Currently have my all seasons/summer tires on that are pretty much junk. I need to either buy new ones or put my winters on. We live in Maine so we get a lot of snow. Is it dangerous to drive to Florida on winter snow tires? It’ll be a 2 day drive for us one way. And we expect to stay 7-10 days.

Thank you for all the information in your blog!!

Ray November 17, 2019 - 11:00 am

Hi Lina, It sounds like you have a great adventure planned for December. To answer your question, budgets vary depending on a lot of factors. For our car, Nissan Rogue, we get great gas mileage and we generally stay under 3-star hotels during the drive down. $500 covers, our gas, 2 nights hotel and food to get us down to Florida and back home again. Hotel prices may be higher during the holiday season.

Lina November 14, 2019 - 4:00 pm

Great article! We’re planning on driving to Ft. Lauderdale for the holidays (Dec 18-Dec 30) still deciding ton the exact dates. We are a family of 3 (a 2 year old). We’ve never driven more than 4 hours with out little one so this will be a first, however, my husband is familiar with driving to Florida. My concern is the budget. We will most likely stay with family once we arrive in Ft. Lauderdale but plan on resting a few times in SC, GA. You said you spent about $500 for your trip. What does that include? Was that for the entire trip?

Dorin October 29, 2019 - 9:34 pm

Hi Ray and Mary !
December to March do you have snow tires on ?

Ray November 1, 2019 - 10:08 am

Yes, we have snow tires because we usually drive I19 and I77 through the mountains. If you are driving I75, you may not need snow tires as much but do keep an eye on the weather forecast. Thanks for your comment Dorin

Norm October 28, 2019 - 2:19 pm

Will be driving to Marco Island to spent Feb/20. Would like to break the trek into 6-hr segments but am struggling to find a planning site/app that does that! Can you help us find something? Thx.

Ray Chong November 1, 2019 - 10:11 am

Have you tried using Google Maps or perhaps even your GPS online app? You could supplement that with good old paper maps.

Jenny October 12, 2019 - 12:06 pm

If travelling with a pet check out the Drury Inn and Suites in Knoxville. Brand new and great value. I highly recommend it.

Mehmet October 7, 2019 - 7:07 pm

Great article. Very helpful. Thank you.

Mary September 9, 2019 - 6:40 pm

We are leaving from Niagara early October for a girls trip to Orlando. I prefer two nights hotel and am ok with second night being near Sea World. Looking for hotel suggestions/stops first night and second. We weren’t going to leave til 8 am first day but I don’t want to do any night driving either. Can you offer any suggestions, please.

Jeff coutu September 8, 2019 - 3:28 pm

We are planning this drive and want to bring our bicycles. These would be on one of the trailer hitch mounted racks. Is there any states along the way that this would be an issue?

Mary Chong September 8, 2019 - 3:35 pm

You should be fine. We see bikes mounted this way all the time along the route. I would double-check that the bikes are securely attached and locked for when you stop for rest breaks etc. Safe travels and thanks for your comment!

Kimberly Bennett September 4, 2019 - 11:15 pm

Excellent information, thank you so much for sharing!

Mary Chong September 6, 2019 - 11:31 am

Thanks for coming by Kimberly! Safe travels!

Silke SCHMIDT July 15, 2019 - 6:01 pm

We are planing to go to Florida this year and I was wondering if I maybe can get some recommendations about hotels along the road. Any recommendations would be appreciated. We will start Niagara Falls / Buffalo and we will take the route over Charlotte.

Thanks for your help

solomon clements July 5, 2019 - 4:41 pm

we are planning a trip in Aug 2019 from the 16th to the 25 just the 2 of us is that ok to do planning to take the I95 all the way do you have any tips for us

Mary Chong July 5, 2019 - 5:44 pm

I-95 is a great route to take if it’s your first time driving to Florida. It isn’t particularly scenic but it is straight forward and easy to navigate. There are lots of amenities along the way such as restaurants, gas stations and hotels for rest breaks. Highly recommend a meal at Cracker Barrel – it’s one of our favourite stops for inexpensive, comfort food.

Veronica May 4, 2019 - 2:22 pm

Need help on most scenic route back home to south west Florida. Doing two week trip, have set route going up to DC, New York City to Niagara Falls. But can’t decide on best route home. Have traveled up to Atlanta, Georgia. But not familiar with any places north from there.

Kimi March 26, 2019 - 11:51 am

Thanks for the article :) We live in the GTA but only found the winter here bad from mid Jan to mid March this year…
We often drive to FL when we can through the Virginia’s, Carolina’s etc. It’s a great drive and so much freedom to have our vehicle with us in Disney. I just don’t agree Florida is the sunshine state, haha. It’s a marketing gimmick, it rains a lot there ;) And if you drive during the mid Nov to mid March time frame it came be down right cold! Still, it’s lovely to get away.
I have to add something regarding flying… we have often paid about $800 usd for 4 from Buffalo to Orlando return. Driving saves us a little, but not that much. We do it more because we enjoy the drive.
Thanks for your article.

Mary March 26, 2019 - 5:37 pm

Thanks so much for your comment. Yes – we’ve flown from Buffalo (check out the article https://www.calculatedtraveller.com/blog/buffalo-niagara-international-airport-buf-vs-yyz/) as well as from Cleveland and have found some great savings. But like you, we love the drive!

Adam Hicks September 30, 2018 - 5:12 am

Learned some new stuff with very detailed information.

Adam Hicks September 30, 2018 - 5:12 am

I appreciate the detail in this article. Well written and to the point!

Rental24h Toronto Dollar May 25, 2018 - 6:10 am

Interesting article! Toronto is very interesting and beautiful place. I was here 3 years ago when i travel through Canada.

joey May 13, 2018 - 2:24 pm

I have flown on Allegiant air and can typically fly one way for $60 usd

Emma Rose April 10, 2018 - 5:41 pm

Four adults will be Driving to Orlando from Toronto. We are using the I75. After 12 hours of driving from Toronto, leaving at 4:00 am. In what State will we be after 12 hours and should we book hotel accommodation. Thank You.

Mary Chong April 11, 2018 - 9:03 am

It entirely depends on traffic and how often you stop. Based on driving time only I estimate that you should be between Lexington Kentucky (10 hours) and Knoxville Tennessee (12 hours). Yes, you should book accommodations because you are only half way to Florida. Safe travels Emma!


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