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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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