It’s about that time of year, that many of us who live in the chilly Canadian or Northern U.S. regions, get the urge to escape the winter blues and bathe in the warm Florida sunshine. Just 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 struggling Canadian dollar, making it approx. C$1.45 to purchase a US$1.00, has become a major 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 an affordable option?
U.S. gasoline prices have taken a plunge where it’s less than 70 cents (Canadian) per litre in many US states. It’s been awhile since we have seen such affordable gas prices and you should consider driving instead of flying.
Just for reference, a driving trip Toronto to Florida will take around 20-24 hours of driving time. Your time will vary depending on the number of stops, delays and your destination.
During Christmas, we completed a leisurely 2-week road trip from Toronto to Miami, Florida. Along the way, we had fabulous sunny weather and we stopped at a number of Florida tourist areas in St. Augustine, Melbourne, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. Florida has something for everyone, wonderful historical sites, beaches, nature, sports and urban activities.
We drove round-trip, in a mid-size 4-cylinder car, to Florida using approx. C$280 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 with a family of 4? Keep reading….
Airfare to Florida ranges between C$400-800 per person depending on seasonal demand and 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$2500-3500.
When you compare flight costs of C$2500-3500 vs. $500.00 to drive to Florida for a family of 4 you can easily make a driving trip into an affordable vacation and help offset our low Canadian dollar.
Further, driving also gives you the freedom of adventure. It gives you the time to visit beautiful scenic and historical areas, meet friendly locals and for me power shopping at the outlets 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 true sign that we are “Road Warriors”? We can proudly navigate our way along the Interstate highways to Florida without paper maps or digital devices!
Driving Time versus Flying Time
Friends and family often comment about the long drive time needed to get to Florida. We have found that driving round trip to Florida only adds 2 days to our entire trip.
It’s important to realize that flight travel is not simply about the flying time. You may need to wake up early, time is required to get to the airport, perhaps park your car, check in about 2.5 hours before the flight, sometimes add in 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 into 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 into 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 hours 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 simply relax and talk with our travel companions.
Choose your driving route.
From the Toronto area, there are 2 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 weather.com to check the 5-day weather conditions for the driving route, and find potential poor driving regions and plan an alternative route. Generally, 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 “Gas buddy” website 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 5 am and make our way through US Customs in the early morning to avoid cross border traffic. We then plan the drive along a number of Interstate highways, which provide safe and convenient stops for gas, rest stops, welcome centers, food, shopping and hotel.
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 U.S. via the Peace Bridge in Buffalo N.Y. Know your limits, plan your stops and enjoy the drive.
8 hours to Beckley W.V.
12 hours to Charlotte N.C./Columbia S.C.
18 hours to Savannah/ Brunswick Ga.
24 hours to Miami Fl.
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 wrong information or be in areas with dropped service. You should have an idea of your route for when 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 increasing 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 increasing 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.
Driving down 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 historical 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 interesting. Driving back we waved thank you to the cheap gas and the wonderful memories of another affordable Road Trip to Florida.
Travel assistance provided by Visit Florida. All opinions, as always, are my own.