OUR EXPERIENCE DRIVING FROM ONTARIO TO FLORIDA
I've been meaning to write this post for a while, and I've been trying. I've written and re-written (and re-written) it because I'm trying not to make it 800 pages, so if you're reading this, I did it. At least, this is the best I could do. This might (will) be a long one, so settle in with a coffee or tea and enjoy this (not super) crazy tale of how we drove roughly 3,000 kilometres (1,800+ miles) in the time span of 1.5 months.
If I mention any products, they will be linked at the end of the post (nothing is sponsored obviously).
I didn't say too much about the trip on my Instagram, so when I turned up in Florida after a week away from posting, it was probably a bit of a surprise to most. We actually didn't spend much time planning the trip before we left (we probably started planning about a month before), which, in hind sight, probably wasn't a great idea ... but it all worked out in the end!
A little background on why we drove
For those that don't know me and my boyfriend personally, you're probably thinking something along the lines of 'how cool is it that they drove all the way to Florida and back!' or else, 'that's nuts, why didn't they just fly??' and either way, you'd be right in thinking that.
To make a long story short (and believe me, I had a whole novel written out and decided it was just not important at all): 1. we've both always wanted to do the drive down to Florida, 2. Mackenzie doesn't (currently) do well flying, and 3. we were planning to bring so much stuff (and our dog) that it just made more sense for us to drive.
Planning the trip
I'm probably going to keep saying it, but I wrote and deleted and gave up and re-wrote this section 100 times and now we're here so ... that's it, now you know.
Surprisingly, the hardest part of the trip to plan was how we were going to travel with our dog. We pretty much never travel with her, so we had to figure out how to pack all of our stuff around her. We have a 4-door Jeep Wrangler which provides a lot of room for just two people to pack their stuff, but because she needs to be buckled into a seat, we lost 2/3 of the backseat worth of space (we gave her the larger side so she'd have more space to be comfortable). The other issue was just the sheer amount of stuff we were planning to bring (even after packing and re-packing so many times). So, how did we solve this issue? We bought external storage for the Jeep.
Now, I'll be honest. I wrote out the entire experience about looking for/ordering/installing extra Jeep parts and it was just way too damn long. I know anyone reading this most likely (definitely) doesn't care, so instead, I'll just say this: some of it was quick and easy, and some of it was an absolute nightmare. Don't get me wrong, we are happy with the products we got and how the Jeep looks now, but we didn't end up needing everything and we could've gotten some stuff locally (like, Canadian Tire local), which I wish we would've known before trying to order bulky items from the states. Lesson learned. The main thing is, we managed to pack all of our stuff and our dog comfortably (albeit, like a large game of Tetris) and we made it there and back just fine.
THE DRIVE DOWN
Now that I've rambled about packing, let's finally talk about the drive itself.
It only takes 24 hours to drive to Florida and most people that do the drive from Canada do it in a few days (some people even do the full 24 hours in one shot - one person drives for 12 and then switch off). But because we weren't in a rush (and we're not crazy), we decided to take our time; instead of doing huge stretches of driving, we planned our days to be maximum 5 hours in the car each day for our own sanity and for our dog.
Because we followed the I-75 both ways, these are all the places we stayed...
on the way down and on the way back
1. London, Ontario 1. Valdosta, Georgia
2. Tipp City (Dayton), Ohio 2. Chattanooga, Tennessee (stayed for 2 days)
3. Knoxville, Tennessee 3. Lexington, Kentucky
4. Macon, Georgia 4. Detroit, Michigan
5. Gainesville, Florida*
*When we left home, we planned it so we'd have an extra day on the way down in case something happened (like weather); we weren't on a tight schedule, but we did want to check-in to our AirBnB on the first day of our reservation. We ended up using that extra day because the drive from Macon to Bradenton (our first AirBnB location) is about 6 hours; we didn't want to spend 6 hours in the car and we couldn't check into our AirBnB yet, so we divided it and drove 3.5 hours from Macon to Gainesville, then 2.5 hours from Gainesville to Bradenton.
After our night in London, we crossed the border in Detroit before heading to Ohio. Our luck, the lady (and by lady I mean she couldn't have been more than a couple of years older than us) was so incredibly rude but thankfully, we made it across. I know it's their job to try and catch criminals and smugglers off guard or whatever, but we're obviously not criminals. We didn't know ahead of time, but there's a large section of the I-75 (only the southbound side) under construction in Detroit, so we got lost taking the detour. Basically, going through Detroit wasn't a great experience but we made it through without ending up on Border Security, and that's what truly matters lol.
Before we left, Mackenzie's dad told us about this hotel chain he and his girlfriend (and their dog) stay at that's pet-friendly and has locations basically everywhere in the states. So once we crossed the border, we stayed at La Quinta hotels all the way down and back (I'll link every location we stayed at at the end of the post). Instead of rambling, here's why I love La Quinta (again, not sponsored but please sponsor me La Quinta I love you):
Most hotel chains say they're pet-friendly, but require anywhere from a $50 to $150 pet fee; with La Quinta, it's free!
Every location was super convenient because they were all right off the I-75; many of them were located in these little community-type-things of hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, and gas stations, which was super convenient
The staff at every location was super friendly and helpful
Unlike other hotel chains, every location had a different design that either really seemed to represent the state we were in (my favourite was Georgia), or was super new and modern (like Knoxville and Chattanooga)
Similar to other hotel chains, they have a rewards program, so it was super easy to earn points for staying with them so often
And the best part: almost every hotel we went to had so. many. dogs. staying there, too. It was a dream come true.
The actual experience of driving
Without rambling or getting too personal, let's just say that I have pretty bad anxiety when it comes to driving, especially in certain weather conditions or at certain times of day (heavy rain and nighttime are super bad for me, but I'm working on it).
On the way down, we didn't experience any bad weather (that I remember) so we were really lucky. Aside from having to pass through big cities once a day, it's basically just open highway for a large majority of the trip, which I was really comfortable with.
The worst part for me is how friggen fast everyone drives down there. I know America wants to be edgy and ~different~ and use miles instead of kilometres, but why does it have to be so much faster, too? The posted speed limits on the open highways are basically 110 km/h, and of course, everyone drives faster than that, so it's pretty terrifying. I'm used to going 100-110 on the 401, but that's about as fast as I'll go. Not to scare anyone out of doing the drive, but I'll be honest, there were so. many. car parts. littering the sides (and sometimes, centre) of the highway. At one point, we saw a FULL bumper in the middle of a lane. People wreck all the time, and for some reason, nobody cleans up the bits and pieces once the cars are towed. It's pretty off-putting, but it's also a good reminder to drive carefully. The one thing I do like, though, is that in most places, they have not only the maximum speed limit posted, but the minimum speed as well (also in the southern states, a lot of reminders that littering carries a huge fine, which I fully support).
The only not-so-great experience on the way down was when we were coming into Tennessee; unfortunately, it was nighttime and there was a bunch of construction, making the road really narrow. We made it through safely, but my hands were basically soaked with sweat lol. Driving in a new place at night is just really overwhelming, so if you're like me and get stressed out, just keep telling yourself that you're doing really well and stay in the far-right lane.
One thing I was pretty worried about (mostly thanks to my parents constantly talking about it) was having to drive through Atlanta. We ended up passing through around 4 or 4:30, so traffic was just starting to get bad. Thankfully, America knows what's up and they have highway names/numbers/logos painted on the road before the 6-lane road divides, so you know exactly where you need to go. That, combined with my extensive experience driving on the 401 during rush hour, made it way easier than I thought it would be. I'm usually the kind of person that's too scared to try and merge over, so we end up taking the wrong exit, but I managed to get into the correct lane, and from there, we were cruisin' (really slowly but eventually it was fine again).
Oh, ALSO: the billboards in the southern states (mainly Georgia) are truly a sight to behold. There were 2 that I will never forget for the rest of my life that I just have to share with you (I wish we could've gotten pictures but I'll just do my best to verbally capture their ... essence):
One billboard seemed to be an advertisement for God ... on one half, there was a lovely photo of a young couple apparently in heaven; the other half had a photo of the same couple, but ... they were zombies ... in hell. Basically, it was advertising if you believe in God, you'll go to heaven but if you don't, you'll become a hell zombie. Truly ... moving.
The other billboard I think about often said "Abortion: the American holocaust". And ... I ... have nothing else to say without screaming.
Driving from Naples to Fort Lauderdale (West coast to East coast)
This isn't really part of the journey, but since it was another new travel experience for me, I thought I'd include it, too.
For the majority of our trip, we stayed in the Bradenton/Sarasota area, but after Christmas, we went over to Fort Lauderdale for a few days. Long story short, Mackenzie has a friend that was going to be there visiting his own family for the holidays, so we decided to go over and spend a bit of time with him. I'd also never been to Miami, so it ended up working out well.
Mackenzie's dad (and his girlfriend) have a place down in Naples, so we decided to stop by and visit with them for a little bit before we headed over to Fort Lauderdale to see Gabe.
Before we had left my parents' place, my stepdad told me to be careful driving (as usual) and he said something about how "they call it Alligator Alley!". I thought he was making a dad joke or a joke about Florida locals or something, but when I pulled up the directions on my phone, the road that goes across Florida is literally called Alligator Alley (it's also called the Everglades Parkway, but Alligator Alley is way cooler).
Sticking with the stereotypes of how crazy Florida is, this road goes through the Everglades AKA the craziest part of Florida (aside from Pasco County ... just watch Live PD and you'll understand).
If you look at the picture, you'll see it also goes past the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. So not only are there warning signs all along the highway to watch for gators, there's also sings to watch for panthers ... amazing!!! We never saw any panthers, but when we were driving back from Fort Lauderdale a week later, the weather was a lot nicer, so we saw so. many. gators. It was insane. Obviously, the highway is kind of protected by chainlink fencing, but do y'all really think a gator wouldn't just hop it if it really wanted? Anyways.
The trip home
I don't have much to say about the drive home, because it went just as well as the drive down. The journey home was quicker, because after over a month, we just wanted to get home. We hit a couple snow storms on the way back, which sucked even harder having just come from Florida, but other than that, everything went fine.
After we got back to Canada, we spent a couple of days in Bowmanville because we had tickets to a comedy show in Toronto that we had gotten way before the Florida trip came to fruition.
What it was like travelling with a dog
Having only travelled with Bean twice (when we first brought her home and when we took her up to Timmins once), we had no idea what to expect from her on such a long trip. She's the kind of dog that cries when we take a 30 minute car ride, so we didn't have very high hopes. We were fully prepared to have to stop frequently for her to pee, but we were pleasantly surprised.
It only took her about 2 days to get adjusted and realize "this is my life now, I guess". She cried for a while the first day, then not quite as long the second day, and by the third day, she was pretty much used to it. Because I know her, uh, bathroom schedule well enough, we rarely even had to stop for her: once she'd done her morning and early afternoon businesses, she would basically just sleep the whole time in the car. Occasionally she would try to come up front but because she's buckled in, she couldn't, so Mackenzie would hold a toy for her to chew or give her some treats and attention. There were a couple of days where we didn't have to stop once, not even for ourselves.
She even did really well staying in unfamiliar hotels for days on end. The only thing was that, because she had just spent 4 hours sleeping, she'd be FULL of energy and would just tear laps around the hotel rooms. There was only 1 day/night that was bad; when we were stopped in Tennessee on the way down, she cried for hours and we couldn't figure out why. Thankfully, nothing was wrong, so we think she was just getting homesick or something (she was probably also hungry because she wasn't really eating most of her food, probably because she was confused).
Once we got to Florida, she was the happiest I've seen her since it was fall in Canada. She likes to be warm and in the sun, so winter really sucks for her. She can't play outside much, because it's too cold and there's too much snow, and the sun rarely comes out so she can't even lay in a nice sunbeam inside the house. The other problem with where we live now is that our yard is just open; when she wants to go outside in the summer, we have to put her on a tie-out or else we'll never see her again lol. Thankfully, we were able to book AirBnBs with fenced yards and let me tell you, she was in HEAVEN.
(I'm going to do a separate blog post of photos and videos from the trip, so check that out to see documentation of Florida Bean).
And that's it! That's everything about our drive to Florida (the condensed version, anyways).
As someone who suffers from really bad driving-related anxiety, this trip was really a breeze. Not only is it an amazing experience, it's also really nice to get away from the Canadian winter. If you've ever wanted to do this road trip, I would highly recommend it. There's so much to see and so many different routes you can take; you can do the drive as quickly as you'd like or take as much time as you'd like. I hope one day we can take the route down/up the east coast because I'd love to go through the Carolina's, but for now, I'm happy driving through open country in places like Kentucky (it's truly so beautiful but I am slightly disappointed at the lack of horses we saw...maybe because it was winter). It also helps to have a good co-pilot and a cute dog to make the trip easier.
Dog's seat belt (Kurgo Direct to Seat Belt Tether)
Hitch basket (Quadratec Lightweight Aluminum Cargo Rack with Jumbo Rain-Proof Cargo Storage Bag)*
Roof rack (Barricade Jeep Wrangler Roof Rack - Textured Black)
Rear bumper (Just Jeeps - SmittyBilt XRC Rear Bumper for 2007-18 Jeep Wrangler JK 2 Door and Unlimited 4 Door Models)
New headlights (JW Speaker 8700 J2 Black Headlights Pair 0554543)
*Similar to Quadratec hitch basket: SportRack Vista Folding Hitch Basket
Gainesville, Florida (this location wasn't the best but I'll still share it with you)
*these 2 locations were more motel-esque (Lexington and Detroit)
Not mentioned in this post but this is what we ordered from Extreme Terrain previously