Okay folks, buckle up, this is going to be a long one. My family has an unhealthy love for Disney. (Sorry, not sorry) We had a lot of heavy family stuff going last fall/winter. And we didn’t take a trip to Disney last fall.
My mom and I took the kids to WDW in January for a short, long weekend trip. And it was mobbed. I mean, the busiest I have ever seen it. (Marathon weekend, the week after New Years) It wasn’t that much fun, crowd wise.
The year before we had gone down to Disney in August, the week before school started. And we were slated to go down in August again. But when we looked at dining availability, DVC availability etc. we were surprised at how little was open. Long story short, we ended up swapping weeks and heading down in July. Long story short, because we had multiple trips planned we were really looking at ways to keep costs at a minimum. We started toying with the idea of driving down to Florida. Now, let me say, my mom was leery of this idea. But airfare was looking higher than we wanted.
I started googling airfare versus driving. I used the GasBuddy website (http://www.gasbuddy.com/TripCostCalculator) to calculate the cost of driving. From Pennsylvania to Orlando and back the gas was estimated to be about $180. (I drive a 2014 Subaru Outback.)
Once my mom and I looked at the costs of gas and the opportunities for sightseeing along the way we were on board with the drive.
We left Pennsylvania on Wednesday morning at 5:00 am and we drove into Tennessee to make our stop for the night. Now, we had researched and read about the various routes for the trip. Since neither my mom and I were going to be able to drive at night we were concerned about the I-95 route during morning rush hour. We decided to head down I-81 (the inland route) into Tennessee. No issues, pleasant drive and no traffic. We were in Tennessee by 2:00 in the afternoon.
On the return, we drove straight up 1-95, because we were returning on a Saturday. We planned to leave for Disney World early on Saturday morning and spend most of the day in Savannah. However, weather really changed our plans. It poured all the way into Savannah (and we left a lot later than planned from Orlando) so we drove straight into North Carolina. We stayed in Emporia, North Carolina for the night. It worked well, because we were basically in Virginia for the rest of the drive the next day.
Here are the best things we learned/used during the trip.
- If you are leaving from the Philly side of Pennsylvania and want to split the drive into two days; plan the long haul for the first day of our drive. We stayed in Tennessee the first night of our trip. It was about eight hours from Allentown. (I chose this sight because of some historic sites we wanted to visit.) Stopping eight hours into the drive meant our second day was also about eight hours. We won’t do this again. We will drive to Savannah (12 hours) the first day and do the last four hours the second day.
- Research your route options. We had the option of going down I-81(inland) or straight down I-95. I literally read hundreds of posts about which route to take. We decided to try and avoid rush hour in DC and Richmond, on our way down. Also, we wanted to hit some spots in Tennessee. On the way home, we opted for I-95 and it was easy. Straight shot up 95, but we drove home on a Saturday. There is no rush hour on Saturday, so we were good. Point being: 81 worked just as well for us on a weekday when we were avoiding commuter rush hours. Look at a map prior to travel to see what your options are.
- Use your points for hotel stays. We stayed in Tennessee the first night and North Carolina on the way home. We used our Marriott points for those hotel rooms. This saved us money on both ends of our trip, as the overnights were (out of pocket) free.
- Buy dollar store tablecloths and put them under the kid’s booster seats/backseat. Both of my children are still in some sort of child seat in the car. Before anyone got in my car I placed one of the plastic tablecloths along the backseat of my car. It worked great because it kept the backseat clean, even driving 2,000 miles.
- We used our turtle for luggage on the top of my car. We did this to keep the trunk open for coolers, overnight bags and stuff we needed to grab.
- We packed a cooler in the trunk. I filled it with juice boxes, Lunchables (I don’t usually let my kids have these, so it was a huge deal. They loved getting to pick them out). In case you haven’t bought any Lunchables lately, in the same aisle they now have adult snack packs with cheese, crackers and prosciutto. The prepackaged food worked great. My children were able to open and eat them with very little help from the front seat. They were convenient as my children are grazers and we kept our stops to a minimum.
- Purchase a backseat organizer. I bought one from Amazon for $14. I have seen tons of crafty moms make them. I am not one of those moms. I bought one. I packed it with card games, summer “workbooks,” and coloring materials. I also made binders for the kids and gave them dry erase markers to play the travel games in the binders. My little guy is five and he liked these but wasn’t as happy as my 8-year-old who can read license plates and signs. Here is the one I bought: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005NMP6IG/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o04_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
- In addition to the binders, games and other non-electronic devices I laminated maps of the East Coast. I mapped our trip and the kids were able to track our trip with the dry erase markers, big hit. (I got the idea from Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/87890630204534127/ )
- In addition to the other backseat items my mom found these travel desks in the local craft store. These worked great as tables for snacks, had pockets for the juice boxes and the kids could use them for coloring and electronic devices. http://www.hobbylobby.com/Crafts-Hobbies/Kids-Crafts-Activities/Lap-Desks/Multi-Purpose-Lap-Tray/p/25119
- Buy an extra charger for the car. My children did use their electronic devices for some of the ride. I bought a charger with multiple USB ports for the kids. I also packed my portable charger. (Extra-long cords work great.) Between the five charging stations in the car, everyone was able to stay charged. (And happy)
- Download helpful apps prior to travel. I downloaded a bunch of apps before traveling that I had read about. The most USEFUL app we downloaded was iExit. It locates you, gives you distances to the next exit, furl prices at the exits as well food and lodging options. I loved being able to see fuel pricing at the next few exits so I could plan our stops. (Also, my children love Chik-Fil-A, so it was nice to be able to find one to plan the exit.
- Utilize your local library. Our local library gives us the chance to download audiobooks onto your device. We downloaded the first two Harry Potter books and listened to them while driving. The kids loved it. The adults loved it. Win, all around.
I am sure there were other things we learned along the way but those are the things that were most helpful to us. We enjoyed the drive and plan to do it again next summer. If you live on the eastern side of Pennsylvania and are considering driving I would encourage you to look at the costs versus airfare. But don’t be intimidated. We had fun, everyone arrived happy and we plan to do it again.