Planning a road trip to Disney World? Driving is a great way to cut costs with family travel. Find out what I learned during our trip.
Back in February, I formed a plan: I was going to Food Blog Forum and taking the whole family with me. The kids needed it. We all needed it. But the budget? It was slim at best. So three months later, Shawn and I picked the kids up from school and headed out on the road for a 20-hour drive to Orlando from Connecticut.
I haven’t taken a road trip that significant since I was in college. Back then, I drove cross-country for a week alone returning from a semester at the Biosphere2 in Oracle, Arizona. I saw a lot of the country during that trip, but was so relieved to cross the GW and arrive back in my neck of the woods.
We’ve taken family road trips before — but always about four-hour ones. We’ve gone to Cape Cod, to visit family in New Hampshire and to the Jersey shore. As a kid, I traveled many summers to Michigan by car as well.
But the road trip to Disney World? That was different. I decided we’d leave in the afternoon with the intention of arriving in the afternoon the next day. That’s exactly what happened — though it wasn’t nearly as seamless as I imagined. In my head, my insomnia would allow me to drive most of the night.
In reality, I did drive for many hours. But then I hit a wall. Shawn drove in the wee hours of the AM. Then it was my turn again — but I wasn’t ready. And shortly after, I stopped in a McDonald’s parking lot somewhere in the Carolinas, unable to keep my eyes open — or to sleep. It was hell. But about an hour later, we managed to get on the road again.
On the way home, I insisted we stop for the night when we hit that wall again. Although it would have been awesome to drive straight through, realistically we just couldn’t do it safely. And that was okay.
When we arrived back in Connecticut after a week, I realized that our road trip experience had imparted many wonderful and interesting lessons. And although we may never take a trip like that again, I am so glad we did at least once. So … what did I learn?
- It’s a long drive from Connecticut – MapQuest said it would be 20 hours. My iPhone said 18 hours. In reality, we had to stop to use the bathrooms, gas up and eat. We also needed that short sleep break too. In the end, it really took us 24 hours on the way down and closer to 30 hours on the way back. The lesson? For longer trips, you need to build in a lot of extra travel time because you will need to stop along the way.
- Fast food will make you ill – There’s no question that fast food is the easiest option for eating on the road. But the reality is that all that greasy food will not sit well — especially when you are sitting for extended periods. So, as tempting as the fried chicken, burgers and fries are, you are better off finding meals that are a little more real. The lesson? Try to eat as you normally would for best stomach results.
- It’s okay to stop and sleep – When Shawn was sleeping and I could no longer keep my eyes open, it became totally unsafe to keep driving. I mean, seriously, our safety matters more than some arbitrary schedule, right? We stopped and rested, and it made all the difference. The lesson? No matter your plans, if you need to rest, do it. It will pay off in spades for your safety on the road.
- Stopping and sleeping will make it even longer – As much as stopping makes sense, it adds a lot of time to the journey — which can make it feel like it takes forever. The lesson? If you can avoid stopping and sleeping, then it’s a good idea to do so. You probably need more than two drivers though.
- Nine hours driving is my limit. Absolute limit. Seven is better – Everyone has their limits for car rides. When I drove cross-country, I typically was on the road from 8 am until 6 pm, with stops for food and the bathroom. Turns out, that nine hours is still my driving limit. I could, in a pinch go a little longer, if the destination is within a few hours. However, nine hours is the amount of time I can stomach being on the road. The lesson? Know your limits, and listen to them. It makes for a happier ride.
- Blankets are a God-send – When we were packing, I tucked three blankets into our trunk. I almost packed pillows for the kids too, but stopped short on account of space. Those blankets let us feel like we were in sleeping mode (there is something about having a blanket no matter where you are, right?). The lesson? If you are in the car overnight or into the late night, blankets — and perhaps pillows too — make it a more comfy journey.
- Always be prepared for carsickness – So … raise your hand if you get car sick! (Hand raised). Typically whenever we go anywhere, I do the driving because I have a long history of carsickness. I can’t do anything except watch the road — or else my stomach starts churning. Apparently, Paige has inherited my tummy woes too. But knowing this, we were totally prepared with bags and wipes to make the carsickness a blip instead of a thing. The lesson? Always be prepared — especially on long journeys.
- You’ll see a whole wide range of gas stations and gas station bathrooms – I could write volumes on the good and bad of roadside bathrooms from Connecticut to Florida. Ultimately though, just be prepared and have a little fun with it. Also, do judge a gas station by its looks. There was this one station I went in that looked a little creepy — the bathroom was even creepier. Thank goodness the kids slept through that pit stop. The lesson? If you have a choice, always choose the more respectable looking gas station.
- A little humor goes a long way – Trapped in the car together for that many hours could be disastrous if you are snipping at each other the whole time. Instead, have a little humor about it. Laugh at the weird things you see along the way. Giggle about the highs and lows. Marvel over the giant grub on the sidewalk in South Carolina. Enjoy the cool sights you pass. It makes the whole thing more tolerable. The lesson? It’s better to laugh than to complain.
- The payoff is grand – I don’t know if we will ever do this drive again, but I can tell you it was an awesome one. And when we saw the gates of the Magic Kingdom? It made it all worthwhile. No lesson here … just know that it was worth the journey.
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. She is the author of several cookbooks including The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook and One-Pot Pasta, both from Rockridge Press. A single mother to two kids in middle school, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.