Carrentals.co.uk pointed me in the right direction by letting me know Hotwire would be our best option for hiring a car. So for a minivan for 2 weeks at $523 we were pretty excited to be starting our road trip down the east coast of USA.
It was only about 2 days prior that we had decided to drive from New York to Florida. We didn’t know what was in between, but after our 10-hour San Diego-to-Vegas drive we knew we only wanted to do roughly 3 hours per day. We started asking around and researching and came up with a plan.
The early day was spoiled when, at 11am after 45 minutes to drive to La Guardia Hertz to pick up my new car, I had forgot to bring my drivers license. Thank God they allowed my husband to email a copy, because that would have been a bummer to return home to retrieve.
After all the kafuffle we finally made it out of there and I drove back to in Great Neck to pick up my family and our things.
The Nissan Quest is a great size car with 3 large suitcases, 3 small suitcases, and 2 prams fitting in the boot once the back seats were laid down. Then the middle seats are actually separated with a cup holder so the kids could have their drinks readily available and their toys and snacks. We had brought a car seat in New York while using our relative’s car and their housekeeper had generously donated a booster for Mia so we were set to jet.
Driving in the US is so much harder than even driving in crazy Bali. Not only do they drive on the wrong side of the road, so veering to the right is habitual, but they use miles to calculate distance and they use galloons to fill up with petrol gas.
New York to Philadelphia – pit stop at Princeton University (check prices in area...)
2:30pm – 7:30pm=5 hours
3 tolls - $6.40, $7.55 & $5=$19.05
After packing and all the goodbyes we finally started our road trip at 2:30pm. It was a fairly long and tiring journey since we started so late. The one excitement I got was when I realized we were passing Princeton so we stopped, turned around and got some glorious photos of the beautiful university. Including the charming houses that lined the streets.
Josh had found a hotel on Trip Advisor and when we rocked up to Philadelphia it was shut. We then drove to the Old City to a Holiday Inn, which wanted over $170 for the night excluding parking & breakfast. We knew we could do better and finally Expedia came up with a place called Skyview Plaza at $75 for the night including parking & breakfast.
The hotel said it usually takes 45 minutes to process an Expedia booking once we got there so we went across the road to the Peking Inn for Chinese dinner. The food was cheap and there was a lot of it.
Finally it was past 8pm and we got the keys to our room. The Inn was run down. The elevators took as long to get to the 3rd floor as the elevators did to get to the 80th floor in the Empire State Building, the roof was water stained and the heater was very loud. However the beds were clean, the pillows were sufficient and we all pretty much jumped into bed. The kids were asleep in minutes and, not wanting to have a repeat episode of last minute finding a place to live, I organized an apartment in Washington DC for the next day.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Washington, DC – food pit stop (check prices in area...)
1:30pm – 6:00pm=4.5 hours
2 tolls - $4, $3=$7
We started our day with the “continental” breakfast at SkyView. That basically means 2 types of cereal to choose, a muffin or toast. It was sufficient. After that we checked out early and headed to the Liberty Bell. We hit a fair bit of traffic in the morning and the parking was impossible, but we eventually found the bell and got our tourist photos.
After visiting the historic sight we set our eyes on the Please Touch museum. It’s not a dirty museum, people; it’s a kid’s museum! Josh had found it after looking for things to do in Philadelphia. We spent 3 hours at this museum and it wasn’t enough. Check out my separate post on this absolutely amazing museum, a must if you are ever in the area.
When we finally hit the road we got to drive down route 95 for 189 kms, we made one pit stop for wipes and snacks before powering on.
The roads into Washington were jam packed and very narrow. My husband had a small mishap, because our car was so big and he is still not use to the right side driving. It was a simple mirror brush with another car, which smiled as soon as she heard we were Australian.
We had considered staying in a hotel in Ocean City, MD, however considering it was winter and we were going to spend more days in a museum then the beach we decided on an Airbnb in Washington.
Washington DC (check prices in area...)
Subway to National Zoo
Washington DC & Arlington, Virginia (check prices in area...)
Hop-On-Hop-Off to Washington Monuments
Washington DC (check prices in area...)
Subway to Washington Museums
Washington, DC to Virginia Beach, Virginia – fuel pit stop, Williamsburg lunch stop & toilet pit stop (check prices in area...)
10:45am – 4:45pm=6 hours
We packed our car up after 4 nights in Washington DC and headed straight out of town. There were no tolls on this journey, which was a welcome change, but we did have to make a fuel pit stop $54 to fill the tank.
About 1:30pm we rocked up to Williamsburg. A very quaint colonial town with loads of British flags around. We stopped at a Thai restaurant for lunch and went for a small drive around to photograph the beautiful mansions, colonial houses and cobbled streets.
Back on the road we had to make one more stop for the toilet for my little girl and then powered on straight to our hotel right by the ocean in Virginia Beach. We crossed several large bridges going directly over the eerily flat ocean, which was covered in mist and quite high making a boat nearly level with us. One of the bridges descended into the water in a long deep tunnel before immersing again. Amazing!
Our hotel is absolutely lovely and we were quite ready for our small break before checking out Virginia Beach. Not much to do in the winter, but we would love to return in the summer.
Virginia Beach, Virginia to Fayetteville, North Carolina – one fuel/toilet/food pit stop (check prices in area...)
1:00pm – 5:00pm=4 hours
This morning we did a quick walk along the Boardwalk to find Neptune and then went to a Church called Wave Church pastored by an Australian we have heard preach a few times. Following the service we were straight on the road with nutella sandwiches for lunch and no stopping.
We had no idea how long we were driving today, because we wanted to get to Charleston, but we were not sure we could do the almost 8 hours of driving so we just started and went as far as we could.
We passed through Suffolk, which was a gorgeous little town with no fences on any of the property. Imagine just living with your neighbours, not caring where the boundary is. I love that little town.
About 5pm we had all had enough and found a easy town to turn into very close to the I95 to stop on, Fayetteville. We found a Super 8 for $59 (+tax) including free parking, free wifi and free breakfast. Check the latest prices here.
Fayetteville, North Carolina to Charleston, South Carolina – toilet pitstop (check prices in area...)
9:15am – 2:00pm=5 hours
We wasted no time this morning, eating breakfast at 8:30am and on the road by 9:15am. I had no desire to check out Fayetteville so we were out of the hotel and back on the I95 headed to South Carolina.
When passing the border there was a big Mexican-inspired theme park, however it didn’t look very open, there was also tons of firework shops in the area. We missed a turn off and made our way through a very pretty town to get back onto the right road. I don’t know what it was called, but they all seem very pretty out here.
We booked our accommodation in the car and arrived early in Charleston to check out the town, before heading to the Comfort Inn for a good night’s sleep. Check the latest prices for the Comfort Inn here.
Charleston, South Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida – lunch in Savannah, Georgia (check prices in area...)
11:00am – 5:00pm=6 hours
We had original plans to stop in Savannah for a night, but it was so close to Charleston that we decided to just top there for a few hours for lunch and a look and then drive the other few hours to Jacksonville.
We started fairly late in the morning as we took the kids to a playground to expend their energy first thing in the morning. After half an hour of so of playing pirates we all jumped into the car to Savannah.
In Savannah we ate at the coolest Pirate House restaurant that was built in the 1700’s. We posted a postcard and then bounced back into our mini van for the drive to Jacksonville.
Drive was pretty uneventful with one amazing bridge and crossing over the border into Florida was exciting too.
Jacksonville, Florida to Cocoa Beach, Florida – toilet stop, fuel stop, food stop (check prices in area...)
12:00pm – 3:00pm=3 hours
Today we left later as we spent the morning repacking all our bags for the onslaught of warm weather that has hit us. Back in shorts and thongs (flip flops) yay! We grabbed drive thru on the road and took a quick trip to Cocoa Beach. It went quite fast as we had some hiccups organizing accommodation and spent an hour on the phone to Expedia, as well as our bank who decided to put a hold on our credit card and then some last minute organization with our hire car. The good news is it was a productive 3 hours, with money saved on all calls.
It was nice to arrive early afternoon in sunny Cocoa Beach. Our resort had a pirate pool and so we spent the rest of the afternoon keeping any eye on the kids as they splished and splashed before heading to our very first Cuban meal.
That night we all had our own beds again and we were super excited about that. For the latest prices on this hotel click here.
Cocoa Beach, Florida to Miami, Florida – rest stop (check prices in area...)
12:30pm – 5:00pm=4.5 hours
After a walk on the beach and a swim in the pool we checked out of our hotel. Before hitting the road we stopped at Waffle House for late breakfast and a few surf stores. Both of us could not remember where we had left our sunglasses, not worn since before US and needed new pairs for sunny Florida.
The drive was fairly simple and we made one stop at a rest stop for a toilet break. As I got my son out of the car we had a poo catastrophe and we were so thankful for this rest stop. The area is a lovely picnic spot and has very clean toilets, which is surprising for a truck/car highway stop.
Since we had already stopped we decided to eat our picnic lunch that I had purchased back at the supermarket on Cocoa Beach. We enjoyed feta and tomato on fresh Italian bread or Nutella if you’re a kid. We also had bananas, apples, popcorn, carrots and dip and my favourite fresh strawberries, which we dipped in the melted Nutella.
After our lunch stop we got back on the road for another 3 hours. When we arrived in Miami we were in awe of all the palm trees and sky-high condos. We stopped off at the Trump condos, as the family we stayed in New York were allowing us to store our winter gear at their holiday home. It was magnificent.
Two bags lighter we carried on to our own apartment in North Miami that we had booked in the car on the way. Dinner delivered, everyone in bed and what a day!
Miami, Florida to Everglades, Florida to Miami, Florida (check prices in area...)
10:30am – 6:00pm=8.5 hours
5 Tolls=$1, $0.75, 0.75, $0.75, $1.25=$4.50
A quick play on Miami Beach was followed by a walk down the famous boardwalk. The traffic and congestion, however was driving me insane and instead of settling down to lunch we opted to get off that tiny hectic island and made a start to the Everglades.
The Everglades road was under a lot of construction and so traffic was backed up here as well. But finally we reached The Everglades Safari Park, for a airboat ride to spot some alligators.
On the way back to our apartment in Miami I spotted a kids salon. Equipped with miniature planes and cars to sit in, Dora to watch and toys to play with my son lost his 13 months of hair growth on his second ever haircut. It was a pretty amazing salon.
Traffic was not too bad, however when we decided to pull in at the Walmart Superstore we face a little more overcrowding. That store is humongous and we were blown away. No wonder people spend so long at the supermarket!
Finally with our groceries in hand we made it back home to eat dinner and put the kids to bed at a reasonable time. The next day is our last road trip day back to Cocoa Beach. It had been a great journey; a little sad it was over.
Miami, Florida to Cocoa Beach, Florida – toilet stop, dinner stop (check prices in area...)
3:00pm – 7:00pm=5 hours
We were happy to spend our morning and early afternoon at Jungle Island. You can read all about it here.
After Jungle Island we hit the road. Lunch was in the car with groceries brought the previous day. Rolls with Nutella or cheese and ham or my fav, Vegemite. We also had loads of snacks, bananas, banana bread, carrot sticks, etc.
Heading out of Miami was shockingly busy for a Saturday and it took us quite awhile before the road freed up again. While our day at Jungle Island had been beautiful and sunny, perfect weather, the road trip was wet, rainy and visibility was low.
There is something about driving that puts you in a sleepy stupor so Josh & I had to change regularly to stay awake or sing or drink red bull. The weather also kept us on our toes… Maybe it was because we were heading back North that the weather was disgraced with us.
We arrived early evening back at Cocoa Beach. Kids were super elated that we were back at the “pirate house”. Today was our last road-tripping day, I would be sad, but tomorrow is cruise day!
We finished our day with S'mores on the beach and finally a load of laundry being done.
Cocoa Beach, Florida to Cape Canaveral, Florida (check prices in area...)
10:30am – 11:00am=0.5 hours
Cruise day! Last day of our road trip. It seems no matter how early we get moving we always leave everything until the last minute.
It was a hectic drive from our hotel room to the Hertz drop off center. One that took a little while to find and thank goodness for the gas station next door because we almost forgot that one as well.
Hertz have a shuttle that goes to the cruise ships, which I found out about online so we had changed our drop off location from Orlando to Cape Canaveral and then grabbed the shuttle straight to the cruise.
We have kept the carseats with us on the cruise, because we may hire a car to drive back to Orlando on our return.
It was a rushed ending to our road trip, but already the trip lays in the recesses of my mind as we continue forward with our travels.
14 days road tripping through the US was fabulous. You can leave when you want, stay when you want, there is no crazy security quips like “you can’t take water with you”, or “that’s considered a weapon”, or “please take off your shoes and walk through slowly”. Having never done a road trip like this in my life I can happily say I would do it again.
The rest stops along the interstate were clean and fabulous pit stops, most of the gas stations on the other hand are not. There is fuel, lodging and food stops along the whole interstate, which made it so much more convenient when travelling with kids.
There were certainly places we wish we could have stayed longer, but overall we were pleased with the length of the journey and amount of time we had in places. If I could choose one more spot to stay longer, it would be Cocoa Beach. While Miami had loads to do, we did not enjoy it as much and would like to see other parts of Florida like Tampa & the Keys next time we come back.
I hope this little road trippin’ guide has helped you and you can get out on the road in the good old US of A.