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Over the years we have charted trips from Maryland to Georgia; Iowa to Maryland; Iowa to Georgia; Tennessee to Missouri; and a few other destinations less traveled by our families. We try to keep a journal for each trip we take mainly to know what worked, what didn’t and where are all the good stops we have enjoyed along the way.
The one constant road-trip-tip (say that one 10x fast!) for us has been to make sure we have a good idea of several stops we can make along the way. It helps so us to have an idea of where we might get gas, grab a bite to eat and even gives us something to look forward to as far as a place to stretch our legs and change drivers if not just a fun stop to make some memories.
Last year my husband and I lost our minds and planned a trip to Disney with two toddlers, an infant and my handicap mom.
Yep. We plum lost our minds.
There is a back story to our insanity. We were originally planning a get-away January 2014 but that wasn’t to be as we almost lost my mom to a severe illness. Then we became ill. Once we were all better, Branden and I thought “Let’s go after our nephews go home.” His logic being we would need happy thoughts to get us through missing our nephews on a daily basis as they had been staying with us every day for eight months. Life has fun throwing lemons our way because almost as soon as we thought about planning a trip Branden had a job offer he couldn’t refuse which meant he had to re-earn time off.
The sad news was postponing the trip again. The good news was my mom got better and we were able to use a trip to Disney as an end goal for her recovery. A placement later and we not only wanted to bring our nephews but also our newest addition as well. It all seemed right because it meant my mom could enjoy seeing these grandbabies at Disney, which might never happen again.
So… without further ado we set the date, purchased the tickets, made the hotel reservation and yes we were just that crazy to bring two toddlers, an infant and my mom with us.
While the trip in its entirety is a whole other blog post, the point I wanted to make here was that even this trip was not just about the destination, as lovely and magical as it is. As usual for us the trip was about the journey… to, from and everything in between. Sadly though, even with our best intentions sometimes trips really are about the destinations. That the road trip to the destination is a big push.
The first time we went to Disney, Branden and I were both chaperones for a girls choir that I was the business manager for. So our schedule was planned out for us including the bus ride down. I barely remember that road trip except there were a LOT of Disney movies being played on the bus to put everyone in the mood. The Disney visit was more then memorable and filled with stories I won’t easily forget like a bird landing on the head of one of our singers in the midst of a song. That chorister handled that incident better then most professionals!
The second time we went it was using our 10 year anniversary fund (long story) so my mother could see Disney for the first time. My dad had been really ill the year of our 10th anniversary so we did not get to take a special trip. When my dad passed away and we were faced with the idea of Christmas without him, Branden and I decided to use that fund so we could spend Christmas at Disney. It seemed the right thing to do but it meant that we didn’t really make the stops along the way that we thought we would. I don’t even really remember our trip down and I barely remember the trip back up. I do remember the bits in between which was the most important thing for that trip.
Now for this third trip, we were planning to have one senior and three little ones. From the start we knew there would need to be multiple stops both going and coming home. As most of those stops would be potty breaks and “the kids need to burn energy off” breaks, I knew that meant more unplanned stops but thought it never hurt to check the internet to see if there were any suggestions out there to make our road trip more pleasant. Mainly I wanted to have an idea of how spaced out the rest stops were and if there were any exits along our route that might offer quick food eats with healthier options.
So I looked up our route and what did I find? It was a mixed bag of nothing. There were rest stops and some restaurant locations listed for Georgia and a few Florida rest stops listed on www.i75exitguide.com. Sadly there were no specific gas exits only prices linked to www.gasbuddy.com (a website my in-laws use regularly when they are out of town for work). I then cast a wider net to see if there any other food suggestions listed somewhere for Georgia but there still wasn’t much out there. After a lot of digging I did find an interesting truckers site with some gas station ideas for making stops off of I-75 at www.findfuelstops.com/truck-stop-on-I-75. I was still left a bit sad since I knew we would need to take at least one stop in Florida before getting to Disney.
Overall what I wanted was some reassurances that we wouldn’t be spending all day on the road trip from hell. That we would have an enjoyable drive down where we could easily get gas, grab a bite to eat, let the toddlers burn some energy and of course change diapers all within a few feet of each other… How could the internet not have the answer to what I wanted? After all I knew for a fact that we were not the only people who lived in our area to drive to and from Disney. And that was just our area!
I am a very organized traveler. Even for trips where we have traveled the route often I have a trip binder. It has written (or printed) directions, itinerary, hotel information, etc. On years where I am very stressed about making the trip work well I even create a packing list and a list of things to buy for the trip. One year I even pre-packed our van with our luggage to make sure everything would fit. Then I took a picture and labeled the picture so Branden and my brother could later re-pack our van since I was going to be busy with my day job up to the day we left. So my trip binder is my trip “how to” for dummies because we all get a little dumb sometimes. Don’t believe me? Someday I will share the story of how we lost an entire state on my way to college.
My point here is that when I am armed with information I feel more secure about the road trip, which does kind of set the mood for the first few days of any trip. This trip I even had a goal for taking notes on the places where we took stops so I could do what I couldn’t find: create a basic road stop list that people could add to. Sadly my notes for the return trip ended up as toddler fodder, meaning one of the toddlers got a hold of my note book and most of my notes got torn to shreds. This made me quite sad as the Pizza Hut on our return trip had such a wonderful staff that I looked past their outdated bathrooms with absent of diaper changing stations. Honestly this stop made our whole return trip home much more enjoyable then we had originally thought!
Even with most of my notes gone I was able to make a small list of the exits we took on our way down to Disney. I hope the small list of noted places can help others who like to plan make a more enjoyable car-ride down to Disney and that others will add their favorite stops to this list!
I really wanted to provide more details and lots of useful stop information but like much about life, lemons were tossed and we did the best we could to make lemonade. This time it meant not getting upset with the toddler who unpacked the luggage sitting next to him or tore/shredded pages out of my trip binder when we got home. The good news is that we hope to make a few more trips to Florida in the next couple of years to visit family and friends. Maybe we will even take a side trip for another much needed family vacation! So we hope to add to this list as much as we hope others will help add to this list as well!
Exit 179 Southbound
Note: While the rest stop may seem a bit over crowded when you pull in there is over flow parking in the back. There really wasn’t an area where I could let the kids stretch their legs because of how tight of an area the rest stop was. I ended up being worried that they might get hit by a car. The only leg stretching they did was running around inside the small bathroom and taking trash from the van to the trash can.
Pilot Travel Center
Note: Was a good stop for gas. The price of gas was pretty decent and comparable to Tennessee. The gas station had an Arby’s adjoining it. We ended up not grabbing food here because there really wasn’t an area for the kids to let loose some steam. Instead we grabbed snacks and got back on the road. The kids were ok with this since we had started our trip so early. They mainly wanted to nap in the car for most of the morning.
Note: Wonderful stop! There was a play yard in the Burger King so the kids got to stretch their legs and let off some energy. The bathrooms even had changing tables. Yay! Bonus was that this exit also had a few gas stations to choose from. I believe we used the Shell Station but I don’t know for sure as that was on one of the pages that the toddler shredded.