Take the kids out of school for a vacation? Not anymore.
High school exams, part-time jobs and culminating projects mean it’s a high season family vacation or stay at home. And winters are long. And cold. But four flights during high season for some fun under the sun is prohibitively expensive.
Our solution? Let’s drive til it’s warm! We had ten days, two teenagers, snorkeling gear, a cooler filled with food, and a shiny red 2019 Honda Odyssey minivan to test drive. Time to hit the road!
Four states (New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia), 13 hours and 1086 km later, we were at our first destination: Mooresville, North Carolina, 40 minutes north of Charlotte.
Why Mooresville? Well, it’s about the halfway point on our trip, accommodation is right off the highway and most importantly, it’s the heart of NASCAR racing. And so if you’re a racing fan, like the two y-chromosome members of my family definitely are, it’s like being a kid in a candy story. There are so many car treats to choose from in the vicinity: high-speed go-karting at GoPro MotorPlex, numerous NASCAR shops and museums and the hometown of the legendary Dale Earnhardt.
What to do? We only had one day in the area, but we squeezed in visits to Lake Norman State Park, NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte Speedway (where we drove along this famous track for the Christmas Speedway light and sound installation) and some of the best ribs ever at Lancaster BBQ.
Fourteen hours of driving and two more states (South Carolina, Georgia), we found our Holy Grail. The warm temperatures in Florida were a tonic for our winter weary bodies, and our dry, pale skin thirstily soaked up the moist, salty air. And it only got warmer the farther south we drove. By the time we arrived in the Palm Beaches, it was a blissful 25°C.
Why the Palm Beaches? Extending from Jupiter in the north to Boca Raton in the south along 47 km of Atlantic shoreline, this county in Florida’s southeast offers a wide variety of attractions from nature reserves and eco-centres to top-notch shopping and dining.
What to do? Nature reserves and parks, like Spanish River, South Inlet, Riverbend and John D. MacArthur, showcased the subtropical habitat and beaches. We witnessed sea turtles being lovingly rehabilitated to be returned to the ocean at Gumbo Limbo, an environmental complex. And we spotted more endearing sea creatures at the Manatee Lagoon, where these gentle sea cows congregate. On the Island of Palm Beach, whose zip code has more billionaires than anywhere else in America, we biked along the lush Lake Trail on an Island Living Tours. We learned about the island’s rich history and even richer residences, and window shopped at glitzy shops and galleries on Worth Avenue. Luckily, there was more affordable retail therapy nearby at Palm Beach Outlets.
A two-and-a-half-hour jaunt plus a lunch stop in Miami and we were in the Florida Keys. After our long drives, this felt like a breeze, and time flew even faster with the eye-candy that surrounded us. One minute we were driving down what looked like an ordinary highway, and the next, we were cruising on a bridge with a front-seat panoramic view of the most inviting turquoise water imaginable.
Why the Florida Keys? It’s like driving to a Caribbean Island. In fact, the archipelago consists of approximately 1700 islands, 43 of which are connected by 42 bridges on the Overseas Highway. Key West, Florida’s southernmost point, is only 150 kilometres to Cuba.
What to do? Its laid back vibe meant some of the best moments involved a beach blanket or lounge chair. John Pennekamp and Bahia Honda state parks were gorgeous spots to spend an afternoon with excellent snorkelling. We explored a little of the colourful and historic Key West, tasting the best Cuban sandwich ever at Cuban Coffee Queen. At Sundowners, an aptly named restaurant in Key Largo, we dined on seafood and key lime pie on a patio overlooking the water, and took in the best show in town – a Florida Keys sunset. We fed the large fish down at the docks, including a tarpon and a nurse shark, and basked in the brilliant oranges and reds that reflected off the sailboats and palm trees. We were happy. And all of us happy at the same time (which is not always the case on a family vacation).
The sunset is now on my screensaver, so that when it’s -10°C or when we’re arguing about homework, I can be reminded of this evening. It came in handy on the two-day drive back, too.
The Ride: 2019 Honda Odyssey
Family road trips may not be the easiest way to vacation, but we had a blast on our ‘drive til it’s warm road trip’ thanks in no small part to the comfortable, safe and fun ride in the 2019 Honda Odyssey.
Comfort: “It’s like a living room on wheels,” was how the Odyssey was described to me. And it was. The ultra-comfy leather front seats were heated and ventilated, so were just as pleasant in chilly Buffalo as the warm Florida Keys.
The front center console in the front was everything I wished my coffee table could be but isn’t: four versatile beverage holders; a roomy compartment with a lid to keep all our snacks, books and papers easily available but out of sight; and a ‘secret’ sliding box underneath with a movable divider to hide my stash of emergency chocolate (please don’t tell the kids). Not only are there the usual USB outlets but also a charging mat!
On previous trips, our kids sat next to each other as the third row needed to be folded down for luggage space. Not this road trip. Each had an entire row to themselves with still enough space for suitcases, coolers and snorkelling gear in the deep cargo well behind the third seat. And even at 6′2″, my teenaged son had plenty of head room in the back.
Safety: The assistance technology did everything it could, apart from driving the car itself (a few more years, maybe?), to keep us safe. Adaptive Cruise Control maintained a safe distance with vehicles in front of us; Collision Mitigation Braking was there to alert us of potential collisions and blind spot monitors ensured safety when changing lanes.
The most impressive assistive technology, though, was the Lane Keeping Assist, which tracked the vehicle’s position between marked lanes. Not only did it give an alert, but the vehicle actually steered itself to stay in the middle of the lane. Even on a highway curve.
Pleasure: In a way, this technology took the driving out of the driving, so we could focus instead on the enjoyment of the road, like the mesmerizing mountains of West Virginia. Speaking of which, the Odyssey climbed those mountain roads remarkably well, especially considering its size. So though we were driving our road trip ‘living room’, it handled like a smaller vehicle with good acceleration and power. Its fuel economy also made us smile. We averaged 9 L per 100k, and our typical cost at the fuel pumps was a very reasonable $25US.
Tips: South Carolina has the cheapest gas; and when you need to punch in a zip code at the pumps when swiping a card to pay, use the first three numbers of your postal code plus two zeros.