Our First Big Road Trip of 2021 (and Maybe Our Last?)

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We are no strangers to long road trips. The Army has criss-crossed us across multiple regions in the United States for almost 17 years and we’ve taken many road trips as vacations over the years – sometimes out of financial necessity and other times for the sake of the journey. When we were younger, our travel budget only allowed for one or two flights a year so we spent many hours in the car (often times with our beloved dog, Lucy) getting from Point A to Point B. While our travel budget has since increased, we still like to supplement our big airplane-required trips with car-based trips because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to experience as much as we do!

In full disclosure, our trip to Walt Disney World was planned to have both car travel and air travel. We have other trips planned this summer that involve boarding our dog, Teddy Girl, so we wanted to avoid boarding her for 10+ days if at all possible. Clay’s parents live in Ocean Isle Beach and agreed to watch her so we bought plane tickets from Raleigh, NC to Orlando and planned to drive the 15+ hours (one way) to the North Carolina coast. However, as our trip approached near – the airline kept changing the dates and times of our flights! We like to approach Walt Disney World with strategic-level planning so not having control of our arrival was frustrating enough that we decided to cancel our flights (we moved the tickets to another trip later this fall) and drive to Orlando, which is 8 hours from Clay’s parents house. Looking back, it probably wasn’t the brightest idea we’ve ever had.

We were gone for 15 days so we packed accordingly. We’re die-hard packing cube fans and we like to color coordinate our gear so there is no confusion as to what belongs to whom. We also love our monogrammed L.L. Bean duffle bags. We also have a couple of L.L.Bean rolling duffles that we use for airline travel but we prefer the ones without wheels for road trips. And because we knew we were going to spending the first night in a hotel somewhere in Ohio, we packed a separate smaller duffle as an overnight bag for the entire family. This prevents us from having to unload our four big duffles from our car top carrier when doing a quick overnight hotel stay.

We took our 4Runner, which we absolutely love for road trips. We also have a Thule hard-shell car top carrier that we bought secondhand from some friends. We’ve had it for about 6 years and it is still going strong – highly recommend!

We left on a late Saturday afternoon after Violet’s last softball game of the season and stayed at a pet-friendly Holiday Inn Express near Dayton, Ohio. It was Teddy Girl’s first time staying in a hotel and she did pretty good. There were a few strange noises that prompted a bark or two but for the most part, she settled right into her temporary accommodations.

So how did we keep sane on the 15+ hour drive? The kids had their own electronic devices and headphones and Clay and I listened to an audiobook, podcasts, and the radio. We also had device-free time as well but the kids admittedly were tethered to electronics more than not.

We were only at Clay’s parents for a night before setting off for Florida sans Teddy Girl. We broke up the drive and spent the night outside of Savannah so we could maximize our first day at Walt Disney World.

After Walt Disney World (read Walt Disney World June 2021 What We Liked and What We Didn’t), we drove back to North Carolina in one day. The drive from Orlando to Ocean Isle, NC was the most painful of the trip. The scenery wasn’t exactly beautiful and that stretch of 1-95 pretty much sucks.

We spent two days in Ocean Isle and enjoyed the beach, despite threatening skies.

We ate at Sharky’s and Beaches Burgers and enjoyed cocktails outside.

A couple of low-key days at the beach were exactly what we needed after Walt Disney World.

After saying our goodbyes, we set off for Chicago mid-afternoon with the intention of breaking up the drive over two days. However, a couple of hours, traffic wasn’t in our favor and when looking at hotel options along our route, we realized that the odds weren’t in our favor. So looked at alternative routes and saw that one took us by Clay’s sister and her family outside of Charlotte without adding on too much time. One quick phone call later, we had plans to stay at their place for the night. We stopped to pick up wine and supplies for a simple charcuterie tray along the way and before long, we were socializing the night away.

They adopted a puppy last summer so we were all excited for Teddy Girl and Roxie to finally meet. They absolutely loved each other and spent every second playing together.

The kids very much enjoyed the impromptu visit with their cousin. We hope to see them later this summer and we’re keeping our fingers-crossed they bring Roxie.

I don’t know what it was about this particular road trip but being the car felt more strenuous than in years past. I’m sure it had a lot to due with pandemic-related measures still being in place (and there were a few gas stations where we gladly wore our masks) so it’s not like it felt ‘normal’. Stops weren’t as fun and the transport trucks seemed particularly aggressive. We don’t regret our decision but we certainly are thankful that quickly our adventure around the corner involves an airplane.

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