I have been coming to Florida annually since I was 10 years old. After this trip, I will have visited every region of this beautiful state, from the Emerald Coast down throughout the Keys. I will always consider it my 2nd home, even if I never actually have a Florida address. Over the years I traveled here in a variety of ways, sometimes in style, sometimes… not so much.
Before my last sibling was born, we initiated our very first trek to the Sunshine State. In 1976, my parents bought a custom Dodge van that had large blue and white stripes (think swooshes) down the sides with a custom-painted waterfall on the back. My dad paid extra for this feature. The bucket seats in the middle of the van swiveled and the entire van was decked out with wall-to-wall shag carpeting (yes, I said c-a-r-p-e-t-i-n-g). Between the bucket seats and reclining plush couch, there was a removable octagon table with cup holders. The windows all sported tie-back curtains, and I think there might have even been mini blinds in each window. Because car seats or seat belts weren’t a thing in the ’70s, we all were able to spread out and sleep on the couch and floor during the long overnight drive. I’m drop-dead serious here people. Back then we felt like kings riding in our own version of a cutting-edge chariot, today this vehicle would be nothing less than a pimpmobile.
During my Yuppie years (is that still a word?) we said goodbye to driving and hello to flying. Instead of the 15-hour drive to Orlando in a van, we opted for the 2-hour flight.
If (scratch that) When life got too hard and I needed the beach, I would hop a flight. During this decade, I came to Florida often – sometimes just for a day or two. In fact, I used my very first non-rev pass to join my (Amsden) family on their annual vacation in New Smyrna Beach. I remember flying into Orlando, renting a car, and driving late at night to surprise them at the condo. Cheap? Sure! A guaranteed mode of transportation? Absolutely not! In the days of standby, everything could unravel with one canceled flight. Paid butts in seats trumped free butts in seats every time, and there were several times I got stuck in FL waiting for an available seat home.
Although we still flew down when we just had Lydia, as our “sets” arrived Tim and I learned to re-embrace the annual drive south. The sheer cost of air for a large family, combined with renting a van and car seats, never made sense to us. When the twins were tiny, we used to pull the drive-all-night-while-they-sleep trick. Once Dennis and Rebekah joined the clan, we resorted to daytime traveling and nighttime sleeping which “generally” contributed to a happier family. There’s a rhythm to the trip now, filled with landmarks and regular pit stops whether it’s our summer trip to Central Florida or our Thanksgiving trip to the Panhandle. Long past the days of riding in a pimped-out maxi-van or flying in first-class seating, we now ride in vehicles where everyone has a secure seat and (hopefully) a set of headphones.
As it was when I was a child, and now as a parent, driving to Florida is loud and messy business! Let’s be honest, being cooped up with anyone – much less 7 people (both in my family of birth and the family I’ve birthed)- for that long with minimal personal space is nothing short of a test on personal virtues. I’d like to gloss over this and tell you it’s a grand ole time of singing and car games, and while those happen for sure, this annual trek is much more about “character building” and learning “self-control”.
Whether your ride is a custom 1970’s van filled with your obnoxious siblings, sitting by your honey in a first-class seat, or cleaning up your children’s food crumbs in your new Crossover at every bathroom stop, I believe the destination is worth the journey. No matter how you get here – and what you are forced to endure in the process – at the other end of Highway 75 is Florida. Gloriously sunny, the land of endless beaches, Florida.