10 Best Road Tips to Survive your Thanksgiving Trip in Florida
With Thanksgiving less than a week away, it’s already time to prepare for the seasonal transhumance that will send nearly 50 million Americans on the roads to join the yearly family reunion for a hearty roast turkey meal and grandma’s favorite apple cider.
From Miami Beach to Fort Lauderdale, and from Orlando to Key West, 2.5 million Florida residents are expected to travel during the Thanksgiving period (Wednesday, Nov. 23, to Sunday, Nov. 27), a +5% increase over last year.
That’s not even factoring in many of the 48.7 million Americans who will drive 50 miles or more to and from their holiday destination will head for the Sunshine State, as Orlando and Fort Lauderdale are respectively number #4 and #8 on the top 10 cities most popular destinations this Thanksgiving according to AAA.
Because MamZam wants to make sure all its beloved readers and visitors will have the smoothest driving experience possible during the Thanksgiving mayhem, we’ve put together this list of the best road tips to survive your Thanksgiving weekend trip in Florida.
Thanksgiving is a two-way trip over a short time span, maybe even more so than for any other holiday, which means that you have to be extra careful out there as drivers tend to be stressed out and in a hurry on their way out, and more frantic and eager to return home on the way back.
Unfortunately during this time of the year many of the usual road dangers are more potent than ever, from DUI to general stress and aggressivity, which is not reassuring when you just happen to carry the entire family in your vehicle. Moreover, many drivers are occasional ones such as students returning home which may have forgotten some basic driving and safety tips.
To make sure you make it safely through the holidays, here are the foremost tips to observe per FHSMV’s (Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles) recommendations:
Don’t speed: In Florida, the limit will never be over 70 mph.
Drive sober, and only sober: alcohol impairs all of the important skills needed to drive safely, and plan ahead a safe way home (designate driver, ride service).
Buckle up: Florida law requires that all drivers and front seat passengers, as well as passengers under the age of 18 wear seat belts. Needless to say, if you have kids make sure they are properly installed with the appropriate child car seat or restraints.
Eliminate distractions: keep your hands on the wheel, eyes on the road and your mind on driving: leave phone calls, texting, map reading, and operating the car radio to your passenger, pull over safely somewhere if you need to or if you travel alone.
In case of emergency: call 911 immediately if you are experiencing or witnessing an emergency situation.
To help others stay safe: Call *FHP (347) to report drunk drivers, traffic crashes, stranded or disabled motorists, or any suspicious incidents on Florida roadways.
Plan Way Ahead
Pre-trip preparation is key to safe driving, starting with checking all important safety items on your vehicle, including tire pressure, fluid levels, headlights, stop and signal lights, and windshield wiper blades.
Make sure to pack an emergency kit, jumper cables, car jack, safety vest, road flares, flashlight, as well as emergency food and water if you’re traveling in remote areas.
You hopefully won’t need any of it, but if you ever do you’ll pat yourself in the back for being so prepared, in any event your loved ones will definitely be thankful to travel with such a responsible person.
Just as with any trip, a checklist can’t hurt so now is a good time to take care of it, and anything on it, so you don’t add any more unnecessary stress at the last minute.
Of course the length of your list will be proportionate to the length of your trip, but besides the aforementioned security equipment there are a few things you shouldn’t overlook, such as drinks and snacks, paper towels and toilet paper, and various utensils you may need.
If you’re traveling with children, have them bring appropriate on-board entertainment (books, tablet, DVD player, games), but make sure this won’t be a source of distraction for the driver, so nothing noisy (check they each have their headphones) or prompting obnoxious behaviors.
Needless to say, don’t pack more than you can, try your best to fit every luggage in the trunk and only keep the strict necessary items (personal stuff, food, water, entertainment...) in the cabin of the vehicle.
Fully Charge All Electronic Devices
Many vehicles now have ways to help you charge your smartphones and tablets while you’re driving, and there also are portable chargers which work great too.
But plenty of things can go wrong: technology may fail you, people may need the same charger at the same time, and it could even be dangerous with dangling or entangled wires all over the place.
Therefore make sure every piece of digital equipment is fully charged in time before you go, that way you won’t go nuts because your GPS went off, your smartphone just died when you needed to call for help, or have to deal with frantic children when they realize there is no battery left on the DVD player.
Get Yourself Connected
In this connected millennium many still travel with maps, traffic radio and a good dose of driving instinct, but whether or not that is your case, you should know that there are some fantastic mobile apps and resources out there that can really help you and get you out of a rut.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has its own Florida 511 Mobile App showing real-time traffic information, interactive traffic maps showing incidents and traffic speeds; plus point-to-point directions, alternate routes and the same real-time traffic information.
Waze is a great community-based, real time traffic app that will help you map the best route and will adapt to whatever traffic problem you’re heading into. It will also help you find alternate routes and calculate very accurate driving times depending on when you actually depart. Best of all it’s free to download. Just try it out before your big Thanksgiving trip, and we’re pretty sure you will thank us for it.
INRIX Traffic is a similar and popular mobile app but since it’s mostly useful by automatically learning a user’s driving habits, make sure you get it and use it ahead of time to make the best of it.
AAA also has a free mobile app to help you map a route, find lowest gas prices, access exclusive member discounts, make travel arrangements, and more importantly request AAA roadside assistance or find AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities.
Regarding safety, you can keep an eye on Twitter where the FHSMV has created a special hashtag #TravelSafeFL just for road safety at https://twitter.com/hashtag/TravelSafeFL.
Whatever app or GPS equipment you are using, needless to say that you should be very careful operating it, and that its use should have minimal impact on your safe driving (hands on wheel, eyes on the road)!
Fill Up Your Tank
Good news, Thanksgiving gas prices are the second-cheapest in a decade with the gallon of regular unleaded gas is averaging $2.16 nationally (compared to $1.85 in 2008), and it is even predicted to fall to $2.13 in average around Thanksgiving. In South Florida for instance, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report the average price for a gallon ranges from $2.27, compared to around $3 a year ago.
Although getting gas at the last minute may save you a few dollars, it’s probably not worth wasting much time in line or driving the extra miles for the best prices. To get it out of your way, get a full tank a couple of days ahead of your planned departure.
That way you can probably find a good occasion on your own schedule rather than at the last minute, to snoop by the cheapest of your nearby gas stations with various online resources such as the Florida State Gas Prices website, GasBuddy Florida, or State Of Florida.
Have a Plan B
As we stated earlier, this Thanksgiving weekend is going to be very busy on the road, anything can happen (weather, fire, roadkill) on the way that can slow down traffic, and people won’t necessarily be at their best in terms of patience or carefulness. All these factors will inevitably lead to more accidents than usual, which means that your preferred route just might happen to be available right when you need it.
That is why it’s best to ahead for alternate routes in order to avoid getting blocked off, or seriously delayed. The last thing you want is more stress or having to speed up just because you’re running awfully late.
You’re much better off driving at 50mph an extra 10 or 20 miles than going crazy in traffic even for just one hour. Use Mappy, Google Maps, Waze, or your native mobile phone map app to plan for alternate routes to your Thanksgiving gathering.
Also before you go, make sure to check the official website of Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), on which you can click “My Routes” and see what alternative routes are available to you from point A to point B, and back.
This could save you lots of time and aggravation in highly congested areas such as The Palmetto Expressway (one of the most heavily traveled roads the entire U.S.), which won’t get any bettter with the excess of travelers flying or driving to and from Miami for the holiday.
Get An Early Start
As far as Thanksgiving traveling goes, your holiday trip can vary from a normal weekday commute to record-breaking traffic jams, depending on what day and time you take the road. Traffic increases as much as 300% and the number of accidents doubles in average if you drive at the worst times.
Tuesday is a good day to take off, especially if you get started early (before 10 a.m.) in which case you will mostly breeze through for most of your trip.
Wednesday is the worst day for driving, with traffic peaking from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m, and generally pretty clogged up between 10 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Traditionally on Thanksgiving, Thursday is actually, and by far, the less busy day of the holiday, so if you can make a last minute ditch to auntie’s family reunion, chances are you are much better off traffic-wise than on any other day, and even better if you start off early.
Keep in mind that Friday is of course Black Friday, so you definitely want to avoid shopping centers and busy city areas.
Finally, choose Saturday or preferably Monday for your return trip, but avoid Sunday at all costs, as traffic gets really crazy for the most part of the day.
In any event and regardless of the day, the earlier you get on the road, the better, even if that means waking up at 5 a.m.! In any event on all days avoid the Noon / 5 p.m. time slot whenever you can.
Avoid the big shopping areas
As mentioned right above, driving around shopping areas on Black Friday can seriously lengthen your driving time, and more importantly also means you must be extra careful at every turn.
Sleepy eyed early birds in cruise control, testy shoppers looking for that perfect parking spot, and pedestrians carrying armloads of bags don’t mix so well, especially in busy city areas and parking lots. Keep your eyes open and check your mirrors often.
All of the nine Premium outlets malls in Florida will have special opening hours for Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, and when we say special we mean extra long crazy opening hours, with many not closing at all during that time!
Miromar Outlets (Estero), Vero Beach Outlets, Tampa Premium Outlets (Lutz), Ellenton Premium Outlets (Naples), and Silver Sands Premium Outlets (Destin) will roughly go around the clock starting Thursday evening.
Dolphin Mall (Miami), and Sawgrass Mills (Sunrise) will give you a little bit of respite if you happen to drive by early morning on Friday.
In Orlando, Outlet Marketplace, Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets, and Orlando International Premium Outlets, will also be open for pretty much 24 straight hours of shopping.
You can find a list of Florida’s premium outlets and their opening hours here.
Keep Your Cool
High traffic, congested highways, out-of-state travelers, overcrowded airports, hectic shopping errands, speeding latecomers, and even more drunk drivers than ever, Thanksgiving has it all to make your holiday trip a complete nightmare.
In all circumstances, be patient and keep cool, this is the best you can do for yourself and your travelling companions. As a driver, your unwavering patience, complete understanding and perfect behavior will be contagious to all, creating a restful and peaceful environment for all those around you.
Have a good night of sleep and take the time for a nice long shower before you departure. Since you followed our tips, you will be perfectly prepared for the upcoming traffic storm and avoid any unnecessary road rage.
If you do hit a really bad traffic snag, just drive off for a bit and find some place to relax, have a nice cup of joe or simply explore the surrounding areas to cool off and wait for a better time. You might just find a nice place, discover something new, or meet great people just like you that know that the most important is to get from point A to point B safe and sound, no matter how long it takes.