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We are set to leave in a week and a day. Today is May 28, 2020 and I am preparing to take my family 1,306 miles to a better life. I feel like someone out of colonial times. Or a refugee. Or the Byrde’s in Ozark.
But alas, we are just a regular, middle-class American family making a bold move in strange times. My emotions are ALL. OVER. THE. PLACE and I plan to document this day by day. I guess my hope is to have this sort of electronic journal of this crazy period, and to inform and inspire those who need it.
And maybe just to share my story. Keep reading for some random musings on road tripping, hotel staying and busting through a Florida quarantine in the times of COVID-19.
Road Trip, Hotel Stays and Driving into Florida during the Coronavirus Pandemic
Warning: This account represents my personal experience (and feelings) regarding travel during the Coronavirus pandemic. As always, consult local authorities regarding travel and do your research to ensure you are making the safest choices for you and your family.
May 28, 2020 – I should have started this journal about a week ago. That’s the day we finalized the decision to get the hell out of here. So, I guess I need to catch you all up on the back story before I go any further.
Here, in the suburbs of New York City, we have been on stay at home orders since I think it was March 14. March 13, 2020 was the last day my kids went to school, last night we ate in a restaurant and basically the last “normal” day. On May 27, my region of New York State entered Phase 1 of the re-opening process which basically includes … not much. Some construction and manufacturing could resume, along with non-essential retail businesses for curbside pick-up only.
This is around the same time many other states have been well into their re-opening plans. I see social media reminders of people out there doing things, living their lives and honestly I’ve had a hard time with it. In fact I’ve had to consciously stay off social media because I feel like I’m living in a foreign land!
Last week, we received some news we were really hoping would not come. Both our pool club and our camp – the two things we pretty much revolve our year around – were not opening this summer due to COVID restrictions.
I was definitely thrown for a loop by this! I think I had put stock in SOMETHING being open in SOME CAPACITY. It was really a blow to get that info in back to back days and suddenly realize we had a long stretch of nothing ahead of us. Sitting home, playing in our tiny yard, going for walks around our neighborhood. It seemed the rest of the summer we would pretty much be doing what we have been doing for three months – for the next 3.5 months.
Now I know there are people with real problems out there, but I was devastated.
Immediately we were flung into plan B. Although we didn’t quite have a plan B.
We looked at buying an Intex pop up pool from a neighbor who was selling one. We went to her house to see it set up, then chalked out our yard to see if it would fit. It would have – but it would have taken up our entire yard. Ultimately, I knew sitting in a 36” pop up pool was not how I wanted to spend my summer. So, we started to talk more seriously about our next move.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you know SW Florida is my happy place. I would move there in a heartbeat and I think that plan long term is more of a consideration after everything that has affected our densely populated NYC suburb. But that’s a story for another time.
As Memorial Day weekend approached, it became clear that getting out of New York was an option we needed to explore. We had talked on and off about fleeing – to Georgia, the Carolinas, but Naples was not on the spring discussion table because my parents were occupying their house there. BUT they were set to come back the last week of May, so we inquired about coming down.
I begged them to stay in Florida. Especially after I looked at the COVID numbers. Their county in Florida had 1/35th of the amount of total COVID cases as ours back home, in a place 5x the size with only a ¼ of the population. Seemed like a no-brainer for them to stay, but they were adamant about coming back to New York and encouraged us to consider coming down.
Hubby and I talked it over and realized the best chance of our kids having a fun summer (aka a summer off devices) was to head to Florida for the foreseeable future. My husband was begging me for a change of scenery, it seemed like we would be among way less COVID cases and my adventurous nature (which has sat dormant for 3 months) was stoked to be planning a trip!
Of course, my anxiety was THROUGH. THE. ROOF.
I was anxious about packing. The trip itself (its 22 hours of driving and I am the only driver in my family). Staying in two hotels along the way. What would be open on the highway in terms of gas, restroom and food? Would living in a condo half the size of our house be a good move? Would Florida be too hot? Too rainy? Would a second wave approach? Would newly opened things shut again? But most of all, above all else, I worried about…
Yes, as I write this on May 28, there is still a fourteen day quarantine in place for NY/NJ/CT (and LA) residents who travel to Florida.
Man do I have feelings on this.
Of course, I want to get rid of COVID. As a family, we have done our part to flatten the curve. For the first 10 weeks of this, my kids and husband did not leave our house. I left for very infrequent trips to the grocery store, pharmacy and liquor store (hey, essentials, people!).
In the last two weeks or so, we have eased up a bit. Doing more take out, seeing a few friends from a distance, and going to the stores on a more regular basis i.e. No more panic/overbuying and just shopping like normal for a week at a time.
But something about this “quarantine” really struck a nerve with me.
First of all, I am such a rule follower. To a fault. I need to, as a woman in her early 40s, get over this. Fear of “getting in trouble” almost made call off this trip.
We aren’t doing anything wrong.
We do not have COVID, have not come in contact with anyone who has. We do not have symptoms. We have stayed home, wear our masks and wash our hands ALL THE TIME.
We are traveling in our private vehicle, to a private residence, owned by a family member.
Last I checked the US DOES NOT have domestic borders and we can travel freely throughout the nation.
I get public health. No one wants to get COVID and given the way it spreads fast, through the air, and anonymously, the opening up of America is really testing our freedoms. As I write this, there seem to be some other problems here in our great nation – riots, looting, and total injustice.
Blood boiling. There are much more pressing issues in this country than my family heading to Florida.
May 29, 2020
Now that I’m a bit over my fears and anxiety – for now – I’ve gone into planning mode.
Travel Planning. My bread and butter.
Today I wanted to finalize mapping out our travel route and book our hotels.
I have driven from New York to Florida countless times. Back in January I drove to Orlando all in one day, and on other trips, I’ve done it with more sightseeing stops! We are planning to take three days to drive, with two nights in a hotel along the way.
The entire trip to SW Florida is 22 hours of driving. Given the whole Florida quarantine situation, I wanted to stop the second night right before the Florida line, which would put us in South Georgia with about 6.5 hours to drive the last day.
Florida is long, y’all – Naples is about 6 hours from the Florida/Georgia border!
Since we were going to stop in southern Georgia, I figured this would be a good opportunity check out one of the coastal Georgia islands (and stay in a nice resort in that area). A few weeks ago, I had a client interested in getting out of dodge, and I was looking at some resorts for her in Jekyll Island, Georgia. Even back in mid-May, the properties were accepting out of state guests, and had full amenities available as Georgia was one of the first states to open up their economies.
Since I am a Marriott trained Travel Agent, I get deep discounts to enjoy their properties. I choose the Westin Jekyll Island because I wanted a resort experience, not just a road side hotel. Before booking, I made sure to call the hotel and confirm they were taking out of state guests, and to find out what amenities would be available. I also booked a rate that is refundable up until 24 hours before check in. I know this is a BIG WAY in which booking travel will change because of the pandemic, but with all that has happened in the last few months, we know anything is possible!
Honestly, I cannot wait! In a week I will be at a resort, with a pool, beach, hot tub, restaurant and bars. I keep saying to hubby this is like going from 0 to 60 but I am pretty excited!
For the first night, I booked a roadside Hampton Inn in Fayetteville, North Carolina. So that gives us about 9 hours of driving the first day, 5 hours in day two and 6.5 on day three. The first night we plan to just check in and sleep. I called the Hampton, again to make sure they were accepting out of state guests and although their Hampton breakfast is being offered, no other amenities (pool, fitness room) are open.
Heading to Florida – Then check out:
May 31, 2020
Hubby has been good about getting his ducks in a row to take off for the foreseeable future. I however, need to get my butt in gear.
Today I spent some time sitting down with lists. Feels good to be back in the travel game, but my anxiety about this Florida quarantine is still high. Trying to at least get excited for a change of scenery and the thought of staying at a resort in Georgia next week has me really excited!
The lists I made today:
- Road trip packing – I’d like to have one bag for the two nights in the hotels
- Car items – Snacks and entertainment for the kids. I’ll probably bring a cooler for drinks.
- Florida items – Divided into categories – stuff for me, baby girl, little man, and home stuff. I know there are things I’d “like” to bring, but might not have room for (kitchen supplies, the beach chairs I like, my Nespresso) but I think I’ll have to pack the essentials and see what we have room for!
- Things to do – Get the car serviced, replant my plants, finish up some work in my office. Besides packing, there actually isn’t that much to do which is nice.
- Instacart/Publix list for when we arrive. And damn that list is long! We will probably arrive at the house late in the day next Sunday, so might set up a grocery order for that night or early Monday morning. Trying to just stay organized…
June 2, 2020
Today I wanted to get started packing but my anxiety was so high – not even about my trip, but about all the protests happening around the New York area, and one that was to be happening in my neighborhood around 6pm.
I selfishly figured the FL National Guard would have more to worry about then my family’s quarantine in the state, but then I felt selfish for seeing some good in this.
Just being honest here. All the emotions.
Ultimately, I did get some packing done – my clothes. It felt nice to pull out my fun summer dresses and tops and imagine eating in restaurant and visiting some of the amazing waterfront spots to dine in Naples.
I did look into changing our North Carolina hotel, since it seems that Fayetteville is experiencing protests and has a curfew, but our hotel is right on the highway and the actual city seems to be 15 minute west of I-95. I think I am going to call the hotel tomorrow just to be sure.
Another good reason to book a refundable hotel! If it’s not a global pandemic, its nationwide protests. Ugg 2020, can we get a do-over?
June 4, 2020
Today has been anxiety on steroids – between the helicopters going all night, to having to pack, to our AC busting on the hottest day as of yet! Ugg what a day. But I did get all my packing done, managed to clean out the fridge and pantry, and go say good bye to our neighbors.
Protests were happening all around my house (I live on block in from a main street where the marches were taking place) and the unnerving swirl of the helicopters overhead! Not sure if it makes me more anxious to leave, or more apt to stay.
Well tomorrow is the day. We hope to leave around 8am, hoping there is not much traffic and its weird to think this is the furthest we will have traveled from home in 3 months! I packed lots of snack and made myself a lunch, but I am kind of excited to being doing something normal like a road trip, and staying in a hotel!
JUST UPDATED OCTOBER 2020: What its like to visit the Caribbean during COVID, my Antigua Trip Report.
June 5, 2020
Its 8PM and a curfew just went into effect for Fayetteville, NC where we are staying at a Hampton Inn off I-95. We left our house at 8am, and got to the hotel a little after 6pm.
The road trip/driving/being in the car all day listening to podcasts was like a normal family road trip. The kids watched a ton of movies and I listened to a few episodes of Here’s The Situations and The Mom Hour.
What wasn’t totally normal were our few stops. We stopped at a rest area in NJ – I forget which one, but I just ran in to go to the bathroom. Some vendors at the rest area were open (for take away) but Starbucks was not. Masks were required for entry, and it was funny that one girl had a napkin over her face (maybe coming from a less mask intense area?).
For lunch, I had packed food for me (cause I was trying to eat healthy I made a low cal egg salad) and for the kids (because they are picky and they love bagels which is just easy to throw in the backseat) but we needed to get hubby food and find somewhere to actually eat.
We pulled off in VA, just passed DC and got gas, and headed to a McDonald’s. Initially we were in the drive through line, but hubby realized he could go in and order (but we could not eat inside).
I pulled into the parking lot, near a strip of grass and set up our beach chairs and we had a little picnic. It was hot (how I like it) and pretty relaxing honestly! If I had realized we were so close to a VA rest stop, we could have gone there and used the picnic tables. We passed the VA Welcome Center right after we got back on the highway!
The rest of the ride was pretty normal road trip stuff. When we arrived at our hotel, we donned our masks and went to check in. It was weird to see “social distancing stickers” and face shields at the counter, and so much of the lobby was roped off. It was interesting to see how staying in a hotel during a pandemic would pan out.
For example, the store was roped off, although you could purchase items through the front desk. In the evening, the breakfast seating area was closed, although the area will be open for a “limited menu” Hampton Inn breakfast tomorrow morning. The pool and fitness center are sadly closed.
For dinner, I ordered carry-out from the Pizza Hut across the street. It was contactless pick up, and honestly it was delicious, but we had to make do eating in our standard hotel room. Luckily I had packed a roll of paper towels in the car, because the Pizza Hut woman said they couldn’t give out plates.
I was smart to pack a little bottle of champagne I had, so I am enjoyed that as I type out this diary! I think it’s time to relax and watch a movie. I can’t believe we are in a hotel!
I love hotels!
Tomorrow, on to Georgia!
June 6, 2020
I woke up early and went down to the Hampton Inn lobby for coffee. Thanks to my friend, Rob from 2Traveldads, I never use in room coffee makers anymore (they are so environmentally unfriendly) and honestly lobby free coffee is always better quality than in room free coffee.
In the lobby, there were dots to stand on to help with social distancing and the lobby attendant was happily pouring coffee for guests.
After dressing and eating some of our own food in the room, we checked out the breakfast area at the Hampton. There was a line to get in and one lady was handing out cereal, yogurt, fruit and serving hot breakfast to guests.
This seemed like a good compromise between having a complimentary breakfast and following social distancing guidelines.
Around 8am we got on the road. The ride to Jekyll Island, Georgia was pretty easy. Especially because we only had to briefly stop for me to go to the bathroom. We pulled over at a SC rest area – which is an area that includes restrooms and picnic tables. It was quickly clear we were no longer in the Northeast as I was the only person wearing a mask and there were no signs of coronavirus restrictions anywhere.
Lack of Corona effects were even more evident as we pulled onto Jekyll Island. We rolled through a little main street area, people were everywhere, stores were bustling and NO ONE was wearing a mask.
When we pulled up to the Westin, the valet attendant (who could not actually park your car due to COVID) was wearing a mask, as were the other employees of the hotel, but no one else.
Well, except us.
After we parked and gave our luggage to the front desk (our room wasn’t ready yet) we walked into what was essentially the twilight zone.
It was like COVID-19 had never happened.
It was a totally normal day at a beachside resort.
People lounging by the pool.
Too many people in the hot tub.
Folks having lunch beachside.
It was GLORIOUS and what we had spent two days driving to get to!
We sat at a table, took off our masks, and for the first time since the night of March 13, sat in a restaurant where a server served us food and drinks.
It was FREAKING AWESOME.
Well, actually it was a little weird.
I knew this stop in Georgia was going to feel like going from 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds and it really was.
We did keep our distance from others, used lots of hand sanitizer, and wore our masks while walking through public indoor spaces.
But the rest of the day, the kids played in the pool, we sat in lounge chairs, and ordered drinks! We went in the hot tub and down to the beautiful beach.
In the evening, we showered, put on nice clothes and walked about 10 minutes up to the beach to Tortuga Jack’s, a Mexican, tiki-bar restaurant.
Again, it felt great to sit at a restaurant, order food and drinks and just have some sense of normalcy! None of the patrons (even those inside the restaurant) were wearing masks and the servers were wearing them, but many had them half hanging off their faces… I guess this non-mask requirement culture is our “new, new normal.”
After dinner we walked back to the hotel and watched some American Ninja Warrior, previously recorded of course.
I then started going down the internet/social media rabbit hole of trying to find someone’s first-hand account of traveling into Florida.
In checking google maps, I could see a snarl just south of the GA/FL line. I figured that was the I-95 checkpoint. I also learned that a day or two ago, FL lifted their quarantine for LA travelers.
At this point it was only NY-area folks being targeted.
The madness and unconstitutional-ness of this had my blood boiling.
I also learned that back in NY, our county had ZERO report COVID deaths for the day before. So happy to hear that stat, but worried, was I leaving a place getting rid of COVID and heading into a future hot spot? (Although FL cases have been on the rise, that seemed isolated to the Miami-Dade area, not the West Coast).
It still boggled my mind that there were no first-hand accounts, like blog posts or something, detailing a traveler’s experience with this FL quarantine. I found a post in a Long Island Facebook group where someone was inquiring about it, and the responses were all over the place – from its voluntary, on the honor system, and no big deal to tales of the National Guard knocking on people’s doors and asking them to leave the state.
I didn’t know what to think!
But still, it seemed like tomorrow we are heading into Florida where technically, no matter how you slice it, justify or unjustified it, we are supposed to self-isolate for 14 days.
I still don’t know what to think or expect, but here goes nothing!
June 7, 2020
Today was the big day! It started off very soggy. Instead of going for a much needed morning walk, I sat outside the Westin lobby drinking a giant cup of coffee while it poured rain. I continued to check for FL quarantine updates on my phone and track where the checkpoint might be.
I still considered maybe taking a back road into the state.
I was making myself nuts over this.
But alas, despite the monsoon, it was time to check out of our hotel and hit the road.
As we rolled out of Jekyll Island and onto I-95, we explained to the kids there might be a checkpoint when we enter Florida, and to not worry about it and just be quiet.
Hubby reminded me to be nice to whoever stopped us and to maybe, ummm keep my thoughts and feeling on this whole situation to myself.
As we headed south, I was honestly a little nervous. I don’t like confrontation, and I knew we weren’t doing anything wrong.
As we crossed the Florida line, it was a little anti-climactic. Three days of driving, almost 1000 miles in, finally in my happy state, and I wasn’t feeling as euphoric as I thought I would. Which then made me more mad for having that joy just squashed by some stupid scarlet letter I was wearing.
Or license plates on the car I was driving.
From my research, I knew the checkpoint was actually a few miles south of the actual FL/GA line. In fact, there was an exit you could take right when you got into Florida to depart 95, circumvent the checkpoint and go about your Florida ways.
Which I thought strange, and not the most effective.
As we headed into Florida, there were plenty of signs warning about the checkpoint ahead. Trucks to the left, cars the right.
As the rain came pouring down, we kept driving, waiting to be diverted right. I could see on my google maps that there were no slowdowns ahead.
Where was this checkpoint?
And then, I realized.
We had rolled right passed it.
Essentially, it was closed.
We could see it. It is located in a truck weigh station with pop up tents and the like – I had seen a bunch of pictures of it in all my research on this.
At this point, I didn’t want to say anything because I was like, maybe it’s up ahead. Maybe that wasn’t it?
But as we kept driving, it became clear that was it and it was all a big nothing.
I think hubby had the same thought because about a minute later, it was he who said, “I don’t think there’s a checkpoint.”
And that friends, was that.
For the entire rest of our five and half hour drive through Florida, going down I-95, I-295, I-10, I-75, not one sign singling out travelers from any particular area. Not one mention of a quarantine.
Hubby and I decided, as far as we can tell, we are free to go about our business.
Now this was just my experience. And seems to be in line with what I read in terms of some travelers did not experience a check point and some did.
I don’t know if the checkpoint was closed because it was a Sunday morning, and let’s face it, that’s the Lords day.
Maybe they keep Chick-fil-A hours?
Maybe it was closed because that Sunday morning saw tropical style rain. Like an ongoing monsoon? I mean the checkpoint was outdoors…
Or, maybe its done? About to be dismantled much like the one on I-10 when the travel ban against LA residents was lifted a few days ago?
Might have to update that in a few days, my friends.
But as for me, I am fairly settled in Florida. The drive was long and stressful, but the normalcy of it was inviting and weird. Having traveled, in such a short time, through so many states and their various phases of the ‘rona (and protests) was weird. It’s strange times we are living in and this was no exception.
What does the future hold for us? Well I don’t know. We will hang here in Florida until we can’t no more. Until then, we plan to live like locals here in the North Naples area – with plans to explore our vacation home backyard. I’m excited to check out my local favorites as well as new beaches, restaurants, state parks and maybe even some hotels in Naples.
We will continue to wear our masks in indoor public spaces and to practice social distancing and lots of hand washing. For sure we will enjoy outdoor dining (I mean its Florida!) but even though indoor dining is allowed here (at a small capacity) we might hold off on that for a while. Same with movies, bowling and those types of indoor activities, which have just reopened here in Florida. But at least I won’t feel so bad about having to go to the store, or wanting to run into Target to get little man a new swimsuit!
UPDATE: June 13, 2020 – one week in…
So we have been here almost a week and in general Florida life is good!
The kids still have school in the mornings, I’ve had to adjust my running/walking schedule to go earlier in the morning, and we have spent most afternoons at the community pool here in our neighborhood. Yesterday we ventured to the beach for the first time (non-resident restrictions have been lifted) and went out to dinner at one of our favorite Naples restaurants, Cirella’s.
I also snuck out for a much needed pedicure one afternoon.
So far the only signs of quarantine have been some outdated community notes posted on the condo association bulletin boards. I noticed them when I was out for my walk (and also looking at the postings of open houses in the area).
Which then made it awkward when folks at the pool, who obviously know we are new to town, we are in a tiny little condo enclave within a bigger gated community asked us where we were from.
Not wanting to go down that path, I basically said ” we came here from North Carolina” – which is not totally untrue.
It’s all so ridiculous honestly.
But I think the laid back Florida life, beautiful weather and abundance of palm trees has calmed me a bit and I just over it.
I think the world has bigger problems to deal with and things in New York are starting to open back up. They did a great job of flattening the curve – and this whole persona non grata with Florida is so unconstitutional, I’m not even sure how its legal.
Last update… June 21, 2020
Today is Father’s Day and day 16 in Florida. I kinda DGAF any more about this quarantine, we have done our time, taken our precautions and no one is sick. We are keeping an eye on the rising cases in the state of FL, although every time I check, the county I am currently in still has very low COVID cases.
This past weekend, hubby had off for Juneteenth, so with a long weekend, we booked a night at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point. Only about 20 minutes from where we are staying, but this hotel has a full on waterpark and it was on my Florida to-do list. Baby girl and I visited last January on a day pass, but I knew hubby and little man would love this hotel, and I wanted to check out the rooms and stay the night.
Before making the reservation (we used Chase Ultimate Rewards points for a free night), both hubby and I called the hotel to make sure there were no restrictions about us checking in.
When I called, the girl I spoke to was like “yeah this property has no restrictions, no quarantine.” Sweet words to my ears and we had a great two full days at the resort!
So I guess thats a wrap on this epic journal encompassing almost the last month of my life. Maybe I’m the only one reading this, but glad I got to document this experience and if you are still reading – thank you!
Has anyone else driven from the tri-state to Florida (Or into another state with a ‘quarantine’)? Are you starting to travel despite COVID-19? Please let me know in the comments below, and as always, be safe out there!