Prepping for a 3,000* mile Road Trip: New Jersey to the Gulf Coast of Florida

After two massive International MX-5 Miata Road Trips where my car sat in the driveway in New Jersey, covered in snow. I’m about to embark on my biggest Road Trip yet… actually driving the car. This trip will be about 3,000 miles down the Eastern Seaboard starting from Northern New Jersey just outside of NYC all the way down to the Gulf Coast of Florida. Destination St. Pete followed by Sebring.

Instead of taking the most direct route down, I plan to divert a little out of the way, for two reasons… both equally important to me:

  1. to avoid the pot holes and generally bad road conditions in the Northeast, including the Beltway around Washington DC
  2. to avoid all the tolls in the Northeast along i95 corridor, which based on my last trip to Northern Virginia were around $100! bux (round trip)

This post will also serve as a check list of sorts to help me prep for the trip. Considering how tiny the Miata is with luggage space I’ll really have to optimize the room I have to bring along all the necessities which include my camping gear for Sebring. It will likely take up the most space.

The easiest things to bring along is plastic! And as the photo above shows I did stock up on almost every possible fuel gift card/gas card available. I used eBay to buy discounted gift cards for brands I knew I would encounter along the way as well as those that I could finish using back home if I didn’t get use them up on the road. Frankly I hope I don’t use up all the value of the cards while travelling because theoretically there’s far more money than the amount of fuel I will need to purchase. (3,000 miles, 30 mpg, 300 miles on tank, 3 or 4 fill ups each way, plus about 2 tanks of local use, at $25 – $30 per fill up) The cards I chose are BP – my favorite option at home, also Shell, Sunoco, Exxon-Mobil and Speedway. In addition to the 5% discount eBay offered I used the discounted eBay gift cards to purchase these gas cards so the total discount was around 10%, which is much better than nothing. Additionally BP gives me 10 cents back per gallon for every $100 I spend on fuel to be used cumulatively for a one time fill of up to 20 gallons. And Shell has a new promotion where I’ll earn 25 cents off per gallon on one fill up of 8 gallons or more, purchase. Pretty significant savings even if the current price of fuel is relatively cheap.

One last comment on fuel. As a big endurance fan the ideal of fuel windows and conservation strategy is a big deal. The fuel window will really play an important role on my trip. Because I will be somewhat pressed for time to arrive in St. Petersburg, Florida before noon on Thursday, March 10, I have to make sure I don’t waste too much time looking for a gas station off the highway. The optimal solution would be to get fuel every 300 miles or so, since that’s what my highway fuel mileage should dictate. Of course it makes more sense to get fuel cheaply in Virginia than West Virginia or South Carolina vs. Georgia. So I’ll adjust the fuel strategy a little bit to make sure I get the minimal amount of stops with the most cost effective fuel options out there. Having some play with the choice of fuel from BP, Shell, Sunoco, Speedway or Exxon-Mobil should help with this strategy. I would like to try to avoid buying fuel from a no-brand name gas station. But we’ll see I guess.

Now to the check list. As mentioned earlier the tent and other camping gear will take up most of my free space. The trunk of the Miata is already full with the RX-8 spare which I’m hoping I will not have to use, but should something happen at least I’m prepared. I plan to take the bare minimum of clothes, maybe one backpack full, but I will bring a few pairs of shoes in case it rains in Florida which it most probably will. This way I’ll have something comfortable to change into. The one thing I normally take on my trips like to Upstate New York or New England, I plan not to bring at all: food. I will avoid taking more than what I need specifically for the drive down because I can easily stock up on food and water along the way or at the destination. I’m definitely not taking any gallon jugs of water or tea which I normally take, because it’s just dead weight.

Based on my calculations the optimal way to go will be via i78 into Pennsylvania where I’ll pick up i81 all the way down through Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, then i77 from North Carolina into South Carolina where I will spend the night at a motel in Columbia after about 12 hours of driving. The final stint will be an easy 8 hour drive from South Carolina to Georgia via i26 and down i95 into Florida where I’ll probably take i20 just south of Jacksonville and i75 into the Tampa Bay area, depending on the local traffic at the time. If I leave early enough I just might make registration in time to be on track on the St. Pete GP street circuit to watch PWC GT cars practice. But IF I don’t, I will definitely arrive there in time to watch them practice as a spectator and maybe even take some pictures for the blog.

Concerns for the trip aren’t many other than worrying about any road debris hitting the car while driving. Stormy weather could be an issue especially up in the mountains. Pot holes of course. As well as parking safety when I leave the car overnight at the motel in SC or while at the events in Florida. But given that I don’t typically take out extra insurance coverage when I rent cars, I should be OKAY driving my personal car this distance. Should take it easy for the trip, avoid speeding and stick to driving during the day time so I can actually see the obstacles in front of me. Should be an awesome trip!

I am very excited!