“The car is packed and we’re ready to go,” I said to my traveling companion BFF M as we prepared to head out on our girls’ road trip to Florida. Friends since high school, M and I have known each other for 50 years and now here we were, five decades later with more wisdom and wrinkles to show for it, journeying south. I was excited to be leaving New Jersey this winter to become a snowbird. “We’re like Thelma & Louise,” I joked to M, “can’t wait to see what adventures await.”
Since we are both retired, our plan was to take about four days to get to Florida. Our first stop would be Rocky Mount, North Carolina; then Savannah, Georgia for New Year’s; stay a night in St. Augustine, Florida, with a goal to reach our destination of Bonita Springs, Florida by January 2. Thankfully the weather cooperated better than my road trip south last February. Luckily timing was such that we missed the big ice storm on I95 in Virginia where cars were supposedly stalled overnight.
Rocking it to Rocky Mount, N.C.
It seemed like there was a mass exodus from the north during the final week of 2021. Perhaps due to Covid no one wanted to fly. Roadways around D.C. and Virginia were especially packed with cars. What should have taken 6 hours to the popular Florida road trip stop of Rocky Mount, N.C., instead clocked in at 7.5. (BTW we listened to TCM’s The Plot Thickens podcast about Lucille Ball during our daily drives. If you’re a Lucy fan I highly recommend it.)
Exhausted from the drive, we were glad to arrive at Homewood Suites before sundown. I had stayed at this Hilton brand before and liked it. The lodging is located right off the highway with clean rooms, two comfy queen-size beds, and a friendly staff. We were extra cautious due to Covid, masking up indoors, but felt totally safe with the Hilton CleanStay program. A hot breakfast is included in the price with yummy made-to-order waffles and omelets. Plus an Outback Steakhouse is right across the way for dinner or takeout meals.
Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Savannah
We left early the next morning for Savannah, Georgia. Unfortunately, we arrived in darkness after a 5 hour drive turned into 8. Kudos to M for doing all the driving that day. At times, traffic was at a standstill. Closer to Georgia we decided to venture off I95 which was a total mistake. Note: Never get off the highway or you might end up in Switzerland. That’s Switzerland USA!
This year, I booked a room for two nights at The Drayton Hotel so we could do some exploring in the Historic District. Passing up on valet parking (which we learned cost $42/night) we selected to keep our car across the street for only $12/night. By the time we completed check-in, we were eager to put our feet up on the hotel’s beautiful bed linens and relax.
Our guest room, while tiny, was renovated with design touches that reflected the original 19th Century building’s historic identity. The best part of The Drayton Hotel was it’s location – across from the waterfront and within prime walking distance to downtown’s shops, parks and restaurants.
I’m going to share more about our adventures in Savannah in an upcoming blog post. It was a great place to spend a few nights.
Making the homestretch with a stopover in St. Augustine
We left Savannah after breakfast on New Year’s Day and drove to St. Augustine. I like stopping in St. Augustine instead of driving straight through to Southern Florida (which is approximately 8 hours). St. Augustine is about 3 hours from Savannah and it helped to break up the homestretch of our road trip south.
We stayed at Historic Sevilla House which is quaint but quite costly lodging. The big benefit is that Sevilla provided onsite parking (which is hard to find in downtown St. Augustine) and is a few short blocks to St. George Street, considered to be the hub of the Nation’s Oldest City. Filled with tourists, St. George offers numerous shops, restaurants, art galleries and attractions for every age group.
Finding joy in Southwest Florida
M and I woke early Sunday morning and I put pedal to the medal, aiming to arrive at what would be my home away from home in Bonita Springs for winter 2022. M would be spending a month and I would be staying for three. We both smiled as I drove through the gated community. It was a warm, sunny day and the condo was as beautiful as the pictures appeared when I first found the listing on Realtor.com in March 2021.
I remember when I signed the condo lease – sight unseen. It was a thrilling yet chilling experience when my signature hit the paper. Thrilling because I knew that I really wanted this rental, chilling because I knew that it might, and ultimately did, break up my 12 year relationship with my ex-boyfriend L. He was so angry that I was ready to go out on my own for what I wanted.
As I did my morning walk today, I was engrossed in a podcast from author Cheryl Strayed. I walked slowly as I listened to Cheryl describe words from one of her Dear Sugar essays called “The Truth That Lives There.” (Note: To read Cheryl’s amazing answer to these letters scroll down the page after you click on it.) She said that it’s okay to say “This is the truth about what I feel and this is what I need for my life.”
I realized back on that March date, that by signing that lease I was saying those words to L and to myself: “This is the truth about what I feel and this is what I need in my life.”
Now 10 months later, I have no regrets. I know what brings me joy and I’m looking forward to, like my word for 2022 says, embrace it all. Stay tuned for more to come.