Saturday, October 27, 2012

Snowbird-ing with Hittheroad - my free road trip from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale.

The road trip: 

The car: A 2003 Jaguar sedan

Max km's: 2,900
Time limit: 3.5 days

Day 1 - 15/10/12 Toronto to Washington

For the last two nights I had been couch surfing with Adam in Toronto, and being a Sunday night he had to leave for work early in the morning... meaning day one of road trip number two began at a very bright and busy tailed 5:45am. Lucky I'm a morning person! Adam printed out the 3 copies of the contract and the info regarding crossing the border into the US. I was still waiting on paperwork from HitTheRoad - there was a hold up on the documents I required to cross the border from Canada to the USA, but being a flexible traveller I wasn't too concerned, and planned to stop at the HI Niagara Falls Hostel (as a last resort) to get some wifi and print what I needed.

I had rang Naomi (the owner of the car) the previous afternoon to organize a pick up the and find out her location. She wasn't as close to downtown Toronto as I expected, and the journey involved a 40 minute subway ride to the end of the line, followed by a 15 minute bus trip. We agreed on a meeting time of 8am, so I could try and make Washington before dark. However, growing up in a country-bumpkin world (where nothing exists underground), my lack of metro map reading skills resulted in the pick-up time being pushed back to 9am. In my defense I did take it in the right direction.. 'North'.. but it was kind of the wrong line! Oh well haha, lesson learnt and no harm done, I contacted Naomi to let her know and she was totally OK with my late arrival. We went over the car, which was an immaculate 2003 Jaguar X Type sedan, and filled out the 3 copies of the contract. I was on the road towards the HI Niagara Falls Hostel at about 10:30am after having a good look over my map.

The road trip from Toronto to Niagara Falls was a little hectic, but easy to follow with the numbered highways. I arrived at the hostel around lunch time, had a bite to eat and they very kindly let me use their internet and printer for free. The US border documents finally came through, and I was back on the road at about 2:30pm. My first sightseeing stop was (of course) Niagara Falls. There was limited parking close by, so I just pulled into the first available spot. The falls are spectacular, and I could only imagine how much better they would have been if the sun was out. I wish I had of had about half an hour to explore, instead of five minutes, but I was able to get a few photos before someone official ticketed my car for not paying to park there!


I jumped back in the car and made my way to the Buffalo border. op My instructions were to enter the US through the truck lane, which was quite amusing in a Jaguar! I triple check that I had all the paperwork in order while I waited in line. 

I was stopped by the first official I saw, who questioned whether I was in the wrong lane... luckily David had given me a magnet to put on the outside of the car which made explaining things a whole lot easier! Going through the gates at customs was also quite funny... being designed for trucks, the guy that had to look at my documents was so high in his little cubicle that I could barely pass the paperwork to him from the ground! He asked more questions then I expected and was a little suspicious of the delivery - but after explaining to him the situation as best I could he sent me off to immigration. I waited again, and was served by a bubbly male American official that couldn't stop talking about Summer Heights High haha - Go Chris Lilley!

My advice on crossing the border?

- Have all the documents organized and placed on top of each other in this order:
1. Coversheet (ACE Minifest)
2. Form 3299 (Don't forget to sign it at V&VI
3. Photocopy of the owners passport (and visa if required)
- Make sure you have cash on you - I was charged $6, the border crossing fee.
- Any passengers you are taking with you MUST be declared to HitTheRoad.
- Complete an online USA VISA waiver at least a day prior to crossing the border. It will cost you $14.
- Have your passport ready
- Know the FULL name of the owner of the car - and be prepared to answer questions like 'How do you know the owner of this car?'
- Have all the accommodation stops for your trip organized and printed on a sheet of paper that includes the addresses and phone numbers of the particular hostels/hotels. If you have no idea where you are staying, make one anyway. It makes you look organized, professional and less suspicious to the US Officials. 
- If you are passing through the US, it is also handy to have your departing documentation (e.g. flight itinerary to the next country)

By the time I had successfully passed through immigration it was 5pm, and the darkness was creeping up on me. I still had a lot of ground to make up, so I soldiered on to Washington, making a few stops for gas, munchies and coffee along the way. The US definitely has an abundance of gas stations (unlike some parts of Canada), so you won't have to worry about running out of gas before you hit the next town! I arrived at the HI Washington Hostel at 3am, and was really happy to finally be in a bed. 

The only problem was that I never drink coffee - EVER - and had decided to give it a try on the road to see if it would help keep me awake. It was a good and bad idea... Sarcastically speaking I could have made it to Charleston that night the way my mind was racing! Then again I was a little stressed as I had no idea where I was going the next day - and I had to make sure I woke up and moved the car before 8am to avoid being ticketed. 

Day 2 - 16/10/12 Washington to Charleston

Another early-ish start to day two, as I had to be up to move the car into a parking lot before 8am. I was hit with an $18 parking fee to park underground for a few hours, but it didn't worry me too much as it took the pressure off to do some more research on my next destination. 

I had originally had my sights set on visiting the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It was the only thing that I really wanted to see on this trip, plus I had been missing the beach soooo much, and had found out about the National Park through a site that suggested must-see places along the east coast. The only problem was that I had to negotiate two ferries to get back on the mainland. The first ferry wasn't going to be a problem - it left every hour. The second one however, had a duration of two and a half hours and the last departure was at 8pm - plus you had to make a reservation. I would be cutting it pretty fine to get there by 8pm... and figured that there is no point going there if I've got to rush through. I couldn't find any hostels either, so I decided with much disappointment (at the time) to make my next stop at Charleston. There really aren't many hostels around south east USA, and this particular hostel in Charleston was within perfect driving distance from Washington. I organized my map so I knew where I was going and phoned them to make a reservation. 

Before I left Washington I wanted to see the White House. I got directions and a basic map from reception at the hostel and left to find a car park. I have never witnessed such unskillful driving in all my life! No offense, but majority of people that drive in downtown Washington... are terrible to say the least - or perhaps its the country background coming out of me again! Anyway, after having to detour from an accident (surprise, surprise haha) I finally found a park, fed the meter and headed for the White House.


It wasn't as big as I thought it would be, as the buildings around it were huge. It was very surreal to stand in front and imagine what the area would have looked like if those terrorists were successful all those years ago. Anyway, I got some nice photos and headed back to the car to get the hell out of there. It was too city-ish for my liking. 

It felt like I was on the road FOREVER on this leg of the trip! I really don't know why - maybe because I was a little tired from the road trip the day before, or maybe because this stretch of the 95 was pretty boring. There wasn't much to see or do - like Canada with its many Provincial Parks and stunning scenery. I stopped at a few of the Welcome Centers along the way to stretch my legs and refuel. 

I arrived at the Notso Hostel in Charleston about 9:50pm. It was such a relief to be able to park in a nice private driveway for FREE! Bryant, who was working that night, showed me to my dorm room in a separate building. It was a lovely double story cottage, and I was lucky enough to get a dorm room to myself. I had an amazing sleep, and was up early for breakfast the next day. 


Day 3 - 17/10/12 Charleston to St Augustine

I met a French traveller at breakfast, and Bryant joined us as well. It was a lovely setting to meet other backpackers - we all sat at the kitchen table as if we were family. Bryant talked about the hostel he started in Costa Rica (called The Lazy Loft), and I told him all about HitTheRoad and the amazing country I had crossed delivering cars. I mapped out my next destination after finding about her hostel in St Augustine that morning. It was called the Pirate Haus Inn. After breakfast I quizzed Bryant on whats good to do and see in Charleston, and he offered to give me a tour, as long as we got coffee on the way.

We jumped in the car and drove around Charleston for a good half hour or so, and he took me on a short but awesome little tour. 




Charleston really is a gorgeous city. I would love to go back one day and spend a decent amount of time there, as there was just too much history to take in and see in one or two days. Bryant had to be back at the hostel to work at 12:30pm, so I dropped him back and he showed me how to get back on the 95. 

I didn't have a long drive ahead of me, it was about 5 hours or so to St Augustine - so not too far as compared with the previous few days! I stopped off at a few of the Welcome Centers again, buying mixed nuts to keep me occupied while I drove. 

I arrived in St Augustine around 5:30-6pm, and the Pirate Haus Inn was very easy to find. I managed to find a car park a few blocks from the hostel, which is a difficult thing to do in St Augustine. It is a very touristy little town, and I was told it's the oldest in the USA. The town is gorgeous though. I had unfortunately picked a bad time to check-in, as the guy who was working reception had gone out for an hour. I rang him to let him know I had arrived, and I was able to chill out in the cozy little lounge area until he returned.


I would definitely recommend this particular hostel, especially if you are after something with a little family feeling to it. While I was there it definitely had no party atmosphere, and the staff were very friendly. I met a really cool man called Dennis in the lounge area, and we talked for ages about the most random of things, including ghosts! He told me some amazing stories, how wherever he went the playful spirits would seek him out. He is a blacksmith, and in his old workshop he used to have one particular ghost that would remove all his tools during the night and scatter them everywhere, without making one sound. We shared some really crazy stories, but both decided to head to bed before it got too late. 

Day 4 - 18/10/12 St Augustine to Hallandale Beach

I was up early for the amazing pancake breakfast put on by the hostel. Conrad made the most artistic pancakes. He made me a very personalized one - it was definitely the coolest pancake I had every eaten! They told me the all-you-can-eat record was held by an Aussie guy. Of course it was... He made it to 22 pancakes! I thought about challenging his record, but decided to stop at three as I didn't want to feel like crap for the rest of the day!

I looked at my maps again for the last leg of the trip, and phoned the owners to confirm the drop of location, and work out a rough arrival time. We decided on 4pm. So I was back on the road again. Before the traffic became too hectic, I pulled off the highway and into one of the smaller cities to find a car wash. I gave the gorgeous Jag a good was and a vacuum, to make sure it was returned in mint condition. The traffic became very busy the closer I got to Fort Lauderdale, and all I had on my mind was 'exit 18, exit 18, exit 18!' I rang the owner again to say I would probably be another half hour, as the traffic had slowed me down a bit. I finally came to exit 18 and made my way to the drop off destination. It was a little difficult to see the numbers on the massive high rise apartments, and it took me two laps to find the right one. After arriving I met the receiving owners at reception. 


They were three lovely women, and they invited me up to their room. I was given fruit, pizza and a bottle of water, as well as the agreed cash for the safe delivery. Tiki, who insisted on driving me to my hostel, had a shower and then we all headed down to inspect the car and sign the contracts.

Tiki appeared with her car, so I jumped in and we went off to find the Hollywood Beach Hostel. It was on the same road (but an hours walk North), so it didn't take too long in the car. They offered me to hang out with them the next day, and I said I would ring them to find out where to meet. 

The hostel was in a great location, but I really wouldn't recommend anyone to go there. I had a dorm room all to myself, but the room hadn't been cleaned from the last guests. I guess its just luck I'm not a fussy person! The shower couldn't decide whether it wanted to be hot or cold, they had no tourist map to show you what to do nearby... they required a $50 deposit - I have no idea what for - and their after hours service was appalling. A fellow guest's key would not work for his room and he was locked out all night. He said he had called the hostel and the after hours number with no response. So a word of advice - don't stay there! I called Tiki's number the next day but there way no answer unfortunately. So I spent my time exploring the boardwalk, chilling on the beach, eating amazing food and organizing my bag for my flight to Peru.


Mission #2 completed! Thanks again HitTheRoad - If I had of flown from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale like I planned, I never would have met the amazing people I got to meet on this road trip, or find the amazing places I found! Looking forward to the next adventure... maybe I will be back to do it all again in Spring!


Red Hunt said...

Cool review, glad you had a successful trip! I had an unfortunate experience with Hit the Road and have heard a number of horror stories since then! Check my review on my site, if interested.

Flora@Travel said...

This is definitely some advice I’m going to be using as I prepare to travel to USA in September. Thanks for sharing!