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Driving from Wisconsin to Florida

Updated: Feb 25, 2021

My brother and sister-in-law are interested in driving from Wisconsin's capital to Florida. Their daughter will be on board so with three drivers, they want to drive straight through. To that end, they reached out to us to get our feedback on some tips to help them accomplish their plan. My wife may have additional input but here are my suggestions:

It’s about 1,255 miles from Madison, WI to Lady Lake, Florida. Simple as that, if you want to maximize time, there are essentially only 2 routes, one that goes through Indiana and the other through Illinois. If you leave very early morning (VEM) in late March, I’d recommend Indiana even though their rest stops are pitiful; and bring your toilet tissue (and masks) as they’re not up to standards of rest stops in Wisconsin.

A few logistics, if you want to do this in one day from Madison, my recommendation is to leave between Midnight and 2 am (VEM). The first driver is critical at this point -- choose someone who doesn’t mind driving the first 4-5 hours in the dark while the other two in the car may be asleep. Sometimes, having a long late afternoon nap before driving might mean the first driver is wide awake and suited to drive at that hour. Anyway, this should only be done if the driver is awake and can handle the challenge.

Realize that it won’t get dark until 7ish in late March which is critical when you’re only hours away from your destination. I’ve found that it’s easier to drive in the dark during the first part of the trip, if you leave at 6 am, you might make it in one day but rest assured, your last 6 or more hours will be in the dark. If it rains, add another hour and points to the misery index.

If you do VEM, may I suggest driving on I-65 through Indiana? You’ll hit Chicago at 3 am with light traffic and avoid the travel speeds between trucks and cars (semi-trucks travel at a speed limit of 65 and cars have 5 mph more). That's why early morning through Indiana is the only time I'll drive through there on I-65. If your brave and drive through on the Indiana interstate in traffic, it can be infuriating with how long it may take a semi-truck to pass several other slower moving vehicles.

If you can sneak through Indiana early morning, then Kentucky roads will welcome travelers to predominately three lanes on Interstate 65. That's a positive thing as the majority of Indiana is only 2 lanes. Once you drive over the Ohio River, you’re welcomed to a toll bridge as you enter Louisville. We have not yet been ticketed so I believe the Illinois Fast Pass may work to pay that bridge toll driving in and out of Louisville.

Logistically, if you leave at 1 am from Wisconsin (that’s 2 am ET), the actual driving may take you roughly 18 hours and 30 minutes. In a perfect world, you could make it to Lady Lake, Florida by 8:30 pm (ET), but with 6 or 7 different stops and one for lunch or dinner, I’d add 2-4 hours to the trip so arrival may between 10 pm and Midnight (ET). You may arrive in Florida at roughly with the twilight sky, so the last 3 hours on a three-lane freeway may require night driving.

I’ve driven this trip at least 25 times over the last 20 years and the potential hot spot was always Atlanta. That hasn’t changed with traffic issues and accidents are commonplace all around Atlanta. However, if you find a traffic issue, Waze or Google Maps might help you find an alternate. With many bypasses, be aware of any potential Atlanta issues well before there are 6 lanes of traffic.

Recently, I’ve found driving through Chattanooga from Nashville to be as great of a challenge as through Atlanta. First, you’re dealing some mountains, tons of semi-trucks, curvy lanes, and a two-lane Interstate. It just seems too often a bottleneck around this area and it's not too hard to see why. Hand-held technology may assist in Tennessee but besides sometimes spotty cell coverage, in the midst of the mountains, few alternates are available. Driving through on a Sunday probably mitigates a swath of semi-drivers.

While we’re here, let’s talk about little tips to help you maximize your energy and attention to the road. I’ve found that very little eating helps me drive more attentively. With some caffeine, my body is not focused on digesting food so that energy has been transferred to my focus on the road, mile after mile. Sometimes, miles just tick off the chart, and other times, miles are a grind. If struggling, I may watch the mileage signs on the side of the road seeing the distance shrink from 12.5 to 12.4 to 12.3 and so on. If it takes focusing on different elements is something that the driver may be called to do.

Besides limited eating, I’ll have coffee and water during the entire trip. I lean towards a little dehydration but still pay close attention to my bodily needs as the trip progresses. Some need to eat to survive and function but I found a limited fast for about 20 hours is something my body can handle. My diet during a cross country drive doesn’t work for everyone. Therefore, my goal many years ago was to be inclusive towards my guests in the car. Just because I’m not hungry doesn’t mean we can’t get a Toasted Frontega Chicken or a Turkey Melt at Panera to go.

Based on my experience, breathing exercises help too, (for example, inhale for 8 seconds, hold for 16, and exhale for 4, or some other similar combinations) especially if you’re a little tired and your body may need some oxygenation. If done semi-effectively, you may find an energy bolt.

One comment about the weather, if you’re focused to leave on a Saturday but rain is forecasted for half the trip, could you leave a day earlier or later? Having a little flexibility on your departure day may be helpful in the long run as rain and traffic through the Smoky Mountains and the entire state of Georgia can make it seem the trip is never going to end.


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