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MA to FL driving along Route 81 / Appalachian Trail

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Hubby & I & our 2 cats will be driving from Attleboro, MA to Ocala, FL the week after Thanksgiving, November 2009. I have family there, and will visit with them while the weather up here is tough on my disability.

We want to stay overnight 2 nights in cat-friendly hotels/motels along the way. (I'd like to call some places ahead of time, to see who will accept cats.) We figure maybe we'll drive like 7 hours per day .... does that sound logical?

Question: I dread the thought of taking Route 95 all the way. The 18-wheelers scare me half to death. But I've also heard that Route 81 is just about as scarey with those big rigs.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

Note: We have travelled a couple of hours here & there with our cats, loose in the back of our 2-door car. They have not thus far attempted to come into the front seat. We will have two small cat carriers to tuck them into if we feel it becomes necessary, and I will also have 'cat dramamine' with us (given by the vet), in case they become nauseous en route.

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    A couple of safey concerns I have after reading your post. But first, I think you mean I80, not 81.

    I have driven both of these routes from north of Boston to North Carolina - so have some experience with the northern 2/3 of the trip. There are quite a few big rigs on either route - and the fact that they scare you to death scares me to death - neither route is one for traffic-fearful drivers. The added factor in the more western route (80) is that it is quite hilly in parts - so the trucks, doing their hill thing chug up the hill and then race down, sometimes ending up on your bumper if you are not keeping up with the prevailing speed (not merely the speed limit) - and the speed limit on 80 is higher than on I95 thru some of the route.

    However, there is usually less traffic in general on that route. There is somewhat less truck traffic on weekends on any road. Disadvantage to I95 is you have to time trip to avoid NYC rush hour and Baltimore/Washington rush hour - and that could be difficult.

    Weather - you are talking about early December since Thanksgiving is so late. Snow thru Pennsylvania and even western VA is a possibility - something to consider if you take I80.

    The cats - please do not let the cats be free range in the car - I have and love cats - but they can be unpredictable. Either invest in bigger cat carriers so they can nest in them - they will howl at first but will eventually settle down and sleep. Or if you can not do that, get one of those screen things that goes between back seat and front seat that people use for dogs. We drove to Cape Cod once a long time ago and our cat refused to ride anywhere but on the dashboard. We stupidly did not even bring a cat carrier. When we hauled him off for the zillionth time he wedged himself under the driver's seat and would not come out for 2 days. Also, what happens when you make stops - do you want the cats bolting from the car at some distant gas station, never to be seen again.

    My suggestion. Attleboro to Hartford (Rte 495 to 84 or possible MA Rte 6). Take I84 to 687/87 going over Tappan Zee Bridge (look on a map - thru Danbury and then White Plains, NY)

    After Tappan Zee Bridge take Garden State Parkway to NJ Turnpike. (So far this avoids going directly thru NYC. No trucks are allowed on the GS Parkway and the Turnpike in that area has a divided system where trucks are on a totally different roadway).

    You are now on I95 and follow this until you get to about Baltimore. That should be your 7 hours of driving for day 1 - ignore how much time any mapping program tells you it will take.

    Day 2 - wait until about 9 AM to leave Baltimore to avoid commuter traffic. Continue on I95 thru Washington in Virginia and North Carolina. I95exitguide.com lists hotels, food, gas at each exit along this route so you can plan ahead for distance/stop for the 2nd night - which will be somewhere in NC, probably around Rocky Mount or somewhat south. Plan ahead - there is not much in way of food or lodging in NC/SC right on the route.

    Once you are in southern VA or NC, there is a lot less traffic, although there are still plenty of trucks - no way to really avoid them on your trip without taking silly side roads since that is how we get all our stuff north/south and there are a limited number of roads.

    Can't help for the trip past SC - have not driven that route - but this should at least get you out of the congested north east and middle Atlantic.

    If you do not have one, get a toll transponder - it is good for the many tolls you will encounter until you get to DC area - then there are no more tolls I recall. Cuts travel time and avoids having to switch lanes to find a cash toll lane. And in parts of NJ there are not even toll booths if you have one - just things that hang over the highway and you keep going at highway speed.

    Have a safe trip. Cage the cats.

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    Why is Appalachian Trail in the mix? I'd just do the I95 route also. And as said, south of Virginia, it isn't as crowded. If you are on I81, coming down to I77, etc., you are 'way west, just adding to the trip,and traffic can be bad that way also.

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    We have gone to FL out 84 to 81 (81 joins 80 for a short while) to 77 to 26 to 95. It is a little longer than straight 95 but a more relaxing ride and interstate all the way. I would look at the weather as the time to leave approaches since snow could be a factor on either route. If you did this the first overnight could be in the Harrisburgh, PA to WV area and the second in the SC area. There are trucks on 81, but much less total traffic than 95 and there are climbing lanes for the trucks on the hilly areas. Another thing to consider is the time you will hit the cities. On 95 you get traffic from Providence to past DC which will be worse during rush hours and it is hard to miss it in all of the cities along the way (NY city and DC can be gridlock, but an accident or road work can make that any time on any route.

    Best wishes for a safe ride.

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