This article will give you some insight on what to expect on a drive from Washington DC to Orlando, Florida or vice versa. The route is about as simple as they come, just get on I 95 and drive for for eight hundred fifty miles or around thirteen hours, give or take depending on stops, traffic and driving style. The interstate on this route is completely toll free, but Orlando has quite a few toll roads once you arrive. Most are less than a dollar. You have to cross five states, so I have broken up the route details into these sections: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
Virginia: This section of I 95 is about 175 miles. It stretches from the Potomac River down to the border with North Carolina. It should take about two and a half hours going the speed limit with light traffic. AVOID DC RUSH HOUR which is a righteous mess and will make an ungodly beginning or end to your trip. Do not get caught heading south out of Washington between about two and eight in the evening or heading into the city between seven and ten in the morning. This stretch of road is one of the worst traffic jams in the nation as people are commuting in and out of town from as far out as Fredricksburgh. Heading into the city, once you get near the junction with I 495 and I 395 around the beltway, traffic will be a bad going in any direction during these times. Avoid those weekday hours and you have a good shot and a smooth passage.
Richmond is about 105 miles or an hour and a half south of DC. Here you have a choice of taking I 95 through the city or taking I 295 around. Both are about the same distance. I 95 is more interesting because you see downtown Richmond, but I 295 has less traffic. We typically drive through town and have never had trouble with a jam, but the route does require a little more concentration. On the other hand, as of the time of writing, January 2017, the road around I 295 was in terrible condition and in desperate need of resurfacing. I tried it today and had to dodge a huge and very dangerous looking broken tree limb laying in the fast lane.
This part of the road also passes by some of the most important civil war battlefields including Chancellorsville, Wilderness, Fredricksburgh, Spotsylvania, Petersburg, and Richmond Battlefields Park, each of which is well worth spending a day to visit.
Virginia is also the cheapest place to buy gas on the trip so fill up before you get to North Carolina where the price goes up about twenty cents a gallon, or if your headed north, try to hold out until you cross the state line. Look for Love’s travel stop at exit 4.
North Carolina: This section is about 180 miles or two and a half hours. There is not a lot to see here. Other than the Roanoke river its mostly flat and lined with trees. Lumberton, near the border with South Carolina, has a wide selection of hotels, restaurants and stores if your are looking to break your trip up or find supplies.
South Carolina: This section is about 200 miles or 3 hours. The scenery here is generally nondescript, but you will pass over Lake Marion and some marshlands. You will also be within an hour of Charleston, Beaufort, and the low country, all excellent places to stop over and even spend a few days visiting.
South Carolina traffic can be bad on I 95, especially between the intersection with I 26 to Charleston and the border with Georgia. Its not uncommon to be stop and go and stop a while longer. This is the part of the drive I worry about the most because its hard to predict and can add hours and hours of frustration to your drive. There isn’t really a good alternate, but try to avoid mid day here if you can.
South Carolina is a good place to fill up on petrol, but be aware that most stations advertise their cash price and add five to ten cents to it if you are using a card.
Georgia: The GA leg is about 110 miles or a quick hour and a half. You will pass near Savannah and The Golden Isles. Brunswick is not a bad place to stop for BBQ either. I always see speeders getting tickets from state troopers in I 95 in Georgia, so be warned.
Florida: Rejoice, you are almost there! (Or just leaving). The Florida section of I 95 is 125 miles or an hour and forty-five minutes. You will go through the middle of Jacksonville and near St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. Here again you have the option off taking I 295 around Jacksonville or staying on I 95 and passing through the middle. The time is about the same and I have only ever passed through on I 95 for more interesting sights. I’ve never had any problems with traffic in doing this.
Florida is the most expensive state for gasoline, so try to head into it with a full tank.
I 4 is where you finally depart I 95. Once you reach it, you are about 50 miles or 45 minutes north of downtown Orlando, a bit further for Disney World. I will mention that I 4 is not a toll road, but most of the other highways around here are, so you might try to stay on I 4 as long as you can, even if your GPS is taking you a different rout to save a mile or two.
It’s a long haul, but with a little planning and mental preparation, you can do it. Happy traveling!