A road trip from New York City to Tampa takes about 20 hours including pit stops. It is doable for anyone wanting to experience driving along parts of I-95, one of America’s oldest highways.
The trip is around 1,134 miles passing by the outskirts of Baltimore, Washington DC, Richmond, Savannah, and Jacksonville. We started the journey at 10:15 a.m. from New York City and arrived in Tampa the next day at 6 p.m. This includes a night stay at a hotel, five 20-minute pit stops and an hour lunch break along I-95.
Here’s what to expect:
On the road
It is always congested in New York City between 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., especially on I-278W towards Staten Island/Brooklyn Queens Expressway to Verrazano Bridge. Likewise, on the George Washington Bridge/Cross Bronx Expressway and Holland Tunnel.
We left at 10:15 a.m. to avoid the afternoon traffic in the Washington D.C. area. Some road trippers prefer leaving at 5 a.m. to get away from New York City traffic and passing by D.C. area just after the morning rush hours. Or start the trip at 7 p.m. and avoid rush hour traffic in New York City and D.C.
For us, the road congestions eased off after New Brunswick NJ, about 36 miles outside of New York City.
Usually, you’ll be able to put your vehicle in cruise control between New Brunswick and the outskirts of Silver Spring MD, about 190 miles stretch. However, accidents and road work may cause delays.
We made it to Delaware Memorial Bridge by 1:15 p.m. – three hours after departing from home.
One of the best ways to get live traffic conditions is to use Travelmath’s app. The app allows you to type in your current location and destination as shown below:
Choose driving, scroll down and tap on “Open in Maps.” It will open Google Maps and get GPS, maps and real-time traffic conditions. From our experience, instead of taking I-95 just outside Baltimore, we were directed to take I-895S and the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel to avoid heavy traffic and save 15 minutes of driving time.
Another time-saving and easy way to travel is using the Express Lanes from the D.C. area. On I-95 Express Lanes. Drivers can use the lanes anytime with an E-ZPass. Follow Express Lanes for E-ZPass signage.
These signs will guide you to the proper lanes. Though Express Lanes operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, not all the entry points are open. Per ExpressLanes.com, “the entry and exit points open and close depending on which direction traffic is flowing.” No matter when you travel, remember to pay close attention to on-road signage and gates.
Only enter the Express Lanes when the access point is open to traffic. By 5:33 p.m. we were crossing the Varina-Enon Bridge on I-295 crossing James River, near Dutch Gap – covering 355 miles.
We arrived at Santee, SC at 11:15 p.m. where we stayed a night at Hampton Inn, off I-95, before leaving the next day at 10:45 a.m. The total driving time on the first day was 13 hours from New York City.
The second day we started our journey from Santee at 10:45 a.m. and arrived in Tampa at 6 p.m. – a total of eight hours including an hour’s lunch stop, covering 442 miles.
You can’t escape from the toll plazas if you are going to take the highways, tunnels, turnpikes, and bridges. For hassle-free and convenience, get an E-ZPass before going on your road trip. E-ZPass is “an electronic toll collection (ETC) system that allows you to prepay your tolls, eliminating the need to stop at the toll plaza.” You don’t need to look for change or wait for a toll booth attendant.
E-ZPass is accepted in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Practically any toll plaza you pass through from New York City to Tampa are E-ZPass participants.
The pit stops
Where you stop will determine how much time you spend on the road trip. We prefer to stop at gas stations in small towns that are close to the highway. Small towns have less traffic and are easy to access the highway.
States like New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland offer a combination of rest areas and service plazas where you can rest, use the clean toilets, eat and get gas.
Hotels and food
During off-peak travel season, we found that it is unnecessary to reserve a hotel room in advance. Traveling without an advance hotel booking gives us the flexibility to stop wherever we like. On this road trip, we planned to stay at the Hampton Inn Lumberton, NC but ended up driving 122 miles further south to Hampton Inn Santee, SC.
Along I-95 you’ll find chain hotels like the Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn, Fairfield Inn, Baymont Inn, Best Western, Sleep Inn, Days Inn and Knights Inn.
For lunch stops, we recommend Grannie’s Country Cookin’ in Starke, FL, about 157 miles from Tampa.
Tips to save time on road trips
1. Get an E-ZPass to prepay tolls.
2. Download Travelmath’s app and have the map app open for live traffic updates.
3. Bring your drinks, snacks, and food.
4. Have pit stops as close to the highway as possible.
5. Stay at a hotel that is closer to the highway and that provides breakfast.
6. Use Express Lanes when available in the D.C./Virginia areas.
7. Make sure your vehicle is well maintained and ready for the road trip too.