Without a doubt, Florida is a lot of fun. Know what to expect before you go.
Each region has it’s own feel.
In my book, What the Florida, I’ve broken Florida down into the four regions you see above. The panhandle region (in blue) tends to be very similar to Alabama and Georgia north of it — in other words, don’t be surprised to hear a southern drawl. The northern region (in green) tended to have more Floridian natives, while the middle and southern regions (in pink and orange) has a lot of snowbirds that come to Florida during the winter months.
Parking varies from city to city — and block to block.
Plenty of meters need to be fed — and naturally there are plenty of meter maids handing out tickets across the state. Whether you’re from the States or visiting from abroad, assume any parking spot inside a city is a paid one unless there’s no signage.
While you probably don’t have the time or interest in comparing per-hour rates from block to block, be aware prices can vary from block to block.
Also worth noting: meters typically accept coins and cards, but not bills — stock up on quarters or break out your preferred card for the most part.
Sunscreen is a requirement, not an option.
If you’ll be exposing much skin (at the beach or otherwise), get yourself the type of sunscreen you need. As you’d expect, it’s readily available at most pharmacies, though you’ll be paying an inflated price if you’re anywhere near a beach.
Florida’s bigger than you think.
Twice the size of Portugal or Hungary and holding the population of Romania, Florida is big enough to have some dead space between cities, but thankfully you’re never too far from gas stations, restaurants, or hotels. There’s plenty of room to get away from the crowds at some of Florida’s luxury resorts, of course.
Driving to Key West from the mainland will take hours.
From the mainland to the downtown part of Key West, it’ll take about 2 1/2 hours to cover 114 miles (183 km). While there’s a fair bit to see along the way, parts are relatively boring along a one-lane highway and long bridges.
Enjoy the discounts given by a AAA membership or military service.
These are just a couple of the potential discounts that are frequently available. Keep your cards handy.
If you’ll be traveling middle or southern Florida for more than a few days, get a Sunpass.
Florida has over 700 miles of roads that require a toll, but the state hasn’t exactly made this the most intuitive toll system in the world… Some have manned toll booths that accept cash, while others have a bill-by-plate option (they take a picture of your license plate as you go, then send a bill to the owner’s address.) Still others are Sunpass ONLY toll booths (e.g. you can’t pay with cash), which irked me to no end. If you are driving a rental car in Florida, ask how tolls are handled before starting your journey to avoid any shocks to your bill.
If you’re bringing your own car, you can pick up a ‘mini’ Sunpass for about $5 at a Publix supermarket, CVS pharmacy. or gas stations. It’s essentially a sticker you put under your rear-view mirror that holds the tiny transponder in place. You’ll need to activate it online, then add credit via credit card.
If you’re only making a short trip, you might be able to fall through the cracks. We read that the state doesn’t start going after people for not paying tolls until they’ve accumulated a few missed tolls. (Pay your tolls though, people.)