No matter how well you plan a trip, something unexpected happens. Sometimes it rains on your beach day. Sometimes the weather cooperates but the kids don’t. And sometimes suspected terrorist activity can throw a wrench into your road trip plans. That’s what happened to us on a road trip from New Jersey to Orlando, Florida.

Family road trip tips - The right car is key to coping with the unexpected

We definitely had the Edge on this road trip – the Ford Edge – which helped big time when the unexpected happened. Picture by Scott Lebeau

If there is one common theme running through the articles here on Traveling Mom, I believe it is this – most successful travel starts with a plan. Oh sure, we all love the spontaneous long weekend road trip, and we’re adventurous enough to turn down that “road not taken” every once in a while. But for the most part, we’re planners – micro-planners, even. We plan the trip to its entirety, from the major items (transportation, attractions and the like) to the minute (how long we’ll stop for potty breaks, what snacks we’ll allow in the car, what songs will be playing as we cross the state line).

Family road trip tips - have the right sound track for your trip.

Springsteen’s “Drive All Night” was appropriate sendoff music – we left Jersey at 4 a.m. Photo by Mary Lebeau, EastCoast Traveling Mom

And that’s how it was for a road trip that took me from my home in South Jersey to the vacation wonderland of Orlando, where I attended the Traveling Mom writers’ retreat and press events, while my family enjoyed time in the Walt Disney World theme parks or relaxing at the Grand Floridian.

Sounds like a plan, right? But on the trip home, I learned that life today cannot be planned – and even the best of plans can be shaken by the unexpected (and sometimes downright scary).

On The Road Again

Ford Motors, one of the sponsors of our writers’ retreat, invited me to test drive a 2015 Ford Edge during my 11.5 hour road trip to Orlando.

I was thrilled at the idea. I mean, it would be so much nicer to drive up to the valet at the Grand Floridian in a $45K+ car, rather than my husband’s 2001 Nissan Quest, right? I looked forward to the new technology, the safety features, and the comfort that driving in a new, fully-loaded SUV would bring.

I was also excited by the family members joining me on this trip. My younger children had school, so my mother-in-law valiantly volunteered to stay at our house and make sure they were fed and did homework while we were away. That meant my traveling companions on this trip would be my husband (a certified – or certifiable – Disney fanatic), my sister (who never saw “Frozen” but was lured by the siren call of the Grand Floridian) and my adult daughter (who hadn’t been to Disney in 12 years). An adults-only trip sounded like a brilliant plan to me.

Of course, adults’ schedules aren’t as easy to work around as kids’. They all get off at the sound of the end-of-the-day school bell. We wanted to get as many miles behind us as we could without hitting traffic in Washington D.C., but we had to wait until my husband and my daughter, who both work overnights, finished their workday. That meant packing the Edge and leaving at approximately 4 a.m. Saturday morning. Thank goodness the comfort of the car allowed our overnight workers to sleep in comfort.

Family road trip tips - Never run out of gas.

You know you’re still in Jersey when someone else is pumping your gas. Photo by Mary Lebeau, EastCoast Traveling Mom

We made our last pit stop in Jersey, filling up the Edge (because in Jersey, the gas is pumped for us. It’s the law, and we wouldn’t have it any other way!). Then we headed over the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Since we planned to drive as much as possible on this leg, the next stop would be breakfast – wherever that may be!

All As Planned to The Florida Border

We finally did stop for breakfast at a Waffle House in Weldon, North Carolina, where we enjoyed a great meal and chatting with our outrageous waitress, Miss London, who was celebrating her 25th year at the establishment. She was one part Southern hospitality, one part Flo from Alice (of “Kiss my grits!” fame) with a heaping helping of 50’s Prime Time cafe server thrown in for good measure.

Family road trip tips - stop at fun spots to eat.

Our lovely waitress, Miss London, kept us in check in the Waffle House in North Carolina. Photo by Mary Lebeau, EastCoast Traveling Mom

Our next stop was a quick one at South of the Border (so cheesy and kitschy, how could we resist?) where we stocked up on coffee and cold drinks. Nourished and hydrated, tired but happy, we made it to the Florida border in 11 hours and 25 minutes….all pretty much as planned.

Our time in Florida went pretty much as planned too. I spent time with my Traveling Mom team, learning all about Disney’s plans to awaken summer. My daughter reacquainted herself with the magic, but made sure to visit the discount souvenir stores in Old Town, too.  My husband rode on a bunch of rides by himself because the others didn’t want to get up for rope drop. And my sister not only enjoyed the Frozen Singalong – she met and fell in love with Anna and Elsa, and even gave me a key chain of the sisters as a thank you gift (because we’re sisters, of course).

And just when we thought things would end without a hitch…..we had to take the trip back home to Jersey.

When Things Go From Bad to Worse, the Road Trip Edition

The trip from South Jersey to Orlando – all 1,019 of it – went smoothly, nary a road bump. The way back? Not so much.

It started out well enough. We left Florida after one last hurrah in Disney on Wednesday night, determined to make it just to the border. We did and then some , finally stopping at the Clean Stay USA in Kingsland, Georgia, for some sleep before driving the rest of the way home Thursday.

The day started out fine. The sunrise over Georgia was gorgeous, “Jersey Girl” blared from the entertainment center and we basked in the chatter,  exchanging stories about the trip behind us. At that point, sadness over the end of a good vacation was the only negative feeling in the Edge. But that was going to come to an abrupt end.

Family road trip tips - sometimes you have to roll with the challenges.

Some things we can never plan for – all lanes were closed on I95 in South Carolina, and a suspicious package on a bridge in Maryland. Photo by Mary Lebeau, East Coast TravelingMom

The first sign of trouble was when we hit Greeleyville, South Carolina. The Edge’s navigation system beeped a warning that all lanes of I-95 were closed ahead, due to an accident. We had to reroute our trip through the local area and around a large lake before returning to I-95 beyond the accident. I was really grateful for the Edge’s navigational capabilities – and for my husband, who took the wheel and led us back to where we were supposed to be.

I was behind the wheel when we faced our next, er, road block. We were actually on the home stretch, heading toward the Woodrow Wilson Bridge which would lead us out of Alexandria, Virginia, and into Maryland. Suddenly, traffic stopped dead. I’m not talking the inch by inch crawl that we experience every summer when we head to the Jersey shore. No, this time the traffic wasn’t moving at all – and we were stuck at the top of an overpass, with cars on either side as well as below us.

We sat. And sat. No one was going anywhere, and no one even knew why. Finally, we saw a police officer walking through the cars towards the bridge, and asked what was going on.

“They found a suspicious package. The bridge is closed until it’s removed. No one’s going anywhere,” he told us.

Family road trip tips - Let the crabby ones sleep.

My daughter’s “end of vacation” face. And we hadn’t even reached the bridge yet! Photo by Mary Lebeau, East Coast Traveling Mom

It’s strange how people react when they’re faced with that kind of danger. Our “fight or flee” reflex was triggered, and since we couldn’t flee – “No one’s going anywhere!” – we started to bicker. My daughter wanted to leave the car to get air. I wanted everyone to stay put, as I wasn’t sure when – or if – the bridge would open, but I was sure that every car that was stuck along with us would be in a hurry to move again. I didn’t think they’d appreciate waiting for me to get my daughter back into the car. In the meantime, my husband and sister had heated words about the best way to get through D.C.

Family road trip tips - stop and see the weird stuff along the way.

When it comes to a road trip, there are some things you can count on, like the miles of countdown signs to South of the Border. Then there are some things you can never prepare for – like suspected terrorist activity. Photo by Mary Lebeau, EastCoast Traveling Mom

As we quarreled, I started thinking about how lucky we were to have the edge – and the Edge – in a situation like this. Seriously, this car was comfortable, had plenty of power outlets, and could entertain us for days. Our words may be heated, but our seats could be cooled and the climate controlled.  I’ve been stranded in the Quest before – a long story – and I know it couldn’t offer the comfort or safety we experienced while we were stuck on that overpass in the Edge. Funny how things work out, right?

Two and a half hours later – yes you read that right – we finally started moving. We were rerouted through Alexandria and had to find another way to Maryland. Another couple of hours,  and we rolled into New Jersey – sixteen hours after we woke up in Georgia.

So much for things going as planned, right?

But if you believe like I do – that our lives are just a series of stories – it’s all good. After all, this road trip will be a great story, long after the memory of those hours on the overpass fade away.

Have you faced a unexpected challenge on a road trip? Share your story with us in the comment section below.