Now that the border restrictions for travel by personal vehicle have been lifted – in November 2021 – we undertook our annual trek from our home and then from the 1000 Islands to Florida by car.
If you’re one of the lucky ones to have done this for years – as we consider ourselves to be – we’re well familiar with the process. However, the trip may be a bit intimidating to those that have never done so. This website page is here to help.
The Canadian / US Border
Reports of all kinds of issues at the border made us a bit concerned, but our crossing was simple on this late November day.
We had to pay the 1000 Islands bridge toll to get across the first bridge to the Canada/U.S. Border.
Just before reaching the border, we made our obligatory stop at Duty Free for a bio-break and to acquire additional supplies. The bridge toll was $3.75 or $4.75 depending on the currency used.
There were five cars in front of us at the border crossing.
No photos of the border crossing are allowed… sorry!
Almost immediately though, another U.S. Customs officer appeared and gestured for the last two cars to move to an additional – still closed – lane. The lights indicated it remained closed, but we two selected vehicles were processed quickly through that closed lane.
My partner is detail oriented, not at all like me. As a result, all documents necessary were at hand:
- proof of covid vaccinations
- the exact total of all U.S. cash we were carrying
- our address in Florida
- proof of ownership for said mobile home vis a vis a tax bill with our names on it
- the details of our stay as to length and expected return-to-Canada date
- the receipt for the “supplies” acquired at the duty free
- our birth certificates, driver’s licenses, library cards, coupon booklets, credit cards and so on (just kidding about this last line)
Though the border crossing guard, a young fellow (as all seem these days) with serious mien seemed abrupt when we answered positively to the fact we were gone for 4+ months to Florida, smiled wistfully and sighed while commenting on the snow expected in upstate NY shortly.
Our total time at the border was 11 minutes. It was about 08:30 on Saturday, November 27/2021.
A bit about Covid and you on your trip to Florida…
We choose to be very careful when travelling anywhere, in Canada or the U.S. For us this means carefully keeping distance from folks, avoiding crowds, wearing our masks whenever out of the car when near others, and pretty much every time we get back in the car, rubbing the sterilant we keep in the console for that purpose over our hands. Overkill? We don’t know. Others can be more cavalier. We won’t.
Further, as you move along your trip, you’ll find various levels of Covid awareness and care from the folks in the U.S. Some places offer clear guidelines as to what one can and cannot do regarding Covid-safe practices including requesting mask wearing. In other locations we found folks that appear not to have any Covid concern and apparently excercise no caution whatsoever.
As in all things, do what you need to do to keep yourselves as safe as you need to. It’s your choice.
US 81 from the 1000 Islands into New York state
- Tip: If you think you’ll overnight somewhere in NY state, or any other state later on for that matter, consider stopping at the various state welcome centres found immediately upon entering the state on major interstates. That’s a good spot for a bio break, and one can pick up the hotel/motel coupon books you’ll typically find there. Some very good hotel/motel savings are available through those books for folks that don’t get discounts other ways, and it helps to find a hotel for the night as all of the coupons show the various lodging addresses.
We always watch for the large black crows on the right side not long after we head down U.S. 81 from the border crossing. For me, seeing them signifies the true start of our southbound trek.
The first larger centre reached on US-81 will be Watertown NY, about 65 km (40 miles) south of the 1000 Islands. This is a good location to acquire fuel and a restaurant break if needed. There are assorted hotels here as well and the need for a stop here will likely depend on how long you have driven to reach this point.
Watch Out For Snow squalls on 81 and the 1000 Islands
South of Watertown is typically where a driver on I-81 will encounter squalls off lake Ontario. Therefore, before we leave we monitor the weather in upstate New York. The area between the 1000 Islands and Syracuse can be hit rapidly by “lake effect” snow.
We’ve seen the reports of 30-60 cm (12-24”) of new snow in this area in a few hours. We experienced this rapid snow accumulation on one of our earlier trips. After we had passed through this area, and had just got through, I-81 was closed due to the heavy snow accumulation. It was a very white-knuckle drive.
Please watch the weather forecast before your departure from Canada to be sure that there “shouldn’t” be lake effect snow in any great quantity before you go, or… if you go anyway as we always do, be prepared to get off the highway if necessary and find a hotel to stay in until the snow stops and the highway gets cleared. I say “should” as the weather changes very rapidly here even if no snow is forecasted.
On to Syracuse NY.
At about 1 hour and 45 minutes south of 1000 Islands you will arrive at Syracuse NY, a bit longer than that if stops are made in the U.S. before that point in your journey south.
Just before Syracuse you will see signs for Cicero NY. This exit has a few nice, well priced hotels, a Cracker Barrel Restaurant and a Gander Outdoors on the east side of 81. We’ve stopped there more than once, had a nice wander through the Gander store, and dinner at the Cracker Barrel, all pre-covid. If you are long into your trip at this point, an overnight here might be beneficial and the hotel rates were more economical than in Syracuse for similar lodgings.
There is a bypass route around Syracuse. It’s numbered 481, and on it a driver can maintain highway speed instead of the lower speed limit through the city, and also the usually more congested highway through downtown. It’s a judgement call which one to take. At mid-morning on a Saturday we decided on the shorter route through Syracuse, and had no slowdowns or congested traffic issues. At rush hour on a work day… not a good choice to attempt a drive through the city perhaps. It’s up to you which way you drive.
On to Binghamton NY
Past Syracues and still on southbound I-81, the next major city that’s well into the New York portion of the trip to Florida is Binghampton, NY.
There are many smaller villages and towns passed enroute as well, so do stop wherever it suits you to see what’s what in teh many small towns. There’s lots to see and do all along I-81, as long as the weather holds!
From November on it never fails to snow a little or a lot on us while we are on this stretch of I-81 as we approach Binghampton. This trip was no exception, fortunately, with little accumulation this trip.
On reaching Binghampton NY, depending on the number of stops made and the traffic volume one has experienced since the 1000 Islands crossing, you are now upwards of 2 3/4 hours of actual driving time from the 1000 Islands bridge and quite a bit longer than that once stops are added to the time mix, of course.
At about 35 minutes or so south of Binghamton on southbound I-81 is the Whitney Point rest area. It’s a full service, state-run, rest stop (yes, clean W.C.’s) and offers a nice spot to take time to stop if you haven’t already to get out a stretch and enjoy the beautiful view. That view is spectacular, and on a clear day is worthwhile taking in. One can see it as the drive passes this point, but to really appreciate it, maybe take a break and have a look?
If the length of your trip so far means you need to overnight there, Binghampton offers a broad range of hotels, motels and restaurants as well, though in our travels through this area Binghampton NY wasn’t a necessary overnight for us.
It’s a short drive through the NY city of Binghampton… if there are no traffic tie-ups and construction going on, and given that it was a Saturday when we drove through the drive wasn’t bad at all.
While driving we always stay within reasonable proximity of the speed limits (and with the traffic flow – folllowing, not leading) as we do not want the hassle of traffic citations in the U.S., or anywhere else for that matter.
On to Pennsylvania
It’s a bit over 32 km (20 miles) from downtown Binghampton to the Pennsylvania border yet at last, and about 3.25 hours plus the time for regular bio breaks (bathroom and just stetching to ease an aching back) as well as gas-ups, we arrived at the Pennyslvania border.
Depending on the weather, there could be snow, and oh yes indeed, there’s lots of up and down on this part of highway I-81 as one drives into and through the Appalachian Mountains and then the even more mountainous terrain further along in state of Pennsylvania.