As much as I love maps, any trip that you are going to be making on a regular basis deserves a trial run even if it looks simple on the map. Finding a place you like is not much fun if it is hard to travel to other places that are important to you.
We were reminded of this on a recent trip to Myrtle Beach, SC.
But first a little background is in order. Neither my wife nor I are golfers. We are both from North Carolina, and we have a long tradition of going to North Carolina beaches.
When we went to pick a place to spend our semi-retirement time, we did not even consider Myrtle Beach. For years I had heard about the terrible traffic there in the summertime, and I knew from the people moving to Myrtle that it was more about golfing, shopping, and entertainment than it was about beaches.
I have sat in enough traffic that I wanted to avoid all traffic unless it was different species of fish competing for the hooks on the end of my fishing line.
We had a lot of other things that we wanted. Those included a good climate, friendly people, excellent roads, plenty of year around services, great beaches, lots of natural beauty and easy access to good boating waters. Myrtle Beach has a totally different description than our area of small towns. It's a great spot if you are looking for golf and shopping, but it does have some travel challenges.
Once we narrowed our search down to the Crystal Coast area of North Carolina, we did make a number of trips to the area and investigate the driving time to various destinations.
I have spent many hours on the road in a career in sales so I know from experience that not all drives are created equal. I also know that drives can change over time. What was a really nice drive up Interstate 81 to Interstate 66 and Northern Virginia in 1989 has become a harrowing experience in the new truck-loaded world of Interstate 81 in 2011.
Drives also change with the season of the year. There used to be a slight breather in traffic on Interstate 81 when the kids when back to school and the vacationing families disappeared. Of course beach traffic starts picking up in the spring. I have some unpleasant memories of being caught in Saturday traffic coming from Virginia to the Northern Outer Banks.
One of things that pleased us about the Crystal Coast was the pleasant drive from our home in Roanoke, Virginia to the area. We were also impressed with the NC highways that made up our trip. By skirting the Raleigh area on Highway 64, we managed to find a fairly stress free route to the coast. We travel the route enough to know when we can save a little time by going on the Interstates. Also it turned out that the Southern Outer Banks are just enough off the beaten path to make it a great place to live.
Since moving to the coast, we have confirmed driving distances from our home on the coast to a number of spots. Even with some typical Northern Virginia slowdowns, we can usually make it from Reston, Virginia to the Emerald Isle area in about six hours. We can also make it over to the Lake Norman area north of Charlotte in around five hours.
While we would always like to be closer to our kids, this works for now for us. It turns out that we are very lucky in having drives that are not so stressful.
Visiting the Myrtle Beach area from the Crystal Coast is a piece of cake. The roads from our area to there are great. In fact we have done it as a day trip. It is a wonderful way to do some shopping if that is your cup of tea. Unfortunately if you want to go west and north from south of Myrtle Beach, it can be a challenge.
Our recent experience driving from the Murrells Inlet area near Myrtle Beach area to the area north of Charlotte, NC taught us that what might look like a four hour drive on the map can be much worse. If you ask a local for directions, and you get an evasive answer like "I use a bunch of backroads, it is a little complicated to explain," you should start wondering what challenges the roads have for you.
We were really surprised at the unpleasantness of the drive from south of the Myrtle Beach area to our daughter's home on Lake Norman in the month of February. It was not a drive that I would choose to repeat, and it certainly is not one that I would want to do on a regular basis. I suspect the drive is going to get even worse as the season moves towards summer.
Trying routes that you might have to take on a regular basis can be very important in making a final decision on where your dream retirement home might be.
It is certainly something that I am going to recommend to clients with family who will be expecting regular visits.
There are no perfect places out there. Each place has pluses and minuses, and travel can be one of them.
It never hurts to look at all the angles before making a decision. I am glad we tried to do that. I think spending time before we made a decision and having a long history with the area has a lot to do with how happy we are with our choice of the Southern Outer Banks.
Our area has an interesting mix of old and new, but it also gives us a real taste of four seasons, though fortunately the minor snows that we have seen disappear quickly. And on top of that we have good roads that can take us in almost any direction relatively painlessly, and that was one of the things I wanted.