10 Reasons Flying is Better Than Road Trips

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Driving instead of flying?  What was I thinking?  We just got back from a mini-road trip that I didn’t even consider to be an actual road trip until we were in the middle of it.  We were attending the wedding of a dear friend that on paper didn’t seem that far away, but it was easily a five hour drive one-way thanks to traffic and potty breaks when it would have under an hour in the air if we flew.  I thought driving would be more economical and simpler than flying such a short distance, but I’m not so sure I made the right choice.

I do think there is something romantic in a nostalgic sense about road trips circa the Route 66 days, but these days, and with my family, flying is absolutely better than road trips.

Road trips cost more than you think:

Unless you are using miles, plane tickets have a hefty upfront purchase price that can sting.  This is probably the number one reason why folks load up in the car and drive.  However, the costs of a road trip add up one credit card swipe at a time, and they aren’t near as inexpensive as one might think.  Gas was over $3.50 a gallon on this trip and we filled up the truck at least twice.  That meant close to $160 in gas, maybe more.  Add in the wear and tear on the vehicle, tolls, and snacks, and it costs more than you think.  This is especially true on longer road trips that add hotel nights and extra meals on the road due to the extra travel time.

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You eat unhealthy food:

Airports aren’t necessarily known for their super healthy cuisine, but you can usually come up with a pretty healthy option in most airports such as sushi, salads, and even fresh squeezed juices.  On the road you usually don’t find those spots right along the freeway, and if you do they probably don’t have the drive-through quick service that families are often seeking on the road.  This meant we got to visit fast food restaurants that we normally stay far away from at home.

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Salad on a plane healthier than burger drive thru

You ruin clothes:

I won’t name names, but I do know someone who ordered greasy food from the above mentioned fast food restaurants that ended up on his clothes not once, but two meals in a row.  Eating in the car is bad on many levels, but it happens on road trips, and at least on an airplane you would have a tray table to help catch the mess.

You are cramped and uncomfortable:

Our cars were selected to haul things and/or get us around town.  We didn’t pick cars designed to drive us on long distances regularly, so our choices for the road trip were a spacious fuel sucking truck, or a cramped sedan.  Since we were bringing not just the human members of the family, but the old dog, we simply wouldn’t fit in the sedan and opted for the roomier truck.  However, it still isn’t the most comfortable vehicle for a long trip, and sitting for hours at a time is just uncomfortable period.  On a plane you can usually stand up and stretch or head to the lav as needed without slowing down the trip.

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More room on the plane than in the car

You power through:

As they said in the Cars movie, “folks didn’t drive to make great time, they drove to have a good time”.  That may have been true, but I can assure you we aren’t driving around to take in the scenery of Nowheresville, Texas and enjoy extra time with a young kid and old dog in the car.  We want to get where we are going, and that means things like limited breaks, drive thrus, cramped legs, and snippy attitudes.

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Happy for now, but let’s not push our luck!

The scenery stinks:

Parts of the country are beautiful to drive through, and you would be remiss to not enjoy the drive from Vancouver to Whistler, from Anchorage to Seward, along the California coastline, and through the Rocky Mountains.  However, a lot of this country is not pretty at all – especially along the freeway.  You get power lines, traffic jams, fast food restaurants, strip malls, drug stores, and half empty office buildings.  I can assure you that much of Texas is this way and you get a much nicer view at 36,000 feet.

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Everything looks beautiful from the air!

Better use of time in the air:

Not only does air travel often result in a shorter total travel time, but the time in the air can be used more productively than in the car.  For example, you can’t really nap and drive, and even if you are the passenger it is harder to get any sort of work done in a car than on a plane.  In the air you can nap, type, and even work online on many flights.  That means you don’t have to worry about catching up as much when you get back home.

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Well, I guess one of us does sleep soundly in the car

Driving is just plain scary:

Statistics clearly back up the notion that driving is more dangerous that flying, and I can’t count the number of instances of impromptu drag races, folks driving while staring at their phones, cars swerving for no apparent reason, and more on our journey.  Thankfully none of those events resulted in a wreck, but I was gripping the car on more than one occasion as driving on busy freeways is just plain scary.

It gets annoying:

I know, I’m a bad mom for saying that hours of uninterpreted time in close quarters together with family can get annoying, but let’s get real and admit the dirty truth.  I vividly remember bickering with my sister in the back seat on car trips as a kid, and even today there are only so many times you can hear “how many more minutes” without starting to lose a small chunk of sanity.  The same can happen on a plane, but the presence of “strangers” seems to keep people on a bit better behavior than in the privacy of your own car.  I love having special time together with my family on trips, but not so much when we are all strapped in a car with not much to do for hours on end.  I’d rather have more time at the destination enjoying and exploring together than spent simply getting to and from our destination.

Driving just takes forever:

I fondly remember ski trips to Colorado as a kid where we would drive all night long, and then some time on the second day of driving after the sun rose you would see the mountains for the first time.  It was a magical moment on the journey, but since I was a kid, I was asleep through the painful nighttime portion of the drive.  As an adult I can easily do the math and see that is 16 hours of solid driving to get from my house to many Colorado ski resorts.  Ouch.  On a plane it is roughly 2.5 hours.  Even on today’s mini road trip it was 4-5 hours in the car as opposed to less than an hour in the air.  Of course you have to factor in travel time to the airport, boarding times, etc. but driving at 70 MPH is just so much slower than flying at 500 MPH.

We actually had a real road trip planned later in the summer, but you can bet I spent the last part of our drive today searching for award options to fly instead.  Our trip today wasn’t bad at all, so I don’t want to paint some overly terrible picture, it just reinforced that my blood likes to soar through the clouds much better than snarl along the road.  It’s simply a better use of time.  The road trip romantic in me still wants to do a big road trip with my family one day where you stop and enjoy the scenery along the way.  However, if the purpose of driving instead of flying is to just save money or keep the travel process simpler, then I think that some very careful examination of the real costs of both types of travel is warranted.  In most cases, flying is better than road trips, at least for us.  Especially when you have miles to burn!

How does your family decide whether to drive or fly and have you regretted choosing one over the other?

Pingbacks

  1. […] 10 Reasons Flying Is Better Than Road Trips via Mommy Points & 10 Reasons Road Trips are Better than Flying from InACents : Epic blogger battle!  😉 Two excellent family travel bloggers hash it out this week on the airline travel vs. road trip debate.  Who wins?  Well, it depends on your preferences and your family, I suppose.  Personally, I have to side with Mommy Points in this battle.  I much prefer air travel with kids when trips are longer than about 4 hours. […]

Comments

  1. Generally about 6-7 hours is our cut off for driving. Can vary a bit based on airfare price and availability of non stop flights…

  2. Flying is definitely preferred when traveling with kids, but ours are grown so it was just 2 of us on our just-completed trip by BUS from Montreal to Vancouver. We had 3 weeks and enjoyed the scenery, even if some of the routes were 10 hours (stops included). We flew only from Winnipeg to Calgary and from Seattle home. We had been to Banff and Jasper before, but this time my husband got to enjoy the trip through the Rockies as a passenger. Large windows afforded unlimited views for picture taking. There’s a time and place for everything, and this trip called for ground travel, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

  3. Do you think this post would read any differently if you wrote it on Tuesday, a couple of days after getting out of the car?

  4. I agree! We are in the same boat in planning a future trip. I can’t decide: drive or fly? I have booked a room on points to go to Disneyland after Christmas. It’s only about a 6 hour drive for us but like you said – it’s not always fun.

    We did a road trip to San Diego in spring of 2013 for the same reasons as you – we were taking the dog. This time we won’t be taking our (now 2) dogs no matter what so we have to figure out the best option. Flight prices will make a big difference because even if you fly you still have the potential cost of a car rental at your destination. So in the long run if you can stand it, I do think a short road trip (< 8 hours or so) can be cheaper than flying (unless you are using points of course!). Sometimes it is hard to justify the use of points on these short flights so I prefer to pay if I can get the price cheap enough. Perhaps we'll use our USAirways companion passes.

    For road trips to avoid the unhealthy food options I often pack lots of snacks and drinks in a cooler and that makes a huge difference and helps to avoid the fast food options off the highway. Think hummus, pita chips, grapes, carrot & red pepper sticks, cheese sticks, etc. We do 3 hour road trips frequently enough to our families cabin that I have that timing down great. Double it? That makes me cringe! 🙂

  5. 8 is our limit. Too much time getting to airport, waiting around, finding (hopefully) luggage, getting rental car, etc…even the short flights can easily end up taking the same amount of time with less flexibility and added risk of problems (flight delays, lost luggage, etc…). I’ll be the first to admit is much rather fly but sometimes it just ain’t worth it. I agree pricing in depreciation on the car is something that should always be done when comparing though.

  6. When you are from the rural West if you don’t drive you aren’t going to go anywhere. 6 hours driving doesn’t even rate to us. In fact, I’ll be driving 18 hours this weekend and a few thousand miles in the next few weeks. If I were to fly where I’m going it would cost thousands and be a big giant hassel. In fact, yesterday in my Conde Nast traveler magazine they offered a similar itinerary for $9995 p/person. Wow, I’m going on a +$50,000 trip. LOL Guess I can justify a new Suburban at the end. I could then get the 100,000 AA exec. card without breaking a sweat.

  7. Josh, agree that nonstop options and price factor in for sure.
    Peggy, if part of the trip is enjoying the scenery then that could be fun – and sounds beautiful!
    Colleen, maybe so, but the closer to the trip the more real the post in my experience.
    Chrissy, that is tough. I think 6 hours is right on the line for many. The dog was a big furry issue, too. That is really a post for another day as she is too old to board, but really also too old to travel well.
    Zeke, thumbs up for you being able to manage 8 hour road trips well. There certainly is that added risk of delays with flights, but as we were at a 100% dead stop in traffic in Houston I sure was wishing I was flying over that mess!
    Jess, ugh! We drove about 10 hours this weekend and that was plenty. Congrats on the 50k trip though. 😉
    mcdullhk88, absolutely correct about the value of Avios with those short but sometimes painful distances!

  8. I definitely agree with you. I live about 4 hour drive from Las Vegas or a short 40 min SWA flight. I much prefer flying than a road trip because nothing is worse than getting stuck in traffic after an already exhausting weekend.

  9. I agree with Josh F, 6-7 hours is the point where I seriously consider flying vs. driving. The key to peace on car trips is an iPad + headphones for each kid and a book for my wife (her preference). Then all I have to do is set the cruise control, pick some good tunes, and enjoy the ride. Having a comfortable and reasonably fuel efficient vehicle helps (we have a diesel SUV). When I was growing up, my parents took car trips exclusively in a station wagon or conversion van. We went all over the US and also into Ontario. I remember the good and the bad. I agree that the scenery in some of the Plains states can really be boring (and dangerous) – fairly straight roads with wheat or corn blowing in mesmerizing waves on both sides. As a driver you are hoping for a thunderstorm on the horizon to provide make things interesting.

  10. I smiled a bit when you referred to a 5 hours trip (including stops) as a road trip. 🙂 I understand your post, but in the past year and a half we’ve driven from Cincinnati to Texas, and all around Texas, and on another trip drove to Savannah and Charleston. This is with an 8 year old and a baby. We fly a lot too, but I don’t really mind road trips as much as I used to. Granted, I don’t travel with a dog.

    Coming back from our cruise in Charleston, we started driving right when we got off the ship. My parents hopped in a cab to the airport. After their flight was cancelled, and they were unable to get on standby for flight after flight most of the day, we ended up beating them home with our 11 hour drive. We were home by 8:00pm, they didn’t get home until well after midnight after spending all day in an airport. I know this doesn’t always happen, but there’s definitely an advantage to being in control of your own transportation.

    Also, to cut down on fast food, take a small cooler with sandwiches and snacks in the car with you. Works wonders…

    • Nathan, I didn’t think it was a road trip either until we were on it and realized 5 hours isn’t as short as it sounded. Agree sandwiches and snacks in a cooler is smart if you can force yourself to get organized and make it happen. Road trips are one way to get there, and they can be the best way for some, but not for me when the point is to get there and back as fast as possible to maximize time at the destination (or at home for that matter). Bet that was an interesting feeling when you beat your folks home by car! 😉

  11. I’m going through the same decision about a trip in a few weeks. I was leaning towards driving until today when I spent a long time (5+ hours) at DFW in the Centurion Lounge. Knowing I can schedule another visit tipped the scales in favor of flying to pick my kid up from camp instead of driving 🙂

  12. Now sometime the scenery is better driving for sure. Driving through Montana is a lot better than flying over Texas any day of the week don’t you agree? There are lots of places that call for a road trip over flying for sure.

  13. I prefer to drive anywhere in the United States provided I have plenty of time. When I drive long distances my criteria is as follows.

    1. I never drive interstate highways.
    2. Lunch is always in a sit down restaurant.
    3. I have a cooler or battery operated refrigerator. In my car with healthy snacks and bottled water.
    4. I have my hot pot with me to plug into the cigarette lighter to make tea.
    5. 400 to 500 miles is the most I will drive in a day.

    I basically follow the same guidelines my Dad did throughout the years. His were a little bit different because we normally were in a truck with camper or a motor home.

  14. I can see that, but as someone who flies alot the chance to take a road trip is refreshing. This week driving to the Colorado Rockies rather then flying. Will take a bit longer but will see the High Sierra, Desert and friends in SLC. For less money hired a fun car too. It goes both ways.

  15. I always RENT A CAR for <6 hr road trips when Amtrak is not an option. The flight option is more a function of time rather than cost and I find the travel to/from the airport, check-in, delays are not worth it.
    I, like you, own a small car and a truck but prefer to travel in a nice premium vehicle for a long road trip. The weekend rates are usually great, and why put 1000 or more miles on my own car when weekend rental rates are so favorable and I get a comfortable vehicle?

  16. If you do decide to take a road trip sometime in the future, I would highly recommend Germany. We just rented two Mercedes wagons for 7 days and drove from Berlin to Munich the very long way. In total, about 1200 miles, and there was very little of it that did not include amazing scenery, beautiful little towns with awesome little cafes to eat in, and a lot of awesome driving, whether it was traveling at up to 140mph on the autobahn or going 20mph through some twisting back roads. And we did not see a single serious traffic accident the entire trip!
    The fuel is very expensive, but the vehicle technology they use makes their cars quite fuel efficient, so it was not as expensive as you might expect.

  17. 2 things I like about driving vs. flying – one serious and one silly

    1) With 8 of us, it can be a lot more cost-advantaged to drive one van vs. buying 8 plane tickets. Not as big of a deal for you with only 3 folks – the cost tipping point happens a lot sooner.

    2) It is one of my goals to visit all 3,142 counties in the United States, and it’s a lot harder to read the “Welcome to ” signs from 30,000 feet 🙂

  18. My family also hates road trips. My in-laws live 6 hours away and we have to drive to see them since there is no airport close by. A few years ago we drove 14 hours from Texas to Colorado–never again! My kids are much better behaved on airplanes because they are not on them as often as airplanes seem like more of an adventure than a car trip.

  19. I would not even consider flying under 8 hours(unless an emergency)–the kids have grown up with grandparents being 8 hours and 5 hours away and we go for a long weekend to visit. We have driven as far as Tampa from Wisconsin. (due to price) We prepare the kids so they know a long car ride is coming. We pack a cooler with snacks, drinks and lunch options. Bring books and activities. Play games in the car counting car colors, go through the alphabet using road signs (how we discovered my daughter needed glasses!)Sing songs. Talk about everything we are going to do. Try fun, interesting restaurants on the way. Enjoy the journey!

  20. We drive if we don’t have points/miles to use. We are getting ready to be a family of four (any day now!) and once baby 2 is over 2, the cost of buying 4 plane tickets is going to get stupid expensive if I don’t plan my churns out correctly.

    I also grew up in a family that road tripped everywhere and I remember having to make up silly games to play in the back of the car for entertainment and how great those were.

  21. I think it depends on if you are in coach or business, and where points a and b are. I’ll take 5 hours in a car vs. an airport security line and an hour in coach any day of the week. Or better, on the east coast buses are a real option.

  22. Totally agree that length of trip, price, and scenery are big factors. I think part of our problem is that thanks to very limited vacation days for Josh we are always hauling to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. That makes road tripping more like road hauling and not near as fun…though driving through Alaska recently with just myself and the four year old was absolutely fantastic thanks to great views and a more relaxed time frame.

  23. I’ve done the drive to Colorado from Texas before – except we started in the lower rio grande valley (near McAllen). For a week of skiing, there was at least 4 days of driving involved. My least favorite part was across Kansas on I-70…

    In Texas, we’d drive almost everywhere – 400 miles one way from home to college, and my dad had been known to drive up to get me in the morning, and I’d drive home in the afternoon/evening. Around the north east? I’d prefer to fly to a lot of places – just too much traffic on I-95.

  24. For us, family of four and one income, cost is one main factor because we do like to get out on the road to see places on vacation. If we had to constantly fly, rent cars and do the hotel scene all on $cash alone, it may not work for our situation. Fortunately for us, miles and timeshares have helped immensely over the years. Of course a job which allows advanced planning and schools which allows limited independent study (read MP’s post on advanced planning) and ability to plan have all helped as well.

    That said, we are now trying to plan a month-long ‘road trip’ next summer, just the two of us and the kiddos in tow. This will comprise of short and long flights (thanks SWA and CP), hotels (thanks Marriott), train ride(s) (thanks UR) and condos (thanks timeshares). If this works out, this trip will us cross country including a week into Canada with a week or two to see Mickey and friends in WDW.

  25. Even as an adult, I am not a good car rider. I get a little crazy in the car. I don’t like sitting still for long periods of time. I have to get out and walk often and I have a very bad back. My husband dreams of renting a motor home and driving cross country one day and exploring lots and lots of states. Not with me! I’ll take a flight and meet ya somewhere. Ofcourse, it makes sense for us to drive 5 hours to Tampa or 3 hours to the mountains. We do drive, I just have to keep myself busy on the computer and stop often to walk around. As long as I have miles, I will continue to fly. 🙂

  26. Huge proponent of driving.

    I think it depends on the amount of points you have and can produce. We opted for a 14+hour roadtrip from Cincinnati to Disney instead of using 60,000 points for our family of four.

    I will leverage points when we are doing trips with less time available to us. For example, we do a quick trip around Christmas/New Years and we typically just have a weekend and a weekday or two. But for Disney, we have a full week including both weekends, and can take the time to drive.

    Further, driving gives you more options on packing and cost savings. We will pack a large cooler full of frozen meals and the food we would have eaten that week anyway and will then cook them at our resort. Which saves us money at Disney World vs. eating out for every meal.

    Once we get to a destination like Disney, we don’t need to use points or cash on a rental since we brought out vehicle with us.

    For the drive itself, we pack a cooler with healthier options like sandwiches, frittata slices, boiled eggs, nuts, and iced coffee we make at home. Saves time, money, and we don’t have a car full of fast food zombies that are not full of energy once we get to the destination.

    However, if I had more points or MS’d at a level that could replenish a 60,000 pt trip quickly, I would fly and find other ways to save.

  27. I agree with Cher – renting a car is sometimes the best option. Figure it costs you 50-60 cents/mile to drive the average car (all-in, including maintenance, depreciation, etc.) and renting is often more cost-effective than driving your own car.

    (My late but not lamented BMW is another story; I figured well over $1.00/mile to feed that beast….)

    • UAPhil, I agree. We have done that on some trips and it does feel good to put the miles on someone else’s car…though of course adds to the overall cost of the trip at the time.

  28. So a 5 hour (ok, 10 hours r/t) driving trip is longer than a 1 hour flight? Once you factor in time spent getting to the airport, arriving 2 hours ahead of flight time, 1 hour flying, diddling around with a car rental, driving to the destination, driving back to return the car, getting to the airport 2 hours ahead of flight time, 1 hour flight home, pay for parking your car, drive home? I think your rant is without merit. Driving such a short distance makes more sense, and no one forces you to eat greasy food on the road.

    • Masked Poster, it isn’t exactly a serious rant so much as affirmation that flying is the way to go for us most of the time (for the reasons stated). We did the math and decided to drive for the reasons you state, and it made sense on paper. Still might have made sense even after the reality, but driving was not as clear of a winner as it seemed on paper. Certainly if you got any longer into the 6-7 hour range flying will be the clear winner unless we just want to drive for some reason and/or prices/lack of availability push us into driving.

      • I neglected to mention we have a rapid transit system that takes me directly into the International Terminal at SFO, greatly reducing driving time, parking fees and fatigue. Still, I like to drive on the shorter trips, but I don’t have a kiddle to contend with, either, nor a critter. And don’t those IHG points come in handy on the road!

  29. We drove to Calif last Sundy to pick up our new puppy: 15 hours round trip. 7 hours there, one hour with the breeder, then back in the car to drive 7 hours home. I am the world’s biggest whiner so trust me when I say that is NOT a trip I want to recreate anytime soon!! LOL! It was either that or use 80k+ SW points to get there (last min trip) and still have to rent a car and drive 2 hrs from the airport to their house, so it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to fly. But, on the way back home I sure was wishing we had drained my account and flown. LOL! Now that we’ve been home a week and I’ve had a chance to think it over, I’m glad we still have those 80k points to use on a future trip. Just not a big fan of road trips overall, totally hear ya, Summer!

  30. If Amtrak has a route to my destination, that is the way to go. Love Amtrak’s first class service via Chase Ultimate Rewards.

  31. Being a foreigner, there is nothing I like better about this country than the great American road trip.
    As a matter of fact I have driven cross-country 12 times from Miami to Seattle and back during 6 consecutive road trips with my 3 young kids in the back of our minivan and camping all the way. Loved every minute of it (except the severe weather warnings) and the kids still vividly remember all they learned along the way, the scenery, the adventures and all carry great memories now as young adults living abroad!

  32. The romance of a great road trip cannot be duplicated and you will never forget your best road trips. Flying these days is worse than getting shipped around in a cardboard box. Get a fun to drive vehicle and drive it. I have an FJ Cruiser and I know when I get to my destination I will be able to go anywhere I want.

  33. Well, it depends. Before, my family and I were planning to drive from Austin, Texas to St Paul, Minnesota to meet relatives. I did the calculations and the road trip would have costed about $1000. Then, we found a flight from DFW Int’l to MSP Int’l at the same price, and we knew we’d spend the same amount but save many hours. I will say I enjoyed the drive along the N I-35 from Austin to DFW, and it would have been fun to drive along the same highway through OK, KS, MO, IA & MN, states we’ve never been to before, but it’s just too much stress. So, depending on the situation, flights can be better than road trips, but sometimes it’s the other way around.

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