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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?