Driving vs. Flying

When planning a vacation the most important thing is obviously deciding on the destination. Once you determine where you’re going to go the next thing most people do is figure out how you’re going to get there. Sometimes that’s an easy decision, but other times it can be more complicated. I thought I’d take a quick look at the debate between driving and flying.

The case for flying:

There are certainly a few advantages to flying. The biggest one without a doubt is time. Taking a plane will almost always save you a lot of time (unless you’re driving and flying around100 miles). Even with the fact that you typically have to get to an airport a couple of hours before your flight, flying is still so much faster than driving. For an example, let’s look at a trip from Buffalo (where I’m from) to Orlando. The cities are just about 1,200 miles apart. The drive would take over 17 hours. With a drive that long you would likely spend a night in a hotel in addition to paying for plenty of gas and food along the way. If you were to fly direct to Orlando it would take you about two and a half hours. You just can’t match that with driving. The difference in time is only amplified when looking at farther distances. Let’s take a quick look at traveling from Buffalo to Los Angeles. That’s around 2,500 miles and it would take about 37 hours to drive it. That’s three or four long days on the road, with a lot of added expenses along the way between food, gas, and lodging. A nonstop flight would take less than six hours.

Not only is it great to reach your destination so much faster in a plane, but it can also influence the duration of your trip. If you only have one week for a vacation, you don’t want to spend four of the days traveling. If you’re going away for a few weeks that might be different, but otherwise you probably want to spend one day or less doing the traveling so you can enjoy more time away.

Another nice thing about flying is the fact that once you’re on the plane you can just sit back and relax. You don’t have to worry about following directions and the possibility of getting lost. You don’t have to worry about driving too fast and getting pulled over, or stopping to get gas, or use the bathroom. Heck, you don’t even have to worry about staying awake. Meanwhile on a plane you can read a book, listen to music, watch TV, take a nap, or even have a beer.

Flying can be pricey, but if you’re traveling by yourself I’d argue that flying can often be the cheaper option. Other factors have to be considered as well. Do you have to rent a car when you arrive at your destination, will you have to purchase supplies that you could have brought in a car, but not on a plane? The biggest example for something like that I can think of would be camping somewhere. Let’s say I fly across the country to visit a few National Parks. Once I arrive I’d have to rent a car and would have to at least buy a cooler and stock it with food. I’d probably also at least have to get a cheap grill and maybe some other things. That’s assuming I somehow flew with a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and more.

 

The case for driving:

While flying is certainly the faster option, that may not be the deciding factor for you. There are plenty of advantages to driving. Flexibility can be a big one. If you don’t want to have a schedule, then just wing it. You can stop and go where you want when you want if you’re behind the wheel. Sure, hopping on an airplane will get you somewhere fast, but taking a road trip can be an adventure. You can make the stops on your drive part of the fun. When my wife and I drove out west to the Canadian Rockies and Glacier National Park a few years ago we planned out some stops along the way. We drove through the Notre Dame campus in South Bend and saw Mount Rushmore on the way out. Then we went to the Mall of America in Minnesota and ate deep dish pizza in Chicago on our way home.

A couple of negative experiences that come with flying can be avoided when driving. You don’t have to pay all those baggage fees or worry about losing your luggage. You also don’t have to wait in terribly long lines or pass through security checkpoints. When you fly you have to pay much more attention to what you’re packing and how much it weighs. When you drive you can bring as much stuff that will fit in your car. That can be tough depending on the size of your family traveling and the size of the car. I went on several road trips across the country and filled my car with supplies each time. There were times when I brought multiple backpacks, a tent, cooler, grill, a large duffle bag of clothing, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, food, and other camping and hiking supplies. The only time I had any trouble fitting everything was when I went on a 37-day road trip with a friend and I drove a pretty small car. We had the trunk and the backseat piled high. We still managed to fit everything we needed, including my friend’s guitar.

nate odomes trip 290
My first roadtrip car

In my experience, sitting in a car is far more comfortable than sitting on a plane, too. However, I’ve never flown first class. Although you typically don’t have the convenience of having a bathroom in your car like you do on a plane. Then again, you also don’t have to deal with turbulence in a car (unless you’re driving on a really bumpy road).

Cost really depends. I’d say driving is normally less expensive than flying, but there are a lot of variables. First off, how many people are traveling? If you’re traveling by yourself flying might be less expensive. If you’ve got a family of four or five vacationing together you’re going to have to pay a lot for airline tickets, while the price of gas and hotel rooms won’t change if you have one person or four. Although the price of food would be much higher if you’re driving a far distance. When you fly you may also have to pay for a rental car, which can cost a lot.

 

Conclusion:

I have traveled quite a bit by both modes of transportation. I’ve driven on six road trips to the west. I found driving to be the best option on those trips because of all of the stuff I brought and the many places I visited. I’ve also flown several times. My wife and I flew to Barcelona to go on a Mediterranean Cruise for our honeymoon (no driving option to cross the Atlantic). We’ve driven to Florida a couple of times, but have flown more. Now we have two toddlers. I don’t particularly like to fly with them at this age, but it’s generally better than taking a very long road trip. Both modes of transportation should be better with the kids in a few years (hopefully). One time my wife, in-laws, and me flew to Las Vegas and then rented a van. We drove in a large loop through the Southwest stopping at a few National Parks and other places like Antelope Canyon, Sedona, and Monument Valley. You could say that trip had the best of both worlds.

I recommend road trips if you’re going to bring a lot and make a lot of stops. But if you’re just looking to get somewhere fast, you can’t beat flying.

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5 thoughts on “Driving vs. Flying

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  1. You make some very good points. As much as we like our road trips, sometimes the time we have is limited and flying is our only option. If time is not an issue, I will always pick driving over flying. 🙂 It’s always a good exercise to think about all your travel options. Nice job covering all the different aspects.

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  2. Good point Matthew about having to stay awake when driving. I’m not fond of driving a long distance because I fall asleep easily. That would be really bad.

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  3. Great post! I think you’re right about time and intention (single destination vs. frequent stops) being the biggest factors to consider. The best of both worlds option is my favorite, too. We plan a route and try to fly into a central/least expensive port for that route before driving the rest of the way. Also, deep dish pizza in Chicago sounds like my kind of stop!

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