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April 20, 2011


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Have you ever driven to Florida? I drove down once, 1200 miles is exhausting. That is another factor to consider.

A 2 hour plane trip is much easier

Time is my only issue. If I have time I would always do the road trip. There is so much and so many people to experience along the way. There are ways of keeping the cost of road trips down if you own or rent an economical car, plan the trip with low cost lodging (Hotel reward plans, negotiate ahead, and possibly Hostels though I have never tried a Hostel). I always try to find a reasonably priced dining experience unique to the area I am in for the evening meal.

My wife and I went to Disney World last summer for our anniversary. We rented a very economical car in our hometown and drove the 900 miles. Counting gas there and back we spent probably less than $500 for the car. The drive only took 2-3 more hours than it would have taken to fly (after factoring in all the pre/post flight stuff) and we didn't need to worry about how/what we were going to pack because the car could hold everything we needed. We even brought along a cooler and boxes of food to hold down eating costs.

For us driving is the better option because of its flexibility and cost. Anything under 1000 miles is a no brainer, anything over that we'll seriously consider as long as we have the time. Ask me again after we have a kid though.

I generally go by time. I used to travel frequently as consultant (never worried about cost - I wasn't paying). My big concern was time - I spent too much time traveling. My break even time for driving/flying was a three hour flight (when you added driving to/parking at the airport, security, flight, rental pick up and driving to the destination). Security has only become worse. When looking at the cost rule they have and the time ruled I have - it is very similar, but then time = money. I generally wasn't concerned about traffic for driving, as delays could happen either way.

the rule sounds reasonable, however i too go by time as my time is more valuable than the monetary arbitrage i can apply to this situation. that said, i usually drive anywhere within 240 or so miles. even for a half hour flight (240-300 miles of travel), you still have to count taxing time, checking in and out of the airport, getting there an hour early etc. it is better to drive indeed at times. many feel safer and more autonomous this way. i love to catch up with my educational podcasts.

Cost is a consideration, with the airfares increases plus the multitude of fees (baggage, reserved seats, soda, bathroom, oxygen [believe me, it's coming]), but time is what frequently becomes a major player in the decision process.

My wife recently kicked her job to the curb to come home and focus on our family, so when we were planning a trip from DFW to Disney last Christmas we were still in mindset of we HAVE to fly. We HAVE to get there quickly to maximize our funtime. Luckily the airfares were stupid-priced and it forced us to consider driving. As we scratched our heads we realized that we really were not on a tight schedule any more. She did not have to be back for work, the kiddos are out of school already, and my company closes over Christmas.

Sure it 'added' four days to our vacation, but we made it fun. We stopped at attractions along the way (and made notes of others for the next journey), the kiddos got to swim in the hotel pool when we stopped for the night. We made it an adventure (read: attitude determines your success!) and had fun.

It cost us half the amount of flying, we had the additional flexibility of having our vehicle (and familiar layout of controls) to go where ever we wanted to outside of Disney property, enabled a less stressful time-centered vacation, and we didn't have to subject ourselves (and our kids) to questionable (in scope and effectiveness) patdowns at the airport!

We just returned from driving to Florida from Detroit. Driving definitely costs less because there are 5 of us. It took 20 hours each way, and was actually kinda fun. (Although the way home was way less fun than the way there.)

I too enjoy having my car with me so I can take more things with us. Plus I don't have to worry about any funky smells with my own car like I do with some of the rental cars I have gotten.

If it was just two of us though, I would definitely fly!

Very timely blog post, FMF. :)

I got a completely unexpected bonus from work (a CFO award) a week or so ago and have decided that, with some of it, I'm going to take the family to DisneyLand. Flying from Seattle to LAX would have been the cheapest option but the only flight option would have gotten into LAX at about 4:00 pm, and LAX is 40+ miles from DisneyLand, so rush hour traffic plus three kids in the evening is not something I would look forward to. We could have flown into SNA for a lot more money but the cheapest flight option there got in at about 10:00 pm. Again, three kids, not ideal. So I checked Bing Maps and found that the Long Beach airport (LGB) is closer than LAX and had a cheaper option on Jetblue that got in about 1:00 pm. It was comparable in cost to the LAX option but much more convenient timewise, and closer to the park, too. And Jetblue is a step up from the LAX airlines in terms of service level. I was very excited to find this as an option.

Bad_Brad, Long Beach is the best. It's super easy to pick-up and drop-off, it's tiny so the security lines are much shorter than LAX, and JetBlue is great. Plus, it's about 10 minutes from my house so is very easy to get to.

Driving can be a lot of fun. This past Christmas, 3 friends and I piled into a Corolla (4 grown men) and drove from 4AM to midnight from LA to Seattle. We were there for 2 full days, then the next we drove home in the same manner. Two other guys flew up and back, and totally missed out on a great experience (and paid a lot more). I wouldn't do that all the time though.

Not a bad rule of thumb. But time is probably the bigger limiting factor for most.

I think that trips within 400 miles are pretty safe bet that its cheaper to go by car. Personally I could probably drive up to 1200 miles and still save money versus flying. But I don't really want to 20 hr car drive.

In my single youth, I would drive everywhere to save money. Ithaca to New Orleans, no problem. Ithaca to Chicago, no problem. Ithaca to Panama City, no problem. Cross-country trip, no problem. Driving was fun and with friends. I didn't have a job or other life constraints, so time was of no issue. The journey was often the best part of the experience.

I suppose now it depends most on time. Traveling with the family can be made fun for a little while, but is usually not something you want to extend. For many family trips, the destination (example, DisneyLand) is almost always more fun than what you see along the way. Or, the destination is family, and you want to maximize the time spent with them. Or, the destination requires you arrive or leave by a certain time, limiting your travel options.

However, sometimes, you can plan a trip that specifically makes the journey as fun as the destination - I can't wait until my son is old enough to take him to spring training in Arizona. I'm sure we'll drive down. That would not be the case if we were going with the wife and daughter.

I stopped flying once the TSA got a little too crazy.

Before then, here were the considerations I had:

- distance and time. Counting driving to and from the airport, arriving an hour early, boarding, taxi, etc., the advantage of flying at 500 mph vs driving at 75 mph doesn't really pay off unless the drive is going to take significantly more than 4 hours.

- time pressure. If flying is going to save me a few hours, how important are those few hours? If I'm spending 3 weeks somewhere, getting there an hour early probably doesn't matter, but if a relative is on their deathbed, I want to make every second count. (I also probably want to leave as quickly as possible, so I might up and drive rather than trying to book a flight.)

- weather. A blizzard on a major pass turns that 75 mph driving into 20 mph driving or worse. Driving over the Rockies in December is always a dicey proposition. I'd give flying a lot more consideration in the winter than summer.

- how long I'll be on the other end, what I'm doing there, and what I'd like to take with me. If I'm going to be someplace all summer, living a normal life, I probably want my own car and a bunch of my own stuff. If I'm going to be there for a short event and don't even need to take a bag, getting a ride from a friend (or a cab) might be adequate. If I'm taking my infant, I'll want his car seat and stroller. And so on.

- cost. There have been times when I've gotten round-trip flights between cities 600 miles apart for a hundred bucks, which is a little less than I'd spend on gas (even in my efficient subcompact.) There are times those same tickets are 500 bucks, which is a total waste.

Some of these factors are weighted very differently depending on family size and age. For a large family, the cost of flying increases significantly, but so do the number of bathroom breaks while driving. With an infant, a lot more stuff has to be taken along, which can be aggravating in the airport, but saving a bunch of hours might be worth it.

I usually drive up to 550 miles in one day to see my kids. I went to WA from MO on AmTrak and loved it. It took 2 1/2 days total coming and going, but worth it. It was much cheaper than driving and about the same as flying. I am flying to NH from MO this summer and I already have my ticket before the gas gets higher and sends ticket prices skyhigh.

I had a funny reminder the other day. I was going through some old notebooks with a record of a trip our family took in 1976. We drove from NE MO to Phoenix, AZ and home. It was a 2 week trip. We drove a total of 3,589 miles. The cost of gas? $129.71. I had saved $1k for the trip and we came home with $300. We stayed in motels every night but 4, when we stayed with family in Phoenix.

This summer, in 2 weeks after my NH trip, I will be driving about 1500 miles and the cost of gas will be close to $250 or more. Less than 1/2 the mileage, yet approximately double the cost. I will be staying in college dorm for 5-6 nights, so that will be cheaper than a motel.

Many times we do things without counting the cost or comparing to other times. But, this reminded me how far inflation and many other factors have taken us.

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