This post was most recently updated on July 23rd, 2020
Do you stay home much more than you’d like because you don’t have the money to fly? Why not take a road trip instead? I regularly use road-tripping as a viable way to travel as far away as 700-800 miles. In fact, I’ve driven to destinations 1900 miles away (just not in one day!). So…should you fly or drive?
Driving 750 miles is very do-able in a single day. What might surprise you is that it doesn’t take much longer than traveling the same distance by air…and it certainly saves you money! Want to see the proof? (If you do however choose the plane option, taking a look at some good supportive shoes for standing in line on ShoeAdviser.com might be a good idea.)
Driving from San Diego to Salt Lake City is a drive I have made many times. I’m going to show you a comparison of time and expense, just for illustration’s sake.
My trip to Salt Lake City was for a total of six days, so if I had flown, I would have had to rent a car or sponge off family members for nearly a week. As you can see in the chart above, you save less than two and a half hours by flying, and you’ll pay at least two and a half times more! But you don’t have to take my word for it. To determine if you will fly or drive, choose any two cities and calculate the cost of airfare vs. the cost of driving, and you will find similar results. For example, if you want to travel one-way from Columbia, SC to New York City, the distance is 708 miles. Flying will cost $94.00 one-way, and driving your own car will be $41 for gas.
Websites that can help you calculate driving costs include GasBuddy and ViaMichelin. Another great website, BeFrugal.com, has a Fly or Drive calculator which surveys you about your destination, make and model of car, need for rental car, etc. and then shows you the detailed cost of flying or driving.
Of course, there are many variables…the kind of mileage your vehicle gets and the cost of gas in different parts of the country. (My vehicle averages 30 mpg on the freeway.) And when it comes to choosing airfares for comparison, I chose the very cheapest possible option; however, the chances that you would be able to book at that price on the exact day you want to travel are not good. You could be paying significantly more for airfare.
While I was on my last road trip (just last week, actually), I decided to write down all the pros and cons of flying vs driving, and here they are:
Pros of Driving
- You can decide at the last minute to take a trip and the cost doesn’t change.
- You don’t have to pack carefully; just throw everything and anything into the car and go.
- You can stop whenever you want to…to check out a roadside attraction, to get a bite to eat, or to take care of children’s needs.
- You will pay significantly less money, even if you require lodging for one night.
- Your savings is multiplied many times over if you are traveling with several people.
- If the weather is bad, you are not subject to flight delays; you get to make the call whether or not to drive in bad weather…or just stay put until the weather clears.
- The views are great! You are at ground level and can enjoy the scenery for your entire trip.
- Car seats are more comfortable and less restricting than airplane seats.
- It’s easier to take a nap (unless you’re the driver!)
- If you’re a passenger, you can continue checking emails and making phone calls for work.
- When you arrive at your destination, you have your own car for getting around.
Cons of Driving
- You are sitting in a seat for the entire trip.
- Paying attention to road conditions and traffic is required.
- You could experience bad weather and traffic congestion.
- You have to share the road with semi-trailers.
- It takes longer than flying.
- You have to stop to use a restroom.
- Potential for mechanical breakdowns
- Greater risk of accidents
Pros of Flying
- Potential for saving time
- You can just sit and relax; no traffic-induced stress.
- In-flight movies
- Aerial views can be awesome!
- There is a bathroom available on the plane
- You can sometimes take your seatbelt off.
- High safety factor
Cons of Flying
- More expensive
- Airport security: lines, emptying pockets, removing shoes, x-ray machines, etc.
- Necessity to pack light and pack fluids separately; everything must be contained — you have to be much more organized
- A lot of time is wasted waiting…for parking shuttle, for check-in, for security, for loading at the gate, for taxiing and takeoff approval, disembarking from plane, etc.
- Uncomfortable chairs in airports while waiting
- Limited space on the airplane
- High chance of delayed flights (weather/mechanical issues)
- Possibility of lost baggage
- Airport prices for food and amenities
- When you arrive at your destination, you still need transportation (rental car, train, etc.)
- If you must make a trip at the last minute, the fare will be significantly higher.
When we make road trips, my husband is often able to travel without taking much time off. I do the driving while he sets up a hot spot with his cell phone and uses his laptop to conduct work, check/reply to emails, and sit in on conference calls. A road trip is a win-win for us…unless the weather gets bad. On this last road trip, it took us thirteen hours to make the drive home, and we spent the first five hours struggling through a winter storm. That is a rare exception for us.
Ultimately, you need to make the decision for yourself, based on what is best for you and your family, your finances, and your stress levels. My goal has been to convince you that you might be able to travel a lot more if you’re willing to make road trips. Best wishes on your trip plans!
Related posts you might enjoy reading:
- Packing for Success
- The View from the Window is Great (cockpit window views)
- Perspective of a Flight Attendant
- Road Trip — Keeping the Kids Happy
- Amazing Airport Amenities
Wow! This was such a straight forward post. 🙂 I loved how you clearly displayed the prices of driving vs flying, which shows that (in most cases) driving will be cheaper!
I do have a few comments, though. You forgot to add in the cost of airport food to the list for flying–for two people to eat a filling lunch at the airport can cost you upwards of $40!! So, in that case, flying is even MORE expensive!
I thought it was interesting that the time you spend flying vs driving is almost identical (for your example to SLC, at least). But, on the other hand, your considerations for flight times only work if you have a layover; if you can get a direct flight for a steal of a deal, then you will definitely save more time flying than driving, which may be worth the extra cost.
For our family (just two adults and a child under 2), we’ve found that flying is better for us at the moment because our kid flies free AND he can get up and move around on the plane, something he cannot do in the car. But, as soon as we have to start paying for him, we will probably find ourselves driving more often.
Thanks for the post!
Actually, I did add $12 for an airport meal in my comparison, but I realize that is a very conservative estimate! That might not leave you feeling satisfied…
I chose the cheapest fare, knowing it would include a layover but you are right about a more expensive fare giving you a non-stop flight option (and thus a much quicker trip). It may well be worth it!
Oops. The $12 dollars for airport food was SO small, I skipped right over it. 🙂 Yeah–I think more money would be necessary for a hefty airport meal.
I really like this breakdown, I’ve never thought of the comparison for flying and driving like that. I love driving. I always choose to drive it is somewhere manageable for a day. Its funny, I used to drive the 6 hours from Vermont to NJ often in a weekend. When I used to tell people I was doing that much driving in a weekend they always said how terrible that was and they felt bad. I loved it! Put a book on the radio and just drive, so relaxing!
I always listen to my favorite Pandora stations while I drive and sing along at the top of my lungs (if I’m alone)!
Great tips! I often make the drive from Toronto to NYC (around a 9 hour drive) rather than flying for exactly these reasons. In the end the drive to the airport, airport time, flight, waiting to be picked up or catch a taxi and cost of the flight just doesn’t add up when compared to driving, especially when I’m travelling with my whole family! Plus I don’t have to worry about my luggage getting lost 🙂
Not having to worry about losing baggage and being able to pack anything I want are big pluses in my book!
My brother drives around the US visiting National Parks every year. I hope to join them one day. I would love to do some driving around Europe as well but I guess it’ll have to wait.
Driving in Europe is even better, because it’s fun to explore little towns along the way and because in general, they obey the driving laws better (allowing passing on the left, etc.).
I will have to get around the US by car to see the difference.
I love flying, im based in UK and so lucky to have cheap flights offers around Europe and more cheaper to fly than to drive.
You’re lucky if it’s actually cheaper to fly!
You make some solid points. Especially when you consider the negligible time difference over distances such as in your example and the price difference is huge! In general I’m a fan of road trips and I do prefer those over domestic flights, at least when time is not a major factor to take into consideration.
I love how you broke it down in details. Personally, I like road trips because of the stops you can make along the way. The time factor is not always so cooperative though so thank God for cheap budget flights for those days.
I agree. Love to make random stops when something looks interesting on the way!
We’ve decided to get the train to Edinburgh instead of flying- even though it takes longer, at least we’re on the move and not just sitting around in waiting rooms!
And you’ll get to see so much more. It’s nice that Europe has the added option of using trains. Not so much in the United States.
I have to pin this! It is always such a dilemma when we travel further that 500 miles away, whether we should fly or drive!
I definitely drive if it’s up to 800 miles because I can easily do that in one day!
I tend to drive when in my own country, I tend to fly when in foreign countries especially ones where signs are not in English
I have to admit that reading signs in another language can be very difficult!
Great article! I would like to start taking more road trips with my daughter. You gave me some great things to think about!
I know our family road trips were very memorable!
Great post! There truly are pros and cons to each, but I am very partial to road trips – particularly in the United States. Put on a good audio book, grab a couple friends, sometimes the road is the best adventure! Flying is of course great, and necessary, for some trips. Thanks for the tips!
Love the detailed comparison chart. I learned the lesson that sometimes it is better to drive while making frequent trips between home and my grad school college town. While the flight was very short there was no direct so I often spent a LOT of time waiting on my connection. In the end….easier and WAY cheaper to drive and about the same time. Your chart lays it out perfectly.
Glad you liked it! Driving has allowed us to do so much more than if we only flew!
This is a very helpful post! Flying is normally the way people travel but road tripping is very under rated. This even applies to travelling via buses and trains. Nice piece!
I did a ‘roadtrip’ around a couple of US states and was amazed at the way people travel. I think the Europeans drive more, or take trains – even though petrol is more expensive over here. I guess it’s a passport control thing
Its funny we always place flying first when traveling longer distances but recently we found driving can be quite and adventure too. Traveling from Oregon to California we found all kinds of interesting places to visit we would otherwise never know about. Its also much more relaxing if you have the time to take to the roads.
Sometimes it is just cheaper to just drive and not take the plane but it really depends on many factors as you said for yourself. I prefer to drive when it will take me the same time as flying and because I can carry with me whatever I want.
Great comparison with pros and cons! Although we like to fly, we really love road trips and take them any chance we get. It’s so simple to just hop in your car and go, and as you mentioned, it’s nice to not have to worry so much about packing light!
Nice breakdown of the pros and cons of flying vs driving. As a flight attendant, I generally choose to fly since it is always cheaper, but there is nothing like being able to see the landscapes change before your eyes while in the car! Ultimately, it depends on how much time I have and how far the trip is.
What a good comparison between driving and flying! Too bad for me I don’t know how to drive yet. 🙁 I do dream of doing a road trip in the US though. That or take a cross country train! Well researched article!
I would way rather drive than fly. I don;t really mind how long it takes and the cost is a bonus. I think you get to see so much more by driving and freedom to pull over wherever you want on the way!
We take road trips all the time since flying is so expensive within the U.S. It’s fun to head down to Oregon or even to California on a long road trip and see all things in between we’d miss if we were on a flight.