Is it More Expensive to Fly or Drive on Your Summer Vacation?

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Its summer, and you want to take the family out on a vacation that is more than just an hour or two away, but still within the country. This particular kind of vacation presents itself with a question that is worth considering heavily: should I drive to the destination or fly?

Both options bearing significant pros and cons, how do you know what to consider to make an informed decision? Below is a breakdown of some of the bigger factors that should be thought out while you decide whether or not to travel by land or by air.

The steep difference between car fuel and airplane tickets.

The biggest difference that is always checked out first is the overall costs, of which the biggest slice of the two pies being gas for those wanting to drive, and airline tickets for those looking to fly. All it takes is a quick Google search to learn that flying will be significantly higher in price than it would cost to drive.

For many, that airline price tag alone is enough to have them loading up the car with the kids and luggage to hit the road, but don’t stop just at the cost of airline admission when considering which option is best. Here are the issues that should be thought out and discussed with any possible travel companions:


The case for driving:

  • Know your passengers

The thought of a road trip can be a really great and exciting part of any vacation, as it offers plenty of time for bonding and memory making. It also allows for potential detours and stops along the way for even more connection building to take place within your group of travelers. So for those who are genuinely excited about the concept of a road trip consisting of either your family or group of friends, and you also have the time to kill, then maybe driving to your distant destination may be best suited for you.

On the converse, there are those who simply abhor and dread the idea of being cooped up in a tiny car for multiple back-to-back hours, perhaps even days. Let’s be honest, not many individuals enjoys being confined to a single seat for long periods of time, even if you are riding in a luxury mobile. So if members of your traveling caravan are greatly opposed to the idea of being stuck in a car with brothers and sisters they may not get along well with, or even friends who get along very well but get carsick (don’t forget about carsickness), then keep that in mind when planning.

  • Know your car

If you decide to drive, then you would do well to know your chosen vehicle inside and out, as you will be relying solely upon it to take you and its other occupants all the way to your far off destination and back. You want to make sure that whatever car you choose is in its finest condition, perhaps inspected as close to the day of departure as possible and all of its liquid levels and maintenance procedures checked and double checked. Leave no room for error or surprises when it comes to road trips, because the last thing you want to be is stranded upon a lonesome country road with a blown tire, or a problematic engine. If you thought that long hours of sitting in a single chair was wearing and irritating on your traveling companions, wait until you add that to the car breaking down as a result of your own forgetfulness. Crankiness to the max…

  • Gas

You also want to be mindful and calculating of just how efficient your chosen vehicle is in terms of fuel. If you want to make it across country while avoiding spending a sizeable fortune on gas, then perhaps choosing to use your father-in-law’s Hummer for the trip is not the best choice. Pick the most fuel efficient car for the job, and know exactly how much gas fits into a single tank.

Along with that, plan out a route for the trip and look up what the cost of gas is along the route. Gas prices go up and down depending on location, so you want to scope out the highest and lowest prices that you will encounter beforehand. This information is crucial to know and understand when calculating how much you are going to spend on gas for the trip. To help, AAA has created a special gas calculator for just the occasion. Take advantage of it.

  • Meals

Since you will be going without flight attendants bringing you the Kosher meal as a result of your deciding to keep to the streets, you will need to account the cost of finding and paying for you and your family’s/companion’s meals.

When on the open road, a temptation may be to find a sit-down and waiter service restaurant as a relief to your “I’m sick of sitting in my car” mindset. Try to avoid these kinds of restaurants if you are making multiple day trips as the cost of dining out every time you stop for a meal can add up very quickly without you noticing. Keep it modest while driving to your destination, and splurge on being waited on through fancier dining experiences for when you arrive at your chosen destination.

  • Lodging for overnight

Don’t forget that you need to sleep, and we don’t mean at the wheel. For those who drive all day and don’t have the option of driver swapping (when one driver sleeps in the day and then rotates out to drive while the other goes to sleep at night), then stopping in a hotel or motel along the way adds not only time, but potentially a good amount of cost that should be considered. Think about ways you can cut back on such costs by driver swapping, or how comfortable you are with pulling into a rest stop for the night.

  • Long hours

Not only are you putting down some serious mileage onto your car when it comes to wear and tear, you are also putting a considerable amount of wear and tear onto your mental health. As you may have guessed, man was not designed to sit in a car seat for upwards of 15 hours at a time. Man was also not designed to listen to his young daughters sing along to the “Frozen” soundtrack for those same 15 hours either.

Keep in mind the mental toll that comes along with driving those long hours and being in such close proximity with your travel companions. You’d be surprised as to how much a person can change after being confined to such close quarters for so long.


The case for flying

Now onto what there is to know before you decide to book a stack of airline tickets for your family’s vacation this summer. As we mentioned earlier, the biggest difference, even in the face of the all the costs mentioned in the above section, is the cost differential from the airline tickets versus driving. Even with a great deal from a discount airline, the tickets are undeniably more expensive as compared to driving. If you have your own plane and a license to fly, then perhaps it is a different story for you, but for the rest of us who didn’t plan ahead for our lives to include a pilot’s license, here is what you need to know before you fly.

  • Airport parking

Unless you have a friend or relative who owes you a favor (or just likes you enough) to drop you off at the airport, you will have to pay for a taxi or shuttle service to take you to the airport or you’ll have to pay to park your car at or near the airport. If you want to save on this modest fee, start sweet-talking your friends and relatives now, or get your guilt trip speeches ready when it’s time to ask them to help you out with this favor.

  • Airport security

For those of us who are no strangers to flying alone, TSA is a nuisance to go through, albeit a nuisance that keeps us safe as we fly. Despite its actually peace-keeping motivation for being a part of the flying experience, we still like to complain about it.

What you need to keep in mind for those traveling with younger children or just first time flyers is that going through TSA (Transportation Security) is a process, and if its requests are not met quickly as you go though, it can cause some pretty costly time delays. Be sure you’re younger and newer travelers know what to do before you get to the scanning checkpoints or you might risk missing your flight.

  • Baggage fees

Did we mention that flying is very expensive? In case we didn’t, here is us saying it again: Flying is expensive. If you have multiple bags, then be prepared to be asked to check them in for a “baggage check fee”. Some airlines waive this fee entirely, others waive it for qualifying flyers, and other airlines waive the fee if you have a travel card with them.

  • Transportation upon arrival

Another cost that may be forgotten to be factored in is that since you decided to forgo having your own car be available to you at your chosen destination, you must procure your own ride once you touchdown there. Before you depart on your trip, look up and book a rental car service if you are traveling to an area that is spread out or if you are making multiple stops throughout the area. If you are traveling to a condensed area (like NYC or any other urban area), then factor in the cost of taxis or other public transit.

The expense that you pay for (and pay for dearly from your wallet) when it comes to flying is convenience. You are paying for the comfort that comes from making a trip that would take 15 hours by car in 5 hours (give or take), all the while being able to get up, walk around, take in a movie, visit the restroom, and even take a nap –all activities you could not (or should not) do whilst sitting behind the wheel.


What is your time worth?

So when it comes to choosing which is best for you and your travel companions, it really is a decision of which is more valuable to you, your time or your money? You can drive and make memories along the way whilst saving money, or you can put the money down on airline tickets and save time and possible sanity. If you’re stuck, try using this handy calculator to help with deciding which may best in terms of cost. Both flying and driving has pros and cons, but the decision comes down to what you wish to gain from the experience. Happy travels!