Ridiculous or not? Going out of your way to avoid planes

We’re a nation of drivers, no doubt about it.

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Don’t believe me? During the first five months of the year, Americans flew 321 billion miles. They drove 1.1 trillion miles. (It’s not a perfect comparison, since these are calculated slightly differently, but you get the idea.)

Last holiday weekend, less than eight percent of travelers flew to their destination. Almost 9 out of 10 drove.

You might not arrive at that conclusion from reading most travel blogs or magazines, but it’s true. For all the fretting we do about the indignities of flying, we sure don’t do very much of it.

All of which made me wonder: How far would you go to avoid a plane?

Related: The smarter consumer: How to turn a “no” into a “yes”.

Full disclosure: I’m spending the better part of next year in a car with my family. We’re going to see America from ground level and, hopefully, learn a thing or two while we’re crisscrossing the country.

I’m not afraid of flying. But let’s just say I have reason to believe I won’t be welcome on a plane anytime soon.

The conventional wisdom is that for longer trips – anything over 12 hours – flying should be your first choice. And that’s fine when you’re traveling solo. But for a family of five, and even with gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon, that rule gets tossed out the window.

Flying isn’t just a hassle – it’s also too expensive.

Ann Azevedo and her husband once drove from eastern Oklahoma to California – 1,114 miles – in a straight shot. They passed the 19 hours talking, looking for radio stations, reading and sleeping (the latter two as passengers, of course).

“It helps to switch off every couple of hours,” she says.

What if you can’t? Grant Petty remembers a road trip from South Florida to Louisville that he did solo.

“When I hit the Georgia border about eight hours later, I felt good, so I thought I’d drive a little further,” he says. “When I hit Atlanta, I still felt fine, and decided to drive a little further. When I hit Nashville at 11 p.m., I began to feel tired, but decided to drive through since by this time I was so close to home.”

By the time he arrived in Louisville – 20 hours and 1,207 miles later – “I had the air conditioner on full blast, the windows down, and the radio at max volume,” he remembers.

Incidentally, the world record for driving long distances belongs to a Swiss couple, Emil and Liliana Schmid, who crossed the globe in a Toyota Landcruiser. Now that’s some road trip!

I’ve done a few long drives, myself, but nothing like the Schmids. Back in the 80s, in an effort to save a few bucks, we decided to Go Greyhound across the country instead of flying. It took 3 ½ days to get from New York to San Francisco. I’ll never do that again.

Another memorable road trip: New Orleans to Los Angeles nonstop, with two college friends. I took the night shift driving through West Texas and New Mexico. It was spring, and I had plenty of company even when my friends were asleep in the back. Rabbit, deer and coyote randomly jumped across the road for miles on end.

I think there’s a point where flying makes so much more sense, and New York-to-San Francisco is definitely one of those times. Also, when you have to get to Europe or Asia. West Texas in spring? I wouldn’t give that up for anything.

Here in North America, the only negative road trip experiences have happened when I violated the 10-hour rule (never more than 10 hours of driving in a 24-hour period) or failed to stop every few hours for meals or stretch-breaks.

I remember one family road trip in Texas, where my parents were so anxious to reach their destination that they skipped a meal. The kids became cranky in the back and started smacking each other, as young children are known to do from time to time.

“We should have stopped for dinner,” my mother said in her “I-told-you-so” voice.

I have to ask, though: Are we going a little too far in our effort to save little money?

In an effort to avoid the relatively brief discomfort of air travel, are we adding even more misery to the trip? Or is the American road trip an incomparable experience that has to be savored slowly, like all good things in life?

97 thoughts on “Ridiculous or not? Going out of your way to avoid planes

  1. As a side note, for a leisure trip purchased in advance, the “tipping point” for cost (if you do not need a rental car at your destination) starts at around 500 miles (round trip) for solo travel.  Also, for people with limited vacation time, I don’t exactly treasure my hours spent hurtling down the interstate; I’d much rather be spending my precious vacation hours doing whatever it is I left home to do.

    Of course, a road trip taken for it’s own sake is an entirely different animal; but for a Point A to Point B car trip, you really need to weigh the pros, cons, and costs of each transportation method.

    P.S. When I said the tipping point for costs was $250 or so, I was considering normal standard IRS rates for mileage cost, which aren’t that far off from AAA’s estimates. Your costs, of course may be more (gigantic new luxurious tricked-out truck getting 11mpg) or less (mid-80’s Geo Metro).

    1. I’m with you – 500 miles is it.  And, strangely enough, I like to fly.  Whether you have a good trip or a bad trip depends a long on your attitude and expectations.  Especially on short ‘mini-breaks,’ time is worth more than money. 

  2. Apples and Oranges.

    Of course American drive more than we fly. That’s a no brainer.  Most Americans drive to work daily.  Most don’t fly.  The average American drive drives 15k per year.  By contrast most American fly once of twice a year at best unless for business.

    You cannot draw any conclusions from these numbers.

    1. +1

      and, 321 billion compared to 1.1 trillion is not miniscule.  It’s almost one-third!  I would not have guessed we flew 1/3 as many miles as we drive overall.

  3. Driving is door to door and you can come and go when you want. These are powerful advantages compared to matching an airlines schedule, pre-planning a trip and the hassles of getting to and from the airport. Driving also has the advantage that it’s the same price whether you have one person or four.

    You could construct an algorythm to decide which is better, but a key question is how much you value your time. Also if the cost of meals and hotels are added to the cost of travel, airplanes quickly become cheaper.

    If you include the cost of depreciation and maintenance and not just gasoline, driving costs about 50 cents a mile. If you include meals and hotels, it can $1 a mile.

    1. My husband and I drove from Montreal to the South West which included Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah & Colorado and the total cost of petrol was less than $700!! Unlike the airline’s restrictive baggage allowances and the fact that we would have had to shell out over $100 each way. By driving we we able to take all our camping gear etc. Two air tickets would have cost over $1,500 + bag charges, and then we would have had to rent a car etc. The trip was great. Driving was flexible, cheap and afforded opportunities of taking our time and seeing some wonderful places along the way that we couldn’t do by flying. Short hops A to B…fly…but for a long holiday nothing beats hitting the road!!   

  4. Every Christmas for the past few years, my GF and I drive to her parents house. It’s 15-16 hours, straight through. It’s a nice change for the two of us who spend way too much time in the air throughout the year.

  5. “By the time he arrived in Louisville – 20 hours and 1,207 miles later – “I had the air conditioner on full blast, the windows down, and the radio at max volume,” he remembers.”

    And this is the reason driving is so dangerous.  People push themselves to the point they are a danger to themselves and others.  There were 33,808 traffic fatalities in 2009.  That’s fatalities, not injuries. How many airplane related deaths, in 2009? 58 airplane crash deaths in the US and that was considered a bad year.  I would fly 90 miles before I would drive it if I had the choice.

    Pilots aren’t allowed to drink before work, have a fixed amount of duty time, have a co-pilot who can take the controls, and have continual re-education and training.  Any shmuck can get behind the wheel of a car.


    1. I agree with you, to a point.  I was much younger (and less wiser) than I am now.  But, when you’re just out of college, it’s much easier to justify $150 in gas (Much cheaper in 1997) and sleaping in a tent, versus a plane ticket, car rental and a hotel bill.  Would I do the same thing again?  No way!  Nor would I recommend anyone else doing it. 

  6. I’ve driven the 1000 miles from Charlotte NC to Bentonville AR overnight, about 16 hours. At least three times, round trip. Much easier than flying and certainly cheaper. No dealing with rental cars and you can bring as much luggage as you want.

      1. What an odd statement.  UPS is quite expensive for large items, it deprives you of the shipped items during your trip, you need to pack the items in a way where they’ll survive shipping, and you need to make arrangements to pick them up at your end destination.  I’ve shipped things when it was absolutely necessary, but it’s never as convenient as throwing items in the car or even packing them aboard the plane in a suitcase.  

        1. UPS overnight is far more expensive than checking a bag with the airline.  Also, I have had UPS lose my packages far more often than the airlines. And I check bags far more often than I ship.  Almost every package I have shipped this year by UPS has been delayed anywhere from 1 to 3 days, and in all cases UPS refused to adjust the price.  Paying $65 for overnight is ridiculous when it takes 2 business days, but UPS said they are not responsible for volume related delays.

  7. I voted “yes”.  My husband and I are walking every US state capital and walks along the Lincoln Highway.  Illinois and Indiana Lincoln Highway walks are in the current rotation of offerings.  I’ve priced out flying the two of us to Indianapolis or nearby and renting a car vs. just driving.  When you calculate the time in the air, plus the 2 hours in front and in back of each flight in getting to the airport, going through security, picking up/dropping off a rental car it makes no sense whatsoever to fly.  I have a few days off in October with UNL’s Fall Break – same deal about going to Austin (next on the list).  In the end, we’re planning on some Nebraska walks in the Panhandle.  Still lots of driving, but way less stress.  No car rental hassles, no security hassles and I can bring an entire 12-pack of Diet Coke with me in the car AND whatever adult beverages I choose! 

    I agree with @emanon256 that people driving too long on the road are a danger to themselves and to others.  There have been too many horrific crashes in the local news recently where the driver fell asleep at the wheel.  When I get to the point where I have to turn on the A/C and sing loudly, it’s time to hand off the driving duties or find a rest area and REST!

    1. @jeanne….I think you may have meant to vote NO, not YES.  It sounds like you prefer driving (as do we) but a yes vote would imply you prefer to fly.

      1. No, I really meant to vote “yes”.  Before 2001, I used to fly at a 500 mile cut-off.  My husband and I flew to our destinations, rented the car, yada yada.  Before 2001, I could get to the airport 1/2 hour before my flight with a 6-pack of coke and a bottle of wine in my carry on.  Or, I could get there 45 minutes before my flight and have my bag checked for free.  The new security restrictions cost me time, my ability to bring what I want with me and my personal freedoms.  The increasing loss of customer service in industries such as flight and rental cars mean that I enjoy the experience less.  I’ve definitely choosing driving over flying in a lot more circumstances, which means I’m “going too far to avoid flying”.

  8. There are any number of reasons to go out of your way to avoid planes, so I don’t find it ridiculous at all. Depending on where you live, you may also be avoiding trains and buses, too.

    I don’t like to drive, but I’m finding myself relying on it more and more.

    1. “Depending on where you live, you may also be avoiding trains and buses, too.”

      Careful – there are dangers along the road.  You could get stopped by “the authorities.” 


      1. Excuse me? Are you really calling me a nutjob? And are you trying to attribute some quote to me that I didn’t say?

        How many links do you want about recent bus accidents? How about the on-time history of the California Zephyr, Amtrak’s route from California to Chicago?

        If you think those thinks make me a nutjob, then you go eff yourself.

  9. Don’t ask me, I take the QM2 to NY for business trips. 

    Relaxing, undisturbed work hours, great food/service, fun bars, nightclub, plays, spa, exercise and the freshest air on the planet for less than the price of a R/T full fare coach seat from London.

    1. Wow, I just looked the QM2 up.  Looks nice, I wish I could travel that way.  However, the cheapest ticket I could find was $1,690 each way before taxes and fees for a lower deck inside (no windows) room.  With taxes, fees, and the fuel surcharge, it came to about $4,000 round trip. It also takes 7 days/nights each way.
      When I have to get to Europe for work, I can hop a flight from Newark for around $500 round trip after taxes and fees. I leave Sunday night, get there Monday morning, work a full week, and I’m home in NY for the weekend.  I doubt my company would let me pay 8 times as much as a coach ticket and take 2 weeks off to go work for a week in Europe.

      1. sorry i didn’t see your reply till now.
        a) only some one who likes to pay too much buys from Cunard.com. Go to vacationstogo.com or some other hi-volume consolidator.
        b) I don’t know who you fly with R/T EWR-LON for US$500 – but do share. I fly transatlantic 12-18x / yr and the only time you would get close to that fare is w/Iceland Air with a stop in RKV each way… in Jan-Feb only. and that was 2 years ago ‘-)
        c) I rarely do the R/T on the QM2. I often use it O/W NYC-LON when I need to get some research, reading and writing done. and it beats 2 days of jetlag-induced zombie brain from the overnight flight. The cost is usually $699 total O/W for an inside cabin on last minute basis (within 30 days) plus a O/W flt LON-NYC for $650 on United – which IMO beats paying the same for what is usually a terrible travel experience.
        It’s obviously not for everyone – I only do it when there is time available, and I own my companies so I don’t need anyone else’s permission!

  10. While price and number of travelers are critical variables on the decision to drive or fly, the Labor Day comparison is not a fair comparison.  I say this because the other variable that is not addressed is time.  The Labor Day holiday for most is a 3 day weekend, 4 or 5 if you are lucky enough to be able to use personal/vacation time before or after.  Given that, the decision to fly, even in that 500-1000 mile range greatly influences my decision to fly (if I travel at all). 

    We drove from Houston to Florida this summer (2 adults and 1 child), but we had 9 days for the trip, so it was not a big deal to spend a day and a half each way driving, but if it was for the Labor Day weekend, I wouldn’t even consider going unless I could fly.

  11. I travel quite a bit.  Sometimes I fly, sometimes I drive.  Which way I go depends on where I’m going and what I have to do when I get there.

    In the early years of my marriage, my husband and I drove everywhere.  I remember one 24 hour road trip from Colorado to Memphis.  My husband thought it would be “great to share the driving” two weeks after I had my youngest son.  It was great, for him.  He was tired the entire trip and I did the bulk of the driving, with him refusing to stop for the night to save money.  If it’s just me, I don’t care how I get there because I know I’m doing about 8 hours of driving and stopping for the night.  If my husband is with me, we fly because I don’t want to deal with his stuff.

    I just did a road trip of over 4500 miles through the Rockies with a girlfriend of mine.  It was a great trip!

  12. I am boycotting flying because flying has become a horrible experience, all the way around.  It has nothing to do with money, I guess it’s my dignity at stake here.  So we vacation closer to home.  Luckily, I don’t have to travel for business reasons.  What a depressing thought….

      1. Apparently “nutjob” is the extent of Billy’s vocabulary, and it applies to everybody who isn’t Billy. What a pathetic troll.

  13. At times it can take an hour to reach the airport, another hour to get checked in, go through security and then more time due to a plane delay. When getting off, waiting for baggage can take time. Then there are the costs involved with renting a car. Many communiities have added extra taxes to car rental fees–more than they should–so this becomes quite costly.  Take all the time involved to get to the airport, wait for a flight and then  get a rental car on the road.  I can be there before the plane is halfway to its destination. People needing to go a long distance alone may find the plane cheaper. But in more instances than not,  the car is a better option.    Chris, you cite the long drives.  Once I drove from  Chgo to West Palm Beach with two nephews who also drove. I did a lot of the driving and then slept two days on arrival, being so wiped out.

    1. When I was replying to @db718c801cc33f005045752180f8e025:disqus I forgot to mention how every city, county and state across the country has decided that rental car taxes and fees are the way to balance local budgetary concerns.  Also a new phenomenon since 2001.

  14. Three of us just spent two days of a four-day weekend driving 520 miles to see family.  A total of 9 hours travel time each way, vs 2 hours to the airport, an hour waiting, two hours in the air, and an hour collecting bags and arranging transportation.

    $80 in fuel vs. about $650 to fly.

    1. You also have to factor in wear and tear on the car, not just fuel. It doesn’t change the fact that it cost you way less than $650 to drive, but people often forget that gas isn’t the only expense of driving.

  15. Another factor I’ve not seen mentioned yet is weather. For those of us who live in the frigid north, driving during the large amount of the year when the ground is covered with snow and ice is a lot more dangerous and stressful than it is for those from Florida. We have flown times when driving would have been much cheaper, but we were worried about even the drive to the airport being dangerous. Yes, I know planes are also impacted by the weather, but they pretty fly year round more reliably than people think.

  16. One time I left U. Airzona with two guys to return home to Chicago. I was driving someone else’s car.  It broke down in the middle of the niight in the White Sands, NM area.  Getting a tow truck to be pulled to the nearest town was a comedy.  Cell phones were not in existence.  So,  picture me riding out in a tow truck–after hitching a ride into town and seeing the car being towed back–a trucker had notified a tow firm before  I did.  Back and forth. After getting the car fixed and finally arriving in Chicago, I felt there had to be a better way.  In many countries such as China, Japan and South Korea, the train is the only way unless the flight can be afforded. Especially on weekends the trains can be jammed with people sitting under the seats and standing tigthtly like sardines in  a can.  Yet most often  the people are friendly and high in spirit.   The rides can be fun. 

  17. I voted no with the majority.  We regularly drive the 21 hour trip from SW Florida to New Jersey, stopping overnight.  We would drive everywhere if we could.  Driving is best done with a companion and should only be done when wide awake, but it is considerably more pleasant than the whole flight process, IMO.

    1. IF YOU ARE PHYSICALLY ABLE!  Sadly, arthritis from a car accident years ago has caught up with me.  Can’t sit 21 hours like that!  I’d need EMTs to get me out of the car, never mind help me walk!  Flying wouldn’t be much better because of the horribly uncomfortable & anatomically incorrect seating, plus long standing in lines (couldn’t do that at all) unless I had a wheelchair.  “If I’d known I’d live this long I’d have taken better care of myself!”  (unknown)

      1. so sorry for your pain!  we don’t do 21 hours all at once as i don’t think i could do that either.  but in our mid 60’s traveling 11 hours with a good night’s sleep before the the next 10 is still comfortable for us, very comfortable.  we do exercise regularly and that has kept our bodies relatively healthy and agile, but at some point we may have to cease long car travel.  we only take planes when there is no other way. even a short flight on a plane is uncomfortable. factoring in all the issues. 

  18. I fly when I have a need to get from point A to point B at a certain time, usually for business meetings, or of course when there’s no real driving option. For downtime, though, we drive; but we build flexibility into the trip to allow for pulling off into that cute little town to explore, or checking out a scenic view or kitschy landmark (world’s biggest frying pan!) or just deciding to cut a day short and check into a hotel with a pool in early afternoon. I would never have the memories I have of our 3 weeks driving throughout Germany, Austria and Italy, or our days of driving from Illinios to Albuquerque for a military move if we had flown instead of “taking the scenic route.” I don’t avoid flying, but I use it like any other tool–when it’s convenient and/or necessary. 

    1. The world’s biggest frying pan is in my neck of the woods! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone reference it. Hope you had a good time driving across Iowa. It’s a pretty area and I completely agree with your decision to drive it.

  19. It’s pretty simple.  The airlines, public and government have made flying a pain in the backside.  Everything from frequently broken/delayed planes to the TSA to rude fight attendants to cramped seats to unruly passengers to unfriendly corporate policies to pile-on fees has made flying a miserable experience.  It’s often a lousy experience for consumers.

    So the time savings from the air travel have to outweigh the hassle of flying, the ability to set your own schedule in your car and the (generally) lower cost of driving. 

    Personally, if it’s under 400-500 miles, I’ll generally drive.  I don’t save enough time to put up with the BS that comes with air travel at that distance. 

  20. I won’t fly as long as my government sexually assaults me or irradiates me.  I’ve had to cancel the family vacation this year.  Didn’t go to Europe in the spring.  Can’t travel anywhere unless we drive.  It’s horrible.  Now that we have the opportunity, the government has gone insane.

    1. If you can drive to the NY area, you can to fly to Europe; JFK’s Terminal 4 didn’t have the pornoscanners the last time I flew, and Geneva and Paris don’t have them on the return flight.  My problem is that most of my family lives in the West and Southwest and I don’t have time to drive there.  Since I’m not willing to be groped or irradiated, I can’t visit them, and some of them are quite elderly.  We need to get rid of those scanners ASAP!

      1. Until our Congressmen and President are subjected to the same humiliation the rest of us are, it’s not going to change.

        This country is run by people who were bought and paid for by lobbyists and corporations. We the People mean nothing any more.

  21. I remember the many family vacations taken when I was young – every one was a driving trip.  Driving does have its benefits such as being on your own schedule, finding out of the way sights that you would never see even if you went by bus, and the ability to take what you want with you.   

    I also drove on most of my own vacations when I was in my 20’s. I threw camping gear in the car and off I went.  Sometimes I had a travel companion, but mostly went on my own.  Had great times, saw things I never would have seen traveling any other way, and even met some good friends along the way.  But I also was lucky.  I never had any car troubles other than flat tires.  Never ran into any problem people at campgrounds or rest stops.  

    All of that travel was done before cell phones so when you were out in the desert Southwest, you really were alone.  And these were 2 week vacations where we had time to drive and see the sights and still have time at the key destination to enjoy enough time there to really feel like it was a vacation.

    My brother spent an extended vacation with a friend where we dropped him off on one of the family driving trips.  He flew back home at the end of the summer.  I remember my parents worrying about how they would pay for the plane ticket since it cost about a weeks pay for my father at that time (this was  during the regulated days of air travel).

    Since most of my recent travel has been to Europe, it is impossible to drive there from here so I fly.  Also many of my shorter trips have been by plane simply because I don’t get a large enough block of time off together to allow for any time at the destination if I drive.  My family is now over 1000 miles away from where I live and work.  Unless I speed and drive for too many hours at a time, it takes 2 days each direction for me to get there and back.  On a plane, the travel time is 2 hour each way (plus the airport time).  So I can get off work Friday night and be home visiting by bed time, spend all weekend visiting and then fly back to work on Monday.  All for around $200.  Gas for the trip would cost me the same plus I would have to pay for two hotel nights.  Also, since I am not taking vacation days to make the trip, I can visit family much more often when I fly.

    Maybe I am just in too much of a hurry these days, but now I prefer to fly most places.  I have seen most of the US in between the points I fly to and just want to get where I am going.  Hassles at the airport, so far, have been minimal for me.  I travel light don’t need anything I can’t carry on a plane and don’t check luggage even when going to Europe for a two week trip, so I don’t have the time or money wasted checking bags and then waiting for them.  I am a frequent renter for cars so I just walk to a vehicle and drive off with no wait thanks to the business travel I do.  Don’t get me wrong, there are still stresses when flying.  Delays and cancellations, way too long to get through security sometimes, and annoying airline employees can make the trip less that enjoyable.  But for the most part the thought of a two hour flight vs. a two day drive means the flight wins.

  22. If it’s just one of us, we generally fly, but anymore than that….we drive.  There’s just no way I’m paying airfare….and then a rental car, for our family of 7.  MUCH cheaper to rent a minivan, and drive.  I like this website for the cost of road trips:  www.costtodrive.com

  23. Road rage drivers, construction projects, speed traps, red light cameras, bone jarring potholes, slow drivers in passing lanes, good heavens! There are issues with driving just as there are issues with riding a bus, taking a train, or yes, flying on a plane. You do what makes the most sense with the time frame and budget you have. I love road trips where part of the experience is the drive itself. Seeing the sights along the way, exploring by ways and small towns, historic markers, etc is a wonderful experience. However, I love flying to places as well.  When I want time to enjoy the destination itself I prefer to fly, and when I do fly, I find the airline and FAs to be friendly and helpful 99% of the time. (I do not take one example from my previous 25 flights and label the whole industry as rude which so many seem to do now). When I can take the time to enjoy the sights along the way I will drive, but sometimes I want more time around the area of my destination instead of using the time to get to the destination. My husband and I have really enjoyed exploring the Parks etc around Utah after a business meetings in Salt Lake City, but we fly in and out of Salt Lake City so that we would have the 3 days to explore areas like Moab or Arches, etc. By flying in and out we have those days to discover the incredible beauty there. We had a similar experience in Montana, flying into Bozeman for a meeting, then taking 3 days to explore the amazing Yellowstone area. Getting off the interstates and finding the local sights is terrific, whether you are finding them by driving to a destination or by driving around once you are there.

  24. I love flying (I still get excited about going to the airport), but there are places you miss flying.  Sometimes you’ve just got to get down on the ground level and see the little things that you miss when you take the quickest route from place to place. 

  25. Consider:  It takes more time to fly from San Francisco to Los Angeles, door to door, than it does to fly — when you include time to the airport, TSA, 2 hour checkin, flight delays, luggage retrieval, and getting to your destination after arrival.

    Why fly?


    1. I agree that for short trips, driving is probably best.  Both LAX and SFO have some of the worst security waits I have ever seen and I try to avoid them anyway.  But you can still have traffic delays for construction, accidents, and no apparent reason at all that can add hours to your drive. 

      I used to regularly travel between Houston and Dallas for business.  It is about a 3 hour drive on good days and the flight is about 1 hour plus airport time.  So at first glance, the drive would make better sense.  Unfortunatelly there are very few good days on that drive.  The last time I made that drive it took 6 hours.  There was a section of construction out in the middle of nowhere (meaning no place to go other than the highway – no exits, so frontage roads) and a couple accidents which meant it took 2 hours to go about 20 miles.  I flew every time after that.

    2. Exactly.  For family in San Diego, they drive up to SF as it is only 2 hours more in driving time than flying.  They can bring the kitchen sink in the car if they want to as they have their own car.  Our last trip to Portland, OR for a wedding took 10 hours in drive time to get there and we beat everyone who flew.

      We just took a 4,000 mile driving trip this summer.  I just totaled the gas receipts and we spent $600 for two weeks of travel.  Cheaper than flying, didn’t have to rent a car and still pay for gas but the best benefit is we actually saw America didn’t fly over her!

      I save my flying for places I can’t drive to or time is an issue.  Otherwise, Willie Nelson is singing ‘On The Road Again’ from the CD player in my car!

  26. No one else has mentioned this: motion sickness. If I’m in a car and not driving, there are many things I can’t do for fear of ending up nauseated. In a plane, I don’t get motion sick, so I can read or watch a movie or do a crossword or knit… Wait times at the airport don’t bother me for the same reasons: I use the down time to read or knit or people-watch.

  27. There’s another alternative you don’t mention, which is Amtrak. Sadly, many Amtrak routes are now served by bus — you can’t even go all the way from Los Angeles to San Francisco on rails. But where Amtrak does serve, it’s a lovely (if not terribly prompt) way to go. I almost always take the train instead of making the 3 hour drive to San Diego. And perhaps if more people rode Amtrak, we could see our rail service expanded.

    1. The Coast Starlight train doesn’t use the bus.  The valley train in CA is train and bus.  Sadly, Amtrak isn’t reliable and is very expensive if you want a sleeping compartment.  Motel 6 accomodations at Hyall prices.

    2. Amtrak is only an alternative in certain areas, and at certain times.

      I’ve taken the California Zephyr this year to get somewhere, and I’ve driven 2/3rd of most of the same route to get somewhere else. I didn’t take Amtrak for that second trip because I would’ve had to try and catch a once-a-day train at 3am on the way home.

      And on the trip where I did take Amtrak, I was fortunate that the train was on time both directions, as this is a rare occurrence for this route.

  28. Personally, I don’t go out of my way to avoid flying (in fact, I really like it – the being in the air part, not the going-through-TSA-and-waiting-out-the-inevitable-flight-delays part); I just do whatever makes the most sense based on time and money. Most of the travel my wife and I do on a regular basis is within 200 miles of home, so clearly driving is the way to go in that case. For vacations, we don’t hesitate to fly if it makes sense. That being said, we also enjoy road trips, so sometimes we’ve driven even if flying might have been a bit cheaper.

    As for marathon drives, we made it back from Bar Harbor, ME to south central Wisconsin without stopping except for gas, bathroom breaks, and food…a little over 25 hours. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t done about 22 hours of the driving. 🙂 There’s something almost pleasurable about a 500+ mile drive, I think.

  29. I live in WI.  My daughter goes to school in Savannah, GA.  We (husband or one of her sisters) like to visit with her at least once every school year (sometimes more), and also help her when the year is over.  She has been there for 3 years, and in the 9 trips I have taken there, only one has been by plane.  That flight left at 6am from Madison, and we couldnt get into Savannah until 9pm.  We found we can drive it in around 19 hours, and it costs about the same as a flight for 2 would be.  We leave at 6pm and arrive by 2pm the next day, sharing the driving and sleeping.  However, by driving we can bring all the clothes we need (winter and summer), have out shampoos and lotions, the beach chairs, a cooler with drinks and snacks, and not have to wait for hours in an airport for the connecting flight. 

    Unless I am flying over an ocean, or the trip will take more than 36 hrs to drive (one night at a motel is the limit), I think it is well worth my while to drive rather than fly.

  30. It also depends on where you live and where you’re going. If you live in a tertiary community and are flying to a tertiary community, that break-even level tilts much more in favour of driving. From Los Angeles to New York? Of course you’d fly. From Santa Maria, California to Grand Junction, Colorado? You’ve got to fly from Santa Maria to LAX, then to Denver, then to Grand Junction, with a lot of hurry-up-and-wait time as you transfer in each location. It’s a 900-mile drive on roads that average 70-75 mph speed limits.

  31. My husband and I chose to drive for our honeymoon last week rather than fly. We saved money, enjoyed the leisurely trip, and I had the peace of mind knowing that nobody at the airport would be touching me on my wedding night.

  32. I am currently planning and researching my dream trip around the world, and I plan to do it without flying! Trains, cargo ships and ferries are a great way to see the world, from ground level.

  33. It depends on the circumstances of the individual trip.  I can’t drive or take the train across the ocean, and there aren’t many ships crossing the Pacific, so right away there are some no-brainer decisions to fly.

    Domestically, a lot depends on the time available and the length of the trip.  I live in Seattle, so to visit Portland I’m not going to fly — I’ll either drive or take the train.  And between the government and the airlines, there is absolutely no joy in flying anymore (in the cattle compartment, anyway).

    When it’s an option, I really like taking the train.  Yes, getting a room is expensive, but it’s still less expensive than buying a first class air ticket.  The biggest problems with the train, though, are (a) lack of route coverage, (b) lack of Amtrak enforcement of contract provisions regarding on-time performance, and (c) lack of rental car availability at the destination — take the train to Minneapolis/St. Paul and you have to catch a cab to the airport to get a rental car!

    Personally, I don’t think flying is particularly expensive.  There are still fares available that are lower, WITHOUT adjusting for inflation, than they were in 1976.  Yes, I know that before Deregulation the airlines had no incentive to keep fares low.  Unfortunately, now too many people look only at price and not at value, so we’re stuck with flying Greyhound service (if you can call it “service”).  I’d be happy to fly more if (a) TSA was brought under control, and (b) the airlines offered a better-value proposition.

  34. I go out of my way to avoid flying because I won’t tolerate being bullied and sexually humiliated by government agents.  I would rather fly, but instead, I’m taking Amtrak to Buffalo and then renting a car to drive home.  It’s true that I am risking my life on the roads and that flying would be much safer, but I would rather die than let those perverts shove their filthy hands down my pants.  Far from keeping us safe, the TSA’s disgusting abuse is killing people.

    1. “the TSA’s disgusting abuse is killing people” – that would be your fault, not the TSA’s fault.
      If you let the TSA control your life like it is (according to you) then fine, but pretty much everyone else manages to fly just fine. Besides, in my experience flying over 20 times a year within the US, the TSA has never given me any trouble or embarrassment.

      1. A Cornell University study showed that over 1000 excess road deaths every year are due to the TSA’s diverting would-be flyers onto the road.  Anyone who thinks the TSA saves lives can’t count.  The TSA has killed more people over the years of its existence than Osama’s plot did. 

        And as for, “it never happened to me so it never happened”, I’d love to see you NOT change your life in response to being sexual assaulted, as I was, by a TSA thug who got off scot-free after inflicting wrenching emotional trauma on an innocent young woman.  I’ve heard personal stories from literally dozens of girls and women who break down and cry while describing their humiliation and pain and disgust after a TSA assault. 

        1. I’m not saying the TSA is saving lives or that it isn’t – it just isn’t explicitly killing people.
          There are also alternatives to driving or flying – Amtrak (sometimes, as you use, which is about as if not safer than flying) for example. The other big one is staying at home. That works for many people, often for economic rather than safety reasons. If you don’t want to fly, then stay home and avoid the roads while you’re at it.

          1. Ahh, yes, the ol’ “Why don’t you stay home since you don’t like being groped at the airport?” argument.

          2. I know it’s not that realistic or even completely sensible, but neither is arguing that the TSA is killing people by making them drive.

          3. I don’t see why considering the consequences of TSA’s policies is unrealistic or not sensible.  There are many similar examples in which policies intended to make people safer ended up making them less safe.

            For instance, mining rescue team laws required teams to conduct a certain number of drills in every mine, an unrealistic goal – so Kentucky’s teams disbanded.  No more mine rescuers!  People waiting for a kidney transplant sometimes turn down the offer of an organ with a slightly elevated chance of being HIV-infected (we’re talking one in 100,000 kind of chance) even though they have a 7% chance per year of dying on the waitlist.  The FAA considered requiring children under 2 to be latched in car seats on airplanes, but decided not to require that since the expense of an additional seat would push families onto the road, resulting in 9 times more infant deaths than would happen if the families flew with kids in laps.  Here’s a well-written examination of similar issues with baby car seats and airbags: http://www.hobomama.com/2008/02/unintended-consequences-of-child-safety.html

            Shutting our eyes to the real consequences of “safety” policies isn’t just sloppy thinking. It leads directly to unnecessary and preventable deaths. 

          4. And at the same time, what forces you to travel at all? Not counting trips right around home that you couldnt fly for anyways, nobody needs to fly or drive, if theyre that concerned with safety.
            Going after drunk driving or speeding or the like makes much more sense than going after the tsa then.

  35. Why would driving instead of flying be considered “ridiculous”?  People have different reasons for doing so, but some people just like to drive.  I count myself in that category.  I’m always volunteering to drive relatives to see other relatives in a different part of the country, and I make it a point to take at one really long (read: 4,000 miles or more) road trip a year, usually as a summer vacation.  My friends and co-workers call me crazy, but two weeks on the road is one of the only times I can truly clear my head, since I can honestly tell clients and co-workers “no, I can’t do your conference call or review that schedule you sent by e-mail, because I need to pay attention to where I’m going!”.

    Plus, it’s kinda cool to be able to tell people that I’ve physically driven in 49 states.

  36. Count me among the folks who avoid flying at all costs for one reason alone: the TSA and their sexual abuse of innocent civilians.

    As a person with internal metal body parts and a history of cancer in the family, I must get groped EVERY SINGLE TIME I FLY. I refuse to be irradiated (I’m already at a higher risk for cancer because of my family medical history), and I set off the metal detectors…so regardless of whether or not there is a porno-scanner at a checkpoint, if I want to get on an airplane I’m going to have to allow myself to be touched by strangers.

    While some of my gropings have been relatively benign, others have been akin to a rape, including violent penetration of my vagina with raised thumbs through my clothes. I have no control over what type of grope I’m going to get. And if I complain or resist or even flinch, I am threatened with denial of boarding (thereby losing the cost of my ticket) or even arrest.

    Until these unconstitutional and criminal assaults on my body are stopped, I will avoid flying whenever possible. And if I must fly, I will exert my rights and insist that my genitals NOT be violated. If this resistance ends up in my arrest, so be it. That’s what our country has come to: threats to arrest innocent middle-class disabled mothers for refusing to be sexually assaulted by intimidating strangers in positions of power.

  37. When I finished my flight training in 1954 in Corpus Christi TX, I checked out at 5 minutes after midnight and headed for CA.  Had planned to stop in Roswell NM but felt great so kept on.  Ran out of options to stop until I reached Flagstaff NM at 9 PM.  Hungry but when I got to coffee shop, sat down and started to shake.  Had a bowl of soup and went to bed.  Up
    in morni and made Bay Area by evening

  38. Drive vs. Fly  — I rather fly 6 hrs then drive 20+  I look at it as the cost of my time that I am willing to give up to fly vs flying. To drive to Calif or Florida is DUMB and a waste of my time and money

    When I go from home to Montreal it is a 6 hr drive, but to fly there it is 8 hrs –so we drive because we have to have make a connection in PHL  then go rent a car in Montreal.  the time and costs does not make sense for me to fly there.   The 8 hours includes the early time at the airport, the layover in PHL and waiting for taxiing in Montreal and luggage and then car rental.

  39. I think it also depends on where you’re going.  Sometimes the cost of the air tickets is so high that it doesn’t make sense to fly. 

    When my husband and I looked at flights to Bar Harbor, Maine from Philadelphia this summer, it cost more for the two of us to fly than it did for our cottage rental for the week!  That’s not counting car rental, bike rental, kayak rental, food, etc.  Flying would have greatly increased the cost of our vacation. 

    We ended up driving there, taking our bikes with us and food to cook for the week (with a few nights out as well).  While it was an 11-hour drive, we saw beautiful coastline and made some great stops along the way.  In this case, flying just wasn’t worth the hassle.

    1. Yes, your origination and destination make a huge difference. I’m not surprised that it’s so expensive to fly into Bar Harbor since it’s such a small airport. On the flip side, there are routes where fares are so cheap it’s a no-brainer to fly. My wife goes to visit her sister a couple of times a year and flights on Southwest from Chicago-Midway to LaGuardia are $89 each way. You couldn’t even pay for the gas alone on that trip for $89 if you drove.

      It’s definitely a very individual determination if driving or flying is cheaper.

  40. I used to love flying, and would choose it if possible. That all changed when the TSA took over and made flying a very negative experience. The perception of security is not worth the trade-off. I’m just glad I got to enjoy flying for a while.

  41. I don’t mind flying but coupling with the current price of air travel with TSA’s out of control behavior, I refuse to fly with my children. I will not subject them to a full body enhanced pat down. As an adult, I can make the choice whether or not to subject myself to something like that but my children have no choice. As a family of 4, it isn’t inexpensive to fly so I prefer to spend the money on gas with the knowledge that my girls won’t experience 2nd base before hitting the age of 10. And so we drive.

  42. Over 5 or 6 hours in the car one way then I’m seriously considering flying if I’m traveling alone.  Above that it’s just too much time in the car.  Of course if there is another person then I’ll go longer.  But there’s something to be said for the comfort of your own car and avoiding all the security nonsense at the airport. 

    Of course the cost of the airline ticket is a factor too. 

    But I think this is an easier answer for people traveling by themselves as the cost of flying for one vs driving is dramatically different then for a family of 5.

  43. It depends on the time and the trip and the associated costs..

    Here is a hypothetical exaple.

    Say I want to travel to Southern Utah/Northern Arizona and cover the area of Arches to Zion, to the Grand Canyon.

    I live in Seattle.

    I can fly to Las Vegas, Phoenix, or Salt Lake City all direct (2-3 hr flight).  I would rent a car for 10 days of traveling.  A round trip flight can be gotten for about $250-$300 round trip.  rental car can be gotten for $30/day….so for $300.

    For me to drive my own car that would be 2 long driving days of 8 hrs or more on the raod.  The added cost would be more than 2000 miles on my car which under the wear and tear approach to miles would mean about $1000 impact on my car.  I am just looking at the distance of driving from Seattle to Salt Lake City.  I am not counting the cost of trip driving because the cost in terms of gas in my car or gas in rental would be the same.  There is the mileage impact on my car.  With these two long days of driving their is also gas costs so for a car that does 20 mpg and cost of gas $4/gallon would mean 100 gallooons so $400 in gas costs.  Also on this trip is someplace to sleep that night in between the two day road trip which say is $80/night…back and forth…so that is $160.

    If we look at the gas and hotel costs alone =$560….about the same cost as a flight and rental car.  This is not taking into account the mileage cost on my own car.

    If I was to drive…then this turns a 10 day trip into a 14 day trip because of the driving that needs to be done.

    I am a solo travel so I would easily fly and rent a car.

    But if I was a family of four then the flight costs goes to $1000 instead of $250.  That may change the decision.  But the drive time and cost on your own car is a a factor too.

    One other caveat….it depends on where you are flying to.   If you are flying to a smaller city the rental car rates can be much higher like $50-$60/day….and airfare can be higher.

    Last month from Seattle I took a road trip to Glacier.  I could have flown and rented….but part of the travel was the drive and seeing where I was driving and its terrain….which was part of the trip.

  44. Back in the 60’s and early 70’s, in pre-inflation times, when one could live on a teacher’s salary, we used to pack up the sleeping-and-storage-only tent camper and head out from NY for points west. We would leave on July 4th weekend and return on Labor Day weekend, in time for school. We had no A/C in our used cars and no seat belts, and, one year, we were all stuffed into a Toyota Corolla, 2 adults and 3 children. Still, we managed to enjoy many national and state parks all over the US and were still talking to each other by trip’s end and regretting having to return to routine.

    Since 9/11 and the hassles and indignities of flying that have ensued, my husband will only fly if he absolutely has to, for emergencies or for when we have to be in different distant places in a short period of time for family events. Every year, he will drive in our RoadTrek from NY to visit our daughters in MA, MD and OR, stopping to sight-see along the way. I also like the more exotic, visiting other countries to see different cultures and wildlife. We both wrack up a lot of miles, he on the road, and I on a plane. He will subject himself neither to the whims of the TSA nor to the Airlines. I will not let the TSA stop me from seeing the world.

  45. I try to drive whenever I can, because I think the airlines have gotten out of hand. I don’t like feeling nickel-and-dimed on everything. It would be different if the fare for the seat was a set rate, and it went up incrementally based on anything added, but that’s not the case. We’re still paying pretty high rates, then we have to pay extra for ‘perks’. I can save money by driving, even factoring in stopping and staying in hotels!

  46. There are some places where driving one’s own car makes sense, as well as getting the experience of a family road trip.

    If you’ve got a family of five, you’re paying for five passengers and five airfares.  If you’ve got those five in a vehicle, that’s only a marginal increased fuel cost compared to a solo driver.  I don’t know how it works out for a family of five when it comes to lodging.  I know most hotels max out at five adults, but I thought they could be more flexible with children, such a providing small rollaway beds.

    There are certainly places where it really does make sense to drive.  If you’re on a camping trip, it might be possible to pack all the stuff you need, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s difficult to pack or get on a plane.  I suppose one could buy a cooler near the destination and dispose of it later, but that seems rather wasteful.  OTOH – I actually few into Florida, bought a small cooler for beverages, and brought it home in a box along with all the food and beverage I bought but couldn’t consume.  That was back when American allowed each passenger two pieces of checked-in luggage at no extra charge.

  47. I haven’t flown for pleasure at all this year, and only once for work. As with others here, I refuse to fly as long as the TSA is violating our Constitutional rights. Right now, I’m trying to decide between Amtrak and driving when I have to get from San Diego to Washington, D.C. next spring. (The other end of the trip will definitely be driving.)

  48. I remember once driving from Cleveland, Ohio to Tampa, Florida. The intent was to stay one night on our way down whenever we got too tired to drive anymore. Unfortunately every motel we tried to check into happened to be booked. Finally around 2:00 am, after stopping at around 6 motels, I decided drive straight on to Tampa. All together it took us over 20 hours. From then on I’ve decided to fly when traveling for such long distances. It’s less time consuming, and a lot safer.

  49. It’s a non-starter.  Are you really traveling – that is seeing the sights along the way, or going from point A to point B?  I live in SF and I have driven to Las Vegas and Los Angeles with the family because we stopped along the way for fun.  I’ve also flown both ways because we just wanted to get there.  It was never a question of which.

  50. As long as I am treated like a criminal for simply wanting to fly from point A to point B, I will not be using air transportation.  If a car or a train cannot get me there, I will not go.

  51. i am a professional driver.  i drive about 2500 miles a week on average.  i always drive on vacation.  i drove from minneapolis mn, to carlsbad nm in one sitting, and seattle to minneapolis in one shot.  no problems.  it did take me 3 days to drive from anchorage alaska to grants pass oregon though.  of course when i’m in my semi, i only drive 11 hrs a day or less, as required by law.  but put me in my saab convertible and i will go forever.

  52. I happen to love road trips even though it can be tiring. However, the one time I decided to fly, I couldn’t find an airline that would take my mobility scooter. With all the horrible things you hear about on flights, such as unruly passengers, escaped and/or abused pets (of which I have one who travels with me), as well as the cost and all the scams, I think I will stick to road travel!

  53. More apples versus oranges.

    In reply to (can’t find the byline) “During the first five months of the year, Americans flew 321 billion miles. They drove 1.1 trillion miles. ”

    It would be more meaningful to say “Americans spent X hours on airplane trips. They spent Y hours on automobile trips.” Where the time per person is measured from when they started out (headed for the airport etc.) until they got to their destination, door to door, that is.

    Not to change to a gruesome topic but plane versus car accident statistics should also be measured in terms of passenger hour rather than passenger mile.

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