The cost of driving versus flying


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Whether you’re heading to Vegas for a wild weekend adventure or trekking across the country to celebrate the holidays with your in-laws, chances are you spend a lot of time in transit.

After all, millennials love to travel. But before you book your next plane ticket or gas up your car for a road trip, it might be worth it to consider the pros and cons of driving vs flying.

After all, flying might get you there faster, but driving lets you see the sights. Flying might be more expensive, but driving can be more work. So which one is right for your trip?

Related: Leasing vs. buying a car: What’s right for you?

Pros and cons of driving vs flying

It can be easy to assume that the main benefit of flying is saving time and the main advantage of driving is saving money, but it’s not quite so simple. In fact, the pros and cons of driving vs flying depend on the type of trip you’re taking, your priorities and your personal preferences.

For example, if you’re taking a business trip to attend a crucial half-day meeting in another city, your highest priority might be the speed of flying in and out. If, however, you’re planning a family vacation to a national park, you might want to pause before booking that plane ticket if you’ll have to rent a car when you get there anyway.

And if you’re six foot six and aren’t interested in spending five hours with your knees touching your chin, you might be more inclined to ride out the trip in the car — where you can stop to stretch as often as you need.

But beyond personal preferences, there are some additional pros and cons to flying and driving.

Unless you’re a college student taking a tour of America, road trips can get a bad rap, replete with images of dingy rest stops and greasy fast food bags stinking up your car with a stale french fry smell.

But the truth is, traveling by car can have some benefits. First of all, it can be cheaper to travel by car than by air, especially if you’re going with a large group of people. After all, six people flying to Vegas will each need their own ticket, but they can all pile into the same minivan.

But the truth is, traveling by car can have some benefits.

And about that road trip food? You’re not limited to burgers and fries, in fact, traveling by car means you can more easily access any type of food your heart desires, not just what’s available in the airport.

Some people even plan their road trip routes to go through foodie cities around dinner time to take advantage of world-class cuisine.

Let’s not forget the sightseeing — traveling by car offers flexibility so you can see the sights you want, whether that’s a quick detour through a national forest on your way across the country or planning a route that takes you from the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., to the National Blues Museum in St. Louis, to the Buffalo Bill Museum in Colorado.

One other benefit? Science shows us that the anticipation that builds in advance of a trip may lead to a happiness boost before the trip and could even help you enjoy the vacation more. That means that a long drive to get to your vacation destination might make the trip even sweeter when you finally do arrive.

Driving has its downsides, too, however. One of the more significant disadvantages, of course, is that you can’t just sit back and relax while you’re driving — you’re the one responsible for making sure the car gets there safely!

It also can take more work to plan a trip, as you have to choose what route you’ll take, where you’ll stay and whether you’ll be hitting drive-thrus from California to New York or making reservations at noteworthy restaurants along your route.

And we can’t forget one of the main reasons many people choose to fly instead of drive: it takes a whole lot longer to drive cross-country than it does to hop a red-eye from Los Angeles to New York.

That time-saving advantage is one of the biggest pros when it comes to choosing to fly. A trip that could take days of driving might only take hours in the air. And since you’re not the one flying the plane, you’re free to close your eyes and snooze away the hours until you arrive at your final destination.

That time-saving advantage is one of the biggest pros when it comes to choosing to fly.

There’s no question of what route to take, where to stop and when you’ll leave and arrive — the airline has that all figured out for you.

You can take off from New York and wake up in L.A. ready to roll, without the exhaustion of a multi-day road trip holding you back.

Of course, you’ll pay a premium in exchange for a speedy arrival and the convenience of flying. It is often more expensive to fly than to drive. You might also have to sacrifice a little personal space and dignity.

Airplane seats are getting smaller and more and more people are packed onto flights, which means that you can pretty much count on being kind of uncomfortable while you engage in a silent but cutthroat battle with your seatmate over who gets to use the single armrest.

And if you’re a nervous flyer, the anxiety of flying might outweigh the benefit of getting to your destination sooner.

Driving vs flying: The cost

For many people, the decision of whether to fly or drive may come down to cost. While you may be tempted to merely compare ticket prices to gas prices to decide which one is cheaper, don’t forget to take into account extra costs like eating out, luggage fees and hotel rooms.

Here are a few travel costs of driving to consider:

•   Gas
•   Hotel rooms
•   Eating out
•   Car maintenance
•   Tolls

And for flying:

•   Ticket
•   Seating choice
•   Luggage fees
•   Eating out
•   Transportation to and from the airport
•   Airport parking
•   Car rentals

Luckily, in this day and age, you don’t need a map and a calculator to figure out which transportation method will be more cost-efficient.

You can easily use an online calculator like this one from Travelmath or this one from BeFrugal to get an idea of how travel costs may compare whether you are driving or flying.

One thing to keep in mind is all the little costs that can add up while traveling, like unexpected purchases, annoying tolls and convenience fees and out-of-network ATM fees that rack up whether you drive or fly.

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