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The Pros and Cons of Long-Distance Driving vs. Flying



Travel season will be here before we know it. Many people are going to be contemplating the best way to get themselves several states away from home, whether that’s via driving or flying.

They’re not just considering the financial cost, but whether other conveniences and benefits will make the more expensive option worth it. Perhaps you’re one of them.

Some people have tried to piece together “trip calculators” to compare the costs of the two, but they still aren’t quite thorough with considering all the factors that can shape your decision. Here are all the things you ought to consider when making this travel decision.

Time vs. Distance

Many put the baseline at one day: if it takes more than one day of driving to get somewhere, you’re better off flying. After all, even if flying is the more expensive option, surely the cost covers not wasting an entire day of your life, right?

That dividing line is a good place to start, but it can get much blurrier than that. Costs are not fixed. In fact, there’s one major factor that can massively throw off the cost ratio.

Flying Solo?

Every person you put on a plane is going to cost the price of a ticket, but you can shove as many people as you can into a car and the cost of fuel will not go up.

This is why long car rides are still so popular with families. You would need to be going a very long way before the cost of driving would be more expensive than buying each person a plane ticket.

Therefore, the opposite is true for a solo traveler. Flying would be cheaper for longer distances and more expensive for shorter ones (but be sure to remember the cost of a rental car if you’ll need one at your destination).

Of course, a long road trip with a bunch of people also means an increased cost of food and lodging, but that was going to happen no matter which method of transportation you chose.



Then again, if you’re driving with a bunch of other adults, you can split driving time 24/7 and sleep during the ride while not losing time. This is why long road trips are also popular among 20-somethings with all the time in the world.

Flexibility vs. Order

Some people simply prefer road trips because they can travel wherever they want whenever they want, off the beaten path, and on their own schedules.

Others prefer flying because they like having structure and fear what might go wrong if left stranded at the roadside in the middle of nowhere. Do you immediately relate to either one of those archetypes? Do you like a planned itinerary or do you like exploring?

Driving means not having to deal with security checkpoints, boarding passes, and being cramped with strangers.

Flying means not having to fend for yourself for food and shelter, and not being tasked with operating a vehicle if the weather is nasty.

These are the kinds of details that might drive someone to make a financially counterintuitive choice if they feel strongly enough about it. Not to mention, some scenery looks better on the ground and some looks better from above.

Safe and Sound

Air travel wins this round. Driving is simply much more dangerous than flying. There are so many more cars on the road than planes in the sky, and in such closer proximity, that road accidents are consequently much more common.

Meanwhile, specifically because everybody is afraid of what can go wrong in the air, planes go the extra mile to be as safe as possible. In the grand scheme of things, airplanes (statistically) almost never have an accident.

But the cost of a plane ticket is enough for many people to run the risk of driving anyway.

If You’re Going to Hawaii

If you’re heading to our 50th state, we highly recommend flying.

In all seriousness, it is possible to “drive” to Hawaii if you drive to a port city on the west coast and put your vehicle on a cargo ship, but that’s certainly more expensive than just flying.

Just don’t say we didn’t tell you all your options.

All the Small Things

Even beyond everything else, there can be a bunch of easy-to-overlook details that might definitively sway your decision one way or another:

-Is your car reliable enough to go the distance? Will you need a rental?

-Do you need to pay for checked baggage if you fly?

-How are you getting to and from the airport? Are you parking there, taking a taxi or an Uber, or guilt-tripping your friend into giving you a ride? Will you need a rental car at your destination, or will you rack up taxi and Uber fees there, too?

-Are you traveling during a time of year when unsafe driving weather is likely?

-Are your pets coming along? Who do you trust more, the baggage handlers or the other drivers on the interstate?

-Are you certain nobody in your group has a phobia you don’t know about, a fear of flying or a fear of driving over bridges or through tunnels? It’s best to double-check, because all of those are more common than you might think.

The simplest thing to do is take the “one day’s drive” rule and modify it according to your number of travelers, but planning travel is rarely a simple thing.

Whether you’re taking the family to see Cousin Sam in Nebraska or if you just really want to see Delaware for yourself, it’s best to consider everything that can go wrong, everything that can go right, and everything you haven’t even considered considering.

Of course, you could always throw all of us here at NAN for a loop and take an Amtrak train instead. In any case, bon voyage.

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