This is a question asked quite often when preparing to travel somewhere assuming you can drive to that destination. This is a question that has come up while preparing a vacation from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Louisville, Kentucky which is about 700 miles and takes about 10 1/2 hours to drive plus stopping time. So what are the factors that determine whether to fly or drive?
First, how many people are traveling? If you’re going with 1 or 2 people than flying can be just as economical as driving but if your party is 4 or 5 people it gets to be a different story. Let’s take an average airfare cost of $378.62 as reported by Airlines for America in 2012 and the average per gallon cost of gas in that same year which was $3.60 per gallon according to this CNN/Money article. So at these prices, driving 700 would cost you $228 in fuel at 22 miles per gallon round trip driving your own vehicle.
Many people choose to rent a vehicle for a trip like this to keep these higher miles off of personal cars. Lets use $65 per day for a standard size car from this USA article. For a week long vacation take that $65 per day X 7 days which gives us $455.00. A car rental and fuel cost would be $455 + $228 = $683. Two airfares would cost $757.24. Not much difference in price but quite a bit of difference in time since a direct flight lasts about 2 hours plus airport time. Can you drive this distance in one day or do you need a hotel stay? That can add another $130 per night to the bill depending on the type of hotel you would choose to stay in. Obviously traveling with 3 or more people shifts the economics to driving.
Another consideration is how much time do you want to take travel to a destination? Vacation time is a premium and are you willing to spend 3 or 4 days driving or do you want to spend that time at your destination? Sometimes the trip to the destination is part of the adventure allowing you to see the sights along the way. I do enjoy seeing different parts of the country from the car. From palm trees to mountains to prairies. Plus there are always some intriguing tourist areas to visit while traveling. Be careful not to indulge in all of them otherwise you may not actually make it to the final destination before needing to head back.
Taking these factors into consideration I’ve determined that 750-800 miles is as far as I’m willing to drive right now since I can do that in one long day. My family include 4 people so there are that many airfares so it is not all about the economics that I’ve made that decision. I do spend some time to get cheaper air fares using credit card points and air miles programs combined with watching airfares and booking when prices are less. The bigger deciding factor for me is the amount of vacation time available. I like to spend my time exploring a the final destination and anything more than a days drive takes away from that. In all fairness, I do usually drive about 1,500 – 2,000 miles during a weeks vacation while exploring this destination with a rental vehicle.
Other people that I know drive to as many of their destinations as possible and there are others that can not fly for different reasons so driving is one of the few options left. How far do you like to drive on vacation?
Now that the airfare is confirmed it’s time to reserve hotels right? Not quite yet. At least that is not my order of planning. My next step is to spend a little time researching what sights I want to see and activities I may want to do. This allows me to find hotels closer to the places I want to spend time at helping eliminate transportation time and possibly costs. Also, if there is something that you want to accomplish while in your place of destination but require reservations in order to assure you get to do it such as a Red Sox game at Fenway or watch the Celtics in the TD Garden you have a little head start on others giving you a better chance to do that activity. In our case it was eating at the Union Oyster House. We probably could have made it in there without the reservations but we may have had to wait and spend more time to get in taking away from other sights.
Since Boston is such a historic city we definitely wanted to visit it’s past. A very quick web search brought up the Freedom Trail which included most of the places we wanted to see. Looking over each sight on the Freedom Trail we prioritized the list because there are so many stops on the trail and there wasn’t enough time to really see all of them and have time to do other things. One of my other high priority stops was the Bull & Finch pub used as the basis for the hit comedy Cheers. Now that I know what sights we wanted to see I searched for hotels closer to those destinations and figured out modes of transportation while in Boston. Boston has a pretty good train network allowing you to get around to many of the key places. Also, take it from me, driving in downtown Boston is quite stressful due to the traffic and narrow streets.
*Money Saving Tip: Many hotels will give you a reduced rate if you book them online and pay for them in advance. This can save up to 20% if you know that is where you will be staying. Be warned, once you pay in advance there is no canceling these reservations.
For us, we chose to stay in one hotel for a couple of days and on our last night move to a different hotel which provided a shuttle to the airport the next morning. Taking some time to plan what we wanted to do in Boston allowed us to see what we wanted and do what we wanted. Each hour was not planned but just a general idea of things to do that day. The exception was dinner reservations which had a finite time. Knowing your goals ahead of the adventure can help fulfill your needs for your vacation which does require a little bit of research and planning.
To Read further on exploring Boston check out these pages:
Finally, our vacation has arrived. Better hurry and pack because the flight is early tomorrow and we need to get going in order to avoid missing the plane. Once you’ve arrived at your destination it’s time to find a hotel and check before deciding which sights to see. It seems that the fast pace at which our lives move, the trips we take have become shorter. How can you take in all of the sights with very little time? With only a few days to relax and see the sights a little planning will help.
It took a little time to make to flight arrangements or a driving plan to arrive at your destination. Doesn’t it make sense to spend a little bit of time to figure out what you want to do and where you want to stay once you’ve arrived at that destination? I understand that it’s no vacation if you have every hour of each day planned. That is not what I’m writing about here. Let me go through an example of planning our adventure to Boston.
Our very first objective was to look over transportation cost to Boston. Since we were leaving from Minnesota and time was a factor flying was determined to be our best choice of getting to Boston. After figuring out we would be flying, it was time to pick the dates.
*Money saving tip: flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday can save a significant amount of money. Often times we save enough money to stay an extra night in a hotel and then some.
I use sites like Expedia and Kayak to find which airlines and which dates are the most affordable. Sometimes I will go directly to the airlines website if I’m trying to use rewards to help reduce our overall flight costs. If you fly frequently enough, signing up for rewards programs either through credit cards and/or the airlines can really help keep costs down especially in these times of higher airfares. Yes, it does require some extra time to sign up for and earn these rewards as well as use these rewards but it can be worth it.
Let me provide and example: on our trip to Boston in 2011 we were able to get 4 airfares from Minneapolis for $500. Without our rewards programs it would have cost us almost $400 per airfare for a total of $1600. That’s over a $1,000 in savings! This required us to use 2 different rewards programs which can be a little tricky when booking the flights if you want to get everybody on the same flight. You need to first check each program and which flights are available through each to find which one match and then go through and book them selecting seats next to each other. This is some of the extra time required to use these programs. For those that are saying sure you could do that in 2011 but costs have gone up since then, We recently booked 4 fares from Minneapolis to Seattle for $500 this summer so it’s still possible.
Once we made the decision to travel the National Parks Monopoly Board it was time to look over all of the destinations. After studying the board for a little while we decided to embark on our first journey closer to home so that we could find out what we were in for in a little more familiar territory. Knowing that this was going to be a summer expedition we saw a cluster of parks near Southwestern South Dakota which included Mt. Rushmore. After discussing this trip a little while it was determined that we wanted to be at Mt. Rushmore for the Independence Day celebration which dictated our travel dates. A little further east resides Badlands National Park and would be a good destination to begin our Monopoly Travels. While growing up I had friends who had visited the Badlands tell me about them but I really had no idea what to expect. The thought of going to someplace called “the Badlands” didn’t have a great appeal as it conjured up images of Mel Gibson in Mad Max. Visiting someplace with such an imagined bleak landscape didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Keep in mind that I had not looked at any photos or video of this place and was basing my opinions strictly on the name. Well, it’s on the board so there must be something of interest and in order to be a Monopoly Traveler we at least need to stop and check it out.
I remember planning for this trip and all of the time spent researching directions, places to stay, and what to expect in the Badlands. There was a lot of uncertainty because we have never taken a family vacation like this before. Where do we stay? A Campground or hotel? What are these national parks all about? What are we going to drive there? Use our own car or put the miles on a rental vehicle? The first thing to do was plan our agenda to get an idea of where we want to visit and departure and return dates in order to get this time off from work. We knew we wanted to experience the Independence Day Celebration at Mount Rushmore so the next question was do we want to explore the Badlands before or after Mount Rushmore?
It was decided to make the Badlands our first National Park and stop there before continuing on to Mount Rushmore. Now we had a date and could start planning departure dates and times along with where to stay to make this happen. I researched camping because that would save some money and the kids love to camp. After thinking about this for a little while we realized that we would have to pack our camping gear along with everything else we needed for a 10 day trip and room in the car. In addition, we would have to set up and take down our camping gear almost every day. Understanding these pieces helped us to decide on staying in hotels. Next was to figure out which hotels to stay at and in which cities. In order to know that we needed to know where exactly Badlands National Park is and how to get there. Fortunately the national park service has a nice website the gives this information along with planning information and what we could expect while visiting while in the Badlands. This helped to fuel our excitement to get to the Badlands and experience all that we could. In addition we would get the opportunity to stay in Wall, South Dakota and visit the highly popular Wall Drug. I grew up hearing about and seeing advertisements for Wall Drug. Now I would get to see what this place is all about.
It was the summer of 2009, our day started out by getting into the car at 5am in order to arrive in Wall by late afternoon. A stop in Sioux Falls took a little longer than anticipated as we took time to enjoy the waterfalls where we were interviewed by a local TV news station about our travels and also exploring a local butterfly house gave great enjoyment while delaying our arrival in Wall. Finally heading out of Sioux Falls, we had to take a bathroom break in Mitchell South Dakota for an unauthorized stop at the Corn Palace. If you haven’t been there, it is interesting how art can be made out of corn to decorate a large building. Yet another delay in getting to Wall. All of these unplanned stops can create memories that were never expected a make a family trip such as this more enjoyable with more to reminisce as time goes by. We entered Wall early in the evening with just enough time to find someplace to eat and explore Wall Drug. Wall Drug is basically a little mall with a number of small shops inside set in a frontier motif. Up Next…the Badlands!
Preparing for a family trip of 10 days is no simple task. There are many things that need to be taken care of while we are away. We began making arrangements several weeks ago so that things are taken care of while we are away. Enjoying the company of pets has its price. They have to be taken care of when we’re not here. Fortunately we have family members in the area and one of them has agreed to live at our house during our travels. Other items that needed to be planned weeks or even a few months ago where snow removal so our guest can move a car out of the driveway in the event of a significant snowfall and water changes for our fish. We have a few larger aquariums to maintain so scheduling water changes to compensate for our time away is part of our travel preparations. I planned out when the first water changes could happen when we return and worked backwards to determine which aquariums needed to be changed at which dates to provide the best environment as possible. Some of those fish tanks only need to be changed once a month while others need to be changed every week and a half.
Getting closer to the actual travel dates bring many more items to take care of. Mental packing lists and items needed for our trip help so that when it’s packing time we have everything we want to bring with us. Many people actually write down a list of items to pack however we choose to make it a little more interesting by just using mental lists. Fortunately we have gained experience over the years and have a good idea of what we need to have and items that if we forget, there are places at our destinations that we can get them. In order to get this experience, we have forgotten many things and have figured out how to improvise. Essential medications are probably the most important item to bring as they can be difficult to get especially if traveling out of the country. I place cameras as a high priority item however as they have gotten less expensive over the years they become less important. Things such as toothpaste or socks can easily be replaced at most destinations.
Do We Have Everything?
A week out and our travel documents should probably be printed out as our arrangements are all made online. It’s surprising to me how much paper we go through with all of the air, hotel, car, and cruise documents that we need. I’m bringing a small book of reservations! There are a few tours we know right now that we want to participate in so we booked those. That adds to the small book so we have confirmation numbers, times, dates, addresses, and telephone numbers that we may need. These documents are always kept in our carry on so that they are with us all the time. Other information that is often helpful is telephone numbers for credit card companies, emergency contacts, and personal physicians in case something happens and medical information if needed, not necessarily in that order.
Packing for a 10 day trip takes almost a full day after clothes have been laundered and missing items acquired. The first part includes deciding appropriate dress for the destinations we’re going. In order to gage this we look at the extended forecast for each place we will be spending time. This has changed how we pack more than once. Initially we may be planning on bringing more summer attire and then check the forecast for a specific area and realize that it is not expected to be as warm as we thought it would be. Getting each person’s items for each part of the trip and putting all of those items together into a pile is the next thing we do. Once we know how much we are trying to put into a few suitcases, these piles can be organized and packed using every bit of space as efficiently as possible. Socks can be put into shoes and other open crevices. We add small items inside our snorkel flippers and masks to help increase efficient use of space to reduce the amount of luggage we have to carry through the airport and into hotels. As we are packing our suitcases, we always remember more items that we need/want to bring. The final piece to packing for an extended week trip is to get the suitcase closed. I have had to sit on a suitcase to close it a few times. Once it is closed, each suitcase is wheeled to our bathroom scale and weighed to get a general idea of how heavy it is. If it is too close to being considered heavy by the airlines we will do some adjusting to reduce the weight which I have also done a time or two.
I think all of our travel documents have been printed off and placed in the carry-on and our bags are about 90% packed. Come Friday night we should be ready to go without staying up most of the night packing. We have spent many nights before a trip packing and I do what I can to eliminate this as I like to get a full nights rest before traveling. That may be the last full night for a week as there is no place like home for a comfortable place to sleep.