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?