Is the Family Road Trip Making a Comeback

Last Updated on September 26, 2014 by Jody Halsted

Fall is busy for my family and this fall has been busier with my speaking engagements and travel schedule.  But, for all the places I’ve been- and am going- I have not set foot on an airplane.  My family no longer blinks at undertaking a 15 hour drive to a destination and, depending on how much time we have, would probably do longer in the blink of an eye.  These days it’s not the question of whether you can find a cheap flight, but how much of a hassle it is to fly when traveling with kids.

flying vs driving

Driving vs. Flying

The Hassle Factor

We’ll be heading to Dallas for a wedding soon.  It’s a 12 hour drive if done straight through.  With the girls we add at least 1 1/2 hours to that time for bathroom breaks, quirky roadside attractions and dawdling.  But even the time and long day feels like less hassle than arriving at the airport early, the discussion with TSA about why I don’t want to put my kids through the scanner, dealing with the pat downs, waiting for the flight, waiting on a layover and finally reaching our destination.  It’s just draining.

Nicole of Arrows Sent Forth said it best:

If we can fly direct and I can get a somewhat reasonable rate, then we fly. If we can’t fly direct, then when you factor in the layover, arriving in advance, etc., then it often makes more timing AND economical sense for us to drive.

Of course it helps if you live near a major hub where more flights are direct and cost less.

The Cost Factor

For smaller families of 3 or 4 flying can often be more economical when you factor in time and costs (if you don’t need a rental car).  But for large families like Linda at Minnemom and Jessica at Suitcases and Sippy Cups driving is always the money friendly move.  Says Linda:

If anywhere is drivable in a long day’s time (up to 15 hours), we’d definitely drive. Longer drives we’d strongly consider unless time was really tight for the trip as a whole.

Jessica adds,

…driving gives the flexibility of being able to see more on the way or extend the trip to the surrounding area once you arrive.

Our personal rule of thumb is this:

If flight cost (+ baggage fees)  is > cost of gas + food + lodging + extra travel time at Doug’s pay rate then we drive.

If flight cost (+ baggage fees) is  ≤ cost of gas + food + lodging + extra travel time at Doug’s pay rate then we fly.

One thing to keep in mind if your airport isn’t a major hub- fewer flights going in and out of smaller airports mean full aircraft.  If your connecting flight is canceled or delayed it can add an unexpected day onto your travels.  I always recommend having a “recuperation” day at the end of every vacation- just in case.

Don’t Forget to Factor in the Food

An additional cost of flying is food.  Anyone who has ever eaten in an airport knows that it adds up quickly.  Factor in your family and you could have had a 5 star meal for two with the same money it took to feed your family fast food.  When driving you can take so much along.  Snacks, drinks, sandwiches…  And added bonus- you tend to eat healthier when you tote your snacks along!

Those Quirky Roadside Attractions

While flying is almost always faster there are some incredible things to see on the ground if you take the time to ferret them out before heading off on your road trip.  On our upcoming trip to Texas, for example, we’ll be taking a few breaks in Oklahoma to visit the town of Hugo, a “winter circus town” with an elephant refuge and “Showman’s Rest” a circus performers’ cemetery.   In north-eastern Oklahoma we’ll make a quick detour and hop on Route 66 to the town of Claremore to visit the ‘Big Blue Whale’ and the Nut House.

I’ve yet to pass through a state that doesn’t boast some unique roadside stop.  The best way to find them?  Ask.  Contact the state tourism board, tell them you’ll be passing through and mention that you would love recommendations on things to see.  They will be thrilled to share their state with you!

The Safety Factor

Though many people don’t think twice about climbing into their car, nearly 40% of people have a fear of flying.  As David Robert Hogg of My Little Nomads pointed out:

A study of post 9/11 traffic and highway fatalities found that there were an additional 2100 deaths due to the fact that many people chose (or were forced) to drive long distances instead of fly. Flying is so much safer than driving that your biggest risk associated with flying is the drive to and from the airport.

It’s difficult to argue with hard numbers.  So why do people feel more secure on a drive?  It’s all about control.  You know and trust the person behind the wheel.  You know they would do anything to keep you safe.  In our case I know my husband has also been trained by the Army not to flinch in the face of an oncoming accident (or even a roadside bomb).  If the Army trusted him to drive their most important Generals I trust him to drive my precious cargo.  You just don’t have that connection with your flight crew- even though they have likely been through training that would terrify most of us.

Must Haves for Long Drives

Funnily enough, my girls do better on long drives than short.  I think we prepare them more for their time in the van if we’re driving for more than a couple hours.  We never leave home without a few key things:

  • snacks (string cheese, grapes, peanut butter pretzels, crackers, water, individual mixers for water, chocolate, fruit leather, nuts)
  • simple meals (bagels, sandwiches, shelf stable milk, chips, fruit)
  • road trip bingo (the kids love it!)
  • activity bags (filled with notepads, activity books, dry erase board, pens, markers, crayons)
  • tablets (we found very cheap Android tablets on ebay and bought my girls each one.  These have Kindle apps for reading, music and movies on the- as well as a few games.  I have an Acer that I adore.
  • my DroidX uploaded with new podcasts, power cords and adapters

Is the Family Road Trip Making a Comeback?

I would love to hear your thoughts!  In the case of my family I have to say yes.  What about your family?  How do you decide whether to fly or drive?  And what are your must have’s for long drives?


Disclosure:  The information in this post is my own, though the article does contain sponsored content.

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  1. One other thing we take into consideration, especially if traveling over the busy winter holidays, is how weather would affect our travel. When driving, we’ve been able to leave a day or two early, adjust our route according to weather concerns, and return home sooner to avoid a storm. With airline tickets, we would not have had this flexibility, and could possibly have spent some very long hours stranded in an airport somewhere.

  2. If for no other reason, hit the road for those fun roadside attractions!! You can get the app for your GPS to help locate them along the way; we’ve used it to find a 40-ft sea serpent in VA and the world’s largest shoe house in PA!

    Our last major road trip, NY-FL, was an eye-opener. While I knew it would be cheaper than the four of us flying, I had the misconception it would be cheap. When I tallied gas, hotel, and meals, we had spent over $800!

    But as you point out, more flexibility and a lot less hassle!

  3. We’ve traveled many miles with our boys through the years…By Automobile. I do think the family road trip is making a come back. When you do the math, especially when traveling with kids, it’s definitely cheaper! And the family togetherness, lets just say is PRICELESS!

  4. I like to drive and get off the beaten path. There is so much to see and do if you open your eyes and mind to the possibilities.

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