Which Is Better: Flying or Driving?

April 25, 2020, 4:43 PM · What's your favorite way to travel on vacation? All other things being equal, would you rather head to the airport and fly to your favorite destination or jump into the car and drive?

That's our "which is better" choice for the day, though - to be honest - I feel like I am asking you to choose between faster-than-light hyperspace flight or Star Trek-style teleportation here. It's not as if either of these choices are a real option right now. But if we can't travel in real life right now, nothing is stopping us from thinking - and arguing - about it. So here we go.

For far-off destinations, flying gets you there faster, and it's a must if you're crossing the ocean for your vacation. You typically can enjoy recent-release movies while you fly, and someone will bring you drinks, snacks, and maybe even a meal. The bathroom's right there with you, and if you spring for in the in-flight WiFi, you might even get some work done while in the air.

But you can fly only on the airlines' schedule, unless you're rolling in the big money, in which case... take me with you? You're also limited in what you can bring with you on your flight, especially with hand baggage in the cabin. While there's no need to stop for food or rest breaks while flying, there's also no ability to do so, either. Maybe you can stretch a bit in the aisle, but unless you're on some huge wide-body aircraft, even that's pretty cramped space, too.

Driving allows you to leave when you want and drive wherever you want, on your own schedule. Want to make a detour? Get out and stretch? Go ahead. With driving, the journey becomes the attraction, as what you see and where you stop along the way can be as much fun as being at your ultimate destination. For relatively close destinations, driving can be faster than flying as well, once you account for getting to the airport, going through security and waiting for your flight time. Load up the trunk with whatever you want, too. Bring the big bottles of shampoo and sunscreen. There are no TSA rules or extra baggage fees here.

But with driving, well... you have to drive. That means full attention on the road ahead and around you, meaning no time for movies or the Internet. While you have the freedom to go whenever you want, if you time your drive wrong, you could be sitting in big-city traffic just like on your daily commute. What's the fun in that?

I know that cost often forces this decision. But accounting the difference between flying and driving can be tricky. Sure, the only direct cost to driving is the gas. But there's the extra maintenance that putting lots of additional miles on your car can demand. The number of passengers and the number of nights you spend on the road while driving also can affect costs. And if you fly, don't forget the cost of a ride to or parking at the airport along with that airfare, too!

Driving allows you to have a car at your destination without the extra expense and hassle of renting one. But flying someplace where a car isn't necessary (such as at many theme park resorts), means you don't have to worry about getting behind the wheel on vacation at all. It's a true break from what is (or, at least, has been) the routine for many of us.

For me, I love flying and roadtrips equally. Whether it's walking into an airport or pulling onto the highway, the start of any trip continues to excite me, no matter how I travel.

But I want you to choose. (And trains and cruises are off the board here. Sorry.) You can pick only one. Do you prefer to fly or drive on vacation?

Please tell us you favorite flying and driving stories, in the comments.

Replies (13)

April 25, 2020 at 5:00 PM

Neither.

There’s no way I’m getting couped up in a car for hours. I’ve done that to death.

Flying requires a road trip to a place I don’t want to go and spend hours waiting around in an overpriced mall/food court, to get on a plane (which I oddly have few complaints with) to fly to yet another place I don’t want to be, but where I can arrange another road trip to the place I actually wanted to go.

Thankfully in the UK I have a third option. Take the train from a place where I am, to a station within walking distance of the place I actually wanted to be.

April 25, 2020 at 5:17 PM

It depends. They're different experiences.

If I'm going to Disneyland (from Nevada), while flying would be faster, driving is less hassle once I get there. There isn't the transportation infrastructure that Walt Disney World has. But if I'm going to Walt Disney World from Nevada? Fly, for sure. There's Magical Express and while buses may not be the most efficient way to get from hotels to the parks and back, it's included in the price.

April 25, 2020 at 5:52 PM

If I'm traveling somewhere on the west coast, I'm more likely to drive. It isn't uncommon for me to do 12 hour drives for ski trips, and with two drivers that can easily be done in a day. I've even done a 20 hour overnight drive on a trip once...not ideal, but it allowed access to a destination in the Pacific Northwest on a budget three night trip.

However, most of my trips to other parts of the country involve a combination of driving and flying. Usually I'll fly to a destination, drive from there to somewhere else (with intermediate stops along the way), then fly home from the final destination. For example, the trip I'm planning this year (if it happens) would start in Pittsburgh and end in New York, with flights between So Cal and each destination but driving between them. The only time I fly to a location without significant driving is if I'm going for a short trip (3-4 days max) or it's a destination where everything is relatively close together (like Orlando).

Overall, I much prefer driving on trips, both because of the flexibility and because I hate the experience of flying, but when you live on one edge of the country and a four hour flight can save three days in the car, it just makes sense to do that.

April 25, 2020 at 6:26 PM

Just me and my wife? Driving.

With the kids? Flying.

I'm about a 24hour drive from Disney World. Give me great companionship, some good music, the open road, and building anticipation? LOVE driving.

Give me whining boredom, inconvenient bathroom emergencies, car sickness, and incessant g-rated conversation? Get me there as quick as possible.

April 25, 2020 at 7:07 PM

My rule of thumb is 8 hours or less away, and I definitely drive. Anything longer, and it’s probably flying.

If I fly to Orlando, I MUST get a rental car though, even if it’s strictly a Disney trip. Tried the Disney Magical Express thing once, and hated it...

April 25, 2020 at 7:17 PM

I prefer to drive. I like to check out the different scenery, and I can stop when I want to. If I'm by myself, I'll just play an audiobook, put the Prius on cruise just above the speed limit, and try to enjoy the trip as much as possible. If I'm with my wife, I enjoy the conversation.

Flying can be fun, but it's usually a test of your patience and nerves. People just aren't as civilized as they used to be, and the stress of getting to the airport, checking your luggage (for longer trips), going through TSA checks, and then making sure you get to the right gate on time can make flying a real pain. And that's with the apps and perks from frequent flyer programs.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the joy of sitting in your seat and hoping that the 3-sigma individual coming down the aisle with an undesirable physical or personality trait isn't going to be your rowmate.

April 25, 2020 at 7:48 PM

It's the length really. If I'm headed to, say Arizona to visit my sister (as I did a few times before she moved back to Chicago), obviously flying. Ditto for a Florida trip. Other times, I can appreciate a two-hour drive around.

Yet, I've done a few long multi-day car trips on vacations and while it's nice to take a break now and then for a meal and stretching legs, it just feels better taking a quicker flight to get there faster.

April 26, 2020 at 11:06 PM

All things being the same, I vote flying. However, everything is not the same with the cost. My family has done both on trips to Orlando.

In 2008 we flew for a week long trip. The cost for flight from a midwest airport, rental car, food, lodging, souvenirs, and four 5-day water parks and more tickets to WDW was $3400.

In 2018 we drove for a 3 1/2 week trip, 6 days of which was the drive time. The cost for gas, food, lodging, souvenirs, and park tickets for three people (5-day parkhopper plus to WDW, 3-day Park-to-Park to Universal, and 2-day to Busch Gardens Tampa) was $5900. Both trips I kept track of all expenditures right down to every pressed penny.

According to an online inflation calculator, $3400 in 2008 was worth $4000 in 2018. So driving saved us a bundle on the cost of the trip. The reason for the two different methods of transportation was in 2008 we had only one week we could go, so to maximize our time and not to wear us out before walking all day in the Florida sun, we flew. In 2018, time was not a factor, so we drove.

Having the luxury of nearly all the time we need (both wife and I are teachers) we will drove on our next trip.

April 26, 2020 at 8:05 AM

Going to Orlando from North Carolina, I've done each many times. Last couple of years I've been flying more, even with the kids, because flights have gotten very cheap and there are several airlines that fly direct. Years ago, you usually had to transfer through ATL.
Driving that far can take a lot out of you, too (9-11 hours with short stops depending on traffic). And as stressful as flying can be, it still doesn't wear you out as much as driving in a car all day. Plus an early morning flight gives us 1/2 day in downtown Disney or Citywalk or the hotel pool.
There are many more options for getting around Orlando than there used to be, with Uber, Lyft, Magical Express, etc., that having a car down there has become more of a hassle than convenience.

April 26, 2020 at 12:45 PM

Anybody that voted for driving clearly needs to go back and watch "National Lampoon's Vacation" again. lol

April 26, 2020 at 11:35 PM

Getting there is half the fun! In addition to theme parks and attractions, I am also an Extra Miler Club member - we endeavor to visit all 50 states, all 3142 or so counties, and get photos of welcome signs along the way! I often plan my excursions to take me along routes and jurisdictions I have never visited. Just like many of us count coaster credits and ride credits, I have 2,571 county credits and have visited every county east of the Mississippi, except for about a dozen. "The shortest distance between two points is no fun!"

Now - if I am traveling to a theme park a long distance away over a route I have worn out, then flying becomes a good option.

April 27, 2020 at 12:31 PM

We're definitely drivers unless it's a really long distance or we find extremely inexpensive and convenient airfare. Cars give us the freedom to explore attractions along the way and to go outside company-constructed "bubbles" designed to limit guests' ability to visit competing properties/attractions.

I used to drive for a living when I was in college, so the notion of a 12 to 16-hour drive is not monumental (anything beyond would be pretty tough), and I've personally driven from DC to Central Florida more than 10 times, typically overnight with activities planned on the morning of our arrival. Our most recent trip to WDW in late January, we had a number of flight delays that resulted in an arrival time that was later than it would have been if we had driven straight to Orlando when we left our house instead of the airport.

April 28, 2020 at 8:38 PM

I love to travel by road. You can experience the enjoyment and happiness during your road journey with your friends which you will definitely miss during your flight where you can only see the sky outside or sleep throughout the flight.

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I am a traveller and love to meet different people around the world. I love to collect Hannya Japanese Kabuki masks.

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