As you all may know, I’m all about cheap travel.
Although taking the bus is a great choice where it makes sense, my default option is actually to drive my car and take a road trip.
Most of the time, this is simply the most convenient option.
When I go home to visit my parents at their house, as I did this past weekend for Easter, I will always take my car.
No big deal right? Lots of people drive to go see their parents.
The big difference: my parents live nearly seven hours away.
Which brings up the question, how far is too far when it comes to a road trip?
The Case for Long Road Trips
Nothing is easier than quickly packing up your car and hitting the road whenever you want. You don’t have to leave at a certain time, or arrive way beforehand to catch a bus/train/flight.
There’s also a greater amount of flexibility where you can go at your own speed, stopping frequently if need be for bathroom breaks, scenic overlooks, etc. or just motoring straight through to your destination.
In some ways, driving can be just as cheap as or even cheaper than taking a bus, especially if it’s a route with no tolls. With my current car, I can get nearly 500 miles out of it for one tank of gas (about 35 mpg and $35).
That’s means at max I’m paying $70 round trip, and that’s for a very long road trip. Even if you add a factor in for car maintenance costs from that trip, that’s still usually way cheaper than a train or flight (plus the cost to get to the station/airport) at least!
If you have a family, a road trip can save you hundreds of dollars as the price doesn’t increase per person as other transport would.
In addition, because you’re driving, you also automatically have a way to get around at your eventual destination. No need to rent a car and spend more money!
A long road trip can be a great excuse to spend time with family, friends or others. While on airplanes or trains it may be courteous to be quiet, in your car you can be as loud you’d like, talk about anything and/or give your best rock star performance.
Riding solo? I will use some of that time to get in touch with family members or friends that I haven’t spoken to in a while. In the digital age, people forget how easy it is to make a call and catch up “the old fashioned way”.
Let’s face it; on a long road trip you have a lot of time. While you can spend as much time as you like jamming out to your favorite tunes, at some point you may as well put that time to good use!
What I’m talking about here is listening to podcasts or audiobooks. While seven hours is surely a long time, it goes a lot faster when your mind is processing new information and learning something new!
Sometimes just as good? The extra time it allows you to think and reflect about things. Whether you’re able to talk this over with someone else on the road trip or simply think about it yourself, this can prove to be a great time to do this instead of during a busier time when you have a lot of other things you could be doing!
Thinking about your life plans, or strategizing your finances are things you could easily do during this extra time, and something I do often.
How Far is too Far?
Even though you can definitely make a case for taking a road trip in a lot of situations, there comes a point in which it simply becomes too far to consider.
That distance/time is going to be different for everyone, and in some situations that rule can be broken.
Some people don’t like driving at all, so they’d only consider shorter road trips, maybe a couple hours away tops. For others who don’t mind driving, it really comes down to how much time they’re willing to spend in the car to get to their destination.
For me, it nearly always comes down to a direct comparison with how expensive the other travel options are and the overall time of the road trip.
Growing up in a family of 6, every other year we would visit family members in Wisconsin for Thanksgiving. Instead of buying 6 planes tickets we all packed up the family van and drove the 13 hours!
For some this is unimaginable, but for my parents, it was a great way to save a boatload of money and get some good family time out of it (even though we were all asleep for half the trip!).
The seven hours I drive to go home is definitely towards the max end of my preferred driving distance, but if I ran into exorbitant flight prices, I have gone further. This seven hour trip is also one I usually do alone; if I had company that didn’t mind I could go even longer if that made the most sense.
I suppose now is the time to mention I’ve also driven cross country from California to DC with my dad as a road trip… but this is kind of an outlier in that it was a one way trip (I was moving) and we made a vacation out of it. It was a very long trip and easily the farthest I’ve driven, but it’s more a vacation of its own since it we were only going one way.
Making the Road Trip Decision
Ultimately, when choosing whether or not to take a road trip, it will come down to several factors.
- How far are you willing to travel?
- How much time will it take?
- Would you need to split the trip and stay overnight on the way?
- How much total time for your trip do you have?
- What is the cost comparison between a road trip and other forms or travel?
- Is there any traffic along the route?
- Is there somewhere you want to stop and see along the route?
All these questions are ones that need to be considered when choosing to road trip or some other method of transport for any trip.
Cost saving is obviously something we talk a lot about around here but don’t forget that your time is also extremely valuable.
While it’s fairly obvious that I’m pro road trip and likely at the high end of how long most would be willing to drive, I completely understand the other side. Driving can be a lot to handle!
So if you do choose to embark on that long road trip, make sure to get the most out of it!
How far have you traveled on a road trip in the past? How far would you consider traveling for a road trip? Let me know in the comments!
13 thoughts to “Road Tripping: How Far is Too Far?”
Bless your heart honey! My family is 10 hours away by car, and while my parents seem to think that ain’t no thang, we did it once. Never again. Basically anything more than 2-3 hours in a car, and flights are going to be considered. It doesn’t help that neither of us likes driving, in fact we quite dislike it (whereas on family vacations, dad was the default driver bc he loved it).
But you are totally right on the price breakdown. Comparing options for Christmas week, it would be about $110 to drive (tolls) or $800+ to fly 🙁 Another $200 if we take the pups on a plane, or way more than that to board them here. Still… we will probably fly. I’ll pay that convenience fee and tolerate airport annoyances over holiday traffic. #firstworldproblems
10 hours is quite the hike! There’s nothing wrong with not liking to drive, it can be a huge annoyance and hassle. My dad loves to drive and would always drive on our family trips too!
Wow that’s a massive difference in price. Only you can say what’s worth it or not though, that’s why living within a budget is great as you can budget in those trips and not have to sweat about the cost!
I see it similarly to you. I don’t mind driving and actually enjoy it at times. I like the flexibility of having your own vehicle and not paying for a rental car or airline tickets! The longest I’ve driven in one shot was 12 hours about 10 years ago with my family. That was tough and definitely not something you’d want to do all the time, but I wouldn’t mind it again for a rare trip.
Each destination can be different. It could only be a 6-8 hour road trip but cost a ton to fly. Conversely, it could be a 4 hour trip but you find a great deal on a flight that makes it worth it. It all depends.
Absolutely agree with you there in that it all depends on the location and how much other forms of transport will cost. Anything over 5-6 hours and I’m looking to see if I can land a good deal on airfare!
Growing up, Christmas for us always meant piling the five of us into the van and driving from NC up to Ohio since my mom’s parents and lots of her extended family were up there. We’d take a week or so to make various stops in Ohio, as well as stops in West Virginia and the NC mountains on either the way there or back to see some of dad’s family. We’d also make the 6-hour drive down to Atlanta to see more family for both Easter and 4th of July, and back when us kids were young enough to not have sports/other weekend commitments we’d do a daytrip out to the mountains to hike around. So roadtrips were very much a part of life growing up. It’s less fun when I’m in the car alone, but I don’t mind riving anywhere from 3-6 hours to get somewhere. Especially because it’s relatively cheap with a car that gets good gas mileage!
I am so jealous of the cross-country roadtrip. I’d love to do that some day!
That sounds so fun! We also did many family road trips outside of those trips to Wisconsin I mentioned. The good gas mileage is essential!
Yes the cross country trip was a ton of fun and so cool. Definitely something I want to do again someday!
I’m pretty sure the longest road trip I was on growing up was under 4 hours. Anything outside of Oregon / southern Canada involved a plane. I did make the trip to and from college (4 hours) somewhat often. I sure wish podcasts were a thing then, because the time would have passed so much better that way.
Another piece I consider is the environmental impact, since it’s hard to get worse than driving as a single occupant 😉
I feel like your location may have something to do with that. I feel like everything is spread out more in the PNW so there aren’t as many drivable big cities! Definitely agreed on the podcast line though.
And very true, the environmental impact is definitely not good for solo travel. I have seen articles that say air travel is equally as bad or worse per person though depending on the distance so there may be no winning, unless you take the bus!
That’s very true. Other than Portland and Vancouver BC, there are no real cities within driving distance. And yes, air travel isn’t so great environmentally either.
Just a seven hour car ride? Why didn’t you ride your damn bike?
– Mr. Money Mustache
Ha, well your car gets great mileage and yes, cars are very often the most convenient. I’m tall like you and I find that I have to get up and just shake things out every 2.5 – 3 hours on long trips. Plus the stress of being that alert is it’s own thing and needs breaks
Haha seriously, what was I thinking!? Totally agree though I’m the same way in terms of needing a break to stretch out and ease off on the focusing. Depending on the drive I’ll try to stop at scenic overlooks if possible!
We have to psych ourselves up for the 45 minute car ride to my parents’ house because our kids start complaining about being in the car after about 15 minutes. The ironic part is that our early retirement plan is to travel the country in a tiny house. We may not have thought this out enough…
Haha oh no! Maybe you’ll have to gradually do farther and farther distances so that way over time you can haha sleep the longer drives! 😂