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To Fly or Drive for a Family Vacation. How do you Decide?

fly or drive girl sitting on car with wind blowing hair

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When you travel, how do you decide to fly or drive? I prefer driving myself, but there’s a lot of factors into why travelers choose the route they choose. I take a look at reasons why you should fly or drive to your next vacation destination.

Obviously, if you’re traveling overseas, flying is your option. However, if you plan to visit multiple cities, how do you get there? Fly or drive? Read on for tips to consider when planning your next trip.


Perhaps the number one reason families choose the mode of transportation is time. Time is money after all. It all comes down to how long you want to be traveling for, if you want to get your vacation started as soon as possible then you will want to go the fastest route. For this to work you will need to know where you are going. There are plenty of destinations to choose from, it may help to take a look at travel guides if you are still undecided about where to go.

Consider this, however, before deciding that flying is faster. How long is the flight? How much time before the flight are you expected to be at the airport? What are the possible delays? How far from your home to the airport and the airport to your final destination? Suddenly a short flight becomes a longer door-to-door excursion.

For example, for my family and I to fly from Orlando to Miami, it’s a one-hour flight. Appealing right? Considering that we should check in at least an hour in advance, (90 minutes is better,) and it takes us 45 minutes to drive to the airport. We’re now looking at over 3 hours of travel time. Plus, that doesn’t include getting to our hotel. Driving is approximately the same amount of time, and we now have our own vehicle.

Anything less than a 4-hour drive is a toss-up on the time savings. If you’re looking at longer than 4 hours, money is probably your next concern.


The next consideration for flying or driving is money. Calculating what you’ll save driving (yes, it’s almost always cheaper with a family of four) vs. flying is the tradeoff in time. If you want to save money by driving, and save money on the road, figure out just how much that time is worth to you. It’s easy to know what those flight costs are, but there are additional factors we don’t often consider when flying. Do you need a car once you arrive? Will you pay for food at the airport or on the plane? What about parking?

Additionally, the same goes for driving. How long will it take you? Do you need a hotel overnight? Will you pack your own food?

There are ways to “hack” the system in both methods. Flight savings websites that give the best deals. Airfare Watchdog is one of my favorites to keep an eye on prices, check it out. Hotel savings for overnights on the road. You can also save on parking by checking out Park Sleep Fly.

All these things aside, however, the best way to compare is through a Fly or Drive Calculator from Be Frugal.

Taking that same trip example above to Miami, the cost to drive is roughly $85 and to fly closer to $500. Again a no-brainer. However, let’s look at a longer trip. Each year we drive to Muskegon to visit family.

First, fill out the trip details. Make sure you add your door to door and not airport to airport.

Next, fill out the driving details. Note, the calculator figures the hotel price at double occupancy, so this rate is doubled.

Add in your flight details. Make sure you note how much time you need at each airport.

Finally, you figure in your flight costs. This is where those hidden costs add up.

Then you get your results. As you can see, driving this distance is still cheaper, but not by much. Granted, we usually make it in less time. This is where it might be worth it to pay the extra to arrive in less time.

The tool further breaks it down.

Of course, there are ways to cut costs in this calculation to make the driving cost less.


Your and your family’s comfort are also something to consider when choosing to fly or drive. My kids love driving as they have a whole row to themselves in the car. But they don’t mind flying either.

Personally, I feel more comfortable in my own car, stopping where I wish to stand and stretch, eating food I packed. Alternatively, I appreciate the time savings in flying. Other family members may not like not being in control of the schedule, delays etc whereas someone may enjoy not having to worry about the finer details.

Ask your family what they prefer and lay out the pros and cons of each.

By the amount of Road Trip advice I have on my blog, you can probably guess where I fall in preference. Many people comment they could never drive the distance we do with little kids, but we’ve always made it work. I find it easier to be in comfortable surroundings then sequestered in an airport.

Food (& Allergies)

If food is a concern and food allergies, driving and packing your own food is the easy choice. However, time savings may outweigh this.  If you have a child with food allergies, you need to do a little research with your specific airline as to what you can bring on the plane. Additionally, you may need a medical waiver.

For a comprehensive look at flying with food allergies, click on Food for more information.

Which do you prefer? Flying or Driving? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.

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