Airports almost empty day before Thanksgiving | Venture Chronicles:
Case in point, we are talking about taking a family vacation to San Diego early next year (look out Kedrosky!) and decided that renting a minivan and driving down would be cheaper than flying and less hassle to boot. Itâ€™s a lot of time behind the wheel but no worse than trudging through an airport pissed off about having to pay $150 to check bags.
Whenever Laurie and I do our driving vacations — which we’ve done since before they made airports so damn painful — friends and co-workers have always wondered if we were insane. Now that airports have become so insane, people are starting to realize that plopping on a plane isn’t the only option, and in many cases, not the best.
We almost always drive vacations (and we never, ever fly to SoCal) for a few reasons: first, we tend to carry a lot of gear, including the computer stuff and cameras and etc. So under most circumstances, flying generates compromises we can avoid by driving. Second, driving is almost invariably cheaper. Third, in many cases, especially these days of three hour waits for connections and flight delays, TSA delays, baggage delays and rental car delays, it’s not significantly slower to drive. And finally, not only does it give us a chance to just sit and talk and be with each other, there’s a whole bunch of stuff between here and there worth seeing and looking at you won’t see at 30,000 feet. The journey CAN be the reward; hell, sometimes the destination is the excuse, not the reason.
When we did our Yellowstone trip this fall, I kept notes on costs and timing. Yellowstone is about the limit of what I’d consider reasonable for a “normal” vacation. Two days driving each way, with rational driving times each way. Silicon Valley is about 16 hours driving from Silicon valley; I prefer to keep each leg about 8-10 hours. That takes you through a lot of territory, though: from silicon valley, it’ll get you to Vancouver, Yellowstone, Salt Lake, Denver, Taos, and all points east. By limiting driving to 8-10 hours, you don’t have to play the “crack of dawn” patrol, you can stop and explore places of interest, eat without a drive-through window, and get into a hotel at a rational hour for a rational sleep. You’re not stressed or harried or exhausted when you get there.
(hint: it’s even MORE interesting to find spots along the way and make the entire journey part of the trip, but we wanted to maximize our time in the park, so we hustled out way each way; I did, however, flag four or five places as future photography locales… But for us, a typical trip to Victoria or Vancouver would involve a day or two in Portland and a couple of stops up and down the Oregon Coast, rather than putting all of our time into one place. Once you get into this “along the way” type of travel, lots of things open up, especially areas you’d have real issues getting to via an airport…)
Here’s a comparison of what it’d take to drive to Yellowstone, versus flying. In many ways, this is the extreme case: Yellowstone is about as far as I’d want to drive on a ten day trip (week off plus two weekends), so you’re spending the maximum amount of time in the car, which you’d think would benefit the airplane. Not necessarily.
For the driving, we left Saturday mid-morning, and arrived in Yellowstone around dinner time on Sunday, stopping overnight in Winnemucca, roughly half way. At the time, gas was headed down but we still paid an average right around $3.70 a gallon. The drive to Yellowstone is almost exactly 1,000 miles.
We drove 1,000 miles getting there, 1,000 miles around the park in the days there, and 1,000 miles coming back, spending a total of $400 for 107 gallons of gas. 2/3 of that gas was used in transit, so the fuel cost for travelling was around $250. Factor in car maintenance to be fair: $70 for the 3,000 mile lube, and some percentage of the 60,000 mile service and tire costs; practically speaking, that’s probably another $70, and I’m probably being generous (my last major service plus 2 new tires ran a grand. factor that cost into 30,000 miles, and you get about $70 for 2,000 miles).
So, the total cost of driving to and from Yellowstone is about $400.
Flying? I did some checks on flight costs at the same time we travelled. For Yellowstone, that’s either West Yellowstone or Bozeman. A typical flight to Bozeman at the same time would have cost you about $500 per person round trip and take 8 hours, flying through Denver or Salt Lake. I just checked, and today it’s about $400ish in December, but next June, we’re back at $450-$500 for a time when a rational person would take that trip. West Yellowstone is slower and more expensive, with only a couple of flights (totalling 90 seats) a day, and it’s seasonal. Then add in a rental car, which when I checked in September was averaging $130/week out of those cities.
So your travel costs end up running you at best about $1,000-$1,100. And if you fly to Yellowstone, you’ll arrive just in time for dinner Saturday — in Bozeman. It’s late enough you won’t actually get into the park until Sunday morning. Leaving? you either get the crack of dawn patrol for a flight out around 7AM, or a late flight out and get home at midnight on Sunday.
Net result? If you fly, you get a Sunday in the park coming in, and a Saturday in the park going out that you don’t get driving. And for the privilege, your cost goes from about $400 to $1,100, over 2X. I’m not counting hotel or food costs here because the same meals get eaten (only in different places) and hotel rooms get used — although most likely, the room on the road while driving will likely be cheaper (ours were about half the cost or more).
As to the hassle factor of driving? you can’t tell me that the joys of the TSA, of flight delays, of 3 hour connecting flight waits, of checking and retrieving luggage and renting cars — and airport food — is any great shakes. It’s all in the attitude; getting into the mindset that the trip is part of the journey and not just a way to the destination opens up many options. And, well, having time to unplug and just talk to the people you’re with? Or heading off a side road and exploring? (well, laurie calls it “getting lost again”, but I prefer to see it as adventuring into the unknown). Massive fun.
Flying options options; I wouldn’t want to drive to chicago or tampa, not unless it was part of a longer, extended trip. OTOH, a two day drive from where you live opens up many places — from silicon valley, pretty much everything west of and into the rockies.
And if you stop and think about it a bit, there is basically no way you can do an airport run from northern california to southern california faster than driving these days, not once you factor in the time getting to and from airports, TSA lines, renting cars, etc. etc. At best, it’s a wash. and driving’s much cheaper. I can’t see why anyone flies back and forth on that shuttle, honestly.
so for me, it’s car first. We’ve done flying trips to Vancouver and Victoria in the past (flying into Victoria directly, into Vancouver, and into Seattle and crossing the border), and you know what? Have fun in the plane (hah). I’ll just hop in the car. You may get there a bit sooner, but I’ll be relaxed and happy when I get there, and I’ll have all of my stuff. What did you decide not to bring to fit into the overhead and checkin restrictions, anyway?
What I don’t understand is why when airlines decided on what business model they were going to follow, they chose “greyhound bus” as what they wanted to be when they grew up….
Update: One of the commenters made an important comment:
It’s hard to argue with most of what you wrote, but flying does allow me to take do a trip like a 4-day weekend in Vancouver from time to time.
And that’s an important thing to keep in mind: the trade-off between time and money. If your time is short, then spending money to minimize travel time, but when you do, it’s knowing that you’re taking a more expensive option for speed. That’s fine; I certainly wouldn’t drive a 4-5 day trip to Vancouver.
Ditto a day trip to SoCal; if I had to go to SoCal and return same day for a meeting (first, I’d try NOT to, but that’s a different issue), then I might fly, because otherwise it’d be a really long day; in that case, sitting in a plane or airport might be preferable to driving. But if I could schedule it to drive down, take in the meeting, overnight, and drive back while stopping at, say, Morro Beach on a Saturday, well, sign me up…
So ultimately, NONE of this is absolute. And if your idea of a perfect vacation is to sit on a beach in Cancun drinking margaritas — that’s great, too. But heck, you could sit on a beach near San Diego and drink for a lot less, I bet, and have pretty darn good weather, too. Or Phoenix, for that matter.