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To Drive or Not to Drive? Pros and Cons of Road Trips

By Edited Oct 22, 2016 1 6

As people plan a vacation or other trip, one of the big decisions will be how to travel. With airfare often being very high to most destinations (and train tickets often not too far behind in my experience), in many cases it is cheaper to drive. Due to these lower costs, many people ultimately decide on a road trip.

Aside from finances, there are other cool reasons why people go on road trips. For instance, it offers a terrific way to explore different regions close up and personal. And there are many other reasons why hopping in the car and journeying along the open road is a great way to get to your destination.

However, this does not say this method of travel doesn't have its drawbacks, there are also some good reasons as to why hitting the road isn't always the best mode of travel.

Tollbooth
Credit: Leigh Goessl

 Tollbooth on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey.

If you take a look at the pros and cons ahead of time, you can get a better idea if a road trip is the right travel means for you. As you weigh your decision, it is a good idea to:

  • What kind of car will you be driving?
  • Are you on any time constraints?
  • How far do you need to go?
  • Will you be bringing your pet?

These aspects of road trips will all undoubtedly play a significant part of your decision-making process. When you factor in these details, this will help you decide whether the benefits will outweigh the drawbacks of taking a road trip. Also consider -

Advantages of Road Trips

A significant advantage of road trips is you have a golden opportunity see the area you'll be passing through. As you drive, you are at eye level with the scenery and gain the opportunity to really enjoy what the regions you are traveling through have to offer. Another primary benefit to this is you have the freedom to stop wherever you please if you see something you want to experience.

Lake Erie
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Back in 2012 took a roundabout way on a road trip to upstate New York. I've always wanted to see the Great Lakes, and this quick shot of Lake Erie has been my best chance to date. Being it was private property, I couldn't walk up to the shore but it sure was a pretty view.  I love to pull over and take photos when on road trips.

A higher degree of flexibility is an excellent advantage of road trips. You are at the wheel as the primary decision maker and in control of your destiny. If you have passengers, obviously their input is important, but a benefit is you can talk along the journey and come to mutual agreements about the many different decision points along the way.

Another great benefit is, if you are not on any time constraints where you have to rush through the drive to reach your destination, you don't have to follow a strict itinerary as you travel through different towns. You can make stops as frequently as you prefer and stay as long you want to explore.

Meals are also flexible because you can stop whenever you're hungry. You aren't limited to if and when the airline decides to serve you any food and there are no waiting lines in the dining (and often expensive) car of a train. If you drive past an appealing looking restaurant or food stand while you're on the road, you can simply stop in and have a bite to eat.

With most trips you also have the ability to change plans mid-route. If traffic comes to a halt and you want to find an alternative route you can turn on the GPS or pull out an old-fashioned road map and find another way. Or you may simply decide you want to travel through a scenic route instead; these often take a little longer but often you'll find beautiful landscape along the way and probably see things you'd never see on the highway.

Hudson River
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Took this one right from the car window - the Hudson River in Lower New York State

Disadvantages of Road Trips

One of the primary drawbacks of road trips it takes a longer amount of time to reach your destination. If you are traveling a far distance, unless you are not on a time schedule and have enough in your budget to afford to stop frequently along the way, this may be a deterrent to your means of travel and a road trip may not be the best choice.

Another significant disadvantage is that traveling by car can also get pretty cramped after a while. If you are traveling with several passengers and don't have the ability to move around very much this can make the trip a little stressful. You can alleviate this problem by stopping frequenting or switching drivers, but if you are on a tight time schedule, traveling may be a little rough.

Road trips can bring on exhaustion because of the strain put on your mind and your eyes when you have to do all of the work driving. If you travel by plane, bus or train you can lay back and enjoy the ride, but when traveling by vehicle you have to be alert, rested and able to keep up with the pace. It may be necessary to stop often in order to give your body and eyes a rest, and this may delay the time you reach your destination.

Traffic is another deterrent. If you are driving through highways or urban areas which are loaded with traffic, this could both delay and add stress to your trip; a definite drawback.

I-66 in Virginia
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

When driving through major city areas and beltways it's good to always be prepared for the unexpected. Or plan to try to avoid driving through cities during peak hours. People living in the DC region would typically view this as "light" traffic in Northern Virginia, as traffic can get much heavier than this during commuting hours.

The Financial Aspects

If money is a factor, road trips are often cheaper because you can be flexible in your spending because you have more options for meals, lodging and other necessities. Another big consideration is gas prices. If you are traveling during peak times of the year, gasoline prices tend to soar and this may make your trip more expensive than a plane ticket would, especially if it is just you and/or one other person traveling in the car. As you consider the money aspect, it is also important to keep in mind that other methods of transportation are likely to rise in order absorb fuel expenses; it could be reflected in ticket costs. For a larger family, it'll probably be less expensive to drive.

There are many pros and cons associated with road trips. Whether or not you should choose to drive should depend on your personal preferences and whether or not you have any constraints that would make the road trip more of a burden than if you were to use another means of travel that may cost a little more.

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Comments

Feb 9, 2016 8:07am
HLesley
We have been driving south to Utah and Arizona for our winter getaways for the last few years. Part of the costs we have considered is that, although you have meal and hotel expenses along the way, when you arrive at your destination you don't have to rent a car, which is quite a significant saving.
Feb 10, 2016 2:47am
LeighGoessl
That must be such a lovely drive!
That's a great point about the rental. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Mar 16, 2016 8:30pm
stevendoornbos
In my most humble opinion there is no better way to travel than to pack a bag, hope in my RV (van) and hit the road. Many times I have a final destination but always consider it a destination as I believe that the trip is far more important than the ultimate destination. If it takes me a month to arrive, that's okay. If it takes less time then that is okay too. Regardless, the freedom of traveling along the highways and byways of this great nation is worth the extra time it takes to get somewhere and the sites and little out of the way places you'll discover while on your journey make it all worth while.
Thanks for sharing. Nicely written article.
Mar 17, 2016 2:12am
LeighGoessl
Thanks for reading and your kind words too.
Time permitting, it would be fun to drive across country and make no real plans. I'd love to do it at least once, but haven't had the opportunity (yet). That must be so cool to do what you describe.

I do like to just pull off highways randomly and drive the back roads. Two weeks ago I had to do a quick day trip down to southern Virginia and I found myself pulling off an exit I saw on the previous trip where there were some abandoned buildings. Decided on a whim to take the scenic route - which was about 7 miles - just so I could stop and take some photos. Neat experience.
Apr 10, 2016 7:56pm
shar-On
We love travelling around Australia and the best part is not planning anything definite. Just go with the flow, quite often we will speak to another traveler and they say have you seen such and such... and that is enough for us to peak our curiosity. We often find ourselves traveling in a complete different direction to places that we had no idea was there. That is part of the fun in exploring this great country. Its the unexpected, yes we normally have a rough idea which way we will head but never seem to stick to that idea. Sometimes we think we will go for 3 months and ends up 6 or can even be shorter than expected. Weather also plays a part in the trips. Another great article
Apr 15, 2016 1:56am
LeighGoessl
Thanks so much for your kind words shar-On. What you describe sounds like great fun; there is a lot to be said for going with the flow. I would love to do that some day and just see where the trip takes us :).
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