Road Trips VS Flying: see more, for less.

Bridge roadtrip
Road trips give you the opportunity to check out America’s infrastructure and landmarks.

How would you like to pay $1500 for a $4000 trip, the catch is, you get to see more on the $1500 trip. “How,” you ask?  Well, let me break down the numbers of taking road trips vs. flying to a destination.

In today’s society, the exchange of valuable information between people, verbally and face to face, is not as common as when I was a kid. I remember having to blow air into video game cartridges, because my friend did it to his games, when they weren’t working. I did the same to mine, and the games that weren’t working before, were now working. So, I took that information, and made it part of my life. Whether we were actually doing anything to the game cartridges when we did it, who cared, at the time? It worked. (By the way, research suggests blowing cartridges didn’t make games work.)

Road Trip New Mexico
Th mountains look much nicer from the ground, as opposed to how they look from an airplane window.

I got my first exposure into accounting trip costs by doing travel reimbursement after changing duty stations, in the Marine Corps. And the one of the very first things I noticed was the trip cost difference, between someone who had to fly, and someone who drove with their personal vehicle. Back then, we all knew that travelling by car, paid more, because they’d pay you something for the amount of miles you traveled. But the major factor to pay so much, for a flight, was “well, I need to get there NOW.”

Stopping to rest, while driving thru the Sequoia National Park in California.

But sometimes, we sacrifice the entire “comfort” of flying, by trying to book the cheapest flight possible. And if you’re like me, “you found the cheapest flights” meant you flew at night, and stayed overnight at the connecting airport, waiting for the earliest flight to leave. It basically took a day and a half of travel. That’s not accounting weather delays, cancellations, changed gates, missed flights, and having to stand in line while an entire airplane has to reschedule their flights thru 1 attendant, because our flight got in late, and all the connecting flights had left already. You know when the last straw was? I got redirected from a flight from Spokane, Washington to Houston, Texas direct, to a 36 hour trip from Spokane, fly to Seattle, Washington, then St. Paul/ Minneapolis, then the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, where the weather had delayed my 45 minute flight to Houston, 4 more hours on top of that. Rain or shine, Houston is a 3 hour drive from Dallas. This entire time, I was just staring at airport displays and eating overpriced food, then scavenging for a wall outlet to charge my phone at. I saw nothing of importance in this trip. That day, I decided to not even bother with the ticket (I had already been rerouted so many times,) and went to the car rental location and rented a car, 1 way to Houston. 3.5 hours later, I was home, laying down in my bed.

The bigfoot warning sign going up Pikes Peak, outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado.

This sounds excessive, but I’ve seen this happen to so many people, all over the U.S., all the time. Someone has something very important to do, and delays and flight cancellations ruined their trip. I ran into a bride and her bridesmaids, who had been trying to fly to Florida for her bachelorette party for 2 days as well, who were in Dallas, with 1 more day left in their planned trip agenda. They had missed everything they had paid to do, and could not get refunded. Since then, all family trips were road trips. I can’t even imagine how much money those people lost.

Switching from flying to road trips brought my travel plans costs WAY DOWN. (I actually do a practice itinerary for a trip, plan it out, estimate costs, even gas, so I know around how much a trip is going to cost me.) I had been wanting to take my kids to Portland, Oregon, so they could see the area. I just think it’s a very cool looking city, and the features around it were worth the trip. This is the trip we’re going to use as an example.

Road Trip Colorado mountains
The landscape changes from one state to another.

A Trip From Houston, Texas to Portland, Oregon.

So, This is the trip I had planned. A 4 person trip to Oregon for a week. So, whatever the ticket prices were, it had to be quadrupled, just to get there, not counting car rental or hotel accommodations. So, a quick google travel search will bring up these prices, when looking for any flights, any airport, from Houston to Portland.

Portland flights

One thing people don’t know, when planning these trips. Yes, I chose round trip prices, but you are going to get charged for going and returning, individually. Travel time for flights are 7 to 13 hours, with stops. No lie, I’m only looking for the cheapest prices when I’m travelling through plane, I have no airline loyalty when it comes to price. So the cheapest flight on this list is $361, but thats one way. Round trip, this is going to be $722 round trip for 1 person. $722 round trip x 4 person family = $2,888.

Let’s compare that to a 7 day round trip, road trip, from Houston to Portland. First, we need a vehicle. (To save money while renting vehicle, join all of their awards programs, they’re usually free to enroll, and after a couple of car rentals, you get a free car rental for a day, which can accumulate and help bring the prices down. Also, there are reward programs with discounts, where you can get a luxury vehicle for the price of a basic vehicle. In case you are going to live a road trip life, and don’t want to use your own personal vehicle for these trips. If you maintain your vehicle and believe it can drive okay from one oil change to another, your own personal car will do, and this cost isn’t an issue to you.) 

Week car rental price national

This is just for reference values. You can shop around, and it’s up to you, how big your vehicle needs to be. With 2 adults and 2 kids, a full size car will do. The car rental also charges you fees, so your total is going to be the higher of the 2 values. Lets say we rent a full size vehicle at $450 for the week (rounded up from $448.98.) Vehicles come with unlimited miles while renting them, so we could drive non stop for a week straight, and it’ll be the same price. This is very important for these road trips, when miles are going to be put into a vehicle.

The road trip we decided to take, would have multiple stops on the way, to rest and sight see, to and from Oregon. We had to account for the hotel stays we would do. The average single night ,at a decent hotel, is usually around $150. To save on price, if you want to stay near a big city, look for some of the hotels in the outskirts. Close enough to be around 15 minutes away from everything, and not right in the downtown or main area. It’ll be the difference between staying at the same chain of hotels for $110 or $350 a night. We planned to drive from Houston and stop in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to rest. and then make a straight shot to Portland, Oregon from there. It’s about a 35 hours of driving. It’s going to take more than 1 day, so we’re stopping half way. The more people take turns driving. This sounds like a lot, but I’ve spent more than this trying to fly home, stuck at airports, the entire time.

Oregon Road Trip
The Oregon landscape takes you through trees galore.

The hotel stays were in Colorado Springs, Portland for 2 days, and Denver. 4 hotel stays, estimated at $150 each, that’s $600 for hotel stays. So far, we’re with car rental, and hotels covered, for a total of $1050. (This would ideally be added to the flight cost, because we would need a vehicle and hotel stays during the trip as well.)  And, again, if you’re taking your own vehicle, it’s only $600 for hotels.

This trip was around 4,700 miles driving in 1 week. The average car will go around 400 miles per tank of gas. Actually more on the highway, but this is just for an estimate. Let’s also estimate and say that every gas tank filled is $40 for a car. At 4,700 miles, stopping every 400 miles, we are expected to make around 12 stops for gas. 12 gas stops x $40 gas tank fill up = $480 for gas, round trip, estimated.

Now lets compare this information:

The kids checking out Horse Tail Falls, near the Columbia River Gorge, near Portland, Oregon.

Flying to Portland Oregon, 4 people, with hotel, and car rental, and gas we have an estimated $4000 week trip. The only place we saw was Portland, Oregon.

We took a week long road trip. Stopped to rest in Colorado Springs, and Denver, Colorado, to and from. Had a car rental, had hotels in different cities along the way, gas paid for, stopped at multiple sight seeing destinations, and got to see 9 different states. Our total: $1530.

Garden of the Gods shot
My kids resting during a hike at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Co.

$4000 “1 destination trip” VS $1530 “you see the same plus way more” trip.

2 road trips could be funded for the price of one round trip flight vacation. Here’s the best thing about a road trip. This is just the total price of the trip. This really doesn’t have to be the individual’s trip price. I have a family, so I have to pay for everyone. If you can convince 3 friends to go with you, each of you can pay for gas, hotel, car rental and hit the road for an entire week, with only $384 a person.

$384 total for 1 person, car, gas, and housing accommodated. The best thing is, if someone takes their own car, you’re looking at $270 a person.

Next time you want to go on a trip somewhere, no matter how long it is, just research how much it would cost to road trip. You  might be surprised how much you will save. All the pictures in this article are pictures from our road trip.

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
The Columbia River Gorge that splits Oregon and Washington state.
Our roadtrip destination: Multnomah Falls, outside of Portland, Oregon. My kids had never seen a waterfall, so I took them to one.

References: , Google Maps ,


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