The idea of hopping in a car and setting off into the horizon on a Kerouacian adventure is a timeless notion for the ultimate vacation: exploring the rugged scenery, visiting pristine landscapes, and sleeping in a new place every night. The reality of a road trip is that it actually requires a significant amount of planning, especially for long trips that span several days and cover hundreds—if not thousands—of miles.
Traveling by car has a lot of unique benefits, but you also have to consider the drawbacks before deciding if a road trip is the right vacation for you. Cost and time are two of the most important factors but are by no means the only ones. Weight out these considerations before you set off.
Reasons to Go on a Road Trip
You Are in Charge
You control your departure time, arrival time, itinerary, and stops along the way. You don't have to pay attention to train schedules or airline routes as you plan your trip. If you see something interesting on the side of the road, you can stop and take a look. This freedom and flexibility of traveling by car is perhaps the biggest perk of a road trip, and its value can't be overstated.
You Can Change Your Mind
If you don't like a particular place, you can just drive away. There's no waiting for the next flight or hassling over train schedules. Last-minute decisions are easy to make and they don't have to throw off your entire trip. In the same vein, it's just as easy to stay somewhere you're really enjoying. Maybe what was supposed to be a quick pitstop ends up being a place with a lot of potential that you want to explore more. No problem, just stay.
You Can See the Real World
Taking a road trip allows you to get off the beaten path and see actual communities and natural wonders, not just a train track or a view from 36,000 feet. Meandering through the countryside is a great way to relax and find out what it's really like to live in a particular area. Farmers' markets, local festivals, and state parks are yours to explore.
You Can Pack Anything That Fits Into Your Trunk
You can use the back seat, too. You don't have to pay extra to bring the items you need, either. If you plan to bring camping gear or sports equipment, packing it in a car is easier than transporting it by bus or train. Just make sure you have a safe way to lock up valuable items. A car that appears to be overflowing with goods can be an easy target for theft.
You Can Save Money
Even when you factor in wear and tear on your car, going on a road trip can be a frugal way to travel, especially if you're traveling with a group. Taking four people somewhere by car is usually less expensive than buying four round-trip airplane, bus, or train tickets. You can split the costs for gas and hotel rooms, or if you're camping it could be even cheaper. Since you have the freedom to stop and eat wherever you like, you can choose affordable restaurants or pick-up items in a local grocery store to eat in the car.
Reasons to Think Twice About a Road Trip
Driving Takes Time
Driving is one of the slowest ways to travel between two points, especially between large cities with good rail and airline service. If you are planning a city-to-city trip, you can save a lot of time by taking the train or flying to your destination.
You Have to Do All the Work
From route planning and prepping your car to navigation and spending hours behind the wheel, it's all up to you. Trip planning is always a big task, but road trip planning requires even more forethought and organization. Sometimes it is easier to let someone else do the planning—and the driving. It's exhausting to be behind the wheel for hours at a time, especially if you'll be on the road for days. Having multiple drivers in the car helps to alleviate that, so share the responsibilities if you can.
You Have to Park the Car
In some cities, finding parking can be very difficult. High city parking rates are not fun to deal with, either, and can quickly eat up any cost savings you've gained by taking the car. If you're planning to be in smaller towns or natural areas, you shouldn't have as much of a problem. But if any one of your pitstops is a big city, plan ahead and research the cheapest and safest parking options for your car.
Traveling by Car Can Be Expensive
For solo travelers, in particular, taking a road trip might not save you money, especially when you factor in gas, tolls, parking, meals, and lodging along the way. In fact, depending on the length of the trip and where you stay, it can end up being much more costly than having taken another form of transportation. Even if you make a strict budget, unexpected costs such as a hapless breakdown can really throw a wrench at you.
Wear and Tear on Your Car Costs Money
You don't have to only worry about breakdowns, but also general wear and tear on your car. Long trips can really do damage to a vehicle, especially if it's an older model. If your car isn't up to the journey, you might be better off renting a vehicle instead.
You Have to Get Back
Planning your big road trip sounds fantastic and fun, but don't forget you have to get back to where you started. Unless you're in a situation where you can leave your car at the destination, you'll have to drive back to the starting point as well. Make sure you're mentally prepared not only for the initial journey but also for repeating it almost immediately after. However, you can make this easier by taking a different route home to shake things up.
Making Your Road Trip Decision
It is always a good idea to break out your trusty calculator and add up your travel costs before deciding how to get to your destination. Traveling by car is not necessarily the cheapest or easiest way to go. You may decide that time is more important than money. In this case, flying might be your best option. Taking the train might be a better choice for city-to-city travel, especially if you will not need a car at your destination.
In the end, the most important consideration is the type of trip that you're looking for. Faster transports are for those who want the destination city to be the vacation. But if you care more about the journey, then driving is the best way to truly experience not just point A and point B, but the infinite number of places between them. Even if it takes more time or ends up costing more, perhaps it's worth it.