Fly or Drive?

Zero Based Budgeting - Fly Or Drive from Flickr by Reprolurch

Fly Or Drive from Flickr by Reprolurch

This week my family and I are spending a week in Cape Cod with my wife’s family. We are a family of 5 and we had to make a choice about our mode of transportation for the trip from Virginia. Flying has a few major advantages mainly that it is so much faster. Driving on the other hand is cheaper and more flexible. In this post I’ll explain how we came to our decision and the effects it has on our family financially and psychologically.

The thought of spending 12 to 13 hours in a van with three children under the age of 6 will leave many adults screaming and running for the hills. I will be the first to admit, my wife and I had the same apprehension. The noise that three children so small can generate is almost unimaginable.

To figure this out we had to look at a few different factors. Time, expense, patience level required and what we wanted to get out of the trip.

Travel Time

If we chose to fly, we would leave on Sunday morning and arrive midafternoon, most likely landing in Providence, Rhode Island. We then would rent a car to drive the hour or so from Providence to Cape Cod. Total travel time in the 6 hour range.

Looking at the routes for the drive, the fastest route said eleven and a half hours going up interstate 95 for most of the trip. Based on our previous trips, we know that our children need to stop and get out of the car once every three hours or so. So in a trip of 11 to 12 hours, we can figure a minimum of 3 stops of 30 minutes to one hour each. That means a total travel time driving of 14 to 15 hours.

Winner on Travel Time: Flying


The cheapest flight into either Providence or Boston was around $380/person. We have 4 that would need a ticket and one that would fly free. This gives a total airfare cost of $1,520. That price is a hard hit to a family of 5 living on a single income.

The driving trip is 1,250 miles round-trip. Our mini-van gets between 22 and 24 mpg on the highway. It is an old Honda Odyssey with 225,000+ miles. That mpg gives up around 350 to 400 miles on a single tank of gas. That computes out to four and a half tanks of gas at around $60/tank for a total gas cost of $270. Our van does burn a bit of oil so and I did have to do some maintenance to get ready for the trip. We then round the vehicle expenses to $370. There is a variable risk that the van may break down. Of course a plane may have the same issue (albeit much less likely). In the north-eastern states, tolls are very prevalent. I’m going to guesstimate that we will spend $100 on tolls. We have an EZ Pass so we will not pay cash for tolls on the trip. Our rounded total estimate for driving is now around $500.

Food expenses are a wash. Food in airports is more expensive, but I would say in overall cost, the difference is negligible. If flying, the wife and I would just be a bit smarter about which foods we spent money on.

As part of the road trip, we decided to take the kids into New York City to see the Statue of Liberty. She is big enough for our young children to remember and understand. Our oldest had also learned about her in kindergarten this year. Plus she gives a simple task for a complex city. It is a perfect way for youngsters to get introduced to New York City. We chose to use the Staten Island Ferry to get into the city than driving in. Parking at the ferry is $7 for the day and the ferry itself is free for everyone. Plus it is a really cool way to see the skyline and really see how massive NYC is. The kids loved this part of the trip. Since we did this we chose to get a hotel either in Staten Island or near Newark Airport. Prices are ½ the cost of getting a room in New York City. I used Hotwire to get a better deal knowing only that I would get a hotel in one of those two areas. We got the Holiday Inn Express at Newark Airport for $100/night. We would stay only one night. This adds $100 to our road trip total now at $600.

While we could have skipped going into New York City and the hotel stay to save money, this shows another advantage of driving over flying, flexibility. We able to let our kids experience the Statue of Liberty because we chose to drive instead of fly. This created a great learning experience for our children and gave us a fun-filled two days to experience each other’s company.

Winner on Expense: Driving (@ $600 vs. $1,520 for airfare)

Patience Level Required

Anyone who has ever driven with more than one small child on a road trip knows the patience level required to keep up sanity. The noise level really gets my wife and me. Our kids one on one are really well-behaved and mild-mannered, but something happens when they are in a group of two or more and a confined space. Multiple children amplify exponentially.

Flying with children provides a different anxiety for me. I worry much more about my children bothering other passengers than bothering me. My wife and I are very conscious of our children’s effects on those around them. We demand their best behavior and our success level in a day is typically around 95%. They have their moments, but go through most days without major issues.

Winner on Patience Level Required: Driving (Prefer they bother us, not someone else)


Driving is the obvious winner for this trip. The cost is less than half of flying and our children will only bother us. I’m sure the other passengers on possible flights are appreciative even without knowing.

For each trip there is another reason to consider. What do you want out of the trip? If you are short on time and have extra money, flying is the better option. However, if you have time, and want some flexibility to make more of the trip, driving can offer that. You get ample dedicated time together and you can stop when and wherever you like. You can manipulate your route to see specific sites as you go. In our case, we got to split our drive up in half and let the kids enjoy a bit of New York City.

The next time you go to take a trip, consider your options and work it into your zero based budget. Plan ahead of time and make the best decision considering time, finances, patience required and what to get out of your trip.

About Kevin Jones

I am the owner of KJW3, LLC and the producer of Free Zero Based Budgeting. I enjoy learning and spreading knowledge about personal finances and zero based budgeting. Please enjoy our blog and zero based budget tool.
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2 Responses to Fly or Drive?

  1. A.C. Karmilovich says:

    Thank you SO VERY MUCH for offering this zero based begetting tool. I took the Dave Ramsey course and loved the tool but it is no longer available to me unless I pay for it. Since I am trying to build an emergency fund and I’m a single parent of three I needed a free budget tool for now. I really appreciate this tool. I am new to budgeting but I love it! I am using cash. I used to run out of money EVERY month and now I have extra! THANK YOU!!!!!

    • Kevin Jones says:

      A.C., I’m glad you like the tool. My wife and I are still heavily using it as well. Dave Ramsey has some really great methods and zero based budgeting really works for my family. It’s a great place to start and then tweak to make your budget work for you.

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