This month has seen me driving from Pittsburgh to North Carolina, on board a plane to Grapevine, Texas, and now I’m sitting on a train headed to New York. So it seems a perfect time to talk about the different modes of transportation and the pros and cons of each.
A lot of factors go into deciding the best way to make the trip. For example:
Do you need to be someplace ASAP, or do you have time to enjoy the ride? While flying used to be the fastest way to travel, this may not be the case anymore. For shorter trips, I usually prefer to drive, simply because it takes me an hour to get to the airport from my home, and some flights require me to show up one to two hours early…and don’t get me started on TSA delays. Add the flight time in, and if I’m only going four or five hours away, a road trip is the better option.
However, if you’re going further away, you need to consider if you’d rather spend more time visiting and less time driving. While you’ll see a lot more of the country while on the road, it may not make up for the time you’re missing at that family reunion.
Check out train options as well, especially if you’re going to a fairly close destination. You can show up right before the train leaves to board (print your boarding pass at home), and you can even work while traveling, so you can get a lot done without too many distractions. Case in point? The column I’m typing right now.
There’s no beating a train for comfort; even in economy class, there’s TONS of leg room, the tray table easily fits a computer and pulls out to make a perfect desk, and the seats are large and come with a foot rest. You can walk around all you want, and if you need to scooch by a seatmate, you can do it easily without ending up in his or her lap. And the view! It changes every minute.
Your car, on the other hand, is as comfortable as you want to make it, but there’s no relaxing while driving—you’ve got to keep your eyes on the road! You also have to deal with traffic, detours and decoding your GPS’ directions, which is a little more stressful than letting someone else steer.
As for airplanes…well… unless you enjoy playing the passive-aggressive armrest game or like having less than a foot of personal space in front of you—even less if you’ve got someone who chooses to recline their seat—this is not the way to relax unless you can fly first-class.
Depending on where you’re going, parking may be at a premium. I don’t drive to New York for the simple reason that I have nowhere to put my car. It does mean that I need to get a ride to and from the train station, but that’s a lot easier than storing a large vehicle. It’s also easy to park at an airport and hop a plane, though you need to remember to add the cost into your travel budget.
If you have your own car, you don’t have to schlep luggage too far—usually just to the door of the hotel. It’s easy to store luggage on a train, but depending on how far your destination is from the station, you may end up dragging your suitcase further than you’d like—my poor Samsonite barely made it through a whirlwind trip of 10 German towns.
Most airlines have begun limiting how much luggage you can take and charging you (even for the first bag!) unless you have their credit card or status. You can carry luggage on, but the size of the suitcase they allow has gotten smaller, as has the cabin space and overhead compartments. And if you plan to bring a bunch of stuff home, watch out—the overweight charges or upcharge for extra bags may not make it worth it.
When you have your own car, you have the freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want. And that’s a huge plus. But in cities where there’s good public transportation, including cabs, busses and independent services like Uber, you can get just about anywhere without too much fuss.
Depending on the cost of gas and wear and tear on your vehicle, driving is often the most economical option, though this is not always the case! I’ve gotten amazing bargains on train tickets ($69 to New York!) and it’s always smart to search for lower-priced airline tickets. Look at all of the options and factor in extras, like the hotel room you’ll need if your road trip takes more than a day. Sign up for frequent flyer programs and train points programs, and sooner or later, you might even score a free ticket!
What’s your favorite way to travel? Let us know on Facebook!