Family Road Trip USA

A Vacation and an Adventure

 

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48 state trip

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Family Road Trip--An Investment in Family

While on a road trip in 2004, we camped near Fort Smith Arkansas.  We stayed up and talked to the couple who were camping next to us.  They had raised their children and were on a camping trip back to visit their son and his family.  The wife said something I have pondered frequently since that time.  She said, "Children give back to you what you give them." 

What better gift to give your children than your time.  In my life the happiest and most joyful times have been spent with my family.  A family vacation provides the opportunity to forget about every day pressures and focus on each other as a family.  It has also been by observation  that parents who spend time doing fun things with their children are more likely to have their children stay close to them as they get older.   If this is true, then a good family vacation has rewards now and rewards in the future.

Of course, there are lots of ways to take a family vacation.  There are resorts to visit, vacation clubs to join, and extended family to visit.  By far, our favorite way to vacation is to go on a road trip.  We have found that road trips make adventure, time together, and fun accessible to us at a price where finances don't limit how often we go.

Adventure

When I fly for work, I try to get a window seat.  I almost always find myself staring out the window, admiring the terrain below.  I find myself wishing that I were down in a car, exploring the interesting peaks, valleys, rivers, farmland, desert areas, forests and lakes.   I feel the need to drive it or to walk it rather than just see it from the air.  That is where my heart is.   Our kids also like to explore.  Our youngest is four years old, so we are somewhat limited in high adventure activities.  However, we still like to see new places.  Traveling on the road in the car provides the opportunities to see new things and places all the time.  We have learned that there are neat things to see all across America.

When you take a plane ride, the focus is usually on the destination.  When you are on a road trip, you still think about the destination, but the journey becomes the focus.  While you are on the ground everyone has a nice window seat.  You are exploring and seeing the countryside as you go. 

Several years ago we decided to go to Disneyland, which is about 1000 miles from our home in Oregon.  Mostly because of the high cost of airfare for our family, we decided to drive.  We were surprised at how much we enjoyed the journey.  Because we were in a hurry to get there, we stayed mostly on the freeways.  But even from the interstates we enjoyed seeing the thick green forests of Southern Oregon, the beauty of Mount Shasta and its surrounding forests, the novelty of huge rice farms in Northern California, and the diversity of the other forests and farmland along the way.  Much of it was scenery that we had never seen before.  The trip was much richer because of the things that we saw along the way.  The journey was an integral part of the vacation because it was fun too.

Flexibility

Another benefit of taking a road trip is flexibility.  Because you control the transportation, you usually donít have a schedule other than getting to your destination that evening.  If you decide you want to spend a little more time in one place, you can without too much trouble.  On the other hand, when you fly, timing is critical so that you are at the airport and through the security before your flight leaves. 

One day on our 48 state road trip we were in the Florida Keys, and needed to get into Georgia for our next night.  We hadnít planned on going out to seeing the coral reef, but decided somewhat late that we really couldnít miss the opportunity.   Because we had the whole day to get to our destination, we decided to spend the morning on a glass bottom boat tour.  It was a memorable part of our trip, which we would have missed if we had been on a tighter schedule or if we had a plane to catch.   We got to our destination at midnight, but it was worth it to see a barracuda and many other brightly colored fish swimming through the reef.

Traveling through Northern Arizona we met a couple of women on the trip who showed how flexible a road trip can be.  They were friends from Missouri, who realized they both had a long weekend ahead of them.  They decided to drive to Las Vegas to visit some friends, and within 24 hours of making that decision they were on their way.  There were no reservations, just a desire to see some new things and get away for a while. 

Convenience

On an adventure or vacation, convenience is important.  You want to spend your time on the new and the unique, not the mundane.  One of the conveniences of traveling on the road is storage space.  You can take more stuff because you donít have to have it confined to luggage that you can physically carry (or roll) through an airport.   If you have young children, you have less people to carry more things.  It is tough enough for me to get from one place to another with all our family, but adding on the luggage is pure drudgery.  With a car, your stuff is in the trunk.  The farthest you might need to haul it is from the car to the hotel room.   Most of the time, you only need to carry up a portion of what you stow in your car.

If you travel with an RV, the need for luggage usually disappears as you keep your belongings in drawers and cabinets.  Once you park your RV and set it up for the night, your bed is already made and your pajamas are in the drawer.  When you wake up, your clothes are also in the drawer.  For breakfast, you simply pull your food out of the fridge and eat it. 

Another advantage of traveling with an RV is the ability to stop whenever and wherever you want to eat or use the restroom.  Here is a typical experience for us on our trip.  One day as the kids were starting to complain about hunger while driving in northern California, we pulled over to a large beach with picnic tables.  Mary made us some soup for lunch while I took the children out to throw rocks into the ocean.  We then came back and had lunch while listening to the surf roar behind us.  This is so much better than going to a fast food restaurant while traveling.  It was quick, convenient, easy, inexpensive, and tasty. 

Cost

Of all the reasons that going on a road trip is better than flying, cost is probably the most compelling.  It certainly was a huge factor in our decision about how to vacation.  Generally, as your family size gets bigger, flying gets financially prohibitive pretty fast.  With four kids in our family the difference in cost between flying and driving is considerable.  Even for smaller families, it may make sense from a cost perspective to drive.  Below are tabulated the relative transportation costs for some sample vacations.

Vacation Travel Expenses Compared

Trip

Mileage (round trip ground)

Airfare
(Round Trip per person)

Flight Cost Family of 4

Flight Cost Family of 6

Gas with RV

Gas Car

Portland to
San Diego

2,200

$346

$1,384

$2,076

$440

$264

Chicago to Disneyworld

2,360

$208

$832

$1,248

$472

$283

Columbus, Ohio to Disneyworld

1,944

$294

$1,176

$1,764

$389

$233

Seattle to Glacier NP
(+30 mile drive)

1,150

$291

$1,164

$1,746

$230

$138

St. Louis to Washington D.C.

1,660

$163

$652

$978

$332

$199

Dallas to New Orleans

1,060

$195

$780

$1,170

$212

$127

Las Vegas to Yosemite NP (+130 mile drive)

750

$183

$732

$1,098

$150

$90

Kansas City Missouri to Nashville

1,120

$186

$744

$1,116

$224

$134

Houston to
Yellowstone NP

3,400

$458

$1,832

$2,748

$680

$408

Cleavland to Grand Canyon NP (+80 mile drive)

4,000

$878

$3,512

$5,268

$800

$480

Seattle to Anchorage Alaska

4,544

$416

$1,664

$2,496

$909

$545

Plane costs are best price summer months with > 4 months advance notice

Willing to move flight +/- 3 days from target date to get best price

Gas price is $3/gallon.  Mileage is 25 MPG for car, 10 MPG for RV

In nearly every scenario, it is cheaper to drive than to fly.  Of course, this difference becomes larger as you have more children in your family.  If you take an average of these sample vacations, a family of 4 would spend about 75% less for gas driving their family Sedan than they would flying to their destination.  Even if the family of four were driving an RV, they would still spend about Ĺ as much driving as they would flying.  With our family of six and our RV, we would save 70% paying for gasoline rather than airfare on these vacations.   Another cost benefit of driving is that you donít have to rent a car when you get there, or pay to leave your car at the airport. 

The greatest thing about saving money on vacations is it gives you the opportunity to vacation more, not being limited by cost.  More family vacation time is more time invested in family.

Many are concerned about the usage of fuel from an environmental and resource management point of view.  I was surprised to learn that most families would consume less fuel driving than they would flying.  Airline fuel economy is somewhat complicated and data is not very openly shared, but the studies I did find suggested that the average fuel economy for a domestic flight is somewhere in the neighborhood 40-60 miles per gallon for a single passenger.  That is not to hard to beat in a car.  Even in our RV with its limited gas mileage and six people we get an equivalent 60 person miles per gallon (6 people times 10 miles per gallon).  A family of four in a family minivan can easily blow those numbers away at 100 person miles per gallon (4 people times 25 miles per gallon).