Travel Planning: Getting There

I always get the window seat!

I always get the window seat!

I’m sure everyone has heard an inspirational travel quote that basically states that “Getting there is half the fun!”. I do believe this to some degree, but ‘getting there’ can also be a battle. Choosing between flying, driving, or taking a bus or train can change a lot of different facets of your trip

Determine Your Time Line

Knowing how long each mode of transport is going to take can impact your vacation significantly. Planning a trip from New York to Oregon might mean two total travel days by plane, or 3-4 one-way by train. I have driven from our home in Wisconsin down to Winter Haven, FL to visit family, and Marcus and I flew once as well. Driving not only took up two full days on its own, but then we had to deal with the exhaustion that a 24 hour drive brings on. When we decided to head down a few years ago, it was obvious we were going to fly. Our week of vacation time didn’t allow for drive time, and we were willing to pay for the plane tickets in order to save the time for enjoying our days off.

Weighing The Costs

Driving across the many hills of Pennsylvania.

Driving across the many hills of Pennsylvania.

I have also driven to the East Coast several times to visit my brother in NYC and also to attend his wedding on the Jersey Shore. The drive is a killer one, and I truly hate it. The only benefit to hundreds of miles of boredom? The cost. When you figure a car trip costs gas, tolls, some food and a little extra wear and tear on your car, that is greatly less than round trip plane tickets for four people. There is a lot to weigh when it comes to thinking about your budget here.

A Scenario For Thought

For Marcus and I, deciding on a game plan for flying is always interesting. Recently, we came upon an interesting scenario that needed to be addressed. If we were to fly anywhere for the local Madison airport we typically have a layover in Chicago or Detroit. Considering that Chicago is 3 hours away, we have some options to consider. We could take the direct flight from Madison, costing $300. We could take a flight from Chicago non-stop for $250. Choosing Chicago means we have to get there, and it’s always nice to save some money, right? Not so fast. Our options are:

  • Drive the Prius. Cost: $30 in gas, $10 in tolls, $10/day in parking fees =~$100
  • Take a bus from Madison to Chicago. Cost: $30/person one way to Chicago = $120
  • OR, we can fly out of Madison, take a bus or phone a friend for a ride to the airport. Cost= about $100

As you can see, weighing your options can present some interesting figures. One more bit on the flying part of my example: If we fly out of our smaller local airport we are able to go through security there which is a breeze. Flying out of a major airport like O’Hare in Chicago would be better described as a nightmare, sometimes taking 2 hours to get through security…on a slow day. Just another piece to the puzzle.

Doing The Research

On our way to Puerto Rico.

On our way to Puerto Rico.

If flying is the way you want to go, checking websites like Kayak and Airfare Watch Dog are great ways to see what fares are going to cost you, and when the time is right to buy, it’s a one-stop-shop. You can also check direct with airlines like United or American Airlines. Check around to make sure you get the best prices. Also remember that if you have airline miles or rewards points on your credit card you can often use partial points to purchase a ticket on your card company’s rewards website.

Taking a train is something I’ve always wanted to do. Amtrak has an easy-to-use site where you can see the stations close by and plan a route. It gives you any connections you might need to make. We aware though that the initial price shown is for one-way. After you choose the leaving ticket, the return ticket will show up separately.

Driving can seem like a budget traveller’s dream, but can have some unforeseen costs. I recommend checking out GasBuddy where you can get a close approximation of fuel costs. Also remember to check Google maps for a time line of your drive. Add any incidental costs to your budget such as food at rest stops and tolls.

While planes, trains and automobiles are the most common modes of getting to your destination, consider some alternatives. Greyhound and similar coach companies can offer cheap fares especially if you book far in advance. Ride sharing can also be a great way to cut down on costs and meet new people.3850003577_f4fdafa08d

The journey should be part of the trip, and finding the perfect balance between cost, time and convenience can seem like a hassle. Spending the time to familiarize yourself with your options can make the planning smoother and will have you travelling with confidence. Plus, it’s always good to start out your vacation on the right foot.

Photo Credit: jpmueller99

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