Flying vs. Driving

According to AAA, 1.3 million Virginians will travel 50 miles for more from home this Thanksgiving holiday. About 90 percent will travel by car, 7 percent by air, and the remainder by some other means. I am glad that I am not one of them. We are hosting Thanksgiving at home this year. But the article got me thinking about travel in general, and how my travel habits and preferences have evolved specifically.

Flying somewhere used to be fun. There was something exciting about going to the airport, and seeing how baggage was moved from here to there. I loved watching the planes move about the taxiways. I thrilled watching them jump off the runway, or glide to a smooth landing. Onboard the plane, I looked forward to a window seat, and watching the world roll by below me.

That is no longer the case. These days, I view flying with a special kind of dread that has nothing to do with a fear of heights or airplane crashes. The dread begins with the price of the airline tickets. It moves next to the cost of a parking space at the airport. It is rapidly followed by the jarring experience of navigating the airport itself; ticket counters with brusk ticket agents; baggage and its propensity to arrive somewhere I am not; security lines and their relative lengths; gate waits, and the potential for delays and cancellations; boarding and whether or not there will be room in the overhead by the time I get on the plane.

On the plane, things only get worse. I’m crowded into ever smaller seats; mediocre, over-priced food; being asked to close my window shade so that others might enjoy the movie. I can’t even enjoy the view out the window anymore!

It is no wonder, then, that I haven’t flown in more 16 months—the longest stretch I can recall as an adult. And you know what, I am better off for it. I’ve given it a lot of thought, and for me, it all boils down to giving up control completely, and being at the mercy of the airlines, which is something that I am unwilling to do right now.

Driving, on the other hand, is different.

When I lived in L.A., I grew to hate the 20 mile commute from Studio City to Santa Monica, and disliked the return commute (although not quite as much). I got turned off to driving for a long time. But since our kids have been born, driving has become my preferred method of getting from place A to place B, when walking is out of the question.

Each year, we embark on two long-distance trips: from Virginia to Maine and back in the summer; and from Virginia to Florida and back in the winter. The travel portion of each trip would be made substantially shorter by flying, but I won’t hear of it. I’ve learned to love the drive. The kids have gotten used to the driving, and we rarely do more than 6 hours of driving in a day. We typically take 2 days to get to Maine, and 3 to get to our destination in Florida (although last year, we did that in 2 days as well).

Driving isn’t nearly as expensive as 4 roundtrip airline tickets, even factoring in staying a few nights in hotels. Packing is easier when we drive. We don’t have to worry about cramming suitcases into overhead compartments, or whether we’ll be charged extra for heavy luggage. Our car can comfortably carry all five of us, and our luggage. There are no brusk ticket agents, no TSA inspectors, no x-ray machines. There is, occasionally, some traffic, but we can often divert around it, and see something new in the process. The seats are comfortable. The kids can watch movies, we can listen to audiobooks or music. And then, there’s the drive itself. The skyscapes from 35,000 feet are often stunning, but I’ve grown to prefer to see the country up close and personal.

Driving doesn’t dictate our schedule the way flying does. We’ll leave on particular day at a particular time, and we don’t rush. We don’t even plan the return trip until a few days before, deciding relatively late when we want to start he drive home and where we’re going to stop along the way.

Unlike flying, driving puts us in almost complete control of all aspects of our travel. If we lose our luggage, it’s our own fault; if we get lost, ditto. But we’re in control. That makes the experience much more relaxing and enjoyable. Even when my flight is on time, I can’t wait to be off the plane and at my destination. The same isn’t true when we drive. I like the journey, as much as the drive. Still, there are times when even driving can be stressful. Like major holiday weekends.

There are many things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving, but on the list somewhere just below family and friends, is the fact that I don’t have to travel anywhere this weekend.