Exploring Road Trip Pros and Cons

Considering a road trip? Road trips offer a lot of freedom and flexibility. But let’s be real: there are also some downsides, like the cost of gas and the hours spent driving. In this article, I’ll break down the road trip pros and cons, to give you the lowdown on what to expect.

Key Takeaways

  • Road trips allow for a high degree of flexibility and personalization. You control your schedule, with no need to worry about flight times.
  • Road trips offer the potential for cost savings, but there can be additional trip costs to consider.
  • A lot of driving brings with it wear and tear to your car, not to mention driver fatigue.
Driver on a scenic road with trees

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The pros of road-tripping

Going on a road trip offers a unique level of flexibility and personalization. There are definitely a lot of reasons to consider taking a road trip, such as the following.

You don’t have to pack light

One of the great advantages of road-tripping is that you’re not restricted by luggage limits. No one is telling you that you should really try packing lighter. And you don’t have to feel guilty because you haven’t yet conquered overpacking.

You have the freedom to bring along extra comforts from home. Road trips are tailor-made for those who like to pack for every scenario, event, or weather condition.

back of a car packed for a summer road trip

You can follow your schedule

When you go on a road trip your time is yours. There’s no rushing to catch a flight or following others’ timetables. You can start your day whenever you choose and linger in places that captivate you.

On the other hand, if you find yourself in a location that just doesn’t quite seem to have as much to do as you thought there would be, you could pack up and move along sooner than you were planning.

You can make the journey part of the trip

On a road trip, the travel isn’t just a means to an end; it’s a big part of the experience. You can soak in the changing scenery, from busy cities to open prairies. You can seek out fun places to stop, even just for a few minutes, and add them to your trip itinerary as you drive. When you road trip, the drive isn’t just a way to get to your destination, like when you fly.

You can change your itinerary and destinations as you go

Your road trip is as flexible as you want it to be. Want to take a different route or add a spontaneous detour to a nearby place on your bucket list? On a road trip, it’s pretty easy to adjust your travel itinerary on the go to include new destinations or revisit favorite spots.

If you use a digital trip planner you can easily make changes to your schedule on the fly and keep track of newly updated trip reservation information.

You can save money

Opting for a road trip can often be cheaper than other forms of travel, especially if you’re savvy about where you stay and how you dine. The cost savings come from avoiding airfare or pricey tourist areas, leaving more in your travel budget for activities and experiences along the way.

During our road trip through South Dakota and Wyoming, we bought a foam cooler and stopped at grocery stores to get picnic items and snacks. Eating lunches and snacks this way saved us time and money. We could eat lunch whenever we were ready to pull over and stop. We didn’t have to take the time to look for a restaurant.

Road trip rookie? Check out my tips for your first road trip.

asphalt road with grass and trees on either side

Road trip cons

Despite the pros of road-tripping, there are some downsides too. While taking a road trip can be a great option, it’s not the best option for every trip or every traveler.

It takes longer to reach your ultimate destination

Road-tripping means setting your own pace (a definite pro), but obviously flying to certain destinations is a much faster mode of transportation even when you factor in the time it takes to get through security and all the other things that come with flying.

If you’re anxious to simply get where you want to go and enjoy that destination then taking a road trip may not be the way to go for you. 

Stuck for things to do while on the road? Check out these articles to help you pass the time.

Limited in distance from home you can travel when you’re short on time

If your time is limited, so is the distance you can cover on a road trip. You can only drive so far before you risk greatly cutting into the time you have to explore your chosen destination. If you’re short on time, flying to your destination means you will have a lot more destination options to choose from.

Young couple comparing a paper map and a gps navigator on the tablet sitting in the car

There are additional costs to factor into your trip budget

It can be tempting to assume that road trips are always cheaper than flying. While that can certainly be true, road trips can come with additional expenses that you’ll need to make sure to include in your trip budget. These include:

  • Gas
  • Hotel
  • Parking
  • Food

The biggest factor to consider is that lengthy road trips can add many additional days to your trip that would not be included if you were flying. Each of those days, of course, requires food and a place to stay.

Track your daily road trip expenses as you go. Your tracking system can be as simple as a piece of paper and a pencil or you can use something like the Plan, Ready, Go, trip budget spreadsheet.

Wear and tear on your car

Your vehicle will endure considerable wear and tear during a very long drive. All those extra miles can shorten the life of your considerably depending on how you drive, how far you drive, and the quality of your vehicle.

You can avoid this wear and tear on your own vehicle by renting a car to road trip with, but then again, this would be an added expense to include in your travel budget that you might not have if you were flying.

Driver fatigue

Spending several hours behind the wheel can lead to fatigue. When on a road trip you will need to plan for regular breaks to rest and reenergize to avoid the risks that come with with tired driving. 

Share the driving with a travel companion or limit yourself to no more than eight hours of driving per day. Less than that would be better for your safety, plus then you would have more time to explore outside of your car.

mockup image of a free printable travel planner

Final thoughts on road trip pros and cons

When you hit the road for a road trip, you get some great benefits of freedom and flexibility. On the flip side, road trips can require a significant investment in terms of time and money. Costs can add up, and spending long hours behind the wheel can be taxing. Make sure you weigh out all the pros and cons before you decide whether to road trip.