It’s true: I love a good road trip. In fact, one of my favorite ways to travel is by car. We’ve traveled by car from Boston to Nova Scotia, extensively throughout New England, and even rented a car in the Bahamas—and braved driving on the “other” side! Over the years, I’ve learned there are clear advantages and disadvantages of travelling by car. You’ll want to consider both sides before planning your road trip. Read on to learn the pros and cons of car travel.
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CONTENTS: In this article, you will learn the advantages and disadvantages of travelling by car.
Advantages of Travelling by Car
When you take a trip by car, you have unlimited flexibility, independence, and freedom, especially when it comes to your itinerary. Here’s what I mean.
1. You can pack all your stuff in the car.
You can basically live out of your car, if you want to. And you don’t have to pay any baggage fees or lug heavy suitcases in and out of airports. Plus, if you pick up souvenirs as you travel by car, you don’t have to worry about fitting them into your suitcase or shipping them, especially if they are valuable.
2. You are on your own schedule.
You won’t have to be at the airport several hours early, worry about missing your train or bus, or rely on taxis or a sketchy Uber driver. The beauty of taking a vacation by car is you can start the trip when you want, stay when, where, and as long as you want, and leave when you want.
3. You don’t have to get dressed up to go.
I remember a friend from a different generation who talked about wearing what she called “a smart travel outfit” for transcontinental flights. Times may have changed, but in my opinion it’s still a whole lot easier to throw on comfy travel clothes and hit the road than to prepare to get dressed for a public trip.
4. You’ll see more scenic beauty when you travel by car.
Sure, it’s faster to travel by plane, but think of the views you’d take in on a great American cross-country trip, or even on a weekend road trip north. You’ll truly experience the natural beauty and character of the places you pass through by car, rather than from a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet.
5. You can go off course if you want to.
If you see something you want to explore that’s off the beaten path or even just off your original plan, go ahead! It might be an opportunity for you might experience something wonderful and unexpected. The beauty of traveling by car is it does not tie you to a firm itinerary. The only limits are those you place on yourself.
6. You can snack as you go and enjoy meals out, too.
You can pack a bunch of good snacks and lunches in a cooler for the ride. And when you come across a great place with a view, you can have a picnic. While you’re on the road, you can also stop to check out a cute coffee shop or enjoy a nice dinner out. This way, you can truly get a real “taste” of a destination by seeking out interesting places to eat. (While you should always check online reviews, my advice is to ask a local for their dining suggestion.)
7. You can take your time and “slow travel.”
As much as I love destination tours, sometimes there is so much on the itinerary that you feel rushed. When you travel by car, there is no need to rush from place to place. It’s a perfect opportunity for slow travel. That way, you can catch the scenery and relax. As the famous travel quote goes, “it’s about the journey, not the destination.”
8. You can listen to a fun mix list, podcast, book on tape, or talk radio.
Drive time is a great opportunity to catch up on the things you might not otherwise make time for. And it replaces that awkward silence that unavoidably happens several hours into a drive. Introducing music or audios can lead to some interesting discussion points, too!
9. You’ll bond with one another.
Depending on who you’re traveling with, it has the advantage of being a great bonding experience. I especially remember having important conversations with my teenage kids while en route to destinations. Think about it: When was the last time you spent several undivided hours with someone you love? This could be your spouse, your bestie, your Mom, or your kids.
10. You can safely control the germs in and out of the car.
If you’re concerned about germs (and we are all more so now than ever), when you’re travelling by car, you have a semi-protected environment. You control who goes in and out of your car. This minimizes your exposure to a lot of different people who you might encounter on a plane or taking public transportation. Stock up on masks (preferably a cute one, like this mask), hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes for the stops along the way, and you’re further protected from unwanted germs.
11. You easily can go as far off grid as you’d like.
Remember I mentioned living in your car, above? I was only half kidding. If you wanted to go totally off grid, you can pack an easy pop-up tent and turn your vacation into a ten camping trip. (link to tent camping.) This keeps the expenses down and takes you further off the grid.
Disadvantages of Travelling By Car
As much as I love travelling by car, I promised to share the advantages and disadvantages of travelling by car. So I will truthfully share the negative. But I will do better than that by offering solutions that may help you overcome—or at least minimize—the disadvantages.
1. It can be long, boring, and exhausting driving for hours.
After driving hundreds of miles on the interstate, your enthusiasm can start to wane. The scenery can all begin to look the same.
- Take the back roads instead of the interstate for a change of scenery.
- Play highway games, like the old “find the state license plates” game.
- Take turns driving where possible.
- Space your stops closer together, taking at least 15 minute breaks every two hours to stretch.
- Get plenty of rest each night if you’re on a multi-day trip.
2. The car can get messy and stale, and you’ll feel a little claustrophobic and uncomfortable.
It’s almost unavoidable that spending so much time in close quarters is going to get a little “ripe.” Plus the trash and wrappers begin to accumulate, and you might feel confined.
- Bring a few bags for trash and then ditch them at pit stops.
- Keep your bags organized and reorganize along the way as needed.
- Limit the number of hours you’ll be in the car per day, and limit the number of days, too.
- Pack some creature comforts, like a pillow and a cozy throw blanket. If you’re a passenger, you might even wear comfy slippers and a neck pillow in case you need a nap. This adjustable roll pillow can also be used for lumbar support and leg support, too.
- Bring baby wipes, deodorant, and breath freshener.
- Drink water to keep from getting dehydrated.
Related Article: Consider these alternative ways to travel without flying.
3. You have to pay for all that gas—and the exhaust is really not good for the environment.
Believe it or not, with great flight deals available today, it may be cheaper at times to fly than it is to drive. And you’re spewing out carbon exhaust while you drive.
- Find the lowest gas prices near you using the GasBuddy app.
- Maintain a speed of 55 mph when possible for the best gas mileage.
- Buy gas using a credit card that will give you points.
- If you have a gas-guzzler, consider renting a more fuel-efficient car, like an economy, hybrid, or electric vehicle.
- Bring along your bikes and do more exploring at stops without the car.
4. You’ll put wear and tear on your car.
Yes, for every mile you drive, you are adding wear and tear (and depreciation) to your car. There’s only one way around this, other than not going.
- Rent a car. (That will spice up your vacation with a little novelty, too!)
5. You could run into car problems or have a car accident.
Sometimes the unexpected happens. As the old saying goes, “expect the best but be prepared for the worst.” That’s sage advice.
- Sign up for roadside assistance and travel insurance.
- Pack an Roadside Emergency Kit and a First Aid Kit.
- Drive carefully and watch for other drivers who might jeopardize your safety.
- If your travel mates are not family, know their emergency contact person(s).
6. You could get lost.
Even with today’s mobile GPS and google maps, it’s possible to go off track, especially if you’re crossing through regions that don’t have wifi. If you have a good sense of direction (like my friend Jim), it can be somewhat fun to get a little lost. If you don’t (like me), it can be unnerving.
- Bring a paper map, as old-school as that sounds. You can usually pick one up at state Visitor Centers.
- You may also want to turn on location services on your phone so friends can locate you.
- Get a GPS that doesn’t rely on wifi.
- Double check that you put in the right coordinates on your directions app.
7. Your car could get broken into or worse, stolen.
Just as it’s an advantage to have all your stuff in one place when your traveling by car, if the car is stolen, your valuables and all your stuff is gone. And now you’re stranded. Ugh!
- Never leave valuables in plain sight.
- Lock the car whenever you’re not there and be sure you have the keys with you.
- Get travel insurance.
- Renting a car may have the added advantage of a quick replacement vehicle.
- Park your car where you can see it, if possible.
- Avoid parking/staying in dangerous places
- Park under lights.
9. You could hit bad weather or traffic.
These two external factors are definite disadvantages outside of your control. You kinda have to expect that you’re going to run into one or the other at some point during your travels.
- Check the weather before getting on the road so you know what to expect.
- Avoid car travel during icy/snowy conditions in the Northeast or extreme heat, like in Death Valley.
- Check for live traffic updates and navigation using the waze app. This app can also predict (within reason) the best time(s) to leave so you avoid traffic.
- Make sure you have the right gear for the weather.
- Avoid rush hour traffic.
- Check your mindset, which makes the biggest difference in sailing through bad weather or traffic.
Keep in mind that many of these disadvantages are small in comparison to the advantages above. Even so, you’ll find some suggestions to help minimize the disadvantages of travelling by car.
Related Must-Read: A Beginner’s Guide to Road Trips
Final Thoughts on the Advantages and Disadvantages of Travelling by Car
So, as you can see, there are quite a few advantages and disadvantages to travelling by car. And you have alternatives. But given the choice of plane, train, or automobile, car travel ranks high on the list for me, especially now.
How about you? Which of the advantages and disadvantages of travelling by car is most important to you? Are there any I’ve overlooked? Please share your suggestions in the comments below!
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