It’s been done before, but the subject of “best travel method” for different scenarios is always worth revisiting, if only to re-evaluate the worth and enjoyment factor of each different method. As usual, the variables are almost infinite: budget, location, destination, timespan requirements, and, of course, individual preference.
For the purpose of this piece, we are going to use a fictional adult couple with two children traveling from Columbia, SC, to Atlanta, GA–a distance of about 430 miles round trip. Just pretend that mountain range isn’t actually there, as it is unique to this area of the country.
We quickly realized the scope of such a study is potentially immense, and it is far too easy to wander too far down the rabbit hole of cost-per-mile, owning/operating costs, and the like. These examples will be more or less in a vacuum, meaning that there are no breakdowns or extra expenses on the trip, simply get there and get back on relatively flat, smooth roads. Rentals, whether car or RV, are also left out of the picture, as those costs can vary widely.
You don’t want to. Next.
This isn’t the Oregon Trail. Do you want a family member to die from dysentery? Get a car.
Pros: The workout to end all workouts; the admiration of your Instagram followers
Cons: Full leg destruction! Ever taken kids on a multiple-day bike trip before?
Well, aren’t you ambitious! A glutton for punishment, perhaps? As you wish. Pedal away, because this will be over 40 hours–a full work week–of thrashing those calves, although if we weren’t in a vacuum scenario, our puny little legs likely wouldn’t make it too far over those mountains. Gasp. Think of the children! In theory, you could pull this whole thing off in four days, there and back, but not without dropping close to $600 for meals and $400 for hotels, and likely both of your exhausted children along the way. You monster.
Pros: Second-cheapest; easiest to pull over for a rest stop or misbehaving child
Cons: Mischievous youngsters in a confined space; irritated adults in a confined space
Kids, put on your Sunday best, we’re going to Sears! Not quite, but we are going to Atlanta and back, so hop in and let’s see what an average four-door sedan with a V6 engine would require for the trip. Our calculations show just over six hours round trip, and a fuel cost of $43. Food and a hotel would be needed (again, we aren’t covering things like spending the night on Cousin Bessie’s couch), so assuming we are leaving in the afternoon and returning the next morning right after breakfast, add around $200 for that, and you’re at about $250 total. Not too shabby.
Pros: Looking down on all the other road-going peasants beneath you
Cons: Jerry the bus driver doesn’t stop the bus until he’s good and ready
No, seriously. And we don’t mean a soul-sucking ride of misery on a Greyhound bus, we’re talking about a Megabus, which is actually quite a nice double-decker setup with comfortable seats and 120V outlets. We kid you not, a one-way ticket for the trip, which comes in at just under four hours, is a whopping $19 before tax. That’s nearly the same as gas money, except you don’t have to worry about driving. For a family of four, the total for both ways comes to $78.50, which is still very reasonable for less than 8 hours on the road. Reserving seats is a few dollars more, but might come in handy if the bus is full and you’d all like to sit together. Just sit back, relax, plug in your laptop, open a tasty beverage, and you’re there. As with the car, you’d still need a few meals and lodging in Atlanta, which brings this trip up to almost $300.
Pros: Pinch those pennies like a boss
Cons: You will literally stop for gas once an hour; welcome to the permanent slow lane
This is why we’re all here and reading this blog, right? Let’s have a look, starting with gas mileage. Lumping in all types of RVs, motorhomes and trailers alike, we generally see about 10-15MPG on average. We’ll be kind and say 12MPG for our purposes here. For over 430 miles (again, we’re operating in a vacuum, so those Appalachian hills just don’t exist), you’d spend around $110 on gas.
Timewise, assuming a conservative 50MPH average speed, we’re looking at almost 9 hours of travel all told. However, without a hotel room needed, and the ability to cook your own meals if needed, your total expenses should end up somewhere under $200, even with the campsite fee, which is the bargain of the bunch so far.
Pros: Your misbehaving kids are now the other passengers’ problem
Cons: Prepare for bankruptcy if you make this a habit
This will go quick. Flying is almost like cheating, except how it taxes your bank account. Are you sitting down? You might wish to, because regardless of the booking medium (Hotwire, Expedia, Kayak, etc.), flights between these two cities hover around an hour in length each way, and cost a whopping $2,500 for roundtrip tickets for 2 adults and 2 kids, all in Economy class. By the time you tack on those meals and that hotel, you’re inching towards three grand for this little family venture to the next state, but flying can also be the least stressful and most efficient way to travel. So there’s that.
And in closing . . . oh, sorry. Our editors are saying we won’t get pizza for lunch if we don’t actually spell out the costs for walking and horse-drawn cart travel, since they say we were the smart-alecks who mentioned them in the first place. (Ed. note: This is correct. Today it’s extra-delicious Hawaiian toppings, and these writers shan't have a single bite.)
Very well. Walking would obviously be free, albeit painful, but would actually entail more food expenses than driving, since the journey would span a great many more meals (assuming we are treating all mealtimes as equal and not skipping any). At well over 400 miles both ways, we do hope your footwear holds up, since you will be walking for almost a week. Pack some food, since a week’s worth of eating in restaurants could end up draining close to $1,000 from your pocket, plus another $600 in hotels along the way when you tire of sacking out in the cold rain like a vagabond. Also, making your kids walk this far is just plain cruel, and we hope you get a painful hangnail for even considering this option.
An ox-cart or covered wagon is nearly as bad. Imagine the photos of this rig that could end up on the internets? Your kids will be mortified, assuming they actually agreed to spend almost a week in one of these contraptions. Can you visualize pulling around a drive-through with the horses? Perhaps in Pennsylvania or Indiana, where a sight like this is not uncommon. Plan on roughly the same expenses as walking, although your horses will also need food and shelter, and–as a bonus–selfies that last a lifetime. ‘Nuff said.