How far are you willing to drive before you decide to fly for your next business trip? For most people, it’s six hours. If you live in or near a big city like Chicago, Atlanta, or even here in Boca Raton ‚ about an hour from Miami International Airport — the magic number seems to be six hours.
In other words, if you can drive from one place to another in six hours or less, drive it, don’t fly.
For example, if you’re traveling from Louisville to Chicago, that’s a five-hour drive. If you drive from your house to the airport and arrive 90 minutes early, that takes two hours. The time you board from the time you get off the plane is another 90 minutes. And then you have to get your rental car and drive to your hotel, taking another 90 minutes. That’s a five-hour plane trip all for the “convenience” of flying.
But if you drove your car to your hotel in Chicago, you could still make it in roughly five or six hours, and you’d have the added benefit of having your car available.
There are several ways to save time, money, and your sanity, when you drive to a conference, trade show, or meeting. Like any trip, planning is essential, which will save you more than time and money — it will save you plenty of aggravation too. Here are a few tips to help you save all three.
Plan your route in advance. There are plenty of apps that will guide you as you drive. No more reading folding maps or atlases. You’ll be able to plan stops for food, restrooms, and even a bit of sightseeing if time permits. Making several stops on the way to your ultimate destination? Planning your route will also help you find the shortest and fastest routes.
Leave your travel plans with someone you trust. This lets others know where you are and when you should arrive. Not only will they be able to “find” you in the event of an issue, like a breakdown, they’ll be able to trace your drive should you need assistance. (If you and your spouse or a friend both use Waze, you can also share your route and progress this way, and they can see when you’re expected to arrive.)
Plan on stopping. Yes, traffic will happen. It will slow your travel time, it might even stop it. Plan to stop for meals, and then make sure you actually do it. Park the car, get out, and walk into a restaurant. Avoid drive-thru fast food if at all possible. Making healthy choices can happen on the road, and by pre-planning, you can find healthy restaurant choices rather than ordering junk from your car. If the weather is nice, order the food to-go and head to a park or a place to sit outside. The fresh air is a pleasant change from stuffy car air. And a post-meal walk will be a great break from sitting in the same position for hours on end.
Make sure you can find fuel. By planning your routes, you’ll be able to spot any long stretches without a gas station. If you’re the type to drive until the gas light comes on — and then see how much further you can go — business travel might not be the best time to test the limit of your gas tank.
Remember, though, that a gas stop will add to the trip duration every time you stop especially if you pick up some snacks and use the restroom. Be sure to calculate the time into your total travel time. For example, a six-hour trip can easily turn into seven hours with three gas stops along the way, so plan accordingly.
What if you start feeling sluggish or sleepy? Rest before it’s too late. By previewing your map, you’ll know the places where lodging is and isn’t available. It’ll give you an idea of the places you want to avoid, too. Do a little research to find possible towns to visit and those to drive past. (And consider making reservations ahead of time.)
Packing a cooler with some drinks may also save time, because you don’t have to make extra stops just to wet your whistle. Be sure they’re easy to open and drink from. No need for distractions or attempting to drive ‘hands-free,” even if it’s only for a moment.
If possible, rent a car. Not only will it save wear and tear on your car, it might be tax deductible, so check with your tax professional. Unlimited mileage on a rental car might be a sound option and you can reduce the fuel costs by choosing an economy class vehicle.
So you’ve got a vehicle, planned the drive, and packed your bags. What’s next? Use an app like Waze or Google Maps to navigate around traffic issues with real-time updates based on local traffic conditions. This can help you avoid accidents and other delays. Shortcuts, detours and alternative routes given by the apps could save you plenty of time, gas and anxiety.
Traveling by car can be a good alternative to taking a plane everywhere. Remember, if your destination is five or six hours away by car, it can beat flying by saving you time, money, and the hassle of trying to make it through the airport.
Photo credit: Erin Costa (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)