School Vacation = Costly Flights
Ashley and I are fortunate enough to have a few weeks off throughout the year. Of course, because we are both in education, our vacation weeks happen at the same time as every other public school in Massachusetts. As a result, the airfare to anywhere during these particular weeks is astronomical compared to just about any other time during the year. We end up paying a whole lot more for any flights we might take during our February or April vacations.
This April vacation was even worse. We scoured airfares for a few months, but couldn’t find anything reasonable. Eventually, by about mid-February, we gave up on the prospect of going from Massachusetts to Florida to visit my parents. Even though we had a free place to stay and there would be very few additional things to pay for, the price of airfare alone made the trip seem impossible. The best deals we were finding in February for our family of four on a decent flight with one layover was close to $3,000! A nonstop flight with good times was approaching $4000!
2 Adults, 2 Kids, 24 Hour Drive – We Must Be Nuts!
Instead, we decided to attempt a road trip to Florida instead. Yes, there were lots of reasons to just pass on a trip to Florida this year, but we decided to try the road trip. At the very least, we would know if we never wanted to do anything like it again!
We packed up the car and headed on out. In all, it took us 30 hours to get down to my parents’ house and 28 hours to get back. We left on a Friday afternoon and arrived in Florida late Saturday night. We stayed with my parents for five days before packing up and doing it all over again. On the return trip, we left the next Friday morning and got back home on Saturday mid-afternoon. In total, we spent $1092.48 on the trip and throughout that week. Obviously, this is much cheaper than the price we would have paid for airfare.
Our Road Trip Costs
Here’s a rundown of how we kept some of our costs down on the road trip.
Rental Car – $471.78
We were originally contemplating taking our own car. We have a 2005 Acura MDX. The SUV is in good shape and doesn’t have any major problems that we know of right now, but at the same time, it’s 14 years old and has 150,000 miles on it. Breaking down in the middle of the night on I-95 did not sound too appealing.
Fortunately, a neighbor happened to mention the possibility of renting a car. It had been a while since I had rented a car, so I did not realize that almost all rentals now include unlimited miles. According to AAA’s cost of driving calculator, a medium SUV costs 8.66 cents/mile in maintenance and repairs, so it would have cost us $278 to drive our Acura to Florida and back. We decided that a rental car was a good financial decision and gave us peace of mind.
We rented a Nissan Rogue with a touch over 16,000 miles on it. The SUV was big enough to fit the boys’ bikes in the back along with our luggage and it had plenty of room in the back seat for the kids. On a 24+ hour drive, we wanted to be sure weren’t feeling those constant kicks on our backs in the front seats. The fact that we weren’t putting any additional wear and tear on our own car plus the assurance of knowing that if we were to break down, we could just call the rental company to bring us a new car made this a no-brainer for us.While there was definitely a cost to this at $471.78, we felt that this was the smarter decision.
Groceries – $66.50
We picked up some items to help defray the cost of stopping at fast food restaurants and convenience stores over and over again. We ended up buying a few gallons of water, some snacks to keep us and the kids going between meals, and some bananas and donuts for the first morning. In Florida, we picked up a few more things in the middle of vacation including a few beers and seltzers. Considering the crazy markups for a bottle of water or a bag of chips at a convenience store, this seemed like a good way to save a few dollars.
Gas – $292.62
We traveled a grand total of 3,211 miles on our road trip from Massachusetts to Florida and back. During that time, we filled up the tank nine times for a total cost of $292.62. The rental car ended up getting close to 30 miles per gallon, which isn’t bad for an SUV. And it’s probably about 8 MPG better than we would have gotten if we had driven our own SUV. We did get to recoup some of the cost by using our credit card and getting rewards.The Discover It 5% bonus rewards category is currently gas stations, so that helps offset the cost as well.
Food – $135.33
We made a few stops along the way for fast food, which quickly adds up when feeding a family of four. Since when do McDonald’s and Wendy’s cost around $25 for a family of four to eat? I guess it had been a while since we really paid attention to fast food. That’s probably a good thing. Additionally, we stopped for coffee multiple times on this long journey. During a 28-30 hour stretch of driving, there was no avoiding that cost. I probably would have paid about $15 each time I walked into Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts while we were in the middle of those drives!
Beach Parking – $16.00
This was the best money we spent on the whole trip! We went to Bonita Beach both days and it was great. The weather was warm, but not too hot and there was a nice breeze both days. One day had some decent-sized waves which the kids loved, while the second day was much calmer so the kids were able to go in and out without fear of being knocked over. Packing up to go to the beach can be such a hassle, but it’s so relaxing and the kids have so much fun once we finally get there.
Dinner, Drinks, and Ice Cream – $110.25
Date night! One of the highlights of the trip. We had a great dinner at a spot in Fort Myers Beach overlooking the harbor and bridge. The food was great, there was awesome live music and it was so nice to get a chance to spend time with Ashley and be able to finish a conversation without interruption. We love those kids, but it’s so nice to get a night away as well. Thanks for babysitting Mom and Dad!
The Hidden Savings of Our Florida Road Trip
We spent $1,092 during the week driving to and from Florida, but how much more was this than what we normally would have spent?
Normally, we spend about $125 each week on groceries. Since we were away and staying with my parents, there was no trip to the grocery store this week besides shopping for the road trip items listed above.
When we left the house, we turned the heat down to fifty degrees. The weather in Massachusetts can be somewhat unpredictable in April. Some days are in the 60s while others can be in the 40s or even 30s. While we were gone, there were a good number of days in the 50s which is typical. Obviously, the heat would not have been running as frequently in April as it would be in January, but it would still have been on a bit had we been home, even though we do leave it pretty low throughout the year. I estimate that we probably saved around $20 on heat.
Additionally, we can estimate that we would have spent around $150 on various expenses throughout the week. Maybe we would’ve taken the kids out for ice cream, or gone out to lunch. We may have hit up the zoo or aquarium or spent the day at the children’s museum. After all, kids love to experience new places! We had a date night in Florida, maybe we would have still had one even if we were home. I would love to say we would have found all free things to do and wouldn’t have spent a dime had we been home, but the reality is that we probably would have decided to spend some money while being home for the week with the kids.
We would have also spent about $40 on gas throughout a typical week had we been home.
In all, we most likely saved $335 by not being home for the week. When looking at it from that perspective, the Florida trip cost comes down to $757.
Is Driving the Way to Go?
In short, no, not really. We spent a lot less money by driving than we would have if we had flown, but the trip down and back was pretty exhausting. I had a tough time sleeping in the car, so I ended up just driving almost the entire way. I got a total of two hours of sleep on each trip, so it was pretty exhausting. Additionally, the kids had a tough time sleeping in the car. They were strapped into their car seats, so they couldn’t curl up to a more comfortable position.
If we had more time, perhaps driving would have been more acceptable. We could have driven part of the way, stopped overnight a few times and slowly made our way down to Florida. But our rigid school schedules really limit our flexibility with travel, so we knew any extra days on the road meant fewer days in Florida. As it was, five full days in Florida went by VERY quickly!
So, in the end, I don’t regret driving down to Florida because it was worth it. It was great to see my parents and they loved spending time with their grandkids. But, unless the prices are once again astronomically high, we will almost certainly be flying from here on out.
How about you? What are your road trip experiences? How much have you been able to save and was it worth it?