Should we fly or drive from Indiana to Florida?
January 11, 2007 7:38 PM   Subscribe

Overseas visitors planning to travel from Chicago to Orlando in the US. Which will be less hassle/expense, driving or flying? (Are one-way car rentals *really* that expensive?!)

Okay, I'm an American but I've been living overseas for the past seven years (since pre-9/11). I've been home to Indiana a few times since then, and it just seems like the airports are more and more of a trial each visit. My Aussie husband and I are planning our next visit home to Indiana in April. I'd also like to visit my grandparents in Florida as well. Our original plan was to drive a rental car from Indiana, and then fly out of Orlando. We kinda like the idea of a road trip, especially as my husband's never seen that part of the country before. I've been pricing one-way car rentals though and it's just ridiculously expensive (around $100/day). So I've got some questions:

- Is there any way to get a cheaper one-way car rental? I have some sort of vague idea from the Internets that there are websites and message boards in the US where you can potentially find someone who needs a car transported cross-country. Or am I barking up the wrong tree here?

- I've found some great (non one-way) car rental deals with "unlimited mileage." How likely is it that they'd let us drive to Florida and back? If they forbid it, how much trouble would you get in if you did it anyway?

Basically, I guess I'm just torn because friends in the US have said that they prefer to avoid airports and flying whenever they can these days. Given unlimited time (but not unlimited money), what would you do?
posted by web-goddess to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total)
Car rental, gasoline, and motels will cost you more than airline tickets will. Irrespective of the amount of time it would take, I think the airline would be cheaper.

Have you considered taking the train? I just visited the Amtrak page, and it looks like a train trip from Chicago to Orlando, with a 6 hour stopover in Washington DC, is two nights and was listed at $544 for two people. (Or it could be done Chicago-Pittsburg-Philadelphia-Orlando
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:49 PM on January 11, 2007

Chicago to Orlando is a 1150 mile mile drive. Assuming you drive 70 mph and only stop for 1) bodily functions 2) gas 3) drive-through fast food, that's 17 hours. I'd much rather spend 4-5 hours dealing with air travel than spending 17 hours in a car.

Also, 1150 miles in car which gets 25 mpg highway is 46 gallons of gas, or about $100 at current prices.
posted by nathan_teske at 7:49 PM on January 11, 2007

Re your second point, I called the rental agencies (in CT) when I was planning a road trip to FL. At least two of them had no problems renting to us with no state limitations. (We ended up with Enterprise, and I don't recall the other(s).) I don't know what kind of trouble you get into, but in our case, we had to replace the car in Savannah and if something like that happens, you want to be in kosher with the company.

As for the first, yes, one-way rentals really are that expensive. Some friends tried looking for the 'transport a vehicle' option on a Utah-CT trip and couldn't find anything. I tried briefly for my FL trip and found nothing, either. That's not to say you won't, but I don't think FL is that popular of a destination. Additionally, you'll be dealing with not only a one-way car, but one-way plane tickets.

I personally say drive both ways, if you have the time. It's likely much less hassle.
posted by cobaltnine at 7:49 PM on January 11, 2007

United (on "Ted" metal) has one-way trips ORD-MCO for about $60/each in April. Just book for a Tuesday - Thursday departure.
posted by nathan_teske at 7:52 PM on January 11, 2007

I prefer flying.

I've done the Indy->Florida drive, and it's 24 unpleasant hours. Or 3 hours in a plane. Airports aren't usually a hassle if you pay attention and aren't a jackass.

That said, unlimited milage rentals are just that, there's no problem renting a car for a couple weeks and driving to and from Florida. As long as you're not leaving the lower 48, you'll be fine.

I think one-way rentals are expensive because they have to pay someone to drive it back. When I was in high school I worked a grocery store with a guy who did this. Which is confusing, because I often rent a car with out-of-state plates...

If you've really got unlimited time and want to stop for a day (and night!) in louisville, a day in nashville, a day in atlanta, etc, then do the drive. II do think it will end up being more expensive, with a rental + hotels + gas.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:53 PM on January 11, 2007

Wow, quick answers! To address some of the questions: we were definitely planning to split up the drive, probably over three days. I've got friends in Atlanta who've offered a futon, so really there'd probably only be one motel stop somewhere between Indiana and there. (Atlanta -> Orlando is doable in a day, isn't it?)

If it were just a question of getting from A-B, then I'd be buying the plane tickets now. But we honestly don't mind the drive. I don't drive at all in Australia, so there'll be a big novelty factor. We'd also love to stop off at Graceland and see some of the country along the way. (Not to mention the aforementioned friends in Atlanta.)

But GEEZ, $60 flights, nathan_teske? You're kidding. I was thinking that the flight would be at least a couple hundred. If we can seriously do it for $60 each, hells, we might as well fly to Florida, get a rental car there for cheap, and DRIVE to see our friends in Atlanta.
posted by web-goddess at 8:00 PM on January 11, 2007

I left a comment on your website, so I won't re-hash it here, but I would say this — Don't you think a road trip would be so much more fun than flying? Don't know how much your hubby has seen of the US but that would be my choice if the money was right.
posted by Brittanie at 8:06 PM on January 11, 2007

The idea of the "open road" doesn't really exist anymore. You can certainly see some interesting parts of the country if you stay off the interstate highways, but that will add a great deal of time to the trek.

A flight from Orlando to Chicago, however, is quite short and (as has already been mentioned) more economical. Fly in to Chicago and spend more time exploring this extraordinary city (in which I happen to reside). The train ride into the city takes about 40 minutes and you'll have no need for a car once you arrive.

There's nothing at all interesting about vast, grey stretches of highway and unsavory roadside stops. Exploring Chicago's neighborhoods, clubs and museums, however is fairly exciting.
posted by aladfar at 8:08 PM on January 11, 2007

You might try flying from Midway Airport in Chicago rather than O'Hare International. It's a smaller commuter airport that's pretty easy to get in and out of quickly, with lots of cheap flights to places in the US. It's also closer to Indiana than O'Hare. Perhaps the airport in Indianapolis would also be good.

I don't think the flying in the US is really such such a hassle nowadays, though they won't let you take big containers of liquid and will make you take off your shoes when you walk through the metal detector. Perhaps you could buy a ticket for Tuesday or Wednesday, where the airport won't be very busy. It won't be an ordeal at all, unless weather or something interferes.
posted by washburn at 8:11 PM on January 11, 2007

We love Chicago, aladfar, but we've already "done" it. I was hoping to get away from the same Chicago/northeast Indiana area we stay in every time we visit.
posted by web-goddess at 8:13 PM on January 11, 2007

web-goddess: I just punched in April 12 (Thursday) ORD-MCO. $59/ea, all-in, available on
posted by nathan_teske at 8:18 PM on January 11, 2007

Wow. We're actually going to be closer to South Bend, so there'd still be the added expense/hassle of getting back to Chicago. However - if we're willing to have two stopovers,'s giving a price of $80 to get us from South Bend to Orland. Eighty bucks! I'm really leaning that way now. For the amount of money and time we save, we can rent a car in Florida and drive all over the place down there. That might be enough "road trip" to satisfy our urge.

I seriously had no idea you could get such cheap one way flights in the US nowadays. Thanks for pointing it out!
posted by web-goddess at 8:37 PM on January 11, 2007

We're actually going to be closer to South Bend, so there'd still be the added expense/hassle of getting back to Chicago.

You might be interested in the South Shore Rail line, then. Downtown Chicago to/from South Bend's airport in about two and a half hours, and about $20, IIRC.

That's a hella great flight to florida, BTW.
posted by Orb2069 at 5:08 AM on January 12, 2007

(Atlanta -> Orlando is doable in a day, isn't it?)

It's doable, but let me warn you that there is basically nothing on I-75 between Macon and Florida's Turnpike, with the exception of Tifton (Reading Capital of the World), Valdosta, Lake City, Gainesville, and Ocala. It is really a boring drive.

There's a reason that when you go from I-285 south of Atlanta to I-75 southbound, the city it says you're headed toward is Tampa.
posted by oaf at 5:25 AM on January 12, 2007

The South Shore doesn't go all the way to the airport, actually. It ends in the Loop, so you've got to transfer to the El and it's a pain in the ass. United Limo (the bus) is more convenient, but it takes a hell of a lot longer. (Do I sound like a Midwesterner yet?)

Thanks for all the answers, everybody. I was looking for justification to do the drive, but it really sounds like the flight would be better in every way. At least this way we've got more time in Florida. (I just booked our tickets for the Astronaut Training Experience at Kennedy!)
posted by web-goddess at 6:25 AM on January 12, 2007

If it were just a question of getting from A-B, then I'd be buying the plane tickets now. But we honestly don't mind the drive. I don't drive at all in Australia, so there'll be a big novelty factor. We'd also love to stop off at Graceland and see some of the country along the way. (Not to mention the aforementioned friends in Atlanta.)

From South Bend, this will be about fourteen hours.

Indiana is mind-numbingly boring scenery until you get just south of Indianapolis (factor about 3 hours of flat, glacier-planed nothing.) South of Indy, the hills pick up a little and you'll be heading through Monroe National Forest, which is lovely. Taking I-65 south to I-24 will give you a chance to see Louisville, Mammoth Cave and Six Flags Amusement Park (which will be just opening, and won't be too crowded because of the temperatures.)

The cross-Kentucky/Tennessee route on I-24 will let you visit Nashville, Chattanooga, a variety of holler towns with interesting attractions like Rock City, and the world's biggest fireworks store, right on the border to Georgia. (It's a 10 minute stop, but it's neat.) If you want to go to Graceland, you would need to consider it a side trip- it's outside Memphis and neither the I-65 nor I-74 routes to Georgia directly connect to it. It's about 100 miles west of Nashville.

(I can't tell you anything about the I-74 route; we took it once, and it was such a mess from Ohio on that we stuck to I-65, I-24, I-85 after that.)

The exchange around Bowling Green is an unmarked nightmare, and rush hour around Chattanooga is enough to make a grown driver cry, so be prepared for those. April means you'd be driving through mountains off and on most of the way in the rain, so it can be pretty treacherous going if you're not supremely confident on the roads.

It is a very beautiful drive, through a great deal of national forest- partially deciduous, so you'll be getting a great spring green bloom view. You'll get to drive through the beginnings of the Blue Hills and tail end of the Appalachians, which are gorgeous, and you'll enjoy some really pastoral scenery onward through Tennessee when you drive over the valley towns.

The rest stops in Tennessee are the nicest, I think. This makes up somewhat for Chattanooga at rush hour. I know nothing about the trip past Atlanta, so I had you back to the more knowledgeable folks through there. Enjoy your trip!
posted by headspace at 6:28 AM on January 12, 2007

I did a quick airfare search on (the excellent) and showed one-way flights for $80/pp out of midway, and round trip flights for $117/pp.

If you do drive, consider borrowing somebody's GPS (or renting one with your car, if they rent good ones.) It's a lot of driving, in some areas that aren't filled with landmarks.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 6:56 AM on January 12, 2007

Oh, also if you rent a car, find out what the tax rate will be. Some cities have really punitive hotel and rental car taxes, and I'm pretty sure Chicago is one of those cities.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 6:58 AM on January 12, 2007

one-way rentals are insanely expensive and places like thrifty will not rent to your aussie without a US drivers license. but you can get MUCH cheaper (and better insured) car rental deals in europe than here. check with local agents there.

but yeah ... cheaper alternative is flying. check
posted by krautland at 10:52 AM on January 12, 2007

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