Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

873 Miles Overland Versus Air (With A Little Help From Magellan)

One way to foil the airlines is not to fly on them, and that’s what I did this week.

Instead, I rented a beautiful Toyota Avalon from Hertz at the Raleigh-Durham Airport and drove 873 miles to Chicago and then drove the same 873 miles again back to Raleigh. Yes, that’s right: I DROVE!

Thanks to mostly good weather and few serious traffic delays, the trip each way consumed just over 13 hours, including pit stops. Those were mostly bio-breaks as the Avalon racked up an astonishing 29.4 MPG overall, therefore making over 430 miles on a tank of gas. If my body was capable of it, I could have made the entire run each way with just a single stop for gasoline. But I chose not to adopt the Astronaut-adult-diaper-long-distance-drive-method (nor did any pepper spray accompany me).

The Avalon drove like a champ! What a beautiful machine! I averaged 66.09 MPH on the return trip, yet never exceeded the speed limits (usually 65-70 MPH) by more than 4 MPH on mostly Interstate highways. Wish the car was mine, but I chose to rent from Hertz so as not to put 1700 miles of wear and tear on one of our cars. Even in fairly heavy snow along Lake Michigan for two early morning hours on my return, the Avalon stuck firmly to the road, and I never had to slow down.

Because I was traveling alone, I bought a Magellan RoadMate 2000 GPS from BestBuy for $350. It’s exactly the same device as the Hertz NeverLost, and it worked perfectly as my navigator there and back. If you have ever used NeverLost, you don’t even need to read the instructions for this unit. Just turn it on, and program where you want to go. It gets a satellite fix within a few minutes and starts giving directions.

The Magellan unit is quite small, about the size of a deck of cards, so it is portable, and I intend to take it with me on all business trips henceforth. If you want to spend twice as much, newer units (Magellan, Garmin, and other brands) are much slimmer, sexier, and have advance features. I figure the one I bought will pay for itself in the next 35 days of Hertz rentals, since NeverLost costs an extra $10/day.

And it’s a legitimate business expense.

The combination of a fine car, the Magellan RoadMate 2000, favorable weather, and minimal road construction all contributed to a successful and relaxing trip.

One other factor made the trip enjoyable: I was my own master. I was not viewed as a security risk simply for arriving at an airport checkpoint, and I was not then held captive in an aluminum tube and fed no information and no food for hours on end.

I could stop to go to the bathroom whenever I wanted. I could slow down (briefly) to watch the Appalachians catch the early morning sun, to see the deep Ohio River rolling along, and on stretches of local highways my GPS instructed me onto en route, I could enjoy the small towns and countryside of North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

OK, OK, I know the big question is why the heck did I drive in the first place. Even if it was a welcome alternative to being an airline prisoner, the experience had its own share of minor frustrations and took 13 hours instead of approximately 6 hours by air to the same location (cab to airport well in advance; air itself; rental car bus to rental car plaza; rental car from airport to destination).

The answer is wine. Really tasty California Cabernet Sauvignon. Several cases in fact. The vino had been accumulating for four years at a friend’s house in Arlington Heights, and I could not legally have it shipped to Raleigh, thanks to North Carolina alcohol laws designed to protect wine distributors in our fair state. The only way to get the stuff home was to go get it as I did.

To tell the truth, I wasn’t much looking forward to what I perceived as an uncomfortable, long, even grueling drive, especially by myself.

I could not have been more mistaken in my anticipation of the experience. I now see renting a car and driving a long distance as a viable alternative to flying when things go very wrong at the airport, as they often do.

I began to experiment with driving after several really bad airline service failures in 2006. For instance, last March, when United and American canceled their flights one snowy evening from O’Hare to Columbus, Ohio (and to many other places), I rented a Subaru Outback with full-time 4-wheel drive and made it to Columbus even with serious snow most of the way by 5:00 AM. Tired, yes, but where I needed to be.

If you have read my blog, you know I had to make several overland treks between Chicago and Marquette, Michigan in both directions in October and November last year, too. One of those overnight trips involved smashing a brand new Cadillac into a sizable buck at 65 MPH in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (we just kept driving).

But those excursions were in the 300-400 mile range. My experiment this week to Chicago was twice that, and I know now that it can be done, and handily, painlessly. Thanks to the success of this trip, next time I feel like I’m being held hostage by the airlines, chances are that I will call Hertz, reach into my case for my personal NeverLost GPS, and drive.


Blogger BonzoGal said...

Oh boy, I LOL'd at this:

"I was not viewed as a security risk simply for arriving at an airport checkpoint, and I was not then held captive in an aluminum tube and fed no information and no food for hours on end."

Amen to that. My husband and I rented a Subaru Outback for a recent business trip and not only could we bring LIQUIDS with us, we plugged our iPod into the stereo and had our own radio show/jukebox. We've done trips from the San Francisco area to Disneyland by car a few times, and it's so nice to leave and arrive by our own schedule, bring whatever we want for our own comfort, and listen to our own music.

Road trip!

3/13/2007 4:54 PM  

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