‘Driving connects you to your journey. Flying feels like an awkward stasis to be endured’

Meaden rediscovers the eternal pleasures of an old-fashioned road trip

Dickie Meaden opinion

Is the road trip making a comeback? Some of you will say it never went away. On an emotional and aspirational level you’d be right, but on a practical level I think we all know that the advent of cheap short-haul flights lured us away from our cars as the promise of quick, convenient, affordable forays into Europe became a reality. Even the pain of Ryanair was worth it if you could get to Milan for £20.

Flying has never been the same since 9/11, but thanks to Covid and spiralling fuel costs, air travel is now a hateful process from beginning to end. Expensive tickets, understaffed airports, ridiculous three-hour check-in times, the joy of sitting in close proximity to several hundred mouth-breathing passengers or the spectre of cancelled flights are traumas we can all do without.

This was highlighted to me when planning a short four-night stay in Switzerland to visit my in-laws. In the past, Mrs M and I would have booked EasyJet flights to Geneva and then jumped on the train for a two-hour journey to Sion (the closest city to our final destination in the mountains). This time I decided to compare the cost and journey time of making the same trip by car.

> ‘I can envisage a time where the best drivers are squabbling over the worst cars’

Okay, so there was an ulterior motive – I really wanted to complete a long drive in my long-term-test F-type before it goes back to Jaguar. But whereas in the past it would have been hard to justify the extra time and expense of driving, this time around not only was it marginally cheaper (even allowing for a Flexiplus tunnel ticket to try and avoid potential delays), but the call of the road felt infinitely more appealing.

What is it about a road trip that’s so pleasing? Normally I hate packing to go away, but when you’re heading off in the car it’s part of the enjoyment. Especially if you’re in a car with limited luggage space. Likewise making sure the car is fuelled, fresh and clean inside and out the night before you leave. It’s the same with an early start. Setting your alarm for ohmigawd o’clock is something to resent if all it does is give you a fighting chance of checking in with more than 30 seconds to spare, but when you’re hitting the road to make good early progress at the start of a full day’s driving I’m almost glad to hear the alarm go off.

The 700-mile run to and from Switzerland was perfect. Almost exactly 12 hours door-to-door, including time spent waiting for and riding on the Eurotunnel and with two brief stops each way to fill up with fuel and grab a handful of road snacks. Our round-trip stats were pretty remarkable, a total of 1537 miles covered at an average speed of 73mph and 32.2mpg. Not bad for a supercharged 5-litre 450bhp V8. 

It was as effortless and enjoyable as we could have wished. I always take a few hours to really settle into a long drive, the kilometres dragging until something clicks and the cadence of your internal trip meter shifts from measuring everything in blocks of five or ten miles to 50 or even 100 miles. Having been largely confined to the UK for years, seeing signs pointing to destinations in France, Switzerland and Italy seemed impossibly exotic, to the point where it was tempting to just keep going as tendrils of wanderlust began to take hold. 

Just as it’s rewarding to make such imperious progress, so there’s something enormously satisfying about seeing the scenery slowly morph as the miles pile on. As the autoroute began to cling to the mountains and Lake Geneva shimmered below us, there was no way I would have traded my place for a seat on any plane. Feeling your mind dial out the white noise that pollutes our daily lives is deeply therapeutic and offers further proof – if any were needed – that driving connects you to your journey while flying feels like an awkward stasis to be endured rather than enjoyed. 

Given my profession, I feel embarrassed and slightly ashamed of all those times I opted to fly to places instead of drive. In hindsight how could it have ever been sustainable to have millions of people using airliners like buses, often paying less to fly to Prague than catch the Number 47 into your local town? Bluntly, just because we could doesn’t mean we should. 

Still I’d be lying if I said some of those quick and dirty flights didn’t take me on memorable trips, but the good bits unfailingly happened on terra firma while those hours in the air were all instantly forgettable; at best something to sleep through. When you drive somewhere, every mile contributes towards the overall experience and a boundless sense of freedom. Despite the doom-mongering and anti-car media agenda, when you put a car to good use (ideally one powered by an internal combustion engine) there is no better way to travel. All of which reaffirms my belief that if a long journey’s worth doing, it’s worth doing by car.   

This story was first featured in evo issue 300.

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