Graduation season is here, and that means graduation parties. So it was no surprise when an invitation for my nephew's high school graduation appeared in my mailbox. Normally, I'd slip a check into a funny graduation card and head off to the party, but in this case the party is 680 miles away. You see, while I live way down south in the city of Atlanta, Ga., my entire (and I do mean entire) family lives over 650 miles away in Baltimore, Md. I haven't seen them in months, so a midyear trip actually seems like a good idea. My real dilemma, though, is how do I get there? Fly or drive?

The flight from Atlanta to Baltimore lasts around two hours. If you figure in time getting to and from the airports, going through security and waiting for the flight, it's probably closer to four and a half. The drive is easily ten and a half hours, and that's only if you get lucky with traffic and limit your stops to refueling. Seems like a no-brainer, right? To me, it's anything but.

I'm a car guy. I've owned over 17 cars during my relatively short life, and love all things automotive. AutoTrader currently has a "long-term" 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI test car. What better way to avoid airports, airplanes, and all of the associated headaches? No security lines, no trying to find a ride to and from the airport, no plane ticket or checked bag fees.

Since I already know flying is faster, I wonder if I can counter that by saving some money and having a little more fun along the way.

Have more fun, you say? Well, with the Jetta I won't need to pay for a taxi or beg a friend to pick me up in Baltimore, so I can actually surprise my family by showing up unannounced. Score. I can enjoy driving with the windows open and get some much-needed fresh air. And I'll get to enjoy scenery that doesn't look like ants, and see more exciting things than the latest impractical products being peddled by Sky Mall. Sounds like the Jetta may be winning this one.

What about saving money? The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI is EPA rated at 42 miles per gallon on the highway, and the fuel tank holds 14.5 gallons of diesel fuel. That equates to 609 miles, almost the entire distance from Atlanta to Baltimore. The ticket price for a Delta flight for the same trip is $281.40 with taxes and fees. Add another $25 for the bag I'll check. Parking in the economy lot is $8.00 per day. So the Jetta has to beat: $346.40. Let's see what happens.  

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Kristopher Affayroux is a car data analyst with the AutoTrader content team. He's a long-time car buff whose background stretches from vehicle appraisals and auctions to automotive insurance and mechanical upgrades and personalization. When he's not tinkering with his personal rides, Kristopher spends his time rooting for his favorite MLB and NFL teams.

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