Here’s How Much A Summer Road Trip Will Cost You
The mercury is rising, the sun is staying out a little later and the school year is nearly done, which means it’s finally summertime in America and the open road is calling our name.
Road trips have been a summertime staple since time began (or at least since the invention of the automobile). And thanks to historically low gas prices the summer of 2017 may be the best time ever to pack up your car and drive off into the sunset. But where should you go, and how exactly do you budget for your journey?
“Remember that a road trip is an adventure. It is not a theme park ride,” Mark C. Sedenquist, managing editor and cofounder of RoadTrip America, said. “Unexpected things will arise and that is the appeal of this form of a holiday.”
To date, Sedenquist said he’s driven more than 1 million miles around the United States.
For Jamie Jensen, author of Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures
on America’s Two-Lane Highways, the secret to planning a great road trip is all about going totally old-school.
“People planning a road trip should get their hands on an old-fashioned paper map, or a 48-state road atlas, and visit a library to read some old-school travel guides,” Jensen said. The maps will also help would-be travelers get a sense of the task they are about to take on.
“Getting a sense of the enormous scale of America is crucial for a successful road trip,” Jensen said. “Driving from New York City to Los Angeles is almost twice as far driving from London to Istanbul, which no one in her right mind would consider doing, but Americans (especially college kids) do this every summer. The USA is a big place.”
Sedenquist and Jensen shared a few of their professional tips to planning an epic cross-country journey with us so we are passing the stellar information on to you. Check out a few of the best pieces of advice on planning, saving cash and having the best summer road trip ever.
Plan your route and budget accordingly
Take time to discuss with anyone joining your road trip where exactly you want to go, how much time you want to spend on the journey and any must-see destinations along the way.
“The most expensive part of a road trip is time,” Sedenquist said. “None of us have enough time to really do everything we want to on a road trip. So, the advantage of planning a trip is to build in real-life expectations of what is actually possible and how to pay for them.”
As an example, let’s use what has been described as the most efficient trip to see the entire continental United States, which was created by Randy Olson, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, in 2016.
“For this road trip, there is one goal: to take a picture at as many U.S. state capitals as possible,” Olson wrote on his blog
about the trip. “We will travel only by car so that rules out Alaska (too far away) and Hawaii (requires a plane flight) and leaves us with the 48 contiguous states (excluding D.C.).”
Using some pretty advanced math (which you can read about here), Olson was able to create a route that takes 8.5 days to complete and covers 13,310 miles.
As AAA reported, the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is $2.33 nationally. In 2016, the Environmental
Protection Agency announced that the average fuel economy of 2015 model-year vehicles increased to a record high of 24.8 miles per gallon. That means an average car will need about $1,250 worth of gas to complete the journey if it takes no detours off the path.
Another huge preparation tip, Jensen noted, is to make sure your car is in tip-top shape before hitting the road. “Get your friendly local mechanic to make sure your vehicle is in good shape, so you don’t have to pay some stranger to replace a fan belt when your car breaks down,” he said.
For accommodations, try car camping at any park for just a few dollars a night, or use one of these three apps to locate last-minute deals on hotels across the country.
Be sure to stock up on freebies along the way
“Almost all motel chains offer decent breakfast and snacks as part of the lodging cost,” Sedenquist said. On Sedenquist’s site, users in the comments section also recommended checking for any discounts while en route, including AAA and senior discounts.
Sedenquist additionally explained that if your trip includes visiting national parks, consider getting the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. The pass allows access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. The general pass costs $80 per year and can pay for itself with just one or two visits. But, if someone in your group is in the 4th
grade they can obtain a free federal pass for their family for a year.
For extra savings, Sedenquist also recommended watching your food budget, which can quickly skyrocket.
“Carry a cooler and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables,” he said. “With good planning, the cost of food on a road trip can be drastically reduced by shopping at grocery stores instead of eating in restaurants.”
Keep your trip reasonable
We get it, you want to have the full America experience, but sometimes time, money, or adult responsibilities can get in the way. But, just because you can’t make it across the entire country and back doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still take an equally amazing journey.
“You don’t have to be all that ambitious—head out of town on Wednesday afternoon and see what you find. The great advantage of a car is that you can be 100% flexible and spontaneous,” Jensen said. He added that his favorite route for a shorter trip is the “Blues Highway” south of Memphis across the Mississippi Delta. Sedenquist couldn’t pick just one favorite but explained he’s still trying to find the time to drive the Lincoln Highway from San Francisco to Times Square in New York City.