Here’s How Much A Sum­mer Road Trip Will Cost You

ForbesWeekly - - NEWS - BY STACEY LEASCA, FORBES CON­TRIB­U­TOR

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.

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