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Why Road Trips Still Make Sense

A colleague of mine recently drove all the way to Boston to attend his son's graduation at one the esteemed universities in that part of our nation.  I enjoyed talking to this co-worker about his trip, since I lived in the Boston area for many years before moving to Northern Virginia.

"Really - you drove?" I said, shocked, thinking of the inconvenience, the cost of gasoline.

"I looked for airline tickets for the four of us," he explained, "but it would still have been much more expensive."

I nodded solemnly.  With a family, traveling by car is still cheapest.  A good argument could even be made for me, a single person, driving my little VW beetle to visit my family in New Jersey.  It's certainly cheaper than flying.  And though I love the relative comfort and romantic feel of train travel, Amtrak still costs $200-$300 round trip ($160 if you depart at 3AM), which doesn't include the time and dollar factor getting to and from the station.

Only buses really cut down on cost for an inter-state east coast trip.  But the minute you bring a companion or a family with you, that cost savings disappears.

That's why people all over the nation are still taking road trips this summer. Chances are that mountains, lakes, the beach, casinos, or grand cities are somewhere within the reach of your car.  What will you and your companions decide to do with your precious summer time?

Extreme Vacations and Low Gas Mileage

Or maybe you have a lot of time - like a year. On a recent NPR Car Talk episode (http://www.cartalk.com/), a woman called in ask whether it would be more economical to buy an RV or a minivan for her year-long road trip with hubby and three-year-old child.  If they chose the minivan, they would stay in Motel 6's and the like.  By the end of the conversation the consensus seemed to be that they should go with the minivan and motels, since the RV would burn a gallon for every five miles and might not handle so well on mountain roads.  So there is such a thing as optimizing your gas mileage when undertaking a road trip in this day and age.  Five years ago, they might have chosen the RV, narrow mountain passes notwithstanding. 

It's true that because a lot of us will be driving our car more over the summer, demand for gas will rise leading to slightly higher prices.  For some this may translate into the increasingly popular "stay-cation" in which folks take time off from work or school but just relax at home.

Kids In Cars

If you do road trip, though, think about packing along some low-cost items to keep the kids entertained.  You’re a good parent and you don’t want them to just stare at DVDs the whole time – right?  Amazon.com has a few fun (and very inexpensive) remedies for the bored childhood traveler.  Among my favorites are “Scavenger Hunt for Kids,” in which players compete to find specific items on the roads and in the surrounding scenery, and a junior version of “Would You Rather...?”  The latter game involves questions like, “Would you rather sleep on a bed covered in peanut butter or next to a humidifier full of spit?”

My personal top choice would probably be the All American Car-I-Oke, complete with a CD and three lyrics books so everyone can sing along.

Whatever your fancy, get out there and enjoy the summer.  Your car is still probably the best way to do it.


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