With summer around the corner and gas prices rapidly rising, families across America are finding themselves faced with a vacation dilemma.
“A lot of people probably budgeted for, say, $500 in gas money at one point [for their vacation],” Chris Russo, president and chairman of the board of the American Society of Travel Agents, tells Newsmax. “Now, that $500 will only get them so far.”
So how are road travelers handling the spike in gas prices? In many cases, exactly as Russo said: They aren’t canceling their vacations, but if their gas budget will only take them so far, that’s how far they’ll go.
Others are opting to trade in their gas-guzzling vehicles for cars that get better gas mileage.
“That’s the other thing we’re seeing, which is kind of interesting: If they have an SUV or something that’s more of a gas guzzler, they’re opting to rent a car with [better] gas mileage,” Russo says. “So it may cost them $100 to rent the car, but they get way better gas mileage, so they’re not putting wear and tear on their own car, and they are paying significantly less in gas.”
Those are two of the most common routes travelers are taking to save on gas. And Russo shares several other tips for vacationers hoping to spend their budget on something other than fuel:
1. Don’t drive. Fly.
Conventional wisdom says that flying won’t necessarily save gas money, because airlines will compensate for the higher fuel prices with higher ticket prices. So far, though, that hasn’t been the case.
“People are actually opting to fly, because the air fares have not skyrocketed as of yet with the cost of fuel the way it is,” Russo says. “I think it will, but the trend we’re seeing is that people are saying, ‘There’s four of us, and it will cost this much to drive, and this much to fly,’ and then more people are opting to fly.”
Russo suggested that those looking to fly do so soon, though, as he didn’t expect rates to stay down for long.
2. Vacation where you don’t need your car.
There are very few ways to get to a vacation destination without absorbing some of the rising cost of gas. However, once visitors arrive, many destinations offer a wide variety of activities that can keep the whole family entertained without ever taking the car from the parking lot.
For those looking for a big-city experience, urban spots like Washington, D.C., New York City, Las Vegas, and San Francisco offer reliable public transportation systems that will render your car unnecessary.
Or, for those looking for a more family-friendly option, numerous locations in various areas of the country offer plenty of attractions all in one place.
“First of all would be the theme parks,” Russo says. “Disneyland, Disney World, Universal Studios — places where once you get to them, you’ll spend the day and night there. You don’t have to drive far away, and you’ll do three or four days in the same location.
“You see people doing those kinds of vacations, where once they get there, they just park the car and don’t have to use it anymore.”
3. Plan ahead.
When you do hit the road, avoid using unnecessary gas or paying more than you have to for the gas you use.
“You can [use Google maps] along your route to find out the best places to buy gas,” Russo says. “You could save yourself a good 20 to 30 cents per gallon, because you don’t want to be stuck at the last minute thinking, I have to fill up, and you’re at the most expensive place in town.”
Save yourself from using extra gas searching for your destination, or taking a longer route getting there. In a Forbes magazine article, writer Jacqueline Mitchell suggests using an in-vehicle navigational system (GPS) or the Internet to map the shortest, most gas-efficient route, then finding the cheapest gas stations along that route.
Russo also suggested using AAA to help plan the trip. “AAA is fantastic at that,” he says. “They actually have reservation agents who help people put together road trips — they are a great resource.”
But of course, the best way to ensure that gasoline doesn’t eat the entire vacation budget is also the most popular, Russo says: stay local.
“The No. 1 thing we’re seeing is that people aren’t going as far,” he says. “That road trip they might have taken to the mountains or a national park isn’t necessarily happening; instead, what they are doing is staying closer to home.”
GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR CAR
Driving anywhere this summer is likely to be an expensive proposition, and one of the best ways to ensure an expensive trip is to use a vehicle that isn’t getting its best mileage per gallon. Here are a few tips to ensure that your vehicle is giving its peak performance:
Get your car checked out: Make sure you have good oil filters, air filters, get your oil changed, and make sure your tires are properly inflated. One of the best ways to lose mileage per gallon is to have a vehicle that isn’t kept up properly.
Pack light: The more gear packed into your vehicle, the harder it has to work, and the more fuel it consumes. So pack as light as possible to pick up a few extra miles per gallon.
Drive safely: According to the Drive Smarter Challenge website (DriveSmarterChallenge.org), accelerating or braking rapidly at highway speeds can lower mileage by as much as 33 percent.
Watch your speed: Once your car goes faster than 60 miles per gallon, fuel efficiency begins to decrease rapidly. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, every 5 miles per hour you drive over 60 is the equivalent of paying an extra 20 cents per gallon of gasoline. So use cruise control to set your trip at a reasonable speed, and stick to it.
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