The cost of road trips across the U.S.

Road trips across the United States provide a more interesting and sometimes cheaper alternative than flying. If your place of departure and destination are not near major airports that offer a lot of cheap flights, the price of the ticket may be high. Although fuel prices affect flying and driving costs, their correlation with car fuel prices is much more obvious. With low oil prices, now may be a good time to explore the United States by car.

The following analysis compares the cost of a road trip from New York City to Los Angeles five years ago (in 2015) with the same travel cost in 2020. The expenses considered include petrol, food and accommodation.

Key points

  • When gasoline prices are low, this is a particularly good time to travel by car.
  • From 2015 to 2020, assume that the cost of road trips from New York to Los Angeles has not changed substantially—because the drop in gasoline prices compensates for the increase in food and lodging.

Gasoline prices

The distance from New York to Los Angeles is 2,800 miles. Even if you are driving a hybrid car, you will need to stop at the gas station multiple times to refuel during the journey. For simplicity, suppose you are driving a Toyota Camry, driving about 35 miles per gallon on the highway and 25 miles per gallon in the city. Since the journey is almost entirely on the highway, it is also assumed that you can travel 35 miles per gallon of gasoline. In this case, 80 gallons of gasoline is required for the stroke.

Gasoline prices vary in different parts of the country, so the national average must be sufficient to estimate the fuel cost of international travel. In March 2015, the average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline was $2.79. As of March 2020, its average cost is US$2.17.As a result, the cost of driving a Camry from New York to Los Angeles dropped from $223.20 to $173.60.

Food prices

In cross-country travel, the cost of food can vary greatly. For example, stopping to eat at an expensive steakhouse is much more expensive than filling a freezer with sandwiches and splurge on McDonald’s occasionally.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, whether you are enjoying food or meeting your budget, the cost of food in the United States in 2020 is 5.76% higher than in 2015.

Assuming there is a 7-day drive-from New York to Los Angeles and stopping along the way is easy enough-and three meals a day, the basic price of each meal is 10 US dollars, then the cost of your travel food will increase from 210 US dollars in 2015 to In 2020, it will be $222.09.

Accommodation price

The biggest determinant of accommodation prices is how you plan your itinerary. Step on the metal and spin the drive so that you can progress around the clock and arrive uninterrupted within two days. Compared with stopping at a landmark every day to get a good night’s sleep, the cost of accommodation is lower.

For the comparison between 2015 and 2020, consider again a 7-day trip in which you stayed in a hotel for 6 nights. The average hotel room price in March 2015 was US$120 per night, and in March 2020 it was US$126 per night.Then, your accommodation costs increase from 720 USD to 756 USD.

Frugal off-road travelers can reduce their lodging costs by staying in discount motel chains (such as Motel 6) or camping along the way. By choosing accommodation carefully, you can control your accommodation costs to a large extent.

Total travel expenses

Adding up the cost of gasoline, food, and accommodation, the price of a typical road trip from New York to Los Angeles actually dropped slightly, from $1,159.20 to $1,151.69 between 2015 and 2020. The modest drop in gasoline prices more than offset the slight increase in room and board costs.

Similarly, there are many variables that determine the cost of road travel across the United States, and they change from year to year. The above analysis considers hypothetical trips with familiar starting and ending points, and uses broad averages of common costs incurred along the way. The most important point is that from 2015 to 2020, the cost of road travel has not changed substantially. When gas prices are low, it’s a good time to drive or bike around the United States.

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