When you think about taking a vacation, you probably imagine yourself boarding a plane and jetting off to an exotic location. But who has the vacation days or the cash for that?
Enter the road trip.
“But flying’s faster.” “A train does all the navigating for me.” Maybe, but according to a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, traveling Americans spend about 44 percent of their vacation budgets on transportation—that means almost half your funds are going to getting you there, around, and back again. If you’re dropping that much cash, why waste a single penny on hiked ticket fares, overbooked or delayed flights, and uninvited travel companions?
That’s why we’re teaming up with our friends at Chase Auto to talk about all the reasons road trips are the best way to travel and how to do it without breaking the bank. Together we want to help you make the most of your time off—and your money.
1. You have your own space.
Your car is your friend—according to a 2017 Chase Auto survey, one in three Americans actually name their car and 48 percent of millennials in the U.S. say their longest relationship has been with their car (seriously, that’s love). It’s a safe space where you and your fellow travelers can talk, sing, play games, listen to music, eat, and even sleep. It also means no awkward elbow bumping, no small talk with strangers, and no suffering through freezing (or nonexistent) AC—all invaluable bonuses when traveling with kids. Road trips are arguably the best way to get your family from point A to point B because it’s basically like taking your house on the road (minus the bathroom). And for those moments when you need some space, praise the car gods for front-seat privileges. However you do it, make yourself at home and enjoy the ride.
2. You’re in the driver’s seat.
Metaphorically speaking, that is—we totally recommend bringing along a travel buddy or two who can take a turn at the wheel.
With other modes of transportation (planes, trains, boats, buses), you’re on their schedule, which translates to ridiculously early departures, unforeseen delays, annoying stopovers, and a ton of anxiety just trying to get your butt in a seat. Not to mention you have zero control if you get carsick, feel tired, or have a mild freak-out at 30,000 feet.
Break out actual paper maps, put those googling skills to work, and ask Alexa to save your ultimate road trip playlist. You might be surprised by how much fun you have before you even leave your driveway. If you’re more of a fly-by-your-seat sort of person, make a rough outline of your route and invest in a portable phone charger. We also recommend downloading Waze, which will alert you to pesky traffic issues, and Roadtrippers, which suggests places to sightsee, eat, and stay.
3. You have way more flexibility.
Only have a few days? Drive to a neighboring city or town or find a short scenic drive. Been saving up PTO? Pick a spot on the map and trek across the country. It’s completely up to you.
But here’s the best part: You’re allowed to change your mind en route. If you’re having a blast where you are, stay an extra day or two. If you see a sign for the World’s Biggest Beagle (real thing), pull off at the next exit.
“Road trips are just so much more low key,” says Chase Auto Executive Tanya Sanders. “When traveling by train or plane, you get too caught up in logistics.”
4. It’s doable on a budget.
Money doesn’t have to stand in the way of an amazing vacation. If you plan right, road trips can be one of the most cost-effective ways to travel. Here are some tips to make it happen:
Pick a place nearby. “You can find interesting places just two hours away,” Sanders says. And since any drive from point A to point B technically counts as a road trip, even day excursions are game.
BYOF, BYOB, and BYOAETWF. That’s bring your own food, books (or booze for when you get to your destination), and anything else that will fit, respectively. Food and alcohol take up roughly a quarter of the average American vacation budget, so one of the easiest ways to cut costs is to pack your own provisions.
Put those rewards to good use. Before hitting the road, make a list of all your rewards programs (credit cards, hotels, drugstores) and plan accordingly, stopping wherever rewards might be cashed or earned. If you have a Chase Freedom card, for example, you could earn cash back on every purchase (plus 5 percent cash back in special categories that change quarterly).
Take advantage of free activities. Walk around downtown or check out free parks, shows, and outdoor spaces. Not sure where to start? Check your destination’s Facebook page, browse the website of its local paper, or download a city guide app such as Foursquare and Like a Local, where you can search for events, nightlife, and food in your price range.
Don’t spend all your hard-earned $$ on a place to sleep. Hotels aren’t the only option. Take part in a work exchange, where free housing is provided for chores, or try house-sitting. You could also couch surf—visit friends you haven’t seen in a while or stay on a local’s sofa. You can even turn your car into a tent (this air mattress makes crashing in the back seat much more comfortable)—just be sure to find a safe campground or pull-off spot that allows overnight parking. And if ultimately you’d prefer a comfy hotel bed (we feel ya), HotelTonight lets you book unsold rooms at a discount.
5. You can pack (almost) whatever you want.
Forget cramming 3-ounce bottles of shampoo into a baggie or obsessively weighing your luggage. With road trips, you can bring almost anything you want—snacks for your gluten-free lifestyle, a yoga mat for pit-stop stretching, your favorite pillow, that copy of Infinite Jestyou’ve been meaning to read. While we still advocate packing light, you’ve got a lot more wiggle room in a car. So use it!
6. Fido doesn’t have to stay behind.
Does the thought of leaving your furry friend at home (or worse, kenneled) break your heart? Then don’t! Road tripping means no pet restrictions from third parties, not to mention pets make excellent travel partners. According to a 2016 study, 37 percent of pet owners road-tripped with their animals, and we can see why—they’re cute, sweet, and don’t criticize your driving.
7. Getting there is half the fun.
If counting license plates isn’t your idea of a roaring good time, host your own version of “Carpool Karaoke.” Or make a game out of picking up a rock or buying a weird knickknack at every stop. A long road trip is also a good time to listen to a book you’ve been wanting to read or binge a podcast.
When you’ve had your fill of diversions, embrace the silence and enjoy the view. Or take it as an opportunity to reconnect and go deep with your travel partner.
“I have some of my best conversations in the car,” says Chase Auto Executive Melinda Welsh. “Even hard [conversations] are somehow easier.”
Whatever you do and wherever you go, remember that it’s the journey, the people, and the stops along the way that make a road trip unforgettable.