A summer road trip used to be a cost-effective, easy getaway. This year, rising gas prices and expensive rental cars may make you think twice about hitting the road.
According to the American Automobile Association, a federation of motor clubs throughout North America, the average gas price nationally before Memorial Day weekend was $4.60 per gallon. Some experts believe the national average could be as high as $5 later in the summer.
Furthermore, rental car prices hit record highs during the pandemic in February 2022, up 38.6% in February 2020, according to a NerdWallet analysis of US Consumer Price Index inflation data.
But those bumps don’t mean you have to brake completely on the trip. You may just have to make changes to your road trip plans. This way.
Consider changing your destination
If you’re open-minded about your vacation destination, consider driving in an area with below average gas prices. According to AAA data, as of June 1, average gas prices for regular grade gasoline in 10 states were less than $4.30 per gallon.
The states, ranked from cheapest to most expensive, were:
9. South Carolina.
Considering how many of those states border each other, it would be fairly easy to plan a road trip through the South or the Midwest. You can start in St. Louis, and take about a four-hour drive across the state on Interstate 70 to Kansas City, Missouri. Make time for pit stops in Columbia, which is a quintessential college town with the University of Missouri. Booneville is another great stop where you can visit Warm Springs Ranch, home to the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales. (Hiking starts at $15.) From Kansas City, it’s about a three-hour drive to Omaha, Nebraska, where you can reportedly try the original Reuben sandwich.
Be strategic about rental cars
If you’re renting a car, understand rental car prices Rentals can vary dramatically depending on the company, whether you’re renting from downtown versus the airport location, and how much in advance you book.
Speaking of car rental, this could be the year you start renting an electric vehicle. The rental price of an EV can be high, but it can be cheaper than renting a gas-powered car and filling up the tank. AAA has a helpful gas calculator tool that factors in the type of car and where you’re driving to help you see trade-offs.
Hotel and vacation rental companies are also making it easier to find accommodations that offer electric vehicle charging. Alongside traditional amenities like a pool and breakfast buffet, more hotels are promoting electric vehicle charging as a hotel perk. Many hotels also allow you to charge your car at no charge.
If rental car prices are brutally high, consider booking with alternative rental car companies like Turo or Getaround, which may be cheaper than a major car rental company. Many of these companies are relatively new and allow you to book cars directly from owners, acting as an “Airbnb for cars”.
For example, a week-long car rental for a standard, gas-powered car such as a Volkswagen Jetta from San Francisco International Airport during the first week of July will average around $640. Head to peer-to-peer car-sharing site Turo, and there are more than a dozen Teslas available to book on a single date in San Francisco for less than $800.
If you twice filled the Jetta’s nearly 13-gallon gas tank at $6 per gallon (which isn’t unheard of in some states like California), you’d pay more than $150 in gas. That cost plus the rental will cost you the same amount as booking a Tesla.
With so many variables, it pays to shop before making a reservation.
Know where to get the cheapest gas
If driving a gas-powered car is non-negotiable, master the art of saving money on gas. Download an app like GasBuddy, which tracks local gas prices and can help guide you to the cheapest station near you. It also helps to drive more efficiently. Adjusting the way you accelerate, brake or use cruise control can affect your gas usage.
And if all else fails and you’re stuck with a huge gas bill, at least earn rewards for your spending through a rewards credit card. The best gas credit cards can usually return at least 3% in rewards for your gas station spending.