A summer road trip used to be a cheap and easy getaway. This year, soaring gas prices and expensive rental cars might make you think twice before hitting the road.
According to the American Automobile Association, a federation of auto clubs across North America, the average gas price was $4.60 a gallon nationwide before Memorial Day weekend. Some experts think the national average could even top $5 later this summer.
Additionally, rental car prices have hit record highs during the pandemic, up 38.6% in February 2022 from February 2020, according to a NerdWallet analysis of US Consumer Price Index inflation data.
But these roadblocks don’t necessarily mean you have to put the brakes on travel altogether. You may just need to change your travel plans. Here’s how.
Think about changing destination
If you’re open-minded about your vacation destination, consider driving in an area where gas prices are lower than average. On June 1, 10 states had average gasoline prices below $4.30 a gallon for regular gasoline, according to AAA data.
These states, ranked from cheapest to most expensive, were:
- Caroline from the south.
Given how many of these 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 drive around four hours on Interstate 70 across the state to Kansas City, Missouri. Take the time to make a stop in Columbia, which is a college town par excellence with the University of Missouri. Boonville is another interesting stop, where you can visit the Warm Springs Ranch, home of the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales. (Walking tours start at $15.) From Kansas City, it takes about three hours to drive to Omaha, Nebraska, where you can try the so-called original Reuben sandwich.
Be strategic about rental cars
If you rent a car, be aware that rental car prices can vary greatly depending on the rental company, whether you are rental from an airport location relative to downtownand how far in advance you book.
Speaking of car rental, this could be the year you rent an electric vehicle. The EV may have a higher rental price, but it could be cheaper than renting a gasoline car and filling it up. AAA has a useful gas calculator tool that takes into account the type of car and where you drive to help you see the trade-offs.
Hotel and vacation rental companies are also making it easier to find accommodations that offer electric vehicle charging. More and more hotels are promoting electric vehicle charging as a hotel perk alongside traditional amenities like swimming pools and breakfast buffets. Many hotels even allow you to charge your car free of charge.
If rental car prices are brutally high, consider booking with alternative car rental 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, operating like an “Airbnb for cars”.
For example, the cost of a one-week car rental at San Francisco International Airport during the first week of July for a standard gas-powered car like a Volkswagen Jetta would average around $640. Head to peer-to-peer car-sharing site Turo, and there are more than a dozen Teslas available to book in San Francisco on the same dates for less than $800.
If you double-filled the Jetta’s roughly 13-gallon gas tank at $6 a gallon (not uncommon in some states like California), you’d be paying over $150 for gas. That cost plus the rental would make you pay roughly the same amount as reserving the Tesla.
With so many variables, it pays to shop around before making reservations.
Know where to find the cheapest gas
If driving a gas-powered car is non-negotiable, master the art of saving money on gas. Download apps like GasBuddy, which track local gas prices and can guide you to the cheapest gas station near you. It also helps to drive more efficiently. Adjusting how you accelerate, brake or use cruise control can impact your gas mileage.
And if all else fails and you’re stuck with a gargantuan gas bill, at least earn rewards for your spending with a rewards credit card. The best gas credit cards can typically earn at least 3% in rewards for your gas station spending.