The Great American Road Trip – Miles, Cost, and Final Thoughts

Earlier this week, we returned from an 18 day road trip. I thought I’d wrap up this trip with a few statistics and some of the lessons I learned.

Left: Odometer when I picked the car up. Right: Odometer just before dropping it off.

Statistics

  • Departure – Thursday May 25th, 2:30pm
  • Return – Sunday June 11th, 3:00pm
  • Days of Travel – 18
  • States Visited – 15
  • Total Miles Traveled – 5,765
  • Miles Per Day – 320.28 (The car sat idle for 3 days in California while we visited my brother, and we traveled minimally for most of 1 day while we visited my wife’s sister, so technically we had 14 days of driving. Miles per day based on 14 days of driving – 411.79)
  • Total Gas Money – $285.54
  • Avg MPG – 39.8 (according to my rental car data)
  • Highest Gas Price Seen – $4.19 (just over the boarder in California)
  • Lowest Gas Price Seen – $1.99 (several locations in Tennessee)
  • Most Expensive Meal – $220 (for my brother’s birthday)
  • Items forgotten in a hotel room – 2 (a swim suit and a phone charger)
  • Fast Food Stops – 1 (It was on the last day and the kids weren’t doing well, had to be done.)
  • Car Screen Time – 50 minutes each
  • Total Cost – $3,978.54 (Roughly $600 of that was from our normal grocery and gas budget for this 2 week stretch of our life.)

bugs killed
Number of Bugs Killed – Too Many to Count

What Would I Do Differently?

In my last road trip update, I wrote about my acrophobia. Unfortunately this was a bigger factor than I expected. Had I known my acrophobia had gotten so bad or that it’s be so problematic during large portions of our trip I would have changed 2 things.

  1. Ensure that my wife had the ability to drive the rental car. This would have been nice to break up the longer stints of driving as well.
  2. Talked to a doctor before leaving and seen if there was some sort of medication I could take to help with the intense bouts of anxiety.

Did We Do Too Much?

Found this cool sculpture in San Antonio – Photo Credit to my oldest son for taking this picture.

Looking back, I’m really happy with how much we were able to see. However, I think we crammed too much into 18 days. Had I to do it all over again, I would have organized it to spend far less time in the car. Which would mean seeing less.

I think I was overly ambitious at the romantic idea of a family road trip and didn’t account for the reality of spending large portions of most days in the car.

Some locations I was happy to move on after an hour or two, but most of our stops were too short. We didn’t always get to see the things I wanted to see and we certainly didn’t get to experience life in the locations we visited.

What Impressed Me Most

We saw some very impressive things on this trip: The Grand Canyon, Temple Square, Mount Rushmore, and The Gateway to the West just to name a few. Everything sight we saw met or exceeded my expectations.

However, what impressed me most, wasn’t something we saw, but rather something we experienced: my kids behavior.

I was blown away by how well my kids did. The last day of our trip wasn’t great, but they did amazing every other day. The few moments of misbehavior that did occur during the trip were because they were either hungry or tired. After food or rest, they returned to their amazing behavior.

I expected a fair amount of complaining. Especially in the morning when we had to get back in the car each day. However, they didn’t complain once. They played incredibly well together. And they had amazing manners when we ate out at restaurants.

Stocking up on groceries helped keep our kids fed and happy. Plenty of Fruit and Nuts and even the occasional bag of Doritos.

I’d love to say this behavior was a result of our amazing parenting, but the reality is they aren’t the best behaved kids. I think they’ve already developed a reputation at school (and they’re only in first grade and kindergarten).

Every day I expected things to fall apart, but day after day they were great. It was a marvel to watch. But most importantly they seemed to learn one of the major lessons I had hoped they’d learn through traveling…flexibility.

Plans changed constantly. Bathroom stops and food stops weren’t always at the most convenient times, but they dealt with all the changes with aplomb. (I think using aplomb in my blog is the scrabble equivalent of a triple word score.)

Will We Do Another Road Trip?

This was technically the 4th road trip I’ve embarked on, but the first one as a father.

  1. The first road trip was when I was a kid with my family and we traversed 5 states. It was more of a baby road trip.
  2. The second was after I completed my Master’s Degree and went by myself on a 14 State trip through the South, South-East, and Midwestern States.
  3. The third was our honeymoon and covered 10 of the North East States and Washington DC.

So, will there be a fifth? Absolutely. I likely won’t do another road trip through the Western United States again. Although I’ve been eyeing a train trip through the Pacific Northwest and that might be followed by a road trip down the West Coast (Seattle down to San Diego).

In all likelihood, our next road trip will be a recreation of our honeymoon trip. This was one of my favorite trips. I loved the history, the sights, and the ease of driving (no more then 2-3 hours in the car before you’re at your next destination with plenty to see along the way).

I want my kids to see everything the East Coast has to offer. Ideally we’ll match this trip up with when they are studying American History in school, so it could be quiet a few years before this happens.

Watching the sun set while driving through New Mexico.

Final Thoughts

When you autopsy a trip like this, you’ll always find areas for improvement. I could have done a better job on the budget. I could have been less ambitious, spending less time in the car and more time enjoying each location.

These are beneficial observations as they’ll help with the next trip. But for me the point of traveling isn’t to completely optimize every detail. I don’t travel with the expectation of things going perfectly. I travel for the unknown.

It is these unknowns that birth the best experiences, the best stories, and the opportunity to discover what you are truly capable of. You will learn things about yourself through traveling that you never will never find from the comfort of your home.

16 Comments

  1. Sounds like a fun time! We have done a few trips up/down the west coast in the past 5 years, ranging from LA to Seattle. Anything along the west coast is a classic road trip, and highly recommended.

    Most recently, we drove from San Francisco to Seattle in the summertime, stopping in Portland and near Mt. Rainier. The Pacific Northwest is beautiful that time of year (although nature gets her revenge for most of the remaining year).

    Good to hear the kids behaved on the road! In recent months, I have found some story podcasts (Story Nory and Disney Classics) that have been entertaining for our son, and not too painful as an adult. Frequent stops are always key, as you say.

    Take care,
    Dr. C

    1. Thanks Dr. C – Yes Story Nory was a popular choice with my kids and I learned about the Chinese New Year from one of the stories as well. The Pacific Northwest is a must in my mind. I’ve been to Seattle, but would love to explore the rest of the area! Good point about the time of year, I’ll have to remember that.

  2. Sounds like a blast! My family did a lot of road trips when I was a kid. Curious if I will with my kids because I don’t enjoy driving for long periods.

    When I was a kid on road trips my parents would often hear from the back seat, “If you feed him, he will love you” 😀

  3. 18 days! Sounds fantastic : ) Glad to hear it all went well. I remember long car trips in Europe hopping from one country to the next when I was younger. I do hope to make a State-side trip in the future though!

    1. It was great! A European road trip would be amazing, lots of history to see. If you do plan a State-side trip, start on the East Coast (DC and head north). The West is so vast it takes a lot of driving to get from one location to the next.

  4. Glad to hear it was a great trip. Impressive with only one fast food stop in all that time. Very nice sunset picture!

    I’m dreaming of an East Coast adventure myself.

    Happy Father’s Day Weekend!

  5. Sounds like an awesome trip and great family memories. I really enjoyed reading your updates. Thanks for the family road trip inspiration. Hope you have a great Father’s Day.

    1. Thanks Cody! I appreciate it. I wasn’t sure how these road trip logs would be received so it’s good to hear you enjoyed them. I hope you have a great Father’s Day as well!

  6. Sounds like you had quite the trip!! I hear you on the wanting to do better planning/organizing next time because you crammed too much in. Although I’ve never taken a road trip before, we tend to do this to ourselves when we take short trips, like our 3 days in Charleston a few months ago. You almost feel obligated to see and visit EVERYTHING while you’re away!

    On another note, this is probably embarrassing that I’m not already doing this, but I’m liking the idea of really tracking all spending and other stats from vacation. I do to an extent but some minor details are missed. Thanks for the idea!

    1. Prior to starting a blog I traveled in blissful ignorance of our spending. I always have a general idea, but tend convenient ignore some of the spending. Thought it’d be interesting to track it for the sake of the blog, so I’m glad it was inspirational. Pro Tip – I only tracked it after the trip was over, so I didn’t stress over the money while on the trip.

  7. We’re hitting the northeast with our kids this August – really looking forward to it. I’ve been out a few times but never by car and there are a bunch of states and places out there I haven’t visited yet.

    I’m glad your kids were so well-behaved – that can really change the feeling of a trip!

    1. Thanks Chris! Our kids good behavior made everything so much easier and more enjoyable! Absolutely love the North East, can’t wait to get back. Looking forward to reading about your trip later this summer!

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