Rethinking how to road trip

Flying Squirrel

CROSS-COUNTRY TRAVEL—To make it across country in less time but still take a road trip, considerflying to a city somewhat close to the destination then renting a car to drive the rest of the way. THOR CHALLGREN/Acorn Newspapers

CROSS-COUNTRY TRAVEL—To make it across country in less time but still take a road trip, considerflying to a city somewhat close to the destination then renting a car to drive the rest of the way. THOR CHALLGREN/Acorn Newspapers

I was speaking with someone recently about traveling to Washington, D.C., this summer to take my high school senior daughter to college.

In my mind, I was thinking about jumping in the family car and heading cross country to the East Coast. For some reason, this made sense to me.

 

 

Growing up, my family had the opportunity to travel across the country many times. We lived in Washington, D.C., while my father was in the Marine Corps. On several occasions, driving him to or from San Diego for the times he had an overseas tour of duty made up our family vacation.

We crossed the country at least four times on such trips. Sometimes we’d take the northern route; other times we’d head south.

As a kid, I obviously had nothing to do with the trip planning or driving. I just sat in the back seat with my books and bag of toys.

With these foggy childhood recollections in mind, it made perfect sense that I might drive from California to the East Coast with ease. Then I looked at the actual distances and time: From Ventura County to our nation’s capital is over 2,700 miles, or about 40 hours of driving time.

Forty hours. In a car.

If we drove eight hours a day, it would take us five days to get there. And that’s without any time to stop for sightseeing. Yeah, no. I’m not doing that.

But I still loved the idea of a cross-country vacation. I wanted to find another way to fit a roadtrip experience into a typical seven-day vacation.

Here’s how it can be done.

Fly to a city closer to your destination, rent a car, drive to your destination, then fly home from there. What would this look like?

Let’s say Washington, D.C., is my preferred destination, and I want the trip to be seven days. Maybe I’m willing to spend three days actually driving. Given an eight-hour day driving at 65 mph, that means I could cover 520 miles in one day, or about 1,500 in three.

So now my objective would be to find a city I want to visit that’s 1,500 miles or less from Washington. That could be Chicago (700 miles), St. Louis (880), Orlando (850) or Dallas (1,330).

Once you know the cities you’re visiting, you just book the flights and the rental car.

For example, I found an LAX to St. Louis flight on Southwest for $184 per person. Flying home from Baltimore would be $213. Add in a midsize rental car with unlimited miles at about $100 a day. In total, that’s about $1,900.

One trade-off: You may have to travel lighter since you’ll be flying to your starting point.

You can start to see the value of the shorter-hop kind of approach when you project forward over four to six years. Maybe you plan to take this kind of trip every other year, and your ultimate goal is to traverse much of the country during that time.

For example, you might do Orlando to New York (1,070 miles) one year. Then two years later, drive from Boston to Minneapolis

(1,400). Follow that with a Nashville to Denver trip (1,200) and then head south from Seattle to Los Angeles (1,200).

With this approach, you’d be able to travel across the entire country, broken up over four trips. Of course, you’d pick the city pairs you are interested in visiting.

Bottom line, with a little advance planning and some creativity, you can transform the cross-country road trip into a more manageable and relaxing vacation experience.

Thor Challgren is a travel writer who lives in Thousand Oaks. For more info and resources on this story, visit www.loveyourvacation.com/acorn. Email questions to thor@theacorn.com.