2014’s Best and Worst States for Summer Road Trips

by John S Kiernan

WH-2014-Best-and-Worst-States-for-Summer-Road-TripsFor many Americans, summer is the time to hit the open road. School’s out, the weather’s warm and the possibilities are endless. The only dilemma is deciding on a destination. Not everyone has the soul of a brave hippie who can hitch rides from friendly folks and hop from one strange place to another. For the financially conscious, their budgets will make the call.

During hotter months, traveling and gas prices tend to climb and peak in August. But that hasn’t stopped Americans from enjoying their road trips. Domestic and international travelers spent $621.4 billion on leisure travel in 2013. And in the previous year, nearly eight in 10, or 79 percent, of all domestic leisure trips were by car. Now, they’re at it again: 40 percent more Americans plan to take several summer vacations this year compared with 2013, and many of them will be on the road.

As consumers prepare for their journeys this summer season, WalletHub compared the 50 U.S. states to determine the Best & Worst States for Summer Road Trips. Using 21 key metrics, we identified which wallet-friendly states offer maximum fun as well as the ones that will have you heading back to base faster than you can say dollar. We examined not only the attractions, traffic conditions and weather in each state, but we also took into account gas prices and lodging costs to help you plan your budget. Check out the Methodology section below for more detailed information on how we ranked each state.

Main Findings

 

Overall Rank

State Name

Driving & Accommodation Costs Rank

Traffic Conditions & Safety Rank

Weather Conditions Rank

Fun & Scenic Attractions Rank

1 Oregon 33 5 12 2
2 Idaho 10 2 2 22
3 Minnesota 29 3 10 16
4 Utah 23 4 8 19
5 Washington 45 10 19 1
6 Nevada 34 19 11 6
7 New York 43 11 21 5
8 California 48 22 5 3
9 Ohio 35 17 33 7
10 Colorado 22 21 17 13
11 Arizona 1 47 15 10
12 Massachusetts 40 8 26 17
13 Nebraska 7 27 3 31
14 New Mexico 2 43 4 20
15 North Carolina 19 33 38 9
16 Maryland 39 23 22 12
17 Georgia 5 32 44 18
18 Illinois 15 13 39 24
19 New Hampshire 21 6 41 30
20 Pennsylvania 49 25 37 4
21 Missouri 36 35 16 15
T-22 Iowa 23 29 5 36
T-22 Wyoming 6 26 27 35
24 Indiana 27 20 7 40
25 Louisiana 14 46 36 14
26 Virginia 41 1 47 28
27 Rhode Island 47 12 18 34
28 Florida 28 41 49 8
29 Texas 13 39 27 23
30 Kentucky 36 34 27 21
31 Maine 44 7 43 26
32 Delaware 8 28 23 42
33 Montana 30 36 1 38
34 Vermont 26 9 46 42
35 Michigan 20 18 20 45
36 South Carolina 12 49 44 11
37 Tennessee 11 40 33 25
38 Wisconsin 42 16 32 39
39 Kansas 17 24 25 47
40 South Dakota 9 37 9 50
41 New Jersey 32 15 30 49
42 Hawaii 46 30 35 29
43 North Dakota 25 38 13 41
44 Connecticut 50 14 14 46
45 Alabama 3 45 50 33
46 Alaska 38 31 48 31
47 Arkansas 18 48 23 37
48 West Virginia 31 44 40 27
49 Oklahoma 4 50 30 44
50 Mississippi 16 42 41 48

Best_Worst_States_Summer_Road_Trip_062314

Ask the Experts

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Charles Colgan

Professor of Public Policy and Management, Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine

What is the number one threat that summer road trips travelers are facing?

Turmoil in the Middle East may result in oil price spikes that could be quite disconcerting. If that doesn't happen, traffic congestion at popular destinations is what most people will notice.

Do you have any tips in order to diminish the costs related to summer road trips

There are so many tools on the web to manage travel costs, including lodging, meals, avoiding traffic, etc. that anyone can find the best values for what they want.

What should local officials do in order to enhance roads safety during summer season?

Provide as much information as often as possible to travelers across all platforms on transportation conditions and options.
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Fang Meng

Assistant Professor of Tourism and Economic Development, School of Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management, University of South Carolina

What is the number one threat that summer road trips travelers are facing?

Cost (high prices of gasoline) and safety (get to your destination safely).

Do you have any tips in order to diminish the costs related to summer road trips

1) Plan your budget carefully;

2) Choose your destination(s) according to your budget, and make a detailed en-route plan;

3) Search the best deals on lodging, meals and attractions and make reservations before you hit the road;

4) Pre-check your vehicle to make sure it runs efficiently, or rent a gas-efficient vehicle;

5) Try to find the best price for gas on the road using websites or apps.

What should local officials do in order to enhance roads safety during summer season?

1) Make the transportation information easily accessible for summer road trip travelers, for example, road construction and real-time traffic information;

2) Provide detailed information of local lodgings, restaurants, attractions in welcome centers, CVBs, and tourism offices.
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Vinod Sasidharan

Associate Professor of Sustainable Tourism Management, L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, San Diego State University

What is the number one threat that summer road trips travelers are facing?

Economic threat: Higher gasoline/fuel prices due to the current developments in Iraq.

Do you have any tips in order to diminish the costs related to summer road trips

Day trips so you can save on gas and lodging or longer international retreats to your closest destinations, covering most expenses - you will not miss paying for gas at the pump!

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Robert Alex Robertson

Associate Professor of Tourism Planning & Development, University of New Hampshire

What is the number one threat that summer road trips travelers are facing?

Thinking that we have a destination and setting expectations is likely the greatest threat to the quality of the road trip travel experience. We need to be mindful that we are always traveling so in one sense we are on a constant road trip. It’s important to remember that the greatest reward of road trips are the people we meet, the places we see and the things that we learn along the way.

To minimize threats to our road trip experience, we need to practice staying in the moment, take nothing for granted and see everything with new eyes. J.R.R. Tolkien said it best, ‘All that is gold does not glitter; and not all those who wander are lost.’

Do you have any tips in order to diminish the costs related to summer road trips

One of the best ways to minimize the costs related to road trips is to talk to bartenders and servers along the way. Bartenders and servers are a wealth of information and full of local travel tips. They can point you in the direction of quality and value. Be sure to tip proportionally to the quality and quantity of the tips that you receive, and I also recommend you tip in cash when paying with a credit card. If you are flexible and open to opportunities as you go, you will experience unique values and qualities that only present themselves when you aren’t adhering to a set plan.

These days with all the online websites and apps, there are multiple opportunities to save on just about everything, but don’t discount the value of personal interaction!

What should local officials do in order to enhance roads safety during summer season?

Local officials should be prepared for and responsive to a wide variety of transportation modes –from pedestrians to wheelchairs to bicycles, motorcycles, sedans and large RV’s. They also need to be aware of and sensitive to the social and cultural diversity of the travelers. The economic and non-economic benefits that road trippers bring to the local communities should be embraced by local officials. Of course, good, visible and plentiful signage are key to a safe and pleasant road trip.
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Ying (Tracy) Lu

Assistant Professor of Retailing and Tourism Management, University of Kentucky

What is the number one threat that summer road trips travelers are facing?

Traffic accidents, for the following reasons:

1) Daytime is becoming longer. People take longer drives when it is still bright even if they may have felt tired.

2) Lots of people take vacations in the summer and it increases traffic.

3) Wild animal activities are more frequent in the summer and can also increase risks for road accidents.

4) There are more festivals, events and after event parties in the summer than in the winter time. It increases chances of people getting drunk and the number of drunk drivers.

5) A lot of road constructions occur in the summer.

Do you have any tips in order to diminish the costs related to summer road trips

1) Plan earlier. Hotels, airlines and other tourism companies usually provide lower rates for people who make reservations earlier.

2) Accommodation cost accounts for a big part of the total travel costs. Other than hotels, there are many types of accommodation that people could consider. For example, renting vacation houses is a good one for people traveling with families or friends. It could reduce the cost per cap.

3) Choose hotels away from tourism attractions. Consider the accommodations with an additional 15 min drive. It will reduce accommodation cost dramatically compared with staying at a resort hotel.

4) Find coupons or good deals from different sources, such websites as Groupon or LivingSocial, for dining in the destination.

What should local officials do in order to enhance roads safety during summer season?

1) Longer office hours should be offered by visitor centers in order to help travelers who arrive at a destination late.

2) Provide updated road info via radio and websites.

3) Sufficient signs for wildlife caution, speed limit, traffic detour, etc.

4) Strict control on drunk and speeding drives.

Methodology

With summer being peak driving season and gas prices approaching $4 per gallon, WalletHub took 21 key metrics to determine the Best & Worst States for Summer Road Trips. In each of the 50 states, we considered various conditions that can affect travelers on the road, including driving costs, lodging prices, traffic safety, weather and, of course, fun activities for everyone. For certain metrics for which data at the state level was not available, we instead used the data for the three largest cities in that state, calculated the average and extrapolated the results at the state level. By doing so, road-trip vacationers can budget accordingly and experience quality destinations without breaking the bank.

You can check out the metrics as well as the corresponding weights we used to construct our overall rankings below. The four categories under which the metrics are listed were used for organizational purposes only and did not factor in to our overall rankings.

Driving & Accommodation Costs

  • Average Gas Prices: 1
  • Maximum Toll Costs: 1
  • Average Cost of Car Repairs: 0.5
  • Lowest Price of 3-Star Hotel: 1
  • Lowest Price of Camping: 1
  • Number of Lodging Units per Capita (campgrounds, hostels, condominiums, villa, lodge): 1

Traffic Conditions & Safety

  • Vehicle Miles Traveled per Capita: 1
  • Population Density (Overcrowded Degree): 1
  • Driving Laws Rating: 1
  • Quality of Roads: 1
  • Quality of Bridges: 0.25
  • Fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel: 2.5
  • Car Thefts per Capita: 1
  • Violent Crime Rate per 100,000 Population: 1

Weather Conditions

  • Difference Between the Historical Average Temperature for July 1st – August 31st & Ideal Temperature (75°): 1
  • Historical Average Precipitations for July 1st – August 31st: 1
  • Monthly Sunshine for July 1st – August 31st (percent*): 1
    Note: The total time that sunshine reaches the surface of the earth is expressed as the percentage of the maximum amount possible from sunrise to sunset with clear sky conditions.

Fun & Scenic Attractions

  • National Park Units per Square Mile: 1
  • Number of Attractions: 2
  • Number of Nightlife Options per Capita: 1
  • Number of Scenic Byways: 2.5

Source: Data used to create these rankings is courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau, the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Park Service, the Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, the National Conference of State Legislatures, GasBuddy.com, the American Scenic Byways, CarMD, Kayak.com, Koa.com, Tripadvisor, BetterBridges, TRIP, NOAA National Climatic Data Center and the Weather Underground.

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John Kiernan is Senior Writer & Editor at Evolution Finance. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a BA in Journalism, a minor in Sport Commerce & Culture,…
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This just makes me mad. Do everyone a favor and remove this article
Sep 1, 2014  •  Reply  •  Flag
These findings seem extremely inaccurate. Not a good assesment to use when travelling! Much more research should be done before these rankings will be anywhere close to correct. This is basically someone else's ignorant opinion of other states.
Sep 1, 2014  •  Reply  •  Flag
I disagree with the assessment of Mississippi - I enjoy traveling in Mississippi much more than Louisiana or the majority of Arkansas. I wonder if the methodology ranked Mississippi unfairly as the state is very behind when it comes to internet presence. There are so many places in Mississippi that don't have webpages or anything.
Jun 30, 2014  •  Reply  •  Flag
Don't forget to visit Tarrytown,NY ranked by Forbes as one of the Prettiest Towns in America
Jun 27, 2014  •  Reply  •  Flag