How to Road Trip Efficiently
This summer road trip season may be my last for a few years, since I will be enrolled in school again full-time starting Monday and plan to take summer classes next year. Knowing this, I decided to go on my longest trip ever: starting from my home in Illinois, I drove to Phoenix and stayed with family, then over to Pasadena, up the Central Valley to San Francisco, through the Redwood Parks to Tacoma (my hometown), then across Washington and Idaho to Bozeman where I have more family, and finally to the Black Hills of South Dakota and then home—more than 6,000 miles in all.
Since I’m paying tuition now and need to be frugal, road tripping efficiently was one of my primary goals. Here’s how I ensured I spent as little as possible on gas.
|Manzano Mountains State Park, outside Albuquerque. The continued fitment of this tent was one of the stipulations of my spoiler project.|
Regardless of your vehicle choice, before you go you can
(and should!) test aerodynamic modifications to lower drag, reduce lift, and/or
improve stability. The pernicious myth that, because manufacturers have wind
tunnels and supercomputers, there is nothing you can do to improve the
aerodynamics of your car is just that—a myth. Production cars, SUVs, and trucks
are optimized to meet a variety of program goals and design objectives; when
you modify an existing car yourself, you are subject only to your own criteria. For example, Toyota cannot sell a car in the US
without an external driver’s mirror; according to the laws of the state where
my two Toyotas are registered, I am free to remove them to reduce aerodynamic
drag—and have, as one part of an aerodynamic modification scheme
for each vehicle.
Finally, you should make sure whichever vehicle you
choose to drive—electric or ICE—is up to date on its maintenance, has no major
issues or required services coming up, is properly aligned, has good tires,
etc. Keeping up on maintenance reduces the chance that something drastic will
happen on the road, and good low-rolling-resistance tires and a good alignment will improve efficiency.
|My Prius, fully packed and ready to leave Bozeman. Notice that it looks exactly the same as if it weren't carrying anything.|
On the Road
|Out of all the gas station/truck stop coffee on this trip, the only brand I cannot recommend is Quik Trip—easily the worst coffee on the interstate.|
I finished this trip at more than 52 mpg and $451.79 in fuel cost—not bad for a
10-year-old hybrid with nearly 140,000 miles on its odometer, and significantly less than the cost of plane tickets. The trip overall
was a success, with no mechanical failures and only one minor electronic
problem (a Tire Pressure Monitoring System sensor that crapped out in
California). I got to see four out of my 7 siblings, visit the Crazy Horse
Memorial again, watch wild horses on the Salt River outside Phoenix, camp in
the Black Hills, and play a recital on the exquisite Brombaugh organ at Christ
Episcopal Church in Tacoma:
|This also happens to be the instrument I took lessons on in high school, and I won a playing competition here in college.|
|Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer, SD. Started in 1948, it's supposed to look like the plaster statue when finished.|
|Black Fox campground, Black Hills National Forest. This campground is only accessible by driving down at least 15 miles of dirt and gravel road, and it's always fun rolling up in a lowered Prius to a site full of lifted Jeeps and pickup trucks.|
I visited the Rosebud and Little Bighorn battlefields in
Montana, a Native American buffalo jump, the Golden Gate bridge, JPL, and the
famous I-5 Portland rest area:
|The Golden Gate Bridge in its natural guise.|
My last piece of advice is this: you never know when you’ll get the chance again, so go for it now.
|A mail-order plane at the Museum of the Rockies. Two brothers put this together from a kit in the early 1930s.|