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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Dissecting road trips

Winter driving conditions are history for now, and huge numbers of drivers will embark on road trips as a result.  Summer offers the lure of clear roadways (except construction zones), increasing the number of motorists making “long hauls.” Add favorable fuel prices to the mix, and records for lengthy vehicle travel will likely bet set this year.

So, what is the definition of a road trip?  Wikipedia defines it simply as a “long distance journey on the road.”  My guideline is more specific.  I think the distance needs to be over 300 miles to qualify.  Covering those miles takes nearly 5 hours to complete, and shorter distances are just “warm-ups.”

For example, even though drivers making stops take five hours to get to Seattle from here, covering the 280 requisite miles takes only 4 hours to accomplish when observing the posted speed limit without stopping (70 X 4 = 280).  I’ve often remarked that I barely have time to adjust my seat and mirrors, and organize my drinks and snacks by then!

A non-stop 350-mile run to Portland, however, takes over 5 hours (especially given the 65 mph speed limit on I-84).  That’s a duration that starts to get your attention.  And to me, it’s where the road trip qualification begins.

Considering the 70, 75, 80, and even 85 mph speed limits experienced on major highways these days, it is pretty easy to average 70 mph on American road trips.  Doing that for a full day takes you a substantial distance each driving day.

Everyone approaches distance driving differently, but unless I’m taking a “stop and smell the roses” trip, I like to shoot for around 750 miles per day.  While arithmetically that takes around 10 hours of “seat time,” those segments usually take 11-12 hours, beginning to end, including a stop or two for fuel, snacks and bathroom breaks.  If I’m trying to make good time, I like to restrict those stops to easy-on, easy-off establishments that I can see from the freeway.

It helps to have a vehicle that will go half the distance (375-400 miles) per tank of gas, so it can theoretically cover the 750 miles making only one stop. 

To make a serious trip, compounding multiple 750-mile days is effective.  That means making San Diego, California in 2 days, Knoxville, Tennessee in 3, or all the way to the eastern shore in 4 days.

My formula includes a night of motel rest at the end of each of those driving days.  But certain hard-core travelers make me look like a lightweight.  That group uses multiple drivers driving non-stop, day and night, getting them 2250 miles down the road in about 32 hours instead of the 60 total hours it takes me.

Those drivers arrive sooner and save motel money, but also run a greater risk of encountering wildlife during night driving.  It is, however, a viable option when time is a factor.

With motels, fuel and food, it is definitely more expensive for a single occupant to drive rather than fly.  But I think road trips are a freedom we may not always have, so I often drive even though it takes longer and costs more.  It’s about a break even with 2 aboard, and with 3 or more in the car, it’s cheaper than flying.

However you do it, enjoy some time on the road this summer!

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at