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CCEE’s Daniel Findley featured in WalletHub story on summer road trips

This story first appeared on WalletHub.

Summer is the perfect time to hit the open road: School’s out, the weather’s warm, and the possibilities are endless. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is mostly behind us, Americans are very eager to travel. In fact, this summer, nearly 80% of American adults plan to take some sort of road trip, with around 39% planning to travel more than 250 miles from home.

Deciding to take a trip is the easy part, though. Picking a destination and affording everything you want to pack into your itinerary is harder. Gas prices might be one thing to worry about, for example. They’ve remained high this year, with the national average at over $3.50 per gallon now. On top of that, you’ll need to consider accommodations, activities and dining, all of which are affected by high inflation.

With road warriors in mind, WalletHub compared the 50 U.S. states based on 32 key metrics to find the most fun, scenic and wallet-friendly road-trip destinations — plus those that’ll have travelers pulling a quick U-turn. The data set ranges from the number of attractions to road conditions to costs.

As part of the study, WalletHub consulted CCEE Adjunct Assistant Professor Daniel Findley, who also serves as associate director at NC State’s Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE). Read the Q&A below.


Do you have any budget-saving tips for those looking to hit the open road?

First, make sure your vehicle is in proper working order (tires inflated, recently serviced, etc.) — this will help optimize your fuel efficiency. Furthermore, excessive speeding also worsens your fuel economy, so make sure to obey all speed limits. You should also plan an efficient route that minimizes extra miles and think about the time of day and the day of the week you will be traveling through popular or congested areas (if you are sitting still in traffic, you are getting 0 miles per gallon). Another great budget tip is to try to minimize the miles you need to drive – can you do a walking tour of the area you are visiting or maybe there is free or low-cost public transportation available in that location? Along those same lines, make sure you are realistic about how far you can drive in the amount of time you have available – you do not want to spend all of your time in the vehicle when you should be enjoying the sites you went to visit.


Do you think more people will take road trips this summer than in previous years?

Yes, I think road trips will continue to be a popular, cost-effective option for travelers. As a North Carolinian, we have an abundance of options to suit many interests. On the eastern side of the state, NC 12 traverses the coast and outer banks with fantastic views of the coastline and access to beaches and lighthouses, among other amenities. On the western side of the state, the Cherohala Skyway features amazing views of the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests (each lends part of their name to the name of the road) which is flanked by scenic overlooks and access to hiking trails. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a world-famous scenic mountain parkway that ties 469 miles through North Carolina and Virginia. And, in between, there are many scenic drives which include natural areas, small towns, pottery, wine, and more. US 64 gives us one of our favorite slogans if you want to talk about covering the whole state from west to east or vice versa — “from Murphy to Manteo” — which connects travelers to many destinations throughout the state, including the world’s largest natural habitat zoo in Asheboro.


In evaluating the best states for summer road trips, which are the top 5 factors?

Several factors are specific to your family or group’s interests and preferences, but here are some of the things that I think about: 

  • Proximity to your home location (every state has great road trip options, so think about where you are starting from and what would be a reasonable driving distance in the time you have available).
  • Availability of amenities that you are seeking (are you looking for food options, great hiking trails, lodging with a view, swimming, etc.) – make sure the place you are heading has the things you like to do.
  • Variety of activities — Does your group have an eclectic mix of interests? Perhaps you need to consider an area that has a little of everything to make your group happy.
  • Comfort zone — are you looking for a new adventure or to rekindle some feelings of nostalgia?
  • Multiple stops versus a single location — Do you want to stay in one place or make multiple stops during your trip? You might be able to find the variety and mix of amenities you want, along with staying in and getting out of your comfort zone by visiting multiple places are part of your trip.


How can local officials enhance safety and promote tourism during the busy summer road trip season?

Information! Information is critical for travelers. I often end up reading comment sections and searching endlessly for various important pieces of information, such as where to park, what time something opens/closes, any special activities, what is the cost, what is the best time to visit, etc. Local officials can help by having this important information easily accessible online and on-site. For instance, when you search for the most popular tourist activities/destinations, are the hours of operation available and accurate? Who can I contact for more information?