Summer Travel Blues
Four dollars and change at the pump. The cost of livin's high and goin' up.
I stumbled on two columns this morning lamenting the demise of the sort of vacations to which Americans of means had long gotten accustomed. It’s an odd and maybe even out-of-touch topic in the midst of a pandemic that we’re over but isn’t over us and a wave of mass shootings. But there is clearly a longing out there to get back to a sense of normalcy and this is yet another sign that’s not happening soon.
Micheline Maynard, a contributing columnist for WaPo of whom I’d never previously heard, points to “The death* of the great American road trip.”
I just completed a drive from Ann Arbor, Mich., to New Orleans, my first road trip since 2019, and I’ve got a message for you: Fasten your seatbelts. The skyrocketing price of gas is an obvious problem, but inflation (or making up for lost revenue) has also jacked up hotel room rates. The Post recently reported that the average daily hotel price in March had zoomed 40 percent year over year. Another pothole in the road-trip dream: The U.S. labor shortage has meant many businesses, especially in the hospitality trade, are thinly staffed, leaving customers fuming.
And you can’t even relax behind the wheel — somehow, the coronavirus pandemic made drivers crazy, with last year’s U.S. traffic death toll the highest in 16 years: 42,915 fatalities, more than a 10 percent jump from the year before. Preliminary numbers indicate that 2022 could be worse.
Maybe fly instead and then rent a car? No help there. Airline ticket prices are in the stratosphere and, as The Post said this spring, “The rental car ‘apocalypse’ isn’t over.” Rates are startling — if you can even find a car.
The travel industry had been eagerly looking forward to this summer as a pandemic bounce-back. But even if Americans desperate for a change of scenery do start traveling, that doesn’t mean they are necessarily going to enjoy it.
“Industry greed is tapping the brakes on a red-hot vacation season,” consumer advocate Christopher Elliott wrote in a recent newsletter. “Even I’m having second thoughts about travel. And all I do is travel, so that’s saying a lot.”
I didn’t have the option of staying home: I was relocating to New Orleans. When the schedule changed because the moving company was short-staffed, I decided to make the best of the situation and treat the journey like a leisurely road trip instead of a forced march.
I knew that gas prices would be high — they’ve more than doubled in the past 18 months. But it was staggering to see gas stations advertising $5 a gallon, and they turned out to be the norm. When I found the bargain price of $4.39 per gallon in a Chicago suburb, I filled up. (The cheapest I paid anywhere during the trip was $3.79, just outside Oxford, Miss.)
I had intended to stay a night or two in Chicago, but the hotel rates were so alarming that I drove on to Evanston, a college town, in search of a better deal. A discount-hotel app found a place for $100 a night, the lowest rate of my trip.
I thought it would be fun, as I traveled south, to avoid staying in chain hotels and instead find unusual, interesting accommodations, but every hotel where I wanted to stay cost more than $200 a night — too much for my budget — so opted for the reliable and reasonable but less romantic Hampton Inn.
There, I got another surprise. “Stay over guests” — those spending more than one night — no longer received automatic daily housekeeping service unless they requested it. My room rate was basically that: a rate for a room.
Meanwhile, WSJ travel reporter Allison Pohle contends “The Summer Long Weekend Has Rarely Been This Hard to Pull Off.”
The best advice for taking a long weekend this summer? Make it longer or maybe don’t do it at all.
In recent months, some travelers’ long weekend trips were upended by canceled flights. JetBlue Airways Corp. canceled about 8% of flights in April and Spirit Airlines Inc. canceled about 5% of flights, according to data from Cirium, an aviation analytics company. Both airlines had improved cancellation rates thus far in May, as they made plans to reduce flights to head off disruptions from weather and staffing challenges.
At the same time, inflation, high demand and other factors are driving up the cost of weekend getaways. Summer flight, hotel and rental car prices, as well as demand, are all up this year compared with 2019, according to travel company Kayak.
Some popular destinations, such as Charleston, S.C., and Miami, have experienced large increases in weekend average daily room rates, according to data from STR, a hospitality and data analytics company. For Thursday through Sunday trips this month through May 21, daily room rates in Miami averaged $326.53 compared with $257.30 a year ago.
Long weekends are one of the joys of summer, but a booked-to-the-hilt travel system and rising prices are making those easy trips harder. Rescheduled flights and delays have zapped some travelers’ getaways, or stranded others in destinations longer than planned. And, when delays happen, full flights make rebooking a challenge—sometimes taking a big bite out of weekends and leaving travelers with less than a day at their destination.
JetBlue says it has taken steps to address April’s operational challenges, which it said were caused by severe weather and insufficient staffing levels. The airline is reducing its summer schedule by more than 10% from its original plan. A spokesman says the airline continues to bring on hundreds of new staff members each week.
Many airlines have adjusted their schedules to better operate within their staffing levels, says Jim Hetzel, director of product marketing for Cirium. When there are disruptions, rescheduling a weekend trip may be harder because flights are full.
And driving isn’t always a fix.
In markets such as Boston and New York, the price of renting a car surges on weekends. The lowest rate in New York for a rental car Thursday, June 16, through Monday, June 20, is $175 a day, while the lowest rate for a rental car Tuesday, June 21, to Saturday, June 25, is $82 a day, according to data from AutoSlash, a website that finds rental-car deals.
Overall, a slightly higher percentage of travelers plan to fly this Memorial Day compared with 2019, according to AAA, but the majority of travelers will drive for the holiday weekend. This means travelers can expect more traffic and high gas prices.
The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in the U.S. hit a record of $4.59 last week, according to AAA. Thursday and Friday are anticipated to be peak traffic days for Memorial Day, according to AAA.
Some are turning long weekends into longer trips or putting them off.
It’s easy to dismiss these as privileged Karens whining about having to pay a little more for luxuries. Or #WhitePeopleProblems or #FirstWorldProblems. But, frankly, it’s not the very well off who are deterred by higher prices for gasoline, airfare, or hotel rooms. Americans notoriously get far less paid vacation than people who live in just about any other country. For those of us with larger families, driving is the only way to travel at a reasonable price so doubling the cost of gas is a big deal.
The service industry was hit hard by the pandemic and really hasn’t recovered. And, ultimately, restaurants and hotels that are understaffed and overpriced will not only drive away customers but make those experiences less desirable. While whining about the fact that housekeeping isn’t changing your towels and making your bed every day may seem petty, it was in fact one of the few luxuries associated with hotel stays. That’s not a big deal for a business traveler who stays in a hotel a hundred nights a year. But it does make the vacation a little less vacationy.
*The headline was subsequently changed from ‘death’ to ‘demise,’ quite possibly because it was published on the same day that the paper was filled with stories about a massacre in an elementary school.
Sorry, people need to quit whining about gas prices or take some personal action to reduce use. Tuesday, we drove into Boston for dinner and an event, With cruise set at 75 on I95, we passed few and were blown off the road by far more cars and pickups doing 85+. The several heavy duty, diesel pickups were particularly interesting as they are paying nearly $6.50/gallon around here. I bet all the drivers do is whine about cost.
Go. Travel. Enjoy yourselves.
On a side note the term “cost of living” is a horrific concept.
Well I’ve got my Tesla and 1000 free Supercharger miles. But I’m still a little nervous about testing if the range is enough to get me where I want to visit and still hit those stations along the way …
@Tony W: Horrific concept? It is physical reality and basic economics.
@Sleeping Dog: Let them eat cake, a winning response.
I will travel this year as much as I traveled last year, which is nowhere near as much as I used to. Gas will cost more but eating and sleeping will be the same cost as staying at home. I cook our food and we camp everywhere we go, rarely if ever staying in a campground.
First World Whining: Correction
One week ago I made this post.
Yesterday I noticed that my reporting was inaccurate. Last week there was one type of Potato Salad in the display case. Yesterday there were two, side by side.
Turns out that it is the Honey Mustard Potato Salad that is $5.99/lb. The regular Mustard Potato Salad is $2.99/lb. My apologies to the Kroger Deli.
Good News: Regular Unleaded at the pumps out front in the parking lot is $4.799/gal.
Better News: I have accumulated 300 gas points worth 30¢/gal discount.
Best News: My friends Karlie and Alex are getting married this summer. I met them when they both worked at the Buffalo Wild Wings. Currently Alex who is from Canada is studying for a Masters Degree and working at the Kroger Deli. Karlie recently graduated from Sleepytown U and is now teaching at one of the local elementary schools. These two are supremely fine people and I am all the better for knowing them.
(As sick as I am I briefly considered getting her a bulletproof vest for a wedding present. But I refuse to let my diseased mind affect her joy.)
My absolute genuine wish is for everybody to go an a pointless road trip to wherever.
Moab, Acadia, Everglades, Bourbon tour, Olympia, Big Bend, Glacier, Boundary Waters. Wherever.
Hell, you don’t even have to actually make it there. Just point your vehicle in the right direction and drive.
Get lost. Get distracted. Listen to music on long drives. Stop at the scenic overlooks and breathe. Open your eyes. Look. Smell. Breathe.
I once went on a road trip to Southern Missouri to see the Precious Moments Chapel on a whim.
Why the fuck not? Go see little dead Aryan baby angels on the right side of the chapel and little dead Semitic babies on the left side in the most grossly inappropriate, commercialized blasphemy possible. It called itself a chapel.
It was glorious! So wrong it was just right.
A life highlight. My mohawk and Brad super camping up his gayness during the tour was in no means mocking the whole shebang. Okay, we passive-aggressively mocked.
Remember Jan Hooks Alamo tour guide from Peewee’s Big Adventure? We had her in spirit only as a local 18 year old girl who warned us sharply not to wander off the path lest we get bitten by a snake.
That young woman was freaking amazing. We gave her a 40 dollar tip. She fucking hated us. She was pretty damn good at her job. No flash pictures allowed. She was very clear on that. Pointed to the sign and everything.
The gift shop was exactly what you would think a Precious Moments Chapel gift shop would be but times a thousand. It was stupendous! It was laid out like an outlet mall store. So much Christian blasphemy on so many levels! The Pope would stroke out seeing it. I bought an indulgence.
It was great! 10/10. Five stars. Highly recommended. Metacritic score 100. Thumbs up.
If you are ever in SW Missouri it just outside of Joplin. Go. Be astonished.
I just spent a month in Europe and, aside from an Uber a few times, never needed a car from Berlin to Prague to Vienna to Amsterdam and back to Berlin. Light rail and trains everywhere — local, intercity, and intercountry. Quick, efficient, cheap, convenient.
America could have had a similarly extensive, advanced rail network. We chose not to with our votes.
Live by fossil fuels, die by fossil fuels.
@DK: Lived in Korea for 8 years, so I understand what you’re thinking about regarding the mass transit question. I suspect that if you live on the East Coast, you may have a point about the lack of will. Out where I live in Washington State, there may be too few bodies needing to cover too many miles of distance (Western Washington being roughly the size of South Korea) to run subway trains every 6 minutes and 6 express trains an hour 14 hours a day. But if you ever find the formula, I’m with you!
The wife and I are going on a short cruise (4 days, 3 nights to Cozumel) at end of June. Couldn’t resist the price. You get your bargains where you can.
@just nutha: In November 2018 after a breakup I flew to Oregon, took a solo trip: Portland to Seattle to Vancouver via bus and Amtrak, about 500 miles. Painfully slow and inefficient, but I had (and needed) the time. Few other travelers.
In November 2021, doing vaccine tourism, I traveled round-trip Berlin to Zagreb using Europe’s rail network. ~600 miles. Stops at smalltown and rural stations were frequent. Trains were busy. Met students heading home and back. Day trippers. Folks visiting friends or family, or going to party or work or just explore.
Did they all *need* to be traveling? Some yes, some no. But they were traveling by train because they could and because they’ve made the investments to make it relatively cheap, easy, quick, and efficient.
Oftimes, desire grows from proximity and availability. If America had mass transit networks that didn’t suck, need might follow. You might not know you needed something (like semi-regular mental health getaways to Bend or Mt. Rainer or Whistler) until it’s feasible, within reach. Washington state might not need 6 regional express trains an hour, but dang, can’t it have 1 or 2?
The Interstate Highway System was controversial before it was built. Now we’re lamenting the death of the Great American Road Trip. America’s current inertia and lack of imagination is sad.
@Mister Bluster: “Turns out that it is the Honey Mustard Potato Salad that is $5.99/lb. The regular Mustard Potato Salad is $2.99/lb. My apologies to the Kroger Deli.”
That is some seriously expensive honey.
Population density. Distance. Passenger count.
A European style rail system makes sense DC to Boston. Maybe a spur to Philly. We already have that. It sucks in comparison, but it exists.
In the rest of the country it would be God damn awesome and I would love it, but it would be a massive money loser.
Why would I take a 36 hour train to Seattle if I could fly there in 4 hours?
@DK: Last time I rode The Cascades, I was one of 150 people who got on in Portland at mid-day. I got off at Kelso–3 stops before Seattle. I like the trip–take it as often as it makes sense to, but it wouldn’t be the KTX (Korea Train eXpress) even with high-speed trains–which would require dedicated tracks (not happening during my lifetime).
I’m taking a trip this weekend (Sun-Tue). I’m driving a whopping 95 miles to Milwaukee–just because it’s not here. This will be the farthest I’ve traveled since I got back from China four and a half years ago.
I’m staying downtown ($350 for two nights! Gonna be paying that off for a while) and the only thing I know I’ll be doing for sure is having a Scotch egg at the Water Street Brewery, and changing my Tinder profile for the day. 🙂
I’ve come a long way from flying to a different country every 60 day to do the Visa Shuffle.
I didn’t say Europeans only travel by train and nothing else. Obviously, most aren’t taking the train from Barcelona to Warsaw. But once you get to Warsaw, you can see the rest of Poland and much of Germany quickly and efficiently.
I didn’t swim and hike to Berlin I flew there. But once I was there I could travel within the region easily. I’m not suggesting you take a 36 hour train to Seattle. Duh. My complaint is once I get to Seattle getting to Vancouver and Portland and the rest of the Pacific Northwest goodies is still slow, inefficient, and costly relative to similar distances in Europe.
I don’t buy that regional train networks would be a massive money loser everywhere except the Northeast. When I was a kid growing up in the Atlanta exurbs we were always in Savannah and Columbus, and often in Augusta, S Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida. There was always plenty of cars and planes full of people on those trips, even as Georgia was less populated then than now.
Now, living in Los Angeles, folks are always tripping to San Diego, Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and Vegas and everywhere in between. The road to Vegas and back is often standstill traffic, and there’s dozens of combined daily flights from LAX and BUR to SFO and OAK for a reason. Absolutely these same people would make use of efficient, fast, cheap rail — and it would not take 36 hours.
The articles make it sound like other people are finding traveling to be as utterly miserable as I have always found traveling.
Being in other places is great. The whole somehow-getting-there part has always been awful, painful hassle with grifters at every point along the way.
Unlike the regular Mustard Potato Salad the Honey Mustard Potato Salad is adorned with what appear to be red and green herbs and peppers. I’m sure this makes it worth every penny.
*She was the wife of Chester A. Riley’s neighbor Jim Gillis on TV’s The Life of Riley(’53-’58). I was 10 years old when that show ended. I always had a thing for her.
Heh, last year, after that whole pandemic thing and shortly after we got vaccinated, we realized we needed to just get away. Anywhere, just take the family and go. Of course we hadn’t planned anything ahead of time, not knowing if it would be safe.
Me: “Why there? I’m sure it’s lovely, but…”
Wife: “It’s a driveable place I haven’t seen, and it’s not here.”
Perhaps we’ve hit upon a new Milwaukee Motto. “Milwaukee: Why Not?”
(It was a lovely city and a lovely trip. Swam in the great lakes, drank good beer, took the kids to the zoo, and visited a “Cheese Castle” before crossing back over the border to IL.)
I could see a hyperloop for CA. Oh, they are already thinking about that.
Population density. Distance. Passenger count.
Another factor – infrastructure. Airports are already built out.
It would convenient and I would love it, but a Euro style rail system in America would a very expensive boondoggle. The demand is met cheaper by existing systems.
Unless I have a gig there, I really have zero desire to go to St. Louis, KC, or Omaha. I have business in Minneapolis twice a year at least. Likely 4 times.
Door to door flying is roughly four hours including about an hour in the air. Driving, door to door, about four hours. Bus service is about 7 hours door to door.
Currently, if I want to take a train to Minneapolis, I would have to go to Chicago, switch trains, then go to Minneapolis. 13 hours give or take.
The daily planes that go DSM to MSP are puddle jumpers, 50 max. By uncountable experience the passenger load is usually about 20 bodies. It gets fuller on Monday and Friday.
I get you. I would god damn love a better built out train system in the US. I would use it very occasionally. I am an outlier. It would be massively expensive.
Outside of the NE corridor, planes are cheaper and faster.
Even given a built out rail system I would still fly to Seattle or Phoenix no question. Most everyone would. It would be way faster.
I effing love European trains. Would not work here economically.
@de stijl: Many people have no real idea of how spread out we really are in the US by comparison to other areas. While I was living in Daejeon, a few of us would go on a walk some Saturdays if the weather was good. Woosong–where I taught–was the next to the last southbound stop on the subway, and we would get on the train, go to the northmost stop, and walk home. We’d stop for lunch on the way back and sometimes, we’d decide to take the bus back after lunch, but the total trip was only about 3 hours, including stopping for lunch.
By comparison, West Seattle to Shoreline (geographically similar points–southmost to northmost “in the city”) is 22.5 miles according to Google.
Those driving around in $80,000 diesel pickups have already had their cake and seconds as well. Prior to that they had steak.
If you think times are hard now, wait until we try to do what the world’s democracies need to do, which is stopping the flow of our cash to the genocidal despots in places like Moscow, Riyadh and Beijing who want to destroy us.
Will we succeed? Kurt Vonnegut wasn’t optimistic. He believed that America will “go down in history as the first society that wouldn’t save itself because it wasn’t cost-effective.” It will be interesting to see who whines the most this summer.
Well, I think its a good thing we have a war on fossil fuels. Global warming and all.
“The World Economic Forum and the globalist movement it helps lead have used the “climate crisis” and the COVID-19 pandemic as pretexts for measures to redistribute the wealth of nations.
But this week, as WEF convenes is annual conference in Davos, Switzerland, the Arctic sea ice expanse so far this month is at a 30-year high, according to data from intergovernmental European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, points out climate-change skeptic Tony Heller.
EUMETSAT, as the organization is known, was created through an international convention signed by 30 European nations.
The extent of Arctic ice during the warmer months long has been a metric for climate-change alarmists. In 2007, Al Gore began warning the world that scientists were predicting that by 2013, the Arctic would be ice-free during the summer.”
Joe and Al didn’t get the memo I guess………
@Drew: Awwww, man, you got fact-checked! Just out of curiosity, do you EVER double-check anything? Or is it just “Oh, this fits perfectly with my personal bias, it MUST be true!”
Milwaukee is a damn fine town. Enjoy yourself. I’m jealous.
I have done two long train trips.
First was St. Paul to Seattle on the Empire Builder. I got a “roomette”. It was surpringly expensive.
There was no point. I did not have to go to Seattle. The journey was the destination. I got there, stayed a night, went back home. I had vacation days to spend and no purpose. I’d never done a long train trip before. Why not try?
When you travel by train it is both really cool and super monotonous. The views are mostly meh. I sat in the view car, smoked a lot of cigarettes, drank coffee, drank beer. Read. Watched the world roll by. Sat on my ass. The food was, um…, filling. Go for the burger, btw.
One thing worth noting is that when you roll into town, the tracks go through the butt-end of that town through the parts of town no one wants to live in unless you have no choice.
No one wants to live on a property the abuts the tracks. I saw a lot of the backsides of crappy houses no one really wants to live in. If you live there it is by necessity not choice.
Second trip was Thunder Bay to Banff. Again, no reason. I wanted to go by rail all the way, but Duluth is as far as you can go. There is a passenger rail gap between Duluth and Thunder Bay. Iirc, I could get to Winnipeg from Duluth, but it was convoluted. Screw it. I had vacation days to burn. Just drive.
I drove up to Thunder Bay and hopped on. The tiny sleeping bunk was cheaper than Amtrak even adjusting for trip length. The food was just as ghastly. Think Denny’s but less authentic.
Banff was god damn awesome! Seriously, go there! It is freaking beautiful. 2 days, 3 nights there, then back home again. It was really pretty cool. I would recommend that highly.
The bummer was that once I got off in Thunder Bay, I had to drive back home. 6 or 7 hours at least if you don’t stop to pee and eat. Sometimes you do what ya gotta do.
I miss the days you could go to Canada on a whim with just a drivers license.
And it’s a pipe dream to put a man on the moon. Never been a fan of Liz Warren, but had to applaud when she asked, “Why would you run for president just to talk about what we can’t do?”
American Boomers (obviously not all, so save the defensive whining and crying) have generally lost the ability to dream and have no imagination anymore. They’re cynical and have stopped aspiring, and they are holding us back, and the country will not progress and move forward until they are out of power and out of our way.
Not politically correct to say so, and they get offended, but the comments here prove it. Sorry, but it’s just the truth.
Fossil fuel lobby brainwashing + bad mapping. The distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco is the same as between Barcelona and Madrid. But even progressive hero Gavin Newsom fell for the brainwashing and canceled the train.
Right wing corporate lobby propaganda is very effective, but us millennials and Zoomers are not biting despise the cynical and lazy acquiesence of many of our parents and grandparents. Facts matter. So does faith.
@DK: You keep talking as though Central and Southern California are representative of the country. If what you mean is “I’d like major megalopolic urban areas to be linked to each other by rail,” say that and get the voters of Cali/NY-Newark-Philadelphia/Austin-Houston-San Antonio to vote for doing it.
The story I heard was that the light rail in LA was deliberately kept from being extended out to LAX by the taxicab cartels.