Category Archives: Google Maps

Planning the Ultimate National Parks Road Trip

My ultimate National Parks road trip will cost $923 in fuel charges

Cost2Drive 2.0 Helps By Quickly Calculating Fuel Costs

It’s National Park Week here in the US and so we’re spending a good bit of time looking at how people are using our popular trip planning application to plan trips to our national parks.  We were thrilled to learn that in the past year alone over 6,500 trips to national parks were planned on Cost2Drive.com, and we expect that number to rise considerably with the launch of our new National Park trip planning pages.

As expected out of the 6,500 trips the most popular parks were Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon with Yosemite placing a distant third.

We did, however, uncover an interesting trend; it appears that national parks go well together as nearly 10% of the routes entered started at one national park and ended at another.  I guess that’s to be expected with all the bucket-listers out there (I can almost hear Clark Griswold firing up the Wagon Queen Family Truckster), though it may also be due to the remoteness of some of the parks as well as the clustering in some parts of the Western US.

The ten most popular pairings were:

  1. Yellowstone & Grand Canyon
  2. Bryce Canyon & Zion
  3. Yellowstone & Grand Teton
  4. Death Valley & Sequoia and Kings Canyon
  5. Bryce Canyon & Grand Canyon
  6. Grand Canyon & Yosemite
  7. Grand Canyon & Zion
  8. Mount Rushmore & Yellowstone
  9. Death Valley & Yosemite
  10. Arches & Canyonlands

An interesting side note is that the most popular pairing, Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, is also the most distant at 873 miles apart (the average distance between the paired parks was 386 miles or 7 hours of travel time).

Clark Griswold’s Wagon Queen Family Truckster from National Lampoon’s Vacation

I thought it would be fun to see what it would cost to drive my ultimate national parks road trip from my home in Washington, DC to Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone to Yosemite to the Grand Canyon and finally back to DC again.

It turns out it will cost $923 in fuel alone for the trip, cover nearly 6,000 miles and take nearly 100 hours of driving time.  If you’d like to see the results here’s a link to the route on the upcoming version of Cost2Drive.com, and feel free to try out the site by planning your own ultimate national parks road trip.  You can even share the results with friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Note: If you’re driving an RV, motorhome, motorcycle, lawn mower or any other vehicle not currently listed in Cost2Drive you can still use the site by clicking on the ‘can’t find your car’ link and manually entering the fuel information for your vehicle.

We hope everyone takes advantage of the free entrance fees by visiting at least one of our 397 national parks during National Park Week Apr. 21-29.

Happy Parking!

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Something Wonderful is Going to Happen

Shenandoah National Park is one of nearly 400 parks waiving entrances fees during National Park Week April 21-29

Early Access to Cost2Drive 2.0 for National Park Week

Here at Cost2Go we’ve been working on something for quite some time, something we think is wonderful, and we’re so eager to share it we’re not even going to wait until it’s finished (because nothing on the Web ever is).  We’re getting ready to launch an entirely new version of Cost2Drive.com, our popular trip planning application that has now been used by over 1 million people.

But before we do, we’re going to give park lovers a special sneak peak of the new site in honor of National Park Week.  We love our national parks, and during National Park Week (April 21-29) something even more wonderful is going to happen as entrance fees to all 397 national parks will be waived making it free to get in.  Unfortunately it’s not free to get to the parks, and so that’s where we come in by helping people plan their trips with our brand new national park pages.

Yellowstone National Park Page on Cost2Drive 2.0

These beautiful new pages cover the top 10 national parks that users searched for on Cost2Drive over the past 12 months, and they make it super easy to determine how much it will cost to drive to the parks based on the fuel efficiency of your car and current gas prices along your route.  They also help you save money by locating the cheapest gas at refueling points along the way (click on the gas pump icon to see the price and location) and by displaying the cheapest airfare so you can see if it’s cheaper to drive or fly to the park.

Results Page for trip to Zion National Park from Sacramento, CA

The new national park pages also display the top hotels, restaurants and attractions in (or near) the parks from TripAdvisor so you can start planning your entire trip directly from these pages, and if your favorite park isn’t among these ten, no problem. You can get all this helpful information for all 379 national parks by simply typing in the park name on the main page of Cost2Drive (note – Mount Rushmore isn’t a National Park, it’s actually a National Memorial) .

Below are links to the 10 brand new national park pages on Cost2Drive so you can plan your trip to the park in earnest and even share your plans with friends via Facebook or Twitter using our new ShareThis widget!

That’s all we’re going to say about Cost2Drive 2.0 for now, but we’ll be sharing much more in the coming weeks as something even more wonderful is coming –  Summer – and here at C2G we want to help you make the best of it!

What’s your favorite National Park?

Happy Parking!

Think Gas Prices Are High This Holiday Season? Wait ‘Till You Hit the Toll Booth

Toll Hikes Conspire With Record High Gas Prices to Make This Holiday Travel Season the Most Expensive Ever

As if record high gas prices aren’t enough for travelers to deal with this holiday season drivers must also brace for additional costs related to increased toll fees across much of the nation, especially along the eastern seaboard.

If you’re planning a trip to New York City for a shopping or theater excursion this holiday be aware that back in September the toll rates on the bridges and tunnels increased by 50% so entering the city by car now costs a whopping $12 if you’re paying in cash (EZ Pass prices are $9.50 Peak, $7.50 Off-Peak).  There’s something a little scary about tolls that require you to pull a ten-spot out of your wallet for a single crossing, and the Verazzano-Narrows bridge even tops this with a $13 fee. Click on the interactive map below to see the new toll rates at each crossing.

On the first of November a number of toll hikes went into effect in Maryland as well including the toll for the Bay Bridge connecting Maryland’s Eastern Shore with its mainland which increased 60% from $2.50 to $4.  Tolls on all three Baltimore Harbor crossings (the Fort McHenry Tunnel, the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and the Francis Scott Key Bridge)  increased 50% from $2 to $3, and the toll on the Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge increased 33% from $3 to $4.  In northern Maryland smaller toll hikes of 20% went into effect as the tolls on the the JFK Memorial Highway (I-95) and the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge were raised from $5 to $6.

Maryland has also introduced a brand new toll road, the much-anticipated (and hotly-debated) InterCounty Connector (ICC) that connects I-95 with I-370.  This new toll road has been free up until December 5th when a $6 toll went into effect ($4.50 EZ Pass) for driving the entire 18-mile stretch of the road during peak hours on weekdays, or $4.80 ($3.20 EZ Pass) for off-peak hours and  weekends and federal holidays.  Night owls can save extra money on the ICC as the toll rate drops to $2.60 ($1.90 EZ Pass) from 11 pm to 5 am every day of the week.

Things won’t get any better in 2012, as numerous tolling authorities are set to roll out increases on the first day of the new year with the Illinois Tollway leading the pack with an 87% toll hike on four toll roads (the Jane Adams Memorial Tollway, the Tri-State Tollway, the Reagan Memorial Tollway and the Veterans Memorial Tollway).  They have an excellent interactive map of all the toll facilities that you can view here.  New Jersey will also be introducing toll hikes of 53% and 50% on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike respectively on New Years Day.  At the end of January 50% toll hikes will also go into effect for Hudson river crossings between Bear Mountain and Catskills, NY when tolls will climb to $1.50 ($1.25 EZ Pass) from the current $1 rate.

Many other states have proposals underway to introduce tolls in 2012 and beyond including Missouri where the Dept. of Transportation is considering adding tolls to I-70, the main highway that cuts across the state from east to west, as a way to fund a major rebuilding effort.  A similar proposal is underway for interstates I-80 and  I-35 in Iowa and tolling actions are planned in  Florida and Colorado as well.

So what’s causing this sudden increase in tolls? Woefully underfunded state departments of transportation that are increasingly turning to tolls as a way to rebuild infrastructure without raising taxes.  From a consumers perspective its not just the additional cost that’s at issue but the increasing complexity of the fees that make it nearly impossible to predict what it will cost to drive places.

We’re going to be writing a separate post about these new variable tolling structures, but meanwhile we’re working aggressively on finding ways to include toll information into the trip cost estimates we provide on our Cost2Drive website and Cost2Drive iPhone App as its the number one request we hear from our users.  Until then we’ve put up a site called Cost of Tolls that aggregates toll information from across the US to help drivers quickly get the latest toll information prior to leaving on a trip.

Happy Driving!

Cost2Drive Adds Autocomplete Functionality

Improves Speed, Accuracy and Comprehensiveness.

If there’s one thing we obsess about at C2G, its creating absolutely seamless experiences that delight our users, and so its with great excitement that we announce today that we’ve enabled the Google Maps autocomplete functionality on Cost2Drive just in time for Memorial Day weekend.

When we first launched Cost2Drive.com we thought we had created a pretty simple user interface to our application, and that’s been supported by all the positive feedback we’ve received.  But we’ve also noticed a pattern of feedback related to issues users were having around getting Cost2Drive to recognize certain addresses.  As we investigated this further, we discovered this is often related to one of two issues:

  1. The location was not recognized by the Google Maps API
  2. The user misspelled or mistyped parts of the address

These issues are further compounded by the fact that Cost2Drive is attracting a traveling audience, and as a result many of the destinations being entered are not technically geographic locations.  For example, Disney World and Disneyland have been entered over 3,000 times so far this year.  Other examples include geographically ambiguous locations like the Outer Banks in North Carolina, which used to result in an error message in our application.

Well not anymore.  Right on the cusp of the peak summer driving season we’re excited to launch this new feature which not only recognizes non-geographic locations like theme parks but also dramatically reduces the time required to enter long addresses.  This is even more helpful when accessing Cost2Drive.com from a mobile device, where every keystroke counts.

And best of all, bad spellers like myself will finally have a crutch to fall back on when entering locations.  Here’s an interesting tidbit from our search logs,  Niagara Falls is misspelled over 30% of the time its entered as a destination, but now with autocomplete never again!

Let us know what you think of the new feature.  We wish everyone a happy and safe holiday weekend and if you’re looking for some wonderful road trip ideas check out the 20 Memorable Memorial Day Road Trips we posted last year.  They’re available in Google Maps and look awesome on an iPad!

Happy Driving!

New Zealand Leapfrogs Amalfi Coast as Top Road Trip Destination

Is New Zealand the Hot New Destination for Car Travelers?

Millford Sound, New Zealand

Millford Sound, New Zealand Photo Credit: Hector de Pereda

A couple of years ago National Geographic Traveler Magazine ran a fantastic feature about 50 extraordinary road trips called the Drives of a Lifetime.  The feature was so popular they made it into a hardcover book depicting 500 great road trips across the world.  We thought it would be neat to plot out the 50 ultimate road trips in Google Maps to see if people would use them, and boy did they ever.  When we checked back  last April the itineraries had been viewed over 10,000 times and at that time the Amalfi Coast road trip itinerary was the clear winner getting nearly 14% of all visits.

What a difference a year makes.  Checking back in on the latest results we were thrilled to see that now over 20,000 people had viewed the trips and surprised to learn that the New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary has surpassed the Amalfi Coast as the top road trip destination.  Some other up-and-coming destinations that broke into the top 10 road trips include Dalton Highway, Alaska, the Cherohala Skyway through North Carolina and Tennessee and the Netherlands Flower Route.  What’s interesting is that even though the large majority of the 50 trips are in North America, 4 of the top 10 road trips are outside this region (England’s Cornish Coast being the fourth).

Top 10 Road TripsHere is a link to view the New Zealand itinerary in Google Maps and you can find links to all of the other road trip itineraries here,  They even work on mobile smartphones like the iPhone and Android phones and look wonderful on Apple’s iPad, a device we think is perfectly suited for road trippers.

Have you taken any of these 50 ultimate road trip adventures?  What are your favorites?  Share your experiences below, or tell us about other amazing road trips you’ve experienced.

Happy Driving!

If  you’d like to see the full list of how all 50 itineraries ranked send me an email at jim@costtogo.com

Route-Based Targeting; The New Frontier?

My route Obsession

Several years ago as I was planning a car trip for me, my wife and teenage son from Washington, DC to Sarasota, FL, I faced the all-too-common challenge of trying to figure out where to stop along the route.  Using Google maps I plotted out the route and then eye-balled some of the likely stopover points based on  the larger names that appeared on the map. Hmmm, Savannah, GA always sounded like a neat place to visit, lets make that one of the stops.  None of the other names incited any interest and so it took a good bit of research to finally settle on St. Augustine, Florida for our other stopover.  We’d stop at St. Augustine on the way down and Savannah on the return trip to DC.

I remember thinking that this was a rather inefficient way to plan a trip, and that there must be many great cities to visit and sites and attractions to  see along this route (besides of course South of the Border).

The problem then occurred to me;  driving directions have blinders on.  They don’t illuminate all the great possibilities along a route. Even though some sites like AAA TripTiks and MapQuest are attempting to solve this problem,  they have no sensitivity to distance so they serve up the same information whether you’re traveling 2 miles or 2,000.  This has implications on many fronts, and so it seemed like a very worthwhile problem to solve.  Thus began what I now refer to as my route obsession.

When you look at our flagship site Cost2Drive.com, you’ll see evidence of this type of thinking.  For example, when a user enters a route we surface the cheapest flight found on Kayak for that route, but only if its over 200 miles in distance (it’s distance-sensitive).  We also view routes not as simple origin-destination pairs (a very flight-centric view of the world) but as a corridor with many wonderful things to see and do in between.  For example, we plot out the refueling points along the way, not only to identify the cheapest gas prices at those points, but as a visual cue to users of where they’ll likely need to stop.  The trip-planning process logically unfolds from there.

This is all enabled by the Galculator, our route-aware technology that powers all of the C2G applications.  With hundreds of startups focusing on location-based targeting, we see a vast new frontier emerging in a related field, one that we call route-based targeting.  We feel we’ve only scratched the surface on this exciting opportunity, and as the peak summer travel season approaches you’ll see some more examples of how we’re feverishly working to remove the blinders from driving directions, both for travelers and advertisers alike.

Happy Driving!

Google Adds Fuel Cost Calculator to Maps in Europe

Journey Planner

Google Maps Fuel Cost Calculator

While browsing the Internet this weekend I came across this rather startling post from fleet management company FieldLogix about a new feature in Google Maps in Europe that estimates fuel costs for a trip.  What’s startling about this is not the feature itself but the fact that its largely been overlooked despite the potential for broad implications across several industries.

I’ll cover more on this (and why we’re so excited by this new development) in a later post, but for now lets just focus on the details of this new feature. It appears that cost estimates are now part of all the European Google Maps sites and can be found at the bottom of the driving directions along with a link to modify car type as well as fuel grade and price.  If you modify these options Google will save those changes for future routes.

The currency is localized to the country of origin and remains constant regardless of the number of countries traversed in your route.  To illustrate I’ve entered a route from London to Rome in Google Maps UK (see below).

Google Maps cost calculator

You’ll note that the fuel cost for this trip is estimated in UK currency even though the trip crosses multiple countries.  It’s not clear how the average fuel price of 1.26 British Pounds Sterling per litre  is determined but in testing several routes within the UK the same price is applied so I am assuming this is based on a country average.

For comparison purposes, Cost2Drive locates the nearest gas price at the origin of the route and then calculates the cost based on real time gas prices along the route to account for regional variations.  For example a route from Chicago to New York has an average gas price of $3.12 vs $3.17 for a route from Chicago to Nashville.

Cost2Drive calculates cost based on real time gas prices along the route

Additionally, whereas Google’s tool allows for 3 vehicle types Cost2Drive allows you to select the exact vehicle you are driving from a database of over 20,000 cars and trucks so you’ll get far more accurate cost estimates.  Cost2Drive also locates the cheapest gas at refueling points along your route, and for routes over 200 miles displays the cheapest airfare found on Kayak.com.

Toll costs are not included in the calculation even though they can be substantial in Europe, especially if your route includes a Channel crossing which is around 42 pounds ($68) each way if you opt to take the Chunnel.  As an aside, toll cost information is the most requested feature on Cost2Drive and so we’re actively looking at ways to include this information.

Note that Michelin’s mapping product does include toll cost information for routes in Europe.  In fact Michelin deserves a great deal of credit for being a leader in this space however they are severely hampered by an overly cluttered user interface which has been the downfall of many trip planning applications.

It will be very interesting to see where Google takes this feature.  Will it soon appear in US maps? Will their driving directions evolve into more of a trip planning product? As I mentioned I’ll share more of my thoughts on this in a later post, but please feel free to share your own thoughts below.

Happy Driving!

jim@costtogo.com