Tag Archives: road trip

Following Hemingway to Key West

The Overseas Railroad that carried Hemingway to Key West in 1934

Over the holidays I was reading a new book that explores the period in famed author Ernest Hemingway’s life  when he owned the fishing boat Pilar.  The first few chapters of Hemingway’s Boat are dedicated to his purchase of the boat upon his return to the US after a three-month African hunting safari and his subsequent trip to Key West, Florida where he would settle for the next several years.

Hemingway’s trip to Key West included traversing the Overseas Railroad, an engineering marvel that is celebrating its 100th anniversary later this month.  Although not a commercial success for developer Henry Flagler, the Overseas Railroad did provide the backbone for what would become one of the most exciting road trip destinations in the world; the Overseas Highway.

Stretching 127.5 miles from Homestead, FL to Key West, the Overseas Highway cuts a southwestern path through the Gulf of Mexico connecting the dots that make up the Florida Keys.  Most  of the highway is built over water making for a spectacular journey, unless there happens to be a hurricane (which caused the demise of the original railroad).

Hemmingways BoatAccording to Hemingway’s Boat, Hemingway’s journey originated in New York City on April 9th, 1934 and included a stopover in Philadelphia where he met with officials of the Academy of Natural Sciences who were interested in his knowledge of Gulf Stream fish, before terminating two days later at the southernmost point of the continental US.  Upon his arrival to Key West, also known as the Conch Republic, Hemingway was met by a marching band as his celebrity had already been established.

If you’re looking for a great southern escape this winter, you may want to follow Hemingway and head down to Key West for a tropical vacation that’s still within the borders of the US.  Although you can no longer take the train (the railroad was decommission after damage done by the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935) you can drive the entire distance and use Cost2Drive.com to help plan for the trip.  Another  option is to fly to Miami and rent a car as its  a three-hour drive  from Miami to Key West and well  worth the trip.  Below is in interactive map that plots out the route and highlights key stops along the way.

Happy Driving!

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!

Gas Prices the Biggest Turkey This Thanksgiving

On Track to be Highest on Record for Holiday Season

Heading into the 2011 holiday season its beginning to look like getting a lump of coal for Christmas might not be such a bad thing as it can at least be converted into fuel for electric vehicles like the Volt and Leaf.  Absent that, or a dramatic end-of-year retreat in fuel prices, we’re all going to be paying record amounts to drive home to visit family as gas prices are at historic highs for this time of year.

Weekly Retail Gas Prices: 1990 to Present (US Energy Information Administration)

Looking at the above chart of average weekly retail gas prices from 1990 to the present one can clearly see the two spikes in 2008 and then again this past summer.  At first glance it appears that this year’s trend mirrors that of 2008, with gas prices rising rapidly heading into the summer months only to be followed by steep declines in the fall.  However on closer inspection it turns out this is not the case.

Gas Prices 2008 compared to 2011

During the 2008 spike a record high price of $4.11 a gallon for regular grade gasoline was reached the week of July 7th, a price which subsequently cratered to nearly half that amount by the first week of November.  This year’s trend has been quite different with the peak price being reached much earlier in the year (May 9th) and the seasonal drop-off much less dramatic as gas prices are now only 14% below this year’s peak price of $3.97.

November Gas Prices

Taking a look at the historical price of gas for the first week of November  reveals that gas prices are 22% higher than they were heading into the holidays last year and at the highest price ever for this time of year.  This despite the fact that the Arab Spring is far behind us and the removal of Qaddafi from oil-producing Libya is no longer in doubt.

So what does this mean for gas prices heading into 2012?  Although the US Energy Information Service doesn’t see a return to the near $4 peak we saw earlier this year, some analysts disagree.   “I think we will see prices in 2012 that will break … records” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service.

Don’t be caught off guard by high gas prices this holiday season.  Before heading home for the holidays be sure to check out the Cost2Drive website or our new Cost2Drive iPhone app to see what it will cost to get there based on current gas prices along your route.  It will also help you save money by locating the cheapest gas at refueling points and displays the cheapest airfare so you can see if it will be cheaper to drive or fly home.

Happy Driving!

Myrtle Beach Tops List of Labor Day Destinations

Photo Credit: Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce/CVB

Most Searched “Beach” Destination on Cost2Drive.com

With less than two weeks to go before Labor Day weekend, and gas prices starting to decline, its not too late to plan a last-minute trip to the beach to cap off the summer of 2011.  In fact many people seem to be doing just that as we’ve noticed a surge in searches for beach destinations on Cost2Drive heading into the last summer holiday weekend of the year.

At the top of the list is Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a great family destination that offers not only wide beaches and water tempered by the warm Gulf Stream but also an abundance of land activities.  In fact Myrtle Beach may be as well known for its golfing activities as for its beach, and it caters to golfers both young and old with a wide variety of pro courses as well as miniature golf courses for the aspiring duffers.

Photo Credit: Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce/CVB

So where are this year’s Labor Day travelers visiting from?  Primarily the Midwest and the Northeast, with some coming from as far away as Canada.  Surprisingly its appears none are coming from the South, probably due to the large number of other beach options within driving range.

People Planning Trips to Myrtle Beach on Cost2Drive.com week of Aug. 15th

Myrtle Beach captured a whopping 28% of all beach searches on Cost2Drive.com the week of Aug. 15th (two weeks before Labor Day).  Here are the top 10:

  1. Myrtle Beach, SC (28%)
  2. Virginia Beach, VA (12%)
  3. Daytona Beach, FL (7%)
  4. Palm Beach/West Palm Beach, FL (7%)
  5. Miami Beach, FL (4%)
  6. Panama City Beach, FL (4%)
  7. Pensacola Beach, FL (3%)
  8. Huntington Beach, CA (2%)
  9. Long Beach, CA (2%)
  10. Old Orchard Beach, ME (2%)

Are you thinking of taking a trek to the beach this Labor Day weekend?  Let us know where you’re headed.

Happy Driving!

Who Cares About the Cost of Driving?

Summer Travelers Are At the Top of the List

I have to admit that when we launched our trip planning application Cost2Drive back in October of 2008 we weren’t sure of the answer to this question.  Gas prices had just come off the record highs of  the previous summer and were beginning their precipitous fall to levels we hadn’t seen in 10 years.

Fast-forward to today and, in large part due to once-again soaring gas prices combined with a struggling economy, the cost of driving seems to be on everyone’s mind.

As a result we’re continuing to see the surge in traffic to Cost2Drive that began earlier in the year as over 40,000 people visited the site in June to plan upcoming road trips.  This represented 20% growth over May and was more than double the number of visitors from June of last year.

So where are all these people going?  When we look at the destinations people are entering on Cost2Drive the top two destinations are consistently Orlando, FL and Las Vegas, NV.

Top Travel Destinations on Cost2Drive

Anyone that’s worked in the travel industry (I previously ran AOL Travel) knows that year-in and year-out these are the two most popular leisure vacation destinations in the US, indicating that we’re attracting a leisure travel audience to the site.  So far this year over 15,000 routes have been entered on Cost2Drive.com with Orlando as the destination, and another 5,000 with Walt Disney World or Disneyland meaning that as many as 20,000 travelers have used Cost2Drive to help plan a Disney vacation.

Other popular searches on Cost2Drive so far this summer include National Parks (as we pointed out in a previous post).  We’re seeing a surge in interest from summer travelers who want to find how much it will cost them to drive to the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone or Yosemite National Parks based on current gas prices.

Ocean City, MD (Photo licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.)

Another indication that leisure travelers are finding their way to Cost2Drive is the recent spike in searches on beach destinations like Duck, Corolla and Nags Head in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Myrtle Beach in South Carolina and the beaches of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.  These are all popular drive-to  destinations so its not surprising our trip planning application comes in handy.

And last – but definitely not least – are hotels.  Users are starting to figure out that with the new autocomplete functionality we added to Cost2Drive last month they can simply start typing in a hotel name and, if the hotel is in the database, a few keystrokes is all it takes to locate and enter an address.  As a result we’ve seen hundreds of searches on hotel names in the past month.

Recent Hotel Searches

So what types of hotels are Cost2Drive users staying in?  A common misconception about the car traveler market is that it is purely budget focused, and although we certainly see a cluster of searches on hotels in the moderate price range like Travelodge, Fairfield Inn and Staybridge Suites, we also see plenty of searches on full service hotels like Marriott, Sheraton and Hilton and even some in the luxury segment like the Beverly Hills Wilshire, Ritz Carlton and the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, MI.

So don’t assume that ‘drive equals cheap”.  After all, as anyone that’s driven a family of four to Disney World can attest, its far from inexpensive…but the memories are priceless.

Happy Driving!

6ABC Philadelphia TV Segment featuring Cost2Drive.com

Wanna Widget?

New Trip Planning Tool Available Free to Travel Websites

Visit Tampa Bay Widget

Almost from the day we launched the site Cost2Drive.com people have been asking us for a widget version they could easily add to their own blogs or Websites.  In fact a number of tourism sites like Visit San Antonio, Visit Philly and California’s Redwood Coast didn’t bother waiting and already link off to Cost2Drive to help prospective visitors plan better car trips to their destination (and for this we are VERY appreciative!).

Today we’re pleased to announce that we’ve built an iframe version of Cost2Drive that Website owners can easily add  to their site by adding a single line of code.    This is perfect for travel sites that cater to the drive-in market and want to provide additional trip planning tools to their users.  With the average price of gas in the US still well above $3.50 a gallon transportation costs can easily eat up 20% or more of an entire vacation budget, so helping travelers better plan and manage these costs will give them another reason to visit your site, and more importantly your destination!

widget Results Page

To use the widget users simply enter the origin and destination of the trip (note, sites can insert a default destination as in the above example for Tampa, FL) and then their vehicle information.  After entering this information the user clicks on the Find My Cost to Drive button and our Galculator takes care of the rest, returning the trip costs based on real time gas prices along the route.

We couldn’t fit all the great features of Cost2Drive in this small widget so if the user want to see more details, such as a map of the route or where to find the cheapest gas at refueling points, they can click on the See Details button which will take them over to Cost2Drive.com for the full results.  For routes over 200 miles in distance they’ll also see the cheapest airfare so they can easily determine if its cheaper to fly or drive to the destination.

If you’d like to test out the widget functionality check out the live version on VisitTampaBay.com.  Many thanks go out to Jeremy Fairley @VisitTampaBay for working with us to help define the specifications for these widgets in preparation for launching them on the Tampa Bay & Co. Website.

We’ll be posting a self-serve page shortly where you can go to grab the code for the widget and add it to your site.  If you can’t wait and are interested in getting one sooner drop me a line at jim@costtogo.com and we’ll get you hooked up!

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!

Are High Gas Prices Impacting Spring Travel?

We Take a Look at Data from Cost2Drive for Clues

With gas prices skyrocketing over the past few months its all but certain that they’re weighing heavily on travelers’ minds, and so we decided to take a look at some data from Cost2Drive.com to see if we could discern any clues to how high gas prices are impacting spring travel.

Unique Visitors to Cost2Drive.comIf we look at the overall visitors to Cost2Drive from March 1 through April 15 we see that the number of visitors has more than doubled from the previous year.  No doubt this is due to a combination of high gas prices and a still-struggling economy that is compelling travelers to seek out these  types of trip planning tools.

The good news is it doesn’t appear that people have lost interest in traveling for spring break as 19.2% of the 62,000 searches on Cost2Drive during this period were for spring break destinations compared with 18.6% in the previous year.

When we take a look at destinations travelers are searching for in advance of spring break its not surprising that locations in Florida dominate the list.  In fact 37% of all searches  on Cost2Drive during this period had somewhere in Florida as the destination, with Chicago to Orlando being the most popular route.  The average trip length entered was 866 miles (one way) which indicates Cost2Drive is attracting a disproportionate share of long-distance car travelers.

Looking at the specific destinations we see that Orlando, Fl was the clear leader when measured against all spring break destinations, capturing 40% of those searches.  There were over 4,500 searches for Orlando (including over 300 searches for Disney World) which represented nearly 8% of all searches on Cost2Drive during this period.  This means that one out of every 12 1/2 searches had Orlando or Kissimmee as the destination.

Top Spring Break Destinations as searched on costtodrive.com

Share of Spring Break Destination searches on Cost2Drive.com Mar 1-Apr 15

Las Vegas was the second most popular spring break destination searched on Cost2Drive with 12% of searches, followed by Miami/Fort Lauderdale with 11%.  The Florida panhandle, which includes Panama City, Pensacola and Destin, came in fourth with 9% share of all spring break destination searches.

When comparing the percentage of searches year-over-year we see some interesting patterns emerge.

For example, the largest increase in share was for Hilton Head, SC, the second  northernmost destination on the list behind Myrtle Beach.  Their share of searches for spring break destinations increased from .7% to 1.4% (+77%).  Meanwhile the largest decrease in share was for Key West, Fl, the southernmost destination on the list, who’s share decreased from 3.2% to 2.1% (-33%).  From this data one might infer that high gas prices are leading people to seek spring break destinations that are closer to home, which sounds like a logical assumption.  This would also be supported by the increase of search share for Myrtle Beach (+15%) and the Florida Panhandle (+26%).

However anomalies still exist, as Naples and Fort Myers’ search share grew 19% while the share for their neighbors to the north in the Tampa and St. Petersburg area declined 16%.  Also the decrease in share for two West Coast destinations,  Disneyland (-27%) and Las Vegas (-17%), might be attributed to the fact that many of the key feeder markets for these destinations are in California, which has the highest gas prices in the continental US.

Its always risky to draw conclusions on single data points, and cause and effect can be tricky to measure, but there do seem to be some trends emerging around shorter trips due to high gas prices.  The good news is, it doesn’t appear that people have stopped traveling…at least not yet.

One thing is for sure however, people are becoming increasingly interested in trip planning tools like Cost2Drive to help them better plan their car trips.

What are you observations?  Feel free to share them below.

Happy Driving!

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!