Hitting the Road on a Quarter-tank of Gas

The soaring cost of gasoline might have put a few bullets in the traditional family driving vacation, but it is not dead yet. Millions of Americans are taking to the road this summer in search of diversion, education and relaxation, but in these difficult times, many are setting their sights a bit lower than in previous years. Instead of tossing aside the beach towel and sunglasses altogether, you might consider hopping in your car, discovering your city or region and making family memories together. And you should be aware you can do it all on a quarter-tank of gas or less.

“So often if we can't fly or drive somewhere exotic for a vacation, we end up doing home improvements or working from home,” said Doug Speck, president and chief executive officer for Volvo Cars of North America, whose company is a proponent of near-home vacations. "Families need quality vacations. What better way to spend them than discovering more about your own area?"

While lolling on a beach in Hawaii or Tahiti might be a better way, in the current economic and fuel price environment, there is a lot to be said for discovering the wonders of close-by destinations. So with the weather warming up, get ready to send post cards, eat out and have an amazing “staycation” together with your family using these six money-saving and gas-saving suggestions:

  • Stay at a nearby hotel for a night Use the money you're saving by forgoing airfare to treat the family to a night or two in a local hotel. Look for hotels with attractions you can drive to during the day such as water parks, pools, malls or golf courses.

  • Create your own historic tour Pack up your car with some bag lunches and discover local history. Contact your local historical society or chamber of commerce and sign up for a historical tour or chart out your own self-driven tour of regional landmarks.

  • Get lost in a museum Instead of getting lost on the Interstate this summer, drive to a local museum and wander through at your own pace. Take time you might not normally spend to explore your city's treasures within a 30-minute driving radius. It's a great way to learn about your kids' interests, too.

  • Enjoy nature at a park Whether doing a day-hike or a weeklong camping trip, some of the best family memories are made on the trail of a county, state or national park. Get an atlas or state map and drive out to the nearest park.

  • Try new restaurants Just as you would if you were visiting a new city or country, test out restaurants and types of food you've never experienced before. Some of the best vacation memories are spent while sampling new and exciting cuisine. You might just discover your next favorite dining spot close to home.

  • Set up camp It never quite feels like a family vacation when waking up in your own home. Finish off your drive around the city by teaching your kids camping basics. Try finding a campground near your city and take the kids camping for a night or two. Or, set up a tent in the backyard and tell ghost stories, eat marshmallows and stargaze.

Of course, these tips might be a bit stale for some, so here are a few other suggestions for “staycations” that get you out of your normal rut:

  • Use alternative forms of transportation Sure, driving your car is expensive, so why not jump on your bike, unicycle or pogo stick. Many local destinations can be reached simply by hopping on one foot, and you can improve your cardio fitness at the same time.
  • Pretend you’re somewhere cool Maybe it is just the local Wal-Mart, but if you approach the experience from another angle -- like pretending it is a Maharajah’s castle or a museum of exotic items -- you can make a visit to a local mass merchandiser an interesting sojourn. Pretending the pond in your local park is the Pacific Ocean can have a similar effect.

  • Rob a local bank  Yes, there are obvious downsides -- it’s illegal, it’s immoral and you could get yourself shot -- but it can be thrilling, profitable and, most important of all, nearby. We recommend that you wear a disguise if you rob the branch you regularly patronize -- and be sure not to write the note demanding money on one of your personal deposit slips.

  • Sleep a lot You know what Shakespeare said about sleep? Well, we don’t quite remember either but we know he was for it. The good news is it costs nothing to go to dreamland, and when you’re there you can drive to your heart’s content without ever worrying about paying for gas.