This year, with the cost of fuel on a downward slide, $50 in the tank will get you pretty far. Using the average price of gas and the assumption that a car gets 24 miles to the gallon, the cost-information website HowMuch.net mapped just how far you could drive from the center of a city before sputtering to a crawl somewhere in the middle of a highway.
In the maps, concentric rings indicating the destinations attainable at $10, $20, $30, $40, and $50 worth of gas surround 35 major cities across the U.S. It’s remarkable both how far-flung the visualizations are, and how different they look depending on the city of origin.
Cities in the middle of the country, HowMuch.net points out, reap the benefits of an uninterrupted radius. A $50 drive out from Denver could land you in Zion National Park or El Paso, Texas; from Chicago, you could reach Niagara Falls or Memphis.
Sometimes, as in the case of Atlanta, you might save yourself both money and disappointment by setting out a on a shorter trip. HowMuch.net points out that leaving with $50 in your tank from Atlanta:
…seems like an exercise in frustration. Not only does your car give up the ghost before reaching Miami, it also falls just short of Chicago, on the shores of Lake Michigan, and Cleveland, on the shores of Lake Erie…But on the other hand, spending no more than $30 puts you on lots of gorgeous seafront, from the gulf shores of Alabama to the Atlantic coastline of South Carolina. With the next $10, you’re rolling into the Big Easy, New Orleans.
Given that 40 percent of the U.S. population lives in coastal counties, the range of road-trip possibilities will not always fall in the satisfying circle that emanates from midwestern cities like Columbus or Kansas City. Take Miami, for example. Florida’s panhandle shape limits driving options to the west, east, and south; the only way to go is up. A $50 tank will take you as far as Savannah or Tallahassee, but what Florida lacks in choice it more than makes up for in beaches. Around its perimeter, there’s really no bad place to end up, and it will cost you less to get there.
A $50 car ride bridges trips that people would not hesitate to fly—between New York City and Detroit, for instance. The small issue of time might tip travelers in favor of aviation, but if the goal is to relax and luxuriate in some unsung parts of the American landscape, driving might just be the cheapest and most interesting way to get out of the city for a bit.