The $50 American Road Trip
Put $50 of gas in your tank. How far do you get? With fuel prices this low, quite a distance. But don't try to hit Miami Beach from downtown Atlanta, though: your tank will run dry by Pompano Beach, with still 35 miles to go. So where do you take your sweet new ride for a long weekend? Assuming there's a gas station in the centre of each of the major cities depicted here – yes, statistics is a funny business – this is how far a $50 tank of gas will get you. Our data is based on a car that consumes 24 miles per gallon, and uses gas price estimates from GasBuddy.com.
Let's start with that Atlanta example from before. Leaving from there with a $50 gas tank seems 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. Although the latter failure, according to some, may be a blessing in disguise.
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. And although the full $50 doesn't get you to all the fun in Miami or Chicago, you get to go to Washington DC. Go see the sights, take in a museum or two!
What if you leave from other U.S. cities? If range is what you crave, you're better off living in the centre of the country. Otherwise your options are limited by the ocean. Extreme case in point: Miami. One thing we know already: $50 won't get you to Atlanta. Since local gas prices in Florida's biggest city are a bit higher than in Georgia's capital, it won't even get you close. And because Florida's peninsularity works limits your options to the east, west and south, Tallahassee and Savannah are your furthest options. Fortunately, everywhere in between includes Florida's gorgeous beaches. Tampa, a bit further up the peninsula, gets you a lot further inland – up to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
So basically, the trade-off is between distance and dunes. For the former, start from an inland city. Take Kansas City, for example. A tank with $50 worth of gas gives you the choice of no less than 22 states, from almost all the way north to Canada to halfway down Louisiana, and from lovely Fort Collins, Colorado to all the fun you can have in Columbus, Ohio.
Other cities enjoying the maximum-range benefits of being far inland include Denver (options range from Zion National Park to Des Moines, Iowa, and El Paso to South Dakota!), Chicago, Minneapolis and St. Louis. By the way, that last city is the only one of the big inland metropolises where fifty bucks gets you to the ocean.
A few cities manage to combine an almost circular range with wide access to the beach. Take Cincinnati: you can reach no less than 27 states (and a chunk of Canada), plus get to choose any beach between Savannah and Long Island. Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Phoenix and Pittsburgh are similarly situated.
This is how far a $50 gas tank will get you from Atlanta
But with over 40% of Americans living in counties directly on the shore, the most relevant model is the half-circle. Places like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York or Washington DC. Citizens of these cities can hedge their bets between a day at the seaside, with plenty of beach to choose from, or take their $50 inland, to Las Vegas and beyond (in the case of San Diego), or all the way to Pittsburgh (if you leave from Boston).
For our money, Columbus, OH seems like a good compromise between the attractions of the beach and a wide variety of on-shore options. But think twice before moving there; remember – you'll have to spend another $50 to get back home.
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Sources: The $50 Road Trip
An earlier version of this article did not clearly show the average consumption we used to calculate distances. The average consumption we took is 24 MPG.