Hitting the highway

Nothing can beat the convenience and flexibility of a driving vacation, especially for short haul trip. Here’s how to make it cost-effective too.

By Sushmita Choudhury        Last Updated: July 14, 2008  | 19:07 IST

Given the sky-rocketing prices of fuel these days, one would think a frugal road trip is out of the question. Family outings by train may seem a less expensive option and in this age of low-cost airlines, even plane rides sound attractive. Driving down appears to be the least prudent option, at least financially. Till you do some calculations: working on a hypothetical example where a family of four takes off for Mcleodganj from Delhi, all such notions are dispelled. Taking a flight would cost about Rs 9,649 per person. Then there is the drive to the hotel to factor in. A train ride, on the other hand, would set the family back by Rs 890 per head, on AC-II Tier up to Pathankot, which is the nearest railhead. From there it will take a minimum of Rs 800 by taxi, depending on your bargaining skills and the law of supply and demand at the time of your visit, to reach Mcleodganj. That’s just one way travel so the total trip would work out to approximately Rs 8,200.

However, if you were to drive down in your own car, say a small hatchback, the distance of 920 km, to and fro, would cost under Rs 3,000, assuming the price of petrol as Rs 46 a litre and a mileage of 15 km a litre.

If you are a novice when it comes to hitting the highway, stick to short distances. In fact, a road trip is truly cost-effective only for the short haul. Over long distances it is actually cheaper to fly than drive. But for weekend trips nothing can beat hitting the highway since this is the best way to experience the adage “the journey is the destination”. Where else do you have the flexibility to stop to photograph a camel, check out a village fair or take a chai break as and when you fancy?

Hence, a driving vacation may still be the best option, depending on the distance and the terrain. But there is more than just the driving duties to keep in mind when taking a road trip. Like ensuring your fuel bill does not escalate, and the only way to ensure that is to follow some basic driving rules. Like driving steadily at 50-60 km an hour because speeding and repeatedly hitting the brakes can use up as much as three times more fuel than safe driving. Like ensuring a rigorous engine and tyre check before starting off because a well-tuned engine can improve fuel economy by up to 4% while a tyre that is under inflated by just 1 psi can cut fuel efficiency by as much as 3%. Like travelling light because for every extra 45 kg you carry, your fuel efficiency can drop by 1-2%. Before you laugh them off, remember that Australian couple, John and Helen Taylor, used such strategies to set a Guinness World Record for fuel efficiency after successfully driving around the world using only 1,303 litres of fuel, logging an impressive 22.2 km per litre.

A sizeable expense in your road trip budget is going to be accommodation. Instead of checking into yet another ubiquitous resort or hotel, you can add variety to your holiday by opting to stay in camps. There are enough and more well-established, comfortable campsites in popular tourist destinations in the country, be it the mountains, the forests or the beaches. And no, you won’t have to run to the fields for your daily ablutions. While it’s impractical to run out and buy a waterproof tent only for just one trip, it makes sense to invest in one if you are bitten by the camping bug. Costing anywhere between Rs 4,000 and Rs 9,000 or more, depending on whether it is made in India or imported, this is a sensible investment only if you are planning to make at least 10 camping trips in your lifetime. Otherwise, just rent one for anything from Rs 30 to Rs 80 a day.

Taking up our earlier example of holidaying in Mcleodganj, a twonight stay at a three-star place will cost at least Rs 4,400, though there are several Rs 800-a-night options available. On the other hand, you can set up your own tent in Bhagsu Valley Camp for Rs 250 a night. That sum ensures access to both a clean bathroom with running hot water and a restaurant should you not want to bother with cooking.

The key advantage of a camping road trip is that you can save up to 65% of the costs involved in any other kind of holiday. The icing on the cake? It offers busy families a rare chance to spend quality time together, doing off-beat things.

Think you need some professional help to make your road trip a hassle-free one? There is enough and more help at hand. Take the travel planners at Nivalink, an online travel facilitator, for instance, who will not only plan the routing and itinerary for you but also handle hotel reservations. All you need to do is furnish them with details such as the number of days you can spare, the city you want to start off from and your destination. Alternatively, just keep a copy of either Autocar India Driving Destinations or Driving Holidays in India on the dashboard for detailed routes and handy hints. So, ready to floor the accelerator? Just don’t forget your map.

Doing The Math

Suppose a family of four plans to travel from Mumbai to Panjim in Goa.The options available are to take a train, catch a flight or drive down in their own car:

Catching a flight The cheapest round fare listed on yatra.com, at the time of filing this story, is Rs 16,797 for all four adults. Plus there is the taxi ride to the hotel.

Riding on the railways If you take the Konkan Railway, then a train ride from Mumbai to Margao station will cost Rs 1,500 per head in AC-III Tier.That’s Rs 12,000 in total.

Hitting the highway Mumbai-Goa distance is about 1,250 km, to and fro. Assuming fuel price as Rs 46 a litre and a mileage of 15 km, the family trip will cost around Rs 4,000.

Hot Deals

A pick of bargains, at home and abroad

The Royal Plaza

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Contact 011-26383851

Located in Gangtok, Sikkim, the luxury hotel, a part of the Sarovar chain, is offering a three-night/fourday stay for a couple in a double room, inclusive of bed tea and all meals on a buffet or set menu basis. The price does not include taxes. Offer valid till 30 September.

Turkish Delights

Cost Rs 44,670 a head
Contact 011-41458472

Take a seven-day trip to Turkey with a special package designed by TUI, covering Istanbul, Izmir and Kusadasi; includes air fare, all transfers, three nights hotel stay each in Istanbul and Kusadasi, and daily breakfast.The package is valid till 30 September.

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