Navigating Summer Road Trips

A new study provides a glimpse inside cars: What people do, eat and argue about.

May 24, 2018

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – “Are we there yet?” is a phrase associated with boring summer road trips; however, a new study shatters that myth, as it shows that 69% of people say traveling to their destination is often as fun as the actual vacation destination. The Summer Drive Study by NACS (a trade association that represents the convenience store industry) provides a glimpse into the typical American’s car during a summer road trip – including what they eat, why they argue and how they spend time.

Convenience stores sell 80% of the gas purchased in the country and serve 165 million customers every day for drinks, snacks, meals and other convenience items.

The survey reveals that most vacationers will travel by cars (85%), followed by airplanes (36%) and trains (8%). Long hours don’t deter road trippers; of those traveling by car, the highest percentage of Americans plan to travel 12 or more hours round trip (32%), followed by 4-6 hours (24%), 7-11 hours (23%) and 0-3 hours (21%).  

What’s going on inside the car?
The tight quarters involved in car travel may promote activities that are more communal in nature. Listening to music, audiobooks or podcasts (78%) and talking with other passengers (62%) are the most popular activities cited by car travelers. Notably, solitary activities such as playing video games or smartphone games (25%) or using social media apps (24%) are much less popular activities, making summer road trips good options for families hoping to spend some quality time together.

Why are they arguing? While most survey respondents enjoy road trips, arguments are inevitable. Most conflicts revolve around the kids -- their arguing or being fidgety accounts for 45% of disagreements. Other areas of conflict include: what to listen to (29%), temperature inside the car (28%), and where or when to stop (27%).

So who wins their arguments? When asked who wins these disagreements, most survey respondents said that they reign victorious. And road trips also are a safe haven from ever-present political discussions: only 16% of Americans say they argue about politics on road trips.

Why do they stop along the way? The top three reasons people stop during summer drives are to use the bathroom (96%), get gas (95%), or buy food or drinks (91%).  A distant fourth reason is to see a landmark or attraction (68%).

“There’s only one place that can satisfy all three of the top reasons for stopping during a road trip: a convenience store,” says Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives. “From restrooms and fuel pumps to indulgent snacks and healthy options, you can stop once and make everyone happy. And that can certainly make a road trip more fun.”

Where do road trippers stop? In determining where to stop along the drive, consumers cited several factors: convenient location (93%), clean restrooms (89%), fuel prices (87%), a trusted or known brand (76%), fresh food options (70%), a wide selection of beverages (66%) and a wide selection of snacks (66%).

How are they planning? Overall, 68% of Americans say they are likely to take a trip this summer—with 47% of them planning to take multiple trips. Overall, 58% are already actively planning their vacations.

Consumers are split on the impact of rising gas prices on summer travel. Half (50%) say gas prices have no effect on the amount of travel they expect to do, while 43% say they expect gas prices will cause them to take fewer road trips this summer. 

What do people indulge on during their summer drive?
Many Americans break their normal purchasing habits while on vacation. Travelers indicate that when they are on summer vacation, they are likely to splurge on salty snacks (41%), sweets (36%), and drinks (33%) they don’t normally consume.

The survey was conducted online by PSB (Penn Schoen Berland); 1,501 U.S. adults who purchase fuel for a vehicle such as a car, truck or van at least once per month were surveyed May 7-11, 2018. Summary results from the Summer Drive Study are at