Posted March 31, 2016
Spring is upon us, and for many people with children in school and spring breaks looming, that means family vacation time – for millions of Americans, the Family Road Trip.
I have a number of great memories of family road trips from when I was a kid – some in conjunction with the moves that dotted my dad’s military career: Miles and miles on ribbons of highways – seemingly endless because dad (like just about everyone else’s dad) wouldn’t stop unless the station wagon was practically out of gas; skirmishing with my brother over the backseat; end-of-the-travel-day plunges in the cement ponds at motels in highway way-stops like Gallup, N.M., and Kingman, Ariz.
The destinations varied. We were nomads, cycling every few years from post to post (note: the Army has “posts,” the junior services have “bases”). But we also took vacation trips, visiting grandparents in California and Oklahoma and seeing neat stuff: Yosemite National Park, Grand Canyon, the Pacific Ocean, Gettysburg – even the concrete dinosaur park overlooking Rapid City, S.D.!
Here’s what kids – and most adults – don’t realize: The family road trip is brought to you by energy. Sure, energy gets the family vehicle – ours was a ‘66 Ford wagon with the nifty two-way tailgate – from house to destination. More energy is used at the restaurants, hotels and motels. Still more energy (in the form of electricity, often generated from natural gas) powers amusement parks and other attractions. Even the typical items you pack for vacation, from flip-flops to your favorite Hawaiian swim trunks, are derived from refined petroleum products.
With an improving economy and household savings from more affordable energy generally, more families can afford to hit the road. Indeed, according to American Express, the average vacation cost will be lower this year than last – $1,005 per person vs. $1,246.
There’s a number of factors there. Gasoline prices are lower than in years past. The national average is now $2.04 a gallon, 39 cents less per gallon than at this time last year.
Those low gasoline prices allowed each licensed American driver to save an average of more than $550 in 2015, according to AAA, more than $115 billion in savings on gasoline last year and prompting a record year for travel.
U.S. households also saved money on heating costs this winter. Almost half of Americans use natural gas for heating purposes, and right now, because of ample supplies and falling global demand, the U.S. is benefiting from some of the cheapest natural gas prices in recent history. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Winter Fuels Outlook, average household expenditures for homes heating primarily with natural gas will total $578 this winter, a $64 decline from the 2014-2015 winter average.
Let’s assume that this year, you’ve taken those household savings and decided to take your family to the No. 1 Spring Break Destination for 2016. No, it’s not Wally World (sorry, Clark Griswold). It’s Orlando, Fla.
Famous for having seven of the world's top theme parks, Orlando has grown to offer even more, from fine dining and outdoor adventures to festivals and weather fit for waterparks. No wonder more than 62 million people visited Orlando in 2014, setting a new record for tourism in the United States.
It take lots of energy to amuse that many folks. For Walt Disney World alone, it takes 60 to 62 megawatts of energy each day to transport and feed approximately 50,000 visitors and 23,000 cast members, operate more than 15,000 hotel rooms and wash 69 tons of laundry.
Then there’s the electricity to keep the lights on, power park-wide entertainment and security control systems, and run the rides (including pumps and compressors for water rides, which are generally the biggest energy users). There’s natural gas for the cooking, heating and pyrotechnics (which also use propane) and diesel and gas for maintenance and construction trucks, as well as the trucks that bring in and move supplies around.
Even the trains, boats and buses that carry customers around amusement parks run on a variety of diesel and, in the case of Disney’s iconic Magic Kingdom train, biodiesel made from their restaurant’s leftover grease (much to the dismay of guests who miss the smell of diesel.)
So this Spring Break, enjoy filling up the car with $2 gas. And pack for your dream vacation – in Orlando or wherever you might go – making sure to pack plenty of sunscreen, Band-Aids, water bottles, rain ponchos, coolers—all of them items that are derived from petroleum. Enjoy amusement park rides that let you vaporize aliens with laser guns from a spinning car, careen through the Himalayan Mountains on a speeding train and dodge fire-breathing dragons.
While you’re at it, making irreplaceable family memories, remember the abundant American energy that’s behind it all.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.