From a marketing standpoint, South Carolina would seem to have it all in terms of drivable vacations when school's out: sun, surf, mountains, history, low fuel costs.
But based on one recent report, the state's bargain gas and lodging prices and multitude of attractions are more than trumped by worrisome traffic and safety conditions and a hot and humid climate.
Washington, D.C.-based financial information website WalletHub, which compiles comparative lists as part of its research, ranked South Carolina 36th in its "Best and Worst States for Summer Road Trips" survey released in late June. Oregon was judged the best summer road trip state, and Mississippi ranked last.
"Using 21 key metrics, WalletHub compared each of the 50 states to determine which state offers the most enjoyment and the least damage to one's wallet," said Raz Daraban, communications manager.
Also as part of the survey, a panel of five professionals - in this case including a University of South Carolina tourism professor - remarked on pertinent summer road trip questions.
The WalletHub research findings were grouped into four categories: driving and accommodations costs, traffic conditions and safety, weather conditions and fun and scenic attractions.
"In our study, we considered various conditions that can affect travelers on the road," Daraban said. "By doing so, road-trip vacationers can budget accordingly and experience quality destinations without breaking the bank."
South Carolina scored high in scenic attractions, 11th, and driving costs, 12th. Notably, the researcher listed the Palmetto state as posting the lowest average gas prices in the country, besting Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee in the top five.
But the state tumbled to a 44th place ranking in summer climate and 49th - topping only Oklahoma - in road safety. Glaringly, the website cited among "key stats" that Massachusetts has three times fewer fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled than West Virginia and South Carolina.
WalletHub said it conducted the road trip survey in the summer because it's a popular travel time and gas prices often are on the upswing.
"During hotter months, traveling and gas prices tend to climb and peak in August. But that hasn't stopped Americans from enjoying their road trips. Domestic and international travelers spent $621.4 billion on leisure travel in 2013. And in the previous year, nearly eight in 10, or 79 percent, of all domestic leisure trips were by car," according to WalletHub. "Now, they're at it again: 40 percent more Americans plan to take several summer vacations this year compared with 2013, and many of them will be on the road."
Fang Meng, assistant professor of tourism and economic development in the School of Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management at USC, was among the "experts" who responded to questions posted on the website.
Concerning the number one threat summer-road-trip travelers are facing, Meng replied, "Cost (high prices of gasoline) and safety (get to your destination safely)."
She offered these tips on reducing costs related to summer road trips: "Plan your budget carefully; choose your destination according to your budget and make a detailed en-route plan; search the best deals on lodging, meals and attractions and make reservations before you hit the road; pre-check your vehicle to make sure it runs efficiently, or rent a gas-efficient vehicle; (and) try to find the best price for gas on the road using websites or apps."
Also, questioned about what local officials should do to enhance road safety during the summer season, Meng said, "Make the transportation information easily accessible for summer road trip travelers, for example, road construction and real-time traffic information; (and) provide detailed information of local lodgings, restaurants, attractions in welcome centers, CVBs (convention and visitors bureaus) and tourism offices."
At least for frugal motorists, economic factors are critical in mapping out a summer vacation plan, WalletHub said.
"School's out, the weather's warm and the possibilities are endless," the website noted. "The only dilemma is deciding on a destination. For the financially conscious, their budgets will make the call."
Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SUMMER ROAD TRIP RANKINGS
Average gas prices:
-Lowest - South Carolina
-Highest - Hawaii
Price of camping:
-Lowest - Arizona
-Highest - Connecticut
Car thefts per capita:
-Least - Vermont
-Most - California
Weather conditions July-August:
-Best - Montana
-Worst - Alabama
National park units per sq. mile:
-Most - Massachusetts
-Least - Illinois
Number of scenic byways:
-Highest - California
-Lowest - Connecticut, Delaware