Holiday travel is expected to increase during the July 4 period compared with last year, but the mid-week holiday is likely to result in more spread-out travel plans that could ease congestion. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the fuel bill for road trips should be smaller, though gasoline is still far from cheap.
The travel-services group AAA estimates 42.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the coming holiday weekend, a 4.9% jump from last year. The projected travel volume will match the high point of the past decade, which occurred in 2007, and marks an increase of nearly 42% from 2009.
Road trippers will recall that the July 4 period was near the peak of a spike in gasoline prices in 2008, and many still-shell-shocked motorists stayed close to home in 2009. AAA defines the Independence Day travel period as July 3 to July 8.
Because July 4 is Wednesday, the usual five-day travel period grows to six days and gives people the option of including a weekend and two week days either before or after the actual holiday. AAA asked prospective travelers about their planned departure day, and 54% said they expected to begin their trip before the start of the week that includes July 4.
Lower fuel prices are helping to drive travel volume. The average price of regular gas in the U.S. is $3.44, almost 14 cents lower than last year and about 50 cents below the recent peak in April.
“AAA’s projection for a decade high number of Independence Day travelers is being fed by Americans’ appetite for travel, a mid-week holiday and lower gas prices,” said Bill Sutherland, vice president, AAA Travel Services. “This is the second holiday this year where travelers indicated a determination to travel while economizing by actively seeking value-added travel options and activities,” Sutherland said.
Despite continued worries about the economy, more Americans are expected to hit the highway this holiday season.
CNN reported that travel group AAA said Wednesday it expects 91.9 million Americans — about 30% of the population — to travel at least 50 miles from home during the 11-day year-end holiday season. That’s up 1.4% from a year ago and the second highest travel volume in the past ten years.
AAA defines the holiday season as Dec. 23 to Jan. 2. Peak travel volume was hit in the 2006-2007 holiday season, when 93.7 million people traveled.
“It’s a positive sign for the travel industry,” said Bill Sutherland, vice president, AAA Travel Services, in a statement. “As our lives get busier, it is so important to create opportunities for the rest and rejuvenation that result from vacation travel and connecting with family and friends, especially during the holidays.”
The majority — about 91% — of travelers are expecting to hit the roads by automobile, a 2.1% increase from a year ago. That comes in face of high prices at the pump, with gas prices 29 cents higher than a year ago.
On the other hand, air travel is expected to decline slightly, in the wake of an anticipated 21% increase in holiday airfares over last year.
About 5.4 million travelers expect to fly during this year’s holiday period, a 9.7% decline from a year ago, AAA said. That makes this year’s air travel volume the seventh lowest in the past ten years.
AAA found that 59% of people expecting to travel over the holidays feel that the economy has either had no impact on their plans or that it has even improved their financial situation. The remaining 41% said they would be forced to limit their travel plans because of economic worries.
Robert Neal will take to the road this Independence Day holiday the same as millions of other Americans. But there’s a difference in their road-trip ritual this Fourth of July.
The price of gasoline, while down sharply from last year’s peak, means the 74-year-old owner of a motorhome may not venture as far as he has in the past, according to Reuters.
Standing in shorts and sneakers outside his RV at a campground in Grapevine, a lakeside town near Dallas, Neal said he and his wife remained unsure where to go next. “The gas price as it is now, it’s a maybe, maybe,” he said.
RVs like Neal’s double as a vehicle and place to stay, complete with kitchen and bedroom. They are convenient but demand quite a bit of fuel.
The travel and auto group AAA projected last week that U.S. travel over the holiday weekend would drop 1.9% this year compared to 2008, a casualty of higher fuel prices and economic worries.
Approximately 37.1 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home during the holiday weekend, typically the busiest time for auto travel in the United States, the world’s largest energy consumer, down from 37.8 million last year.
Gasoline prices are about a third lower than they were a year ago, but increases at the pump will steer Americans away from road trips, AAA said. Retail prices for regular gasoline averaged nearly $2.63 a gallon today (July 2), about 11% higher than they were around a month ago.
RV parks and road trips are as American as apple pie and are ingrained in a culture where the car remains king.
The country is still recovering from last summer’s shock when pump prices soared past $4 a gallon, crippling the already wounded auto industry and worsening a recession which the economy has yet to escape.
With that shock came opportunities for some.
Retired New York City police officer David Linkletter bought his big RV, parked near Neal’s rig, last year “brand new” from someone who hardly used it and wanted to get rid of it because he couldn’t afford to drive it.
“I got this because of the economy but it was speculative. I wouldn’t drive it last year. I thought we would just drive it nearby,” he said as he prepared to fire up an outside gas grill to cook bacon and eggs on a hot plate for his family.
The subsequent fall in gas prices he said made a trip to Texas affordable, even though he only gets 8 miles to the gallon with his RV. During the trip from New York to north Texas he said he filled up twice each day at $120 a pop.
Fees for a campground remain much cheaper than for a motel which adds to camping’s appeal when times are tough.
“At $20 a night you can’t beat it,” said 20-year-old student David Baker as he sat a picnic table by his tent. He had driven to north Texas from Wichita, Kan.
In Arizona, Dan Karwoski and his partner, Denise Robinson, were planning to drive to Redondo Beach in southern California, to spend the holiday weekend with family.
“We probably would have made this trip anyway, but when the gas prices were elevated, we didn’t drive nearly as much as we do now,” said Karwoski, a senior media specialist for a Tucson software company.
Ken LaRovere, a 52-year-old sales manager for an employee benefits company from the Reno, Nev., area was planning a trip to Donner Lake in California.
“The lower gas prices allowed us to take more trips and do more,” he said.
Green shoots can be seen elsewhere. The number of visitors surged in May at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, a popular wildlife and tourist spot.
After four months of declining or flat visitation, Yellowstone saw a huge uptick in May — an increase of 20.1% to 261,763 visitors compared to May 2008, according to the National Park Service.
“An analysis of past visitation trends also indicates park visitation typically rebounds as the country begins to pull out of an economic downturn,” it said.
There are other signs of Americans sticking close to home.
The Vineyards Campground & Cabins, where Neal and Linkletter were staying, said that in 2007 and 2008 about 10% of its guests were from Grapevine and 71% in both years hailed from Texas.