Getting Away Despite the Gas Prices

It costs more to fill up the gas tank, but that's not stopping millions of Americans from planning to drive this coming Memorial Day weekend.

According to the AAA, 32.1 million travelers will get in their cars and travel more than 50 miles over the weekend, up nearly 2 percent from last year.

"Higher gas prices and increased vacation costs won't deter Americans from traveling," said Sandra Hughes, a vice president with AAA Travel in a statement announcing the results of the travel organization's annual survey.

Pump prices above $3, however, will influence just how far people go.

"Families will travel closer to home. They will travel for fewer days, and they will save money by staying in less-expensive hotels and eating in cheaper restaurants, but they will continue to take vacations," said Hughes.

The last weekend in May also marks the traditional kickoff to the summer vacation season, and travel experts expect it to be a busy one.

The Travel Industry Association estimates that leisure travel will be up 1.4 percent compared with last year, with Americans taking nearly 330 million trips from June to August. The TIA describes a trip as one person traveling more than 50 miles, one way.

"We expect this summer to be more positive than the last two summers," said Suzanne Cook, senior vice president for research at the Washington, D.C.-based group. "We believe domestic travel will remain on solid footing throughout the season."

While Cook agreed that for those driving to a vacation destination, whether to visit friends and family or to sightsee, higher gasoline prices will modify how far and how much people spend. But, she said, this won't inspire people to stay at home.

"We don't sense a degree of panic or angst among consumers that we have sensed in the past," she said.

One possible explanation is that Americans have become accustomed to paying $3 a gallon for gasoline.

For the summer, the government's Energy Information Administration forecasts that gasoline prices will average $2.95 a gallon, up $.11 from last year.

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