April 29, 2006 — -- It's an American summer tradition: Pack the suitcases, put the kids in the car, and hit the open road.
But not this summer, say the Itkinses of Falls Church, Va. To save money, they are flying to Disney World instead of driving.
"When I was looking up stuff on the Internet and making plans for the trip, gas prices were about $2.40, $2.50 a gallon, and I could see it going up further," said Ellen Itkin.
The Itkin family's travel package, including three round-trip tickets and a two-night hotel stay, cost them $1,065.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimated the same trip by car would have cost them $1,334 -- almost $300 more.
Whether other vacationers will pay less driving or flying for a given vacation depends on a whole host of factors -- the distance, their car's gas mileage and how far in advance they book the flight.
"We don't think these high gas prices are going to stop people from going on vacation," said Mantill Williams, AAA's spokesman. "But I have to say we are heading into uncharted territory. We've never seen gas prices ratchet up this early at this type of rate, and it looks like we are headed toward that record high."
With oil prices driving up inflation, nearly every aspect of travel will be more expensive this summer.
For instance, hotel rates are up 9 percent from last year, according to the AAA. Air fares at their highest rate since mid-2001. Several airlines have tacked fuel surcharges on long flights.
Tourism officials in Aspen, Colo., are so concerned about drop-off in visitor traffic that they're offering free parking, free bicycle rentals and a voucher for $50 worth of free gas.
You won't find the Itkinses driving to Aspen. Aside from their one trip to Orlando, they plan to stay closer to home this summer, keeping the car in the driveway as much as possible.
"I think if gas prices weren't quite as high, we would consider a weekend excursion," David Itkins said. "But because the gas prices are over $3 now, and liable to be $4 by Labor Day, I don't see us doing another beach trip."