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Surveys: Gas prices won't stop summer travel

Despite soaring gas prices, Memorial Day and summer travel is expected to increase.
Summer Trips
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(CNN) -- Skyrocketing gas prices aren't putting the brakes on Americans' Memorial Day weekend and summer travel plans, according to new surveys from industry experts, but road trips may be shorter than usual.

The AAA reports nearly 37 million will vacation the holiday weekend, a 3.6 percent increase from last year. In a separate survey, the Travel Industry Association of America found that summer travel in general is expected to increase 3.2 percent this year.

"Record high gas prices won't keep Americans from traveling this holiday," Sandra Hughes, AAA's vice president, said in a statement. "Despite gas prices that are nearly 50 cents per gallon higher than they were a year ago, record numbers of travelers will hit the highways."

As a way to economize, Hughes said, Americans are planning shorter stays, traveling closer to home and driving more fuel-efficient vehicles for their road trips.

About 84 percent of vacationers plan to take to the roads over Memorial Day, which unofficially kicks off the summer season. That represents a 3.4 percent jump over the 29.9 million who drove last year.

"For the first time in years, the summer travel season will start off with a bang and we expect it to stay strong through August," said Dr. Suzanne Cook, senior vice president of research at TIA.

This summer, Americans are staying closer to home and visiting more rural destinations, trends that have remained consistent since the September 11, 2001, attacks, according to the TIA survey. Visiting friends and relatives remains the most popular summer trip, followed by beach or lake vacations.

Beaches top the list for Memorial Day, with an estimated 24 percent heading to the water, while small towns, mountains, state and national parks and amusement parks round out the most popular holiday destinations.

Traveling this spring and summer will be more expensive than in years' past. The TIA reports that Americans will spend an average of $1,101 on their longest summer trip, usually about seven or eight nights. That's more than 4 percent over last year's spending.

And Americans aren't avoiding paying more than $2 per gallon at the gas pump or taking trips to Europe, where the weak dollar makes some destinations more expensive than in the past, reports AAA.

"In the spring of 2003, many travelers delayed making vacation plans due to the Iraq war," said AAA's Hughes. "This year, travelers have largely ignored some higher costs in their desire to return to their traveling ways."

Among the reports' other highlights:

  • More than a quarter of Memorial Day travelers expect to stay with friends and family; 45 percent say they will check into a hotel.
  • Nearly a third intend to go to a theme park this summer, and 26 percent said they would visit a gambling casino.
  • Six percent report that they will make trips alone this summer, but the majority will travel with their spouse or other family members.
  • Florida is the top state Americans would want to visit, followed by California, Hawaii and New York.

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