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Americans plan to hit the roads

The nation’s 236th birthday is two weeks away, and it appears a record number of Americans will be celebrating it on the road.

AAA Travel, which keeps up with people’s travel plans, is reporting that 42.3 million Americans expect to travel at least 50 miles from home over the long Independence Day holiday weekend, which runs July 3-8.

That number is significant in that not only is it a nearly 5 percent increase over the 40.3 million who traveled 50 miles or more on last year’s Independence Day weekend, the volume of travel should at least tie 2007, which was the heaviest traveled Fourth of July holiday in the previous decade — months before the Great Recession “officially” hit. Plus, it’s a 42 percent increase over that decade’s least-traveled year, 2009, when the gloomy period had taken a firm hold of the nation and world.

“While economic growth remains weak across the globe, Americans are still determined to travel and that is evident by the rebound in Independence Day travel reaching the past decade’s peak in 2007,” Brent Hubele, vice president of AAA Travel, The Auto Club Group, said. “Economizing is still a major factor in summer vacations, which is why we expect a continued increase in other modes of travel such as cruise, tour, rail and bus. AAA has seen an increase in travelers searching for value vacations like cruises which offer all-inclusive travel opportunities.”

The auto club predicts that 982,574 Georgians, up 4 percent from last year, will be on the roads, while 87,616, up 9.8 percent, will fly. Another 76,425 will take a cruise or travel by bus or train, giving the state an expected 1.1 million travelers over the Fourth of July holidays, an increase of 4.8 percent over last year.

Our neighbors to the south will nearly double that number, with the projected 2.1 million travelers representing a 4.9 percent increase year-over-year for Florida.

AAA says the national breakdown is 35.5 million people traveling by automobile this year, a 4 percent jump from last year’s 34.1 million. At 3.2 million, about 9 percent more travelers will fly than last year, a third consecutive year of holiday air travel increasing in volume.

Part of the travel bump likely comes from gas pump prices going down in recent weeks, though we’d be hard pressed to call gas that exceeds $3 a gallon a bargain. Last year in early July, motorists nationally were paying an average of $3.56 per gallon for regular grade, which was at $3.49 on Tuesday. In Georgia, the prices are even better. On Tuesday, Albany was averaging slightly more than $3.19 per gallon, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report, down from more than $3.42 a month ago and $3.47 a year ago. Statewide, the average Tuesday was a little more than $3.26.

But while travelers are getting somewhat of a break on fuel and plan to travel a bit further on average than last year, they’re also planning to be tighter with their wallets. AAA said the median expected spending will be $749, down 7 percent from the $807 that Independence Day travelers intended to spend in 2011. That, AAA officials say, means more hanging out with relatives and sightseeing and less spending on shopping and entertainment.

But it seems that even with the problems of the economy lingering, the travel bug is biting hard.