MIAMI VALLEY — Birds fly south for the winter, but with gas prices holding steady at less than $3 a gallon, many travelers are heading in that direction for the summer.
“The direction people are going is generally south,” said Cindy Antrican, AAA public affairs manager. “Beaches are always popular with Ohioans — Myrtle Beach, Sarasota, Clearwater, Hilton Head … the Florida and South Carolina beaches, as well as Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.”
Westward is also a popular direction, with this year being the centennial of the national parks, Antrican added.
Antrican said the summer has seen “record-breaking travel” and gas prices are a key contributing factor to people hitting the road even before the season officially began.
“People are traveling with an enthusiasm we haven’t seen in a long time. We were seeing, at the first of May, summer-level demand and school wasn’t even out yet,” she said. “For Memorial Day, 38 million people were expected to travel and 90 percent of those went by car.
“The Fourth of July, our most recent travel period, was the highest on record, with nearly 2 million traveling by car and $20 billion saved on gas this year compared to the same period last year. Gas prices are really helping.”
The economic recession of the early 2000’s and the accompanying high gas prices brought a slump in road travel, especially long-distance trips, but folks are getting back into the swing of taking longer journeys.
“People still do the weekend getaways, but many are doing them in connection with their longer family vacations,” Antrican explained.
“Those family vacations are precious times when we put away the distractions and really prioritize that family time. To Americans, it’s really important.”
Ohio is in one of the nation’s lower tiers for gas prices, Antrican noted. Heading into the weekend, the state average was $2.19 per gallon for regular fuel, with the national average at $2.22, according to the AAA website, which features a map of prices across the U.S., as well as a gas cost calculator for trip planning.
“(In the calculator), you can plug in information to find out how much your trip will cost. It takes into account where you’re going, the type of vehicle you’re driving — year, make and model, as well as gas prices along the way,” Antrican said.
AAA also offers a smartphone app for Android and iPhone that will show travelers various attractions and points of interest along their routes, as well as businesses and other services they might need.
“Let’s say everybody’s getting hungry and this week, your 3-year-old is only eating chicken nuggets … you can see the menu of whatever restaurants are on the way,” Antrican said with a laugh.
The app also allows AAA members to view the amenities offered at area hotels, as well as prices, specials and discounts.
“What a lot of people don’t know, though, is that you don’t have to be a member to get on the website to do your routing,” Antrican said. “You can still get online to see how far you’ll be traveling and get maps of your trip.”
To view state and national gas prices, as well as the gas cost calculator, visit gasprices.aaa.com.
Reach Belinda M. Paschal at (937) 451-3341