Drivers don't let gas prices stall holiday trips

Sunday, May 27, 2007
Vickie Steiner, and her husband, Del, and her son, Nathan, set up a tent Friday at Punderson State Park in Newbury, Ohio. The Steiners usually drive two hours away on this holiday weekend, but because of the gas prices they decided to stay closer to home. They live about 30 minutes away in Garretsville, Ohio. (TONY DEJAK ~ Associated Press)

CALABASAS, Calif. -- Like many holiday travelers, Ron Evenhaim isn't going to let rising gasoline prices curtail his plans for a weekend getaway.

Evenhaim rented a 40-foot diesel RV to take his family of five on the 300-mile round trip from his home in suburban Los Angeles to Lake Isabella in the Tehachapi Mountains.

"That's 30 gallons," he said, using the vehicle's average mileage of 8 to 10 mpg.

"Even if gas prices go up $1, that's an extra $30. You buy the kids a sandwich halfway and you've spent more," he said.

Americans are expected to do slightly more driving this Memorial Day weekend than they did last year. But the near-record gas prices are prompting some travelers to take shorter trips and economize in other ways.

About 38 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more this weekend, a 1.7 percent increase from last year's holiday, according to the AAA. About 83 percent of them will drive, with the remainder taking airplanes, trains or other transportation.

An AP-Ipsos poll showed that nearly half the country says gas prices are causing a "serious hardship," but fewer people than last year are reducing their driving, trimming other expenses or curtailing vacation plans due to higher energy costs.

Holiday travelers will find gas prices nationwide averaging $3.04 a gallon for self-serve regular, according to AAA. That's up 25 cents from last month and more than 15 cents from the same time last year.

Hotel rates are also up about 13 percent from last year, the association found, but flights and car rentals are expected to be a bit cheaper.

Vacationers seem resigned to current gas prices and confident that, as in previous years, prices will drop after the traditional start of the summer driving season.

At a Marathon station just south of Chicago's downtown, there was a steady stream of customers where regular gas cost $3.79 a gallon.

George Blakemore, 65, of Chicago, was gearing up to drive more than 1,000 miles to attend a wedding in Florida.

He said because he would spend so much on gas, the family packed snacks and lunches to save money.

"We are limited in our budget," he said. "We are not able to spend as much at convenience stores or buy souvenirs."

At a Citgo station along the Florida Turnpike in Miami, regular gas was selling for $3.21 a gallon.

At one pump, 29-year-old David Cook of Hollywood, Fla., and his younger brother, Danny, made a quick stop for gas and snacks before the four-hour drive to Key West to meet friends for a bachelor party weekend.

"Sure the price of gas here is a little high, but compared to other cities I've heard, it's not that bad," David Cook said as he filled up his Honda Civic.

Matt Reveley, a 23-year-old chemical company engineer from Cambridge, Mass., paid $3.09 per gallon to fill up his Toyota at a Mobil station in Cambridge as he looked forward to sharing a ride with a friend for a weekend getaway to Maine.

Reveley said he's carpooling mainly for convenience, and to avoid spending too much time behind the wheel.

"The gas prices are really not going to affect my plans that much," he said.

But he does feel the effect of higher gas prices when he makes his daily commute.

"I drive to work, and when it gets to $3 a gallon, it's kind of a big deal," he said. "I've got to drive."

In California, several RV rental agencies reported brisk business.

Martin Onken, owner of Expedition Motor Homes in Calabasas, said his business is up 12 percent from last year's Memorial Day weekend. But people are renting the hotels on wheels for 10 percent fewer days and traveling 12 percent fewer miles.

"People are asking me, 'Where can I go that's close?"' Onken said. "We have a lot of people who would normally drive the 1,200 miles round-trip to the Redwoods who want to go to Santa Barbara or Yosemite instead."

In Miami, Carlos and Stephanie Mendez started their holiday weekend early by taking their two children to see Mickey Mouse in Orlando. They seemed unfazed by gas prices.

"Well, this trip was planned for a long time, but we didn't plan on spending a lot on gas," Stephanie said. "But what are you going to do? Enjoy your weekend vacation or stay home? We decided to enjoy our weekend."

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