More trips expected for Memorial Day, even with high gas prices

CHICAGO (AP) — To drive or not to drive? This Memorial Day weekend, with rising gas prices redefining pain at the pump, that’s the question for many Americans as a new surge of COVID-19 sweeps across the country as well. the country.

For Marvin Harper of Phoenix, his family’s weekend travel plans are a one-two punch to the wallet. His son and his college-age daughter each have a soccer tournament in Southern California and Colorado, respectively. He and his daughter will fly to Denver, instead of driving, due to the cost of fuel, while his wife and his son will go to California in their truck.

“My mother-in-law goes with my wife and son to split that cost because it’s too much for our household,” said Harper, as he filled his truck on a Phoenix QuikTrip. “We can’t afford to both drive. That’s the bottom line… Gas prices are killing our home.”

For some, that’s exactly what prompted them to rethink their vacation plans, making them opt for a stay in their backyard to limit the damage to their wallets.

Laura Dena and her children used to go to Southern California around Memorial Day weekend to escape the scorching Arizona heat. This year, since it takes at least $100 to fill up their truck, they will stay home.

“It’s really frustrating,” Dena said as she waited in line in 90-degree heat for a bomb at a Costco in Phoenix. “It’s annoying, but there’s not much we can do. We have to pay the price.”

The average price of gasoline in the US on Thursday was $4.60 a gallon, according to figures from AAA. In California, it was over $6. The high price of oil, largely because many buyers are refusing to buy Russian oil due to the invasion of Ukraine, is the main cause of high gasoline prices.

Americans aren’t the only ones weighing their options as the summer travel season kicks off. In the 27 countries of the European Union, gasoline has risen 40% from a year ago, to the equivalent of $8.40 a gallon.

The price increase in the US coincides with a COVID-19 surge that has led to case counts that are as high as they have been since mid-February, and those numbers are likely underestimates due to unreported positive home test results and asymptomatic infections. .

Still, 2 1/2 years of pandemic life has plenty of people hitting the road or taking to the skies, despite the surge. AAA estimates that 39.2 million people in the US will travel 50 miles (80 kilometers) or more from their homes over the holiday weekend.

Those projections, which include travel by car, plane and other modes of transportation such as trains or cruise ships, are up 8.3% from 2021 and would bring Memorial Day travel volumes closer to 2017 levels. Estimates are yet to come. below pre-pandemic levels of 2019, a peak year for travel.

About 88% of those 39.2 million travelers, a record number, are expected to drive over the long weekend, even as gas prices remain high, according to AAA spokesman Andrew Gross.

In California, despite having the highest gas prices in the country, the state’s nonprofit tourism agency is also forecasting a busy summer for the Golden State, beginning this weekend.

Ryan Becker, a spokesman for Visit California, said his agency is seeing a lot of “pent-up demand” due to the pandemic: “I want to go out, I want to travel. I had to call off my anniversary trip, I had to call off my 40th birthday trip.”

Outdoorsy, an online rental marketplace for RVs and campers, has noticed that its renters have changed their plans during the course of the pandemic. In the beginning, people would rent an RV to travel safely across the country to visit family. Now, they have returned to using recreational vehicles as a profitable way to spend a vacation in contact with nature.

“I think everyone needs a vacation, I really do,” said Outdoorsy co-founder Jen Young. “Have we ever experienced a more stressful and challenging time, mentally, physically and spiritually, in our lives?”

Others shrug off the stress of additional travel costs because it’s out of their control. At a Chevron station in the Glassell Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, Ricardo Estrada tried to guess how much the $6.49-per-gallon price for his Nissan work truck would cost him in total.

“I’ll go with $60 to $70,” the HVAC technician speculated, watching the screen as the price went up and up.

Estrada, who couldn’t guess when the pump clocked in at $71.61 for 11 gallons of regular grade, has been forced to raise his business rates to get customers to beat gas prices. He will be working over the holiday weekend, but has a vacation planned for Arizona next month.

It’s flying, but only for convenience, not cost.

But with airline ticket prices rising — AAA found that the average lowest airfare for this weekend is 6% higher than last year — it’s not a safe bet, either.

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