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3.5 million Californians expected to hit roads this weekend

POSTED May 21, 2012 6:20 p.m.

Only 33 drivers will race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this Memorial Day weekend.

But over 3.5 million California drivers will hit local roads, highways, and byways this coming weekend – one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

In total, 4.2 million Californians plan on travelling 50 miles or more this weekend, per AAA Northern California’s newest travel survey. That’s up 1.5 percent from last year, despite increasing travel costs and a still-shaky economy.

“High debt burdens, gasoline prices, and uncertainties regarding the strength of the current economic recovery have not deterred Californians from holiday travel,” said AAA Northern California spokesperson Cynthia Harris. “But many consumers intend to cut back on the distance they travel, as well on entertainment expenses, to compensate for reduced travel budgets. Others will be opting for backyard barbeques, a staple of this three-day holiday weekend.”

AAA’s research found that gas prices will have no effect on travel plans for 53 percent of travelers. But about 34 percent of travelers will look to save money elsewhere, by spending less on entertainment, staying at less expensive hotels, or staying with family and friends.

Hotel rates have increased from a year ago, AAA says, up 8 percent for Three Diamond lodgings to $160 per night. Those renting cars to reach their destination will pay less than in 2011, down $2 to $36 per day.

A decrease in air fares is projected as well, down 7 percent for the over 390,000 Californians expected to fly this weekend. The average lowest round-trip rate for top 40 U.S. air routes stands at $189. The price decrease corresponds with decreasing demand; 5.2 percent fewer Californians will travel by air in 2012 than in 2011.

An average West Coast family of four will spend about $800 this weekend, travelling approximately 750 miles.

Most surveyed families said they would visit family and friends, dine out, and hit the beach this weekend. Other popular vacation destinations include museums, historical sites, and national or state parks.

Nationwide 34 million people will travel 50 miles or more this weekend, up 1.2 percent from a year ago.

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