Expect more travel on Memorial Day, despite higher gas prices

Los Angeles (AFP) – Are you driving or not? This Memorial Day weekend, with soaring gas prices redefining pain at the pump, that is the question for many Americans as the outbreak of the new COVID-19 spreads across the country.

For Marvin Harper, of Phoenix, his family’s weekend travel plans are a double whammy for the wallet. His college-aged son and daughter both play championship football in Southern California and Colorado, respectively. He and his daughter will travel to Denver, rather than drive, due to the cost of fuel, while his wife and son will go to California in her SUV.

“My mother-in-law is going with my wife and son to split this cost because it’s so much on our family,” Harper said, while filling the tank of his truck at the Phoenix QuikTrip. “We can’t afford to drive. That’s the bottom line… Gas prices are killing our family.”

For some, this is exactly what has prompted them to rethink their vacation plans, making them choose to reside in their own backyard to limit the damage to their wallets.

Laura Dina and her sons usually went to Southern California on Memorial Day weekend to escape the scorching Arizona heat. This year, because it takes at least $100 to fill her truck, they’re staying home.

“It’s really frustrating,” said Dina while waiting in line in the 90-degree heat for a pump at Costco in Phoenix. “It is annoying, but there is not much we can do. We have to pay the price.”

The average price of gas in the United States on Thursday was $4.60 a gallon, according to AAA figures. In California, it’s over $6. High oil prices – largely because many buyers are refusing to buy Russian oil due to its invasion of Ukraine – is the main reason for high gasoline prices.

The price hike coincides with a spike in COVID-19 which has seen the number of cases rise as it has been since mid-February, likely understated due to unreported positive home test results and asymptomatic infections.

However, two and a half years of epidemic life has caused many people to hit the road or take to the skies, despite the sudden increase. AAA estimates that 39.2 million people in the United States will travel 50 miles (80 kilometers) or more from home over the weekend.

These forecasts – which include travel by car, plane and other modes of transportation such as trains or cruise ships – are up 8.3% from 2021 and will bring Memorial Day travel volumes close to 2017 levels. The estimates are still below pre-pandemic levels for 2019, a year Peak to travel.

About 88% of those 39.2 million passengers — a record — are expected to go by car over the long weekend even as gas prices continue to rise, according to AAA spokesman Andrew Gross.

In California — despite being home to the highest gas prices in the country — the state’s nonprofit tourism agency is also predicting a busy summer in the Golden State, beginning this weekend.

Ryan Baker, a spokesperson 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 postpone my anniversary trip, I had to postpone my 40th birthday trip.”

Outdoorsy, an online rental marketplace for RVs and campers, has noted that its tenants have changed their plans over the course of the pandemic. Early on, people would rent an RV to travel across the country safely to visit family. Now, they’re back to using RVs as a cost-effective way to take a nature-related vacation.

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

Others ignore the pressures of additional travel costs because it is beyond their control. At a Chevron station in the Glassell Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, Ricardo Estrada tried to guess how much $6.49 a gallon would cost for his Nissan work car.

“I’ll go with $60 to $70,” the heating and air conditioning technician speculated, eyeing the screen as prices rose.

Estrada—who just lost his guess when the pump clocked in at $71.61 for 11 gallons of regular grade—has been forced to raise his business fees for customers to beat gas prices. He’ll be working over the weekend but has a vacation planned in Arizona next month.

It flies, but only because of convenience, not cost.

But with airfares on the rise, too — AAA found the average lowest airfare this weekend was 6% higher than last year — that’s not a sure bet either.

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Tang reported from Phoenix. Video journalist from Associated Press Terry Shea in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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