Vacations sputter despite cheaper gas
As Americans prune their expenses because of the relentless recession, the family vacation is taking a hit.
The Associated Press
When gas prices hit $4 a gallon last summer, Joyce and Ricky Eagle, of Warrenton, Va., simply padded their travel budget a little before tooling around the Midwest in their motor home.
This year, gas is considerably cheaper. But the Eagles' 36-foot Holiday Rambler will stay in the driveway. The reason? The software company Ricky works for sliced 20 percent off his paycheck.
"That's cut us way back," Joyce said. The couple bagged plans to fan out this summer with trips to Pennsylvania Dutch country and Myrtle Beach, S.C.
As Americans prune their expenses because of the relentless recession, the family vacation is taking a hit. A third of those surveyed in an AP-Gfk Poll released Monday said they had already canceled at least one trip this year because of money.
IHS Global Insight, which studies travel habits for AAA, expects Americans to take 20 million fewer trips from April to September and spend $30.3 billion less than last year. And those trips are likely to be shorter.
"If you live in the West, you'll go to the Rockies, but you won't go to New England," said Mark Sedenquist, publisher of roadtripamerica.com, where travelers share tips about how to get the most out of their vacations.
Fewer and shorter vacations will hurt the economy. Summer travelers are the lifeblood of countless hotels, restaurants, amusement parks, campgrounds and every touristy spot in between.
The pullback is expected even though travel will be cheaper. The average price of a gallon of gas in the United States was $2.25 a gallon Tuesday, well below the $3.71 mark at this time last year. The average price in Washington state was $2.48, according to AAA.
And hotels were cheaper early this year compared with last year: 34 percent cheaper in Las Vegas, 22 percent in New York, 16 percent in San Diego and 14 percent in Orlando, Fla., according to Bellevue-based Expedia.
In all, a seven-day road trip from Philadelphia to Orlando and back is expected to cost $272 less than last year.
Of course, it's not easy staying home. Every summer, Joyce Eagle stuffs the Rambler's refrigerator with taco meat, corn casseroles and milk before setting out to roam the countryside.
The plush, wood-paneled ride guzzles a gallon of gas every eight miles or so, but it's worth it, she said. The couple might save a few hundred dollars if they went by car, but they'd have to pay for hotels and restaurants. It just wouldn't be the same.
"That's the one thing that's enjoyment for us, just getting out and enjoying the RV," she said.
Alaskan Sarah Puffer, 23, also felt the pinch this year but she said she's still determined to have a summer adventure.
Instead of a monthlong meander through a dozen states, the teacher said she and two friends will pile into her dad's Ford Focus and dash around the country, hoping to cover the same territory in half the time.
"We really want to get out there and see just everything," she said. "Because of the bad economy, we don't know if everything is possible."
As for the Eagles, Ricky said he plans to spend the summer in his wood shop, building coffee tables and other furniture fit for the interior of his RV.
"Of course, I'd rather be out on the road," he said. "But I'm just apprehensive about my job and the viability of the company that I work for. Obviously, that tempers a lot of the excitement you feel when you think of summer."
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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