Summer travelers hit the road despite higher prices for gas and almost everything else

Summer travelers hit the road despite higher prices for gas and almost everything else

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American travelers are expected to hit the open road by the tens of millions this summer, so this is some news they could probably do without: Gas prices, when adjusted for inflation, are expected to average $3.84 a gallon for regular this summer, the highest level since 2014, according to estimates released Tuesday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, an independent research organization. 

Prices like that, combined with the highest level of inflation in more than 40 years, will keep some travelers off the road and cause others to rethink their plans. But a survey done by AAA in early March, when average gas prices reached record highs, found that of the 52 percent of Americans planning to take a vacation this summer, 42 percent said they would not consider changing their travel plans regardless of the price of gas.

Juliette Coulter would have liked to be in that 42 percent. She hasn’t seen her parents, who are in their 80s, or her extended family for more than three years. There will be a big family reunion in July in Lake Tahoe, California. Coulter is not going to miss it, but some of her plans have changed. 

“We talked about driving to the reunion from here in Dallas and stopping along the way at the Grand Canyon. But then gas prices just started going higher,” she said. “With the gas, the hotels and the meals there and back, we figured out it would be less expensive overall for our family of five to fly.” 

Airfares on her route have gone up, too. But she was able to use frequent flyer points for some of the tickets, and she bought the rest. 

“I guess the Grand Canyon will have to wait,” she said.

Some things can’t wait. Charles Jaferian will be a high school senior in the fall, and he has decisions to make about college. He and his father, Warren Jaferian, a dean at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts, had plans to visit 19 schools over spring break and the summer. Now they will be making some of those visits online, and some without Charles Jaferian’s mother, due to the rising cost of travel. 

After driving 800 miles to see eight schools in Pennsylvania during spring break, “it became apparent that we needed to curtail our travels and rethink our travel plans accordingly, given high gas prices, distances between prospective universities and higher prices for all associated hotel, dining and other costs,” Warren Jaferian said. “A virtual visit is good, but it’s just not the same as seeing a campus in person and being able to ‘see’ yourself there.” 

Cities and states would like travelers to be able to “see themselves” in their towns, too. Many have instituted or are considering gas tax holidays to keep drivers coming. Lawmakers in more than 20 states have introduced legislation that would put a pause on gas taxes or temporarily reduce tax rates, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

Drivers could save an average of $4 every time they fill their gas tanks as a result of the pauses, an NBC News analysis of the state proposals showed. 

That could pay off for someone like Gary Whitehead, who spends a lot of time at the gas station. Since 2020, Whitehead has been traveling the country in a Toyota Tundra with an 18-foot trailer hitched to the back. Without the trailer, the Tundra gets 15 miles to the gallon; with the trailer, it gets less than 9 mpg. 

Whitehead is about to head up the California coast to the Pacific Northwest. 

“I’m spending more time planning and using various applications to find gas, camping spots, and more direct routes,” he said in an email sent during a stop at a campsite with limited cell phone service. “I just checked gas prices in Santa Maria, and they are $5.70 a gallon there now. Blah!”

Of course, there are ways to eliminate the sting of high gas prices: Drive something that doesn’t take gas.

Some rental car companies have hybrids and electric vehicles in their fleets. But they’re tough to get ahold of, “and they’re renting at a premium of well over $100 or $120 a day when a normal vehicle is $40 or $60 a day,” said Tyson Jominy, vice president of data and analytics at J.D. Power. “The average American pays about $50 more a month every time gas goes up by $1 per gallon. As painful as that is, you’d have to drive a lot each day to make (renting) economically feasible.” 

Harriet Baskas

Harriet Baskas is an NBC News contributor who writes about travel and the arts.

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