A survey shows that 42.3 million Americans expect to take to the roadways, skyways and byways this July 4 holiday period—a 4.9 percent increase over travel a year ago.
Due to a mid-week holiday and generally lower gasoline prices nationwide—though not in Idaho—the increase is expected to tie the past decade's high mark set in 2007, prior to the Great Recession. The travel volume is expected to represent a nearly 42 percent increase over that of 2009.
The travel projections are based on economic and forecasting research conducted by IHS Global Insight, a research consulting firm that works jointly with AAA to analyze travel trends during the major holidays.
The Independence Day holiday travel period is defined as Tuesday, July 3, to Sunday, July 8.
Since July 4 falls on a Wednesday, the calendar will place a significant role in driving up holiday travel, helping expand a traditional five-day travel period to six days or more. The mid-week holiday will give travelers the option of including a weekend and two days on either side of July 4.
AAA's travel intender survey found that 54 percent of people planning to travel will begin their Independence Day travel trip prior to the start of the work week that includes July 4.
"We view the projected increase in travel as a positive signal even though it's surrounded by a mixed bag of economic drivers," said AAA Idaho Public Affairs Director Dave Carlson. "Modest improvements in the economy and lower gas prices throughout much of the country can make for a healthier travel season."
Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans
Driven largely by a $25 drop in the price for a barrel of oil, gas prices nationally have tumbled 44 cents a gallon since the first week of April, from $3.94 a gallon to $3.50 currently. The U.S. average price is 15 cents lower than a year ago and down 19 cents in the past month.
But Idaho's average pump price, which trailed the national average price by as much as 43 cents a gallon earlier in the year, has not reacted to dropping oil prices. In fact, Idaho pump prices rose in May and have not dropped below $3.70 since the third week in March. Idaho's average price is down just 5 cents in the past month to a current average of $3.75 a gallon.
That places Idaho's average price sixth highest in the U.S. and 25 cents higher than the national average. It's 6 cents higher than a year ago.
Travel by the numbers
AAA said it expects that 35.5 million people, or 84 percent of the 42.3 million people expected to travel, will do so by automobile. That's a 4 percent increase over the 34.1 million people who drove a year ago.
Slightly more than 3.2 million leisure travelers, representing 8 percent of all holiday travelers, will fly this holiday period, a 9 percent increase over the 2.9 million air travelers in 2011. The longer holiday period and stable airfares are spurring the increase.
The remaining 8 percent of holiday travelers—3.6 million—are expected to use other modes of transportation, including rail, bus and cruise ship. This represents a 10 percent increase over last year and the second highest volume in the past 10 years.
The holiday forecast for the Mountain Region, which includes Idaho, calls for a 4.8 percent increase in travel holiday compared to a year ago, with a 3.6 percent increase in auto travel.
Travel distances up, median spending down
A survey of intended travelers shows the average distance traveled is expected to be 723 miles, up 150 miles from a year ago. Median spending is expected to be $749, a 7 percent decrease compared to the expected median spending of intended holiday travelers ($807) in 2011.