Record Travel Expected Over July 4 Weekend

An estimated 40.3 million Americans are hitting the road, rails and skies over this holiday weekend. The AAA (search) says this will be the busiest three-day weekend of travel ever in the U.S., up from the previous record of an estimated 39.4 million last Fourth of July weekend.

The estimated 33.9 million people traveling by car are paying an average of $2.23 a gallon for regular unleaded, 31 cents more than last year and 73 cents more than two years ago, AAA spokesman Justin McNaull said.

For a family trip of about 500 miles, that works out to about $6 more than last year — just more than the cost of a value meal at McDonald's.

And that's not the only thing that costs more. Car rental rates are 12.8 percent higher than last year, according to AAA's Leisure Travel Index (search).

Airfares were up 4.1 percent in May from a year earlier, the latest data available, according to the Travel Industry Association of America (search). Just last week, major airlines raised U.S. fares by up to $10 per round-trip, citing oil prices that have hit $60 a barrel.

The average national hotel rate in June was $90.40 a night, up 5.3 percent from $85.87 a year ago, according to Smith Travel Research.

To afford travel, many people are cutting back on spending on extras like souvenirs and dining out, or staying with family to avoid hotel bills, AAA Auto Club South spokesman Gregg Laskoski said.

"They're going to go and take their trip regardless of the price of gasoline," he said.

Travelers were also dealing with long lines at airports. Major airports in Chicago, Baltimore, Dallas, New York and Philadelphia were experiencing weather and traffic delays of up to an hour or more Friday, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the nation's busiest, 1.4 million travelers are expected to pass through for Fourth of July weekend. Before noon Friday, the tally hit 295,000 travelers, airport spokeswoman Charisma Cannon said.

"It's been a little more stressful than usual because it's tiring, the long lines and delays all add up," said Olu Amudipe, who was traveling to Charlotte, N.C.

Like millions of Americans, Javier R. Rodriguez faces the rising cost of filling up his tank on the Fourth of July weekend. But high gas prices aren't stopping him taking a 250-mile roundtrip to visit relatives in Naples.

"I won't put the air on, just have the windows open, that way I save a little gas," the 40-year-old Miami salesman said Friday. He spent $30.30 to gas up his Nissan Altima with regular unleaded for $2.25 a gallon.

But Dana Settles is curtailing her travel in a big way. Instead of heading to the Colorado Rockies for the Fourth of July weekend, the retired tour bus driver arrived early at Chatfield State Park in Littleton, Colo.

It was a short, 2 1/2-gallon drive from her home in Arvada, Colo. — a far cry from her recent trip to Montrose in southwestern Colorado that set her back more than $100.

"I go as close to home as I can now. They really gouge you," Settles said.