PORTLAND, Ore. -

AAA projected Tuesday that 41 million Americans (12.9 percent of the population) will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Independence Day holiday weekend, a 1.9 percent increase from the 40.3 million people who traveled last year and a nearly 14 percent increase compared to the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

The majority of travelers will be hitting the road, with more than eight in 10 (34.8 million) choosing to travel by automobile, the highest level since 2007.  The Independence Day holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday, July 2 to Sunday, July 6.

In the Pacific Region, (AK, CA, HI, OR, WA), Fourth of July travel is expected to increase 1.4 percent, with 6.3 million people or 12.1 percent of the population taking trips. 

“The Fourth of July holiday is usually the busiest travel holiday of the summer.  The kids are out of school and millions of Americans celebrate that freedom with a holiday getaway,” says AAA Oregon/Idaho Public Affairs Director Marie Dodds. 

“This year, a willingness to take on credit card debt, not a boost in income, is driving the increase in consumer spending.  The improving economy and boost in consumer confidence mean Americans are feeling more comfortable taking on debt.”

“Here at AAA Oregon/Idaho, travel bookings are up for the year and we’re seeing quite a bit of interest in Independence Day and summer travel.  Nearly five million more Americans are expected to travel for the Fourth of July than for Memorial Day just a few weeks ago,” says Doreen Loofburrow, Vice President of Travel for AAA Oregon/Idaho. 

Impact of rising gas prices

AAA expects the majority of U.S. drivers will likely pay the highest gas prices for this holiday since 2008. The current national average for regular unleaded is $3.67, compared to $3.48 on July 4, 2013.  The current Oregon average is $3.98 compared to $3.76 on Independence Day last year.

In recent years, gas prices have declined in the weeks leading up to Independence Day, but this has not occurred this summer due to the higher crude oil costs resulting from violence in Iraq.

With plans already made, it’s unlikely higher gas prices will have a significant impact on holiday travel plans.

“Consumers tend to economize in other areas of their vacation budgets when travel costs go up. They may cut back on dining, shopping or other activities,” Dodds says.

The current Oregon average is at its highest price of the year and could climb higher.  Speculative market reaction to the turmoil in Iraq has had some impact on gas prices, but the availability of plentiful supplies of less expensive crude oil from Canada and North Dakota should mean that regional refineries will produce plenty of gasoline to meet seasonal demand.

 “AAA says pump prices could just as easily come down as go up during the remainder of the summer travel season,” Dodds adds.

AAA provides the latest gas prices for the nation, states and metro areas at FuelGaugeReport.AAA.com

Car travel is dominant mode

Approximately 35 million people (85 percent of holiday travelers) plan to drive to their destination, an increase of 2.1 percent compared to last year and the highest volume since 2007.

In the Pacific Region, 5 million (80 percent of holiday travelers) plan to travel by car, an increase of 1.9 percent. 

“It’s not surprising that the vast majority of travelers will drive to their Independence Day destinations.  Driving provides flexibility and is usually less expensive than flying,” says Dodds.

 Air travel increases, airfares decline

About 3.1 million leisure travelers (7.6 percent of all holiday travelers) will fly to their destinations, an increase of one percent from last year. 

In the Pacific Region, 737,000 people are expected to travel by air (11.8 percent of holiday travelers), which is about the same as last year.

Dodds says, “The Pacific region typically sees a higher than average share of its population expected to travel by air, as we are geographically more spread out in this region.  This is indeed the case for Independence Day 2014.”

Airfares are down 5 percent this year, with an average lowest round-trip rate of $215 for the top 40 U.S. air routes compared to $228 last year, according to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index.

The remaining 7.6 percent of holiday travelers nationally are expected to travel by other modes, including rail, bus and watercraft.

Hotel rates go up, rental cars cost the same