Summer vacations get downsized

Despite financial constraints, Americans are reluctant to abandon their summer vacation plans altogether, and instead look for ways to cut back on travel costs.

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By Jessica Dickler, staff writer

The English family will staying closer to home this year.
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NEW YORK ( -- In honor of his last big family vacation before his son graduates from high school and joins the Marines, Mark Fitzgerald booked a trip to Hawaii this summer.

But at nearly $1000 a ticket, the total airfare from their home in Missoula, Mont. was going to be pretty steep. So instead they drove 400 miles and saved almost $500 on each ticket by flying direct from Seattle. To keep costs down even more, the family decided to use frequent flier miles to cover part of the airfare and stay with relatives in Hawaii.

The Fitzgeralds aren't the only ones economizing on their summer vacations. Between high gas prices and a slowing economy, more Americans are seeing their travel plans get squeezed this season, but few are willing to forgo their summer escapes altogether. Instead, they're finding creative ways to cut back on travel costs.

"High gas prices, a weak U.S. dollar and the struggling economy are conspiring against Americans, but travelers refuse to stay home this summer," said Michele Perry, vice president of global communications for TripAdvisor.

The Travel Industry Association is forecasting only a slight decline in the number of vacations planned this summer. Americans will take a total of 327.4 million vacations during June, July and August, down about 1% from the previous summer.

In an annual study performed by AAA, the number of American's surveyed who plan to travel 50 miles or more this Memorial Day weekend was down almost 1% from 2007, the first decrease since shortly after the September 11 attacks.

"We expect to see a relatively soft summer travel season - not surprising given the current economic environment," says Dr. Suzanne Cook, senior vice President of research for the Travel Industry Association. "We are encouraged, however, by Americans' ongoing commitment to vacation travel and the value they place on it as a preferred leisure time activity."

Dollywood over Hollywood and Romania over Rome

To cope with constrained budgets, traveling closer to home, reducing trip durations and seeking out more affordable accommodations, restaurants and activities are ways Americans can maintain their plans, Cook said.

Of those polled by TripAdvisor, 18% said they are most likely to cut costs on their summer travel in their choice of accommodations. Another 12% plan to eat in more often, 11% will save money by traveling a shorter distance and another 11% will save money by taking a shorter trip.

And soaring gas prices, which, according to AAA notched the 14th straight record high Wednesday are also, well, taking the gas out of road trips. But even as prices rise, Americans are showing signs that they are more likely to scale back the nature of their trip than stay home.

According to a survey conducted by the TIA, 59% of Americans who are currently planning a road trip will not change their travel plans even with additional increases in the price of gas

Last month, Sarah English and her husband, Jonathon, traded their Toyota Highlander SUV for a more fuel-friendly Honda Civic and bought season passes to Dollywood and Dollywood Splash Country, near their home in Morristown, Tenn. Instead of taking a big vacation this summer, they will pack a lunch for their three children and drive to the amusement park.

"We are still having a really fun summer, but we are sticking a bit closer to home than we normally would," said English.

Even more affluent travelers who still plan exotic jaunts this summer are scaling back their plans.

"Travel is vital to our clients, almost like a necessity," said Tom Marchant, co-founder of international travel firm Black Tomato. Even though Black Tomato specializes in high-end trips for the luxury traveler, the firm's clientele are not immune from economic woes.

While bookings remain strong, Marchant said his American clients have shown greater interest in traveling to destinations where the dollar is stronger, such as Romania and the Carpathian mountains. Others are downsizing their trips to incorporate fewer stops and transfers.

But for many average Americans faced with increasing airfares this summer, the possibility of flying to a remote location will never get off the ground.

What are your travel plans this summer? Did you change plans because of the struggling economy or high gas prices? Post a comment or send us your story.  To top of page

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