Woodward, Okla. —
Although slightly fewer Oklahomans are expected to travel for the 4th of July holiday this year, AAA Oklahoma says highways will still be busy.
According to a press release, AAA predicts a total of 538,600 Oklahomans will travel for Independence Day, which represents a drop of 0.9 percent from July 4, 2012.
Of those travelers, 464,200 are expected to go by car, 65,750 will fly and the remainder will go by other modes, such as bus or train.
Chuck Mai, spokesman for AAA Oklahoma, said that the dip in overall travelers is "probably due to the timing of the holiday, more than anything else, with it being on a Thursday."
"Last year the 4th was on a Wednesday, so people could take a nice 5-day weekend, either with the 4th at the end or the beginning. But with the holiday being on Thursday this year, it only makes for a 4-day weekend, so we think that's what caused the numbers to dip slightly," Mai said.
However, with less than a 1 percent decrease, he said there will still be plenty travelers on the road.
"The busiest days according to our survey will be Wednesday, July 3, the day before the holiday, followed by Sunday, July 7, which is the most popular return date with holiday travelers. In our survey, 37 percent of people said they plan to return on that day," Mai said.
Since that means there will be a lot of traffic on the highways those days, he suggested to "try to plan your travel to avoid those days so you will find less congestion on the roads and have a safer trip."
"Safety is always something we like to touch on when we're talking about holiday travel," Mai said. "So we want to encourage people to drive refreshed, limit distractions in the vehicle and, of course, buckle up."
IMPACT OF GAS PRICES ON TRAVEL
Gas prices don't seem to be as big of an issue this year, as they have been decreasing in recent days and, for much of the state, are comparable to last year's prices, Mai said.
"Gas prices are down in most of the country. And for the most part, Oklahoma is getting back to where we normally are this time of year," he said.
He even noted that the statewide average for a gallon of regular gasoline is currently $3.39, which is only a couple of cents higher than last year's average at this same time.
However, there are some areas of the state, including Woodward, which continue to see higher prices.
"Woodward has an average that is persistently high," Mai said, noting "it's right up there with the most expensive prices in the state."
With an average of $3.61 a gallon earlier this week, he said that Woodward is "a full 22 cents above the state average."
"Still $3.61 is better than a week ago when the average was $3.69 and better than a month ago when it was $3.88 per gallon," he said. "But a year ago, the price average was $3.40, meaning Woodward is 21 cents above where it was a year ago."
So while gas prices might not be as much of a factor for travelers in other parts of the state, Mai said, "for folks in Woodward, it may cause them to think again if they're traveling by car this holiday."
However, he said there are ways that travelers can hunt for the lowest price, so that they can get the best deals when traveling.
For example, he said those in Woodward who may be planning to travel east for the 4th, may want to hold off on completely filling their tank until they get to Tulsa, where the average was only $3.23 per gallon on Wednesday.
"If they wait to fill up in Tulsa, they can save some money," Mai said.
Travelers can find a list of gas price averages online at fuelgaugereport.com, or they can go to AAA.com and click on the link at the bottom for "Fuel News & Tools," to access a fuel price finder, which will show them prices "station by station," he said. This will help them find the lowest price in their area, he said.
AAA.com's "Fuel News & Tools" also has a link to a fuel cost calculator which travelers can use "to calculate what your fuel expense will be from point A to point B based on your vehicle's specific make, model and year," Mai said.
The calculator uses information about your vehicle's fuel consumption ratio (miles per gallon) and the gas price averages in the areas where you'll be traveling to help estimate how much you'll have to pay for fuel, he said.
VACATIONING CLOSER TO HOME
While gas prices might not be keeping people from traveling this 4th of July, they might be keeping people from traveling as far.
"We do know a lot of folks will be traveling north to locations like Kansas City and Denver," Mai said. "But we also know that folks will be spending a little less, around $747 on average, and the distance people will be traveling is quite down this year, with an average round trip of 613 miles, which is 110 fewer miles than last year."
The AAA spokesman said this would seem to "indicate that a lot of individuals and families are deciding to stay closer to home as a means of economizing their vacation."
However, that is not necessarily a bad thing, Mai said, because "there are quite a few vacation destinations in the state of Oklahoma that a lot of people are just now realizing and appreciating."
He said these destinations predominately include state parks and lakes, as well as other attractions.
To find a place that might appeal to your family, he suggested visiting TravelOk.com
"If you haven't explored TravelOK.com, which is our state tourism website, it's a great place to start. It offers a number of travel ideas and lists of things to do from cultural activities to outdoor recreation," Mai said. "You'll see that there's a lot here and you don't have to travel 1,000 miles to have a great family vacation."
In addition, choosing to vacation in Oklahoma has double the benefits.
"By vacationing right in your backyard, you'll save money on vacation expenses while helping to contribute to our state's economy," he said.