Seasoned road warriors Jill and Alan Hunsaker packed their truck, complete with snacks, the kids and some entertainment to keep them from getting restless: a portable DVD player, books and needlepoint. Then they hit the road for an 11-hour drive from Grantsville, Utah, to San Jose, where one daughter is competing in the taekwondo nationals this weekend.
The trip, which will last through the entire Fourth of July holiday weekend and beyond, puts them on well-traveled roads with lots of other folks. In fact, if your car is packed to take advantage of the long Independence Day weekend, you'll be among the nearly 35 million other Americans who are hitting the road, according to AAA Travel. That's the group's projection on how many will drive at least 50 miles from home over the next few days. Another 10 million will make their treks using other modes of transportation.
That's a small jump — 1.9 percent — from last year and a big leap — 14 percent — compared to the recent Memorial Day weekend.
Research from the American Automobile Association says the increase isn't because people have more money; they're just not shying away from taking credit cards for a spin.
"Steady improvement in the economy has spurred consumer confidence and spending," said AAA Chief Operating Officer Marshall L. Doney, in a written statement. "Optimistic Americans are more willing to take on debt this year, dusting off their credit cards to pay for a much-needed Independence Day getaway."
Most will travel for leisure, though some will combine events with vacation, as the Hunsakers are doing. They've folded a visit with Jill Hunsaker's sister into the trip, along with the tournament and a trip to the Bay Area and a state park.
Mom vs. Dad
For each of these road trips, somebody's going to be driving — and a survey of adult kids, ages 25 to 64, found that 63 percent believe Dad's the better driver. But they'd still rather travel with Mom because she's neater, chooses better music than Dad and wants to stop and sit down and eat.
On the other hand — and this builds the case against Mom — she's a worse back seat driver, asks for directions, has "deep conversations" it's hard to escape from in a car and may drive too slowly.
Then again, Dad is more likely to have road rage, according to the survey.
The survey was commissioned by Visiting Angels, which provides in-home, private care to the elderly, which is why they asked adults, not little kids, about driver preference. Company vice president Richard Bitner told the Deseret News it was a light-hearted attempt to talk about older drivers, since one of the biggest concerns that families with senior citizens face is when should an older adult quit driving.
"We wanted to put a light spin on a situation that people confront every day. It's one of the most difficult conversations," he said. Visiting Angels has a brochure that specifically helps adult kids figure out how to kick off that very touchy subject, as well as others.
Bitner's not convinced that the age of the parents or the children would change the survey's findings. The formal survey involved 400 adults whose 65-plus parents currently drive. But an informal survey in the Visiting Angels office found the same thing. And "you'd probably find the same thing with younger children," he said.
The Hunsaker kids seemed to agree. Alan Hunsaker had an advantage on the "good driver" part — he teaches driving for a living. But the kids said who should drive depends in part on "how windy the road is." Asked which parent is most fun to travel with, the Hunsaker teenagers, 13 and 15, responded: "Define funnest." Their mom's good at entertaining them, they said, but their dad's more fun while he's driving.
Costs — up and down
As you plan your own summer or holiday trip, no matter what mode of transportation, know that there might be surprises if you base a travel budget on what happened in previous years. First, gasoline is expected to be at its costliest compared to any other Independence Day going back to 2008, according to AAA. The automobile club does not think that will sideline many people, although it warns that consumers may dial back dining and shopping as a result of the increased expenses.
Hotel rates are expected to be somewhat higher than last year.
On the other hand, airfare is down about 5 percent and car rental rates have been flat, AAA said in its Independence Day travel bulletin.
As always, holiday travel is a time to be careful on many fronts. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that 765 people died over the Independence Day holiday weekends from 2008 to 2012, many of them because a driver was impaired. Local law enforcement agencies often actively look for drunk drivers during the holiday period. The agency and AAA offer simple travel tips that apply all the time, not just during holiday weekends, but they do note that risk is greater during busy travel periods.
Their tips include:
- Always wear a seat belt.
- Don't drive after drinking.
- Make sure your tires are in good repair, are properly inflated and you have a spare.
- Watch out for the kids — "in and around your vehicle."
- Stay on well-traveled roads.
- Put away your cellphone.
- Take a break (but lock doors to avoid a break-in).
- Don't stop for disabled vehicles, but do call help for them.