For the first time in seven years, AAA is predicting that fewer residents in the Western states, including Arizona, will travel over the upcoming Fourth of July weekend.
About 10.5 million Westerners are expected to travel 50 or more miles from home during the holiday weekend, a decrease of nearly 1 percent from last year, the automobile club said.
The last time the West experienced a drop in Independence Day travel was in 2001.
About 8.5 million Westerners will be traveling by automobile or RV while 1.7 million will journey by air, AAA said.
The reason for the projected decrease isn't hard to find: higher fuel prices.
"Four-dollar-per-gallon gas prices are the primary reason why we are forecasting fewer travelers for the second holiday this summer," said AAA Arizona public affairs manager Linda Gorman. "However, it is important to note that a significant amount of the population is still planning to head out of town for the holiday. In fact, we are predicting that 13 percent of the U.S. population and 15 percent of the population from the Western states will travel over the upcoming holiday weekend."
Nationwide, a total of 40.4 million Americans are expected to take trips during the holiday, a decrease of 1.3 percent from last year.
The holiday travel projections were based on an online survey of more than 2,000 adults nationwide, AAA said. Analysis of the data and forecasts are produced by the Travel Industry Association, which conducts research for AAA.
Aside from paying record prices at the pump, travelers can also expect an increase in other travel-related costs this year. According to AAA's Leisure Travel Index, air travelers are expected to pay 13 percent more for airfares this year than they did last Independence Day. Travelers renting cars also will pay about 12 percent more than a year ago. Hotel rates, however, are expected to remain unchanged.
Gorman said that travelers should look for discounts and promotions created by the travel industry to try to help customers overcome $4-plus gasoline.
"We encourage travelers to seek out and take advantage of these deals, which include free gas cards and parking, breakfast promotions, kids-eat-free deals, car rental discounts as well as AAA member discounts," she said.
In a related development, Allstate Motor Club said Thursday the number of Arizonans running out of gas on the highways jumped 42 percent in the first five months of 2008 compared to the same time last year.
From January through May, Arizonans called the motor club for fuel 105 times.
Nationwide, calls to the club for running out of fuel are up 52 percent in the first five months.
"We can't directly correlate this rise in the number of people running out of gas to the rise in prices at the pump, but anecdotally we know that consumers are trying hard to stretch their dollar and sometimes that means stretching fuel into fumes," said Shelley Beeler, spokesperson for Allstate Insurance Co.