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By Bob Sullivan / Credit.com
May 16, 2015

Time to break out the old nationwide atlas road map — it’s going to be a great summer for road trips, thanks to low gas prices. You might want to splurge on an app or GPS with up-to-date traffic information, too, because lots of other families will have the same idea.

Gas prices are about $1 a gallon lower for most drivers as the summer vacation season approaches, a better-than 25% discount over last year. If you’ve fantasized about hitting the open road and seeing America’s great national parks, cheap gas could help make those dreams come true. For example, when I drove from New York to Seattle last year with my golden retriever Rusty, I spent $492 on gas. The same trip this year would cost closer to $350 — a huge difference.

AAA says that difference is certain to send more drivers onto America’s highways. Road traffic for the fast-approaching Memorial Day holiday will be up 5.3% this year, AAA says, soaring to 33 million road-trippers — the most in 10 years. Gas will be the cheapest in at least five years, AAA says.

“Following a harsh winter, many Americans are trading in their snow boots for flip-flops and making plans to start the season with a vacation getaway,” said Marshall L. Doney, AAA President, in a statement. “AAA is expecting more Memorial Day travelers this year than any time in the past 10 years as confident consumers come out of hibernation ready to explore national parks, beach destinations and America’s great cities.”

Drivers might understandably be apprehensive that gas prices will rise during the road-trip season, as they often do. And in fact prices have ticked up since they hit bottom this March. But the Energy Department said this week that it expects average prices to hover roughly around $2.50 through September. That’s assuming no surprise shocks to supply, such as a terrible storm.

The cheapest gas starts is in the southeast, by the way, in states like South Carolina — extending all the way through Missouri to Kansas, Wyoming, and into Idaho. So if you are wondering where to go, that’s not a bad place to start.

Not all the road trip news is good, however. AAA expects hotel prices to be considerably higher this summer, thanks to the economic recovery. The average nightly stay in a Two Diamond hotel is 16% higher this year at $144, AAA says. So maybe it’s time to take that gas savings and invest in some camping gear.

Keep in mind that you can make your summer travel spending go further by using rewards credit cards specifically designed with travel rewards in mind (here are some of the best travel rewards credit cards on the market). Keep in mind that using any type of rewards credit card, including gas rewards cards, is best reserved for people who don’t carry a balance on their credit cards from month to month since interest charges can wipe out any rewards you’d earn. Also, rewards cards are hard to get approved for if your credit score is subpar.

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