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Higher costs aren't keeping us at home

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

You'll have plenty of company in the air and on the road this summer, especially in the West, as Americans ramp up their travel despite higher costs, surveys reported this week. But you'll find a few price breaks too.

Although overall you'll pay more to take a vacation, car rental rates over Memorial Day weekend, for instance, will average 16% less than last year, and airfares will be about 5% less, according to AAA, which released its annual forecast today.

Of course, you'll pay more to gas up your vehicle — about 15 cents more per gallon than last year. And when you pull over, prepare to pay about 13% more to stay at a hotel, or about $174 more per night than you did last year for a AAA-rated Three Diamond (middle range) lodging.

But tourists are taking higher costs in stride, with 1.7% more planning to get away for Memorial Day this year than last year, AAA said. The nation's busiest travel region will be the West, with 7.6 million going by auto and 1.4 million by air.

Looking ahead, 1.4% more Americans expect to travel this summer, according to another annual forecast, by the Travel Industry Assn.

But some of us are finding ways to economize.

"Families will travel closer to home, they will travel for fewer days and will save money by staying in less expensive hotels and eating in cheaper restaurants," said Sandra Hughes, AAA Travel vice president.

Fewer of us, about 2.4% fewer this year than last, have booked summer tours to Europe with AAA travel agencies. And when we do head for the Continent, more of us look to Eastern Europe, where prices are lower.

Summer tour bookings to Eastern Europe are "skyrocketing," AAA said, up 55% over last summer. AAA's Slovenia bookings are up 100%, and Croatia is up 69%.

Going to these lesser-known locales appeals to repeat visitors looking for "wider adventures" and "bragging rights as the first among their friend to visit places like Warsaw and Budapest," Hughes said.

A new survey by Expedia Travel, also found a taste for the exotic among travelers. About 86% of U.S. adults who plan to take a vacation this summer say they are likely to consider a destination "off the beaten path," the quarterly report found.

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