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On the road again

Families turn to driving and day trips for summer travel

Families turn to driving and day trips for summer travel

May 31, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

kevinc@herald-mail.com

Wednesday morning and the livin's easy for Barbra Runyon at her Chambersburg, Pa., travel agency.

This is not necessarily a good thing.

Summer begins three weeks from today. Summer travel season, however, kickstarted with Memorial Day a week ago and early returns - at least at Runyon's Your Travel Specialist - are less than promising.

"Things have definitely slowed down," she says. "People are staying local. Or, they're not needing a travel agent."

Based on economic conditions, time crunches at airports or residual Sept. 11 fear, long distance travel seems to be taking a back seat to more localized trips this summer.

Estimates from AAA Mid-Atlantic for the just completed holiday weekend illustrate the trend. Though the number of people traveling at least 50 miles was forecast to increase 1 percent from 2001 to 35.2 million Americans, the number of those who flew dipped 7 percent.

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All told, 29.3 million travelers expected to go by car; 4.1 million more were expected to board aircraft.

Locally, people are looking for information on regional escapes.

Branch Manager Carol Ecton says colonial Williamsburg, Va., is always popular, as are sun and surf destinations such as Ocean City, Md., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Rehoboth Beach, Del.

Also drawing interest are Civil War sites such as Gettysburg, Pa., not so much as week-long options but as long weekend excursions with minimal expense to save in part, Ecton says, on high gas prices.

At Antietam National Battlefield, tourism numbers are steady, according to park ranger Stephanie Gray. What is increasing, by one-third, is the number of school programs visiting the site.

"It feels busier," she says. "But our numbers are reading about the same; we're running about level."

Even Europe is not off limits. Runyon and Ecton say interest in travel across the Atlantic has been cool. American Society of Travel Agents Vice President Kathy Sudeikis, herself an agent at a suburban Kansas City agency, says any lukewarm reception to European travel is a function of cost as much as post-Sept. 11 fear.

Instead, creative trips may fly travelers to London where they will spend three days before boarding a cruise ship for home.

All say cruises have become more popular as a vacation choice, with a noticeable rise in inquiries about ships sailing from Baltimore. In a new twist, cruises are originating from such nontraditional cities as Boston and Seattle.

But when setting sail from such a northern destination, Caribbean cruises tend to take 10, 11 nights, which may not fit in with some vacation plans.

More important, it takes the cost and anxiety of flying out of the equation. But Ecton flew to Orlando, Fla., two weeks ago and reports having no discernible problems.

She flew in the evenings, and says airports weren't crowded. Yes, there was the increased security presence but she considers it a good thing.

"It seems like if people are flying it's for a real purpose, like weddings or graduations," Ecton says. "Not so much for vacations."

Sudeikis is hesitant to point to a fear factor when discussing travel plans. Instead, the economy is driving vacation plans.

Reflecting that theory is a new phenomenon: People are waiting longer to book travel.

"People are just now planning their summer trips, so it's not too late to be doing that," Sudeikis says. "People don't want to make deposits and then lose their jobs."

As a result, she is seeing clients who are waiting for an opportunity to go away and jumping at it when it arises.

Whatever vacation entails, Sudeikis says it should involve going away because with so many activities chipping away at free time, relaxing at home is becoming more unlikely.

"The chance to go completely out of your element is what you cherish because staying at home just doesn't cut it," she says. "Creating special moments is what summer travel is all about, whether it's in a car, on a plane or on a boat."

Quick summer travel hits:


Places to go within driving distance:

-- Six Flags America

Largo, Md., 40 miles south of Baltimore

For information, call 301-249-1500 or go to www.sixflags.com/america on the Web.

-- Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom

Allentown, Pa., two and a half to three hours from Hagerstown (I-81 to I-78)

For information, call 1-610-395-3724 or go to www.dorneypark.com on the Web.

-- Historic Williamsburg

Williamsburg, Va. 150 miles south of Washington, D.C.

For information, go to www.williamsburg.com on the Web.

-- Harpers Ferry National Historic Park

Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

For information, call 1-800-848-TOUR or go to www.jeffersoncountycvb.com on the Web.

-- Hersheypark

Hershey, Pa., about 89 miles from Hagerstown

For information, call 1-800-HERSHEY or go to www.hersheypark.com

-- Ocean City, Md.

About 200 miles from Hagerstown.

For information, call the Ocean City Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-410-289-8181.

Auto travel tips for summer trips


Get rest.

AAA recommends stopping every two hours or 150 miles, since drowsy driving is a contributing factor to accidents.

Leave early.

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