Drivers aren't the only travelers being affected - fuel prices have sent the cost of plane tickets higher as well. Ticket prices "have been steadily climbing for some time, especially to Europe," said Susan Plumley, senior travel agent for Hagerstown's AAA office.
But Plumley said she doesn't think air travelers are curtailing their plans quite as much; they expect air tickets to be higher.
The accompanying chart records the price of gas and the corresponding cost of a trip to regional recreation areas and vacation destinations in five-year increments. The calculations use average U.S. gas prices obtained from AAA, which has been tracking gas prices since 1972.
The price of a gallon of gas is more than twice what it cost just five years ago, according to AAA. Using those figures and allowing for a gas consumption rate of 20 miles per gallon, it costs nearly three times as much to drive to Myrtle Beach, S.C., now as it did 20 years ago.
Even allowing for inflation rates as reported by the federal Bureau of Statistics, a gallon of gas that cost $1.35 in 2002 would cost about $1.73 in 2007 dollars. So that drive would have cost about $90 in today's dollars. But if you're going to Myrtle Beach, you actually should plan to spend about $160 on gas - and that's if you park the car when you get there and don't climb back into it until you're ready to drive home.
Despite all that, gas prices in the early 1980s ate a similarly large hole in consumers' pockets. In 1980, for example, the average price of a gallon of gas in the United States was $1.25, but $1 then was worth the equivalent of $2.52 in today's dollars - which would make the price of a gallon of gas $3.15. The following year, gas cost $1.39 per gallon - which would be $3.18 today.
But gas prices fluctuated afterward, dipping to less than $1 per gallon in 1986, climbing to $1.25 per gallon by 1997 and dropping to just above $1 per gallon in 1998. Gas prices rose sharply in 2000, but dropped in 2001 and 2002, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report.
So what all that means is that 20 years ago, your trip to Ocean City, Md., which took $21.20 in gas for the round trip, would cost about $40 in today's dollars. But when you head for the beach this year, it'll cost $60.