AAA: SC Memorial Day travel on the rise

An estimated 423,000 drivers in South Carolina are expected to hit the road for Memorial Day weekend, which is a 3% increase over last year, according to AAA Carolinas.

A steady decline in gas prices is seen as good incentive for people to kick off the summer travel season on Thursday. Since May 12, the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline has dropped 16 cents to $3.81. South Carolina's average is the lowest in the nation at $3.59.

AAA Carolinas says a drop in gas prices combined with an unemployment rate drop of 1.5 percentage points from April 2010 will lead to a slight increase in South Carolina travel.

"We have seen an increase year over year in our hotel bookings, car rental reservations and personal trip routing requests," said Dave Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas.

Air travel is also forecasted to increase 3% with 35,500 South Carolinians flying this holiday. The introduction of lost-cost carriers such as Spirit Airlines in the Myrtle Beach market have softened some of the drastic fare increases seen nationwide.

Bus, rail and maritime travel is also expected to total 30,000 in the state. But AAA Carolinas estimates 88% of those traveling 50 or more miles away from home will drive.

That prediction proves to be true for the tens of thousands of people who make their way to the Grand Strand every year for the Memorial Day Bike Festival in Atlantic Beach.

Hotel bookings in the state are up 4% over last Memorial Day and Carolinians have reserved roughly 10% more rental cars this holiday compared to last year, according to AAA Carolinas.

"Travelers are watching their gasoline budgets and in many cases shifting discretionary vacation spending to cover gasoline and transportation costs," said Parsons.

Drivers can also budget estimated gas costs for their personal vehicles using the Fuel Cost Calculator. Myrtle Beach and Pee Dee drivers can also find the cheapest gas in the area using CarolinaLive.Com's Pump Patrol.

Do you plan to travel this weekend? How far do you plan to travel?