Gas prices don't appear to put brakes on vacations

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Shawn Martin has driven to Virginia Beach for a vacation five times since he retired in February from his job as a crane operator.

"My daughter lives there and I have a condo there," he said.

"My travel is a priority. I'm retired and loving it ... I don't care about gas prices," Mr. Martin, 64, of Jefferson Hills, said.

Student Jake Grieco, 21, of Bethel Park, carpooled with three friends to Myrtle Beach, S.C., during spring break from Slippery Rock University. He said since everyone pitched in for the ride, the per person fuel costs were minimal.

"We had a lot of fun," he said. "Gas prices didn't matter."

The two travelers are not alone in shrugging off fuel costs when fun is at stake, the Post-Gazette learned when asking locals and travel agents about trip planning -- or decisions not to take a trip -- in light of gas prices, which command a significant chunk of vacation funds.

While the average price for a gallon of regular, unleaded gasoline in Western Pennsylvania for the week of July 31 was $3.511 -- much higher than, say, the summer 2009 local price of $2.68 -- it does represent a drop of 1.8 cents per gallon from the average price two weeks ago.

Still, whatever the cost, Americans' cherished summer vacations appear fuel-proof.

For Ed Meiers, 66, who said he prefers a "porch-view stay-cation" to traveling, gas prices do not come into play.

The only time the Brentwood man fills up at the pump more than once a week is during his annual five-day trip to Deep Creek, Md., where his daughter has a summer house.

"The closer we got to Maryland, the less pricey gas was. In Deep Creek, it was 50 cents lower than here," he said. "But even if that wasn't the case, I would have gone because this is my only vacation," the retired electrician said.

Ruth Nagy, managing director of travel operations for AAA East Central in Oakland, said that vacationers generally hit the road in the summer no matter what price is posted on the gas station marquee.

Travel on Memorial Day and July 4 this year was up from last year, she said. For the July Fourth holiday, car travel increased significantly, with motorists headed to beaches, Niagara Falls and Ohio's amusement parks.

"They may cut back in other places -- maybe not eating out as often," she said. "But budget adjustments don't seem to come from a vacation fund ... we are not willing to give up that relaxation and family time."

Gerry Cable, 67, said she and her husband Bill vacation all summer near their Bethel Park home.

"If it's a car cruise, we'll go. That's our entertainment," she said of the many car shows in the region for which a lawn chair and money for dinner -- usually a vendor on site -- is all that is needed.

Retired Castle Shannon Police Sgt. Don Smith transports his 27-foot-long travel trailer to a campground in Knox, Clarion County, about three times each summer.

While the truck hauling the trailer gets only about 10 miles per gallon, the camp stay for himself, his wife Joan, two granddaughters and their friends, costs less than $150, including camp utilities, for four nights.

"Where can six go for that?" he asked.

"Despite the price of gas, once I get there, it can't be beat," he said.

As for Labor Day travel plans, agent Debbie Papalia, of Worldview Travel in Century III mall, said cruises are becoming more popular in this post-summer season, with reservations typically made four to six months in advance for discount prices. Gas prices generally are not a factor when people book cruises, she said.

Transportation - neigh_east - neigh_south

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer:


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