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AMERICANS TO HIT ROAD - AND IN RECORD NUMBERS

This summer Americans will be vacationing - and spending - in record numbers. Despite a recession and increasing costs, families will be on the road again.

Americans still will take their vacations despite the current economic conditions, said Suzanne Cook, executive director of the U.S. Travel Data Center (USTDC) in Washington, D.C. They'll just be changing from the way they travel.According to the USTDC, 1991 activity is expected to reach last summer's record of 326 million vacation person-trips. A person-trip is one person traveling 100 miles or more away from home.

The majority of vacationers will pack the family into the station wagon, as auto travel is expected to account for 84 percent of all 1991 summer vacations.

A survey conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA) revealed that 74 percent of AAA auto travel managers said that summer vacation auto travel in their area would increase over last summer.

Recession or not, Americans are going to travel this summer, but they're going to look at value and price more closely than at any time in recent years, said Richard Hebert, managing director of AAA in Washington, D.C.

They'll have to look closely at price, because a family of four on vacation this summer will pay an average of $209 per day or $1,463 per week.

Two parents with their two children can expect to pay an average of $84 a day for lodging, $96 a day for meals, plus $29 for each 300 miles of driving for a total daily tab of $209.

However, that $209 doesn't include amusements, admission fees, tolls and shopping, and the number of other things you can find to spend money on while vacationing.

The wise traveler will choose his vacation time and destination carefully. Expenses always will be higher during popular travel periods, as well as in and around major cities.

Hawaii, the vacation paradise, not surprisingly has the highest average daily lodging rate at $184, while Washington, D.C., the family vacation spot, has the highest average daily meal rates at $34.50 per person.

If you're on a tight budget, consider the vacation opportunities in North Dakota with the lowest average daily lodging rate at $42 and South Dakota, where food averages only $16 a day.

Frugal travelers should also consider Kansas, where lodging averages $44 and food $18 and Nebraska, where lodging runs $45 and meals $17. If money is no object, spend the night in Alaska, it will cost you an average of $116, or visit New York and pay an average of $100 a night to sleep.

"It is to the credit of the travel industry that all facets (tour operators, hotel chains, etc.) have implemented very special rates in an effort to entice the cost-conscious leisure-seekers and to make their vacation a more enjoyable one," said Stanley Sherman, vice president sales at Easy Travel Service headquartered in Elk Grove Village Il. "Mor-eso now than ever, depend on your travel agent to seek out these bargains for you."

Here are some other travel tips from AAA:

- Check with a travel agent for the availability of budget travel packages and advice on which areas of the country offer the best value.

- Make reservations well in advance. If that is not possible, arrive at destinations early enough to have a choice of accommodations and prices.

- Consider traveling off-season. Check with a travel agent to find areas of the country that can be enjoyed after or before the yearly rush of tourists and increased prices.

- Consider camping. Many parks offer safe, comfortable campgrounds aimed at serving families on a budget.

- Reduce meal costs by having the main meal at midday to take advantage of lower lunch prices. Other options include packing a cooler and picnicking or enjoying early-bird dinner specials.

FORECAST. Don't be surprised to see rising gasoline prices this summer. According to the Fuel Gauge Report - based on a nationwide spot check of gasoline stations by Computer Petroleum Corp. of St. Paul, Minn., the average price for a gallon of self-serve unleaded gasoline has increased in 10 of the past 11 weeks and it has risen by 8.1 cents since March 5.

The AAA Memorial Day Fuel Gauge Report disclosed that the average price per gallon for self-serve unleaded soared to $1.16, a 4.6 cent increase over the previous week and an 11.2 cent year-to-date jump.

Regardless of the price and availability of crude oil, gas prices tend to rise seasonally, peaking in August and September.