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Because consumer confidence is high, inflation rates are low and people have a vacation urge to satisfy, travel industry officials recently predicted this summer will be the busiest travel season ever.

"Americans seem eager to take a vacation - or several mini ones - despite their post-recessionary cautiousness," said Bob Dickinson, national chairman of the Travel Industry Association of America, a Washington-based trade group, and president of Carnival Cruise Lines. "The mini-vacation phenomena - driven by Americans' lack of time - isn't new, but this summer it will reach new heights."Overall, summer vacation travel is forecast to increase 4.5 percent this summer. It means, said Dickinson, that 230 million Americans are expected to travel 100 miles or more for single or multiple vacations, up 10 million over the summer of 1993.

Travel by auto, recreational vehicle and truck travel will account for 80 percent of all summer vacation trips, while 16 percent of the vacationers will fly and the remaining 4 percent will travel by train, bus or cruise ship.

Top five domestic destinations for the summer are projected to be Orlando, Grand Canyon National Park (Ariz.), Yellowstone National Park (Wyo.), Williamsburg (Va.) and Washington, D.C., said Graeme Clarke, vice president of travel, marketing and financial services for the American Automobile Association. Top foreign destinations are London, Frankfurt, Paris, Cancun (Mexico) and the alpine regions of Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Emerging summer hot spots include Costa Rica, St. Kitts and the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Both Dickinson and Clarke mapped out the summer travel forecast at a briefing in New York based on surveys conducted by the TIA and the AAA. TIA's U.S. Travel Data Center sampled 1,500 adults nationwide in April (a quarterly survey), and the AAA surveyed 23 auto travel and travel agency managers serving half of its 36 million members.

"Summer vacationers intend to increase their travel frequency this summer, but they may offset this somewhat by reducing trip durations," Dickinson said. "The longest trips should average 7.5 nights, down from 8.3 nights last summer. The average trip should last 4.7 days this summer, compared to 4.9 days last year."

Reflecting the season for family travel, Dickinson noted that 50 million people plan to travel with children.

The most popular activities planned, according to the TIA survey, include going to the beach or lake, visiting friends or relatives, visiting historic places and re-creational activities such as camping, hiking and climbing.

The TIA report said airlines projected a 5 percent to 6 percent increase in air travel while the cruise lines expect a 7 percent increase for the year, for a total of 4.8 million passengers.

More than a quarter of all intended summer vacation travelers plan to spend $1,000 or more as a family on their longest trip, Dickinson reported.

Forecasting "blue skies and plenty of sunshine" for the summer season, Clarke added, "Travel continues to be a fantastic bargain.

"This summer the average daily cost for food and lodging remains the same as last year - $188 for a family of four. Meal costs increased $1 to $100, not including tips and beverages, while lodging fell $1 from a year ago to $88."

To make his bargain point, Clarke said the average cost of a hotel room for two adults and two children increased just 10 percent in five years, less than half the inflation rate. Meal costs, he said, are up 7 percent, and gasoline prices, averaging about $1.10 nationwide, are only a few cents higher than they were prior to the 1990 Memorial Day weekend. Gas prices, he noted, are likely to increase by no more than 5 to 6 cents a gallon unless something unforeseen happens.

Clarke explained that the lodging and meal costs are based on rates and prices of 30,000 AAA-inspected and approved accommodations and restaurants listed in AAA TourBooks. Gas prices are based on AAA's latest Fuel Gauge reports.

The AAA said an average family of four should expect to pay $215.30 for lodging, meals and auto expenses. AAA figures for food and lodging are priciest in the mid-Atlantic states ($221 a day) and lowest in the Midwest ($149 a day). The Great Lakes average is $171.

The 10 most-requested destinations from AAA members in Illinois and northern Indiana: 1. Florida (Orlando, Tampa, Sarasota, Miami and Naples); 2. Tennessee (Nashville, Memphis, Gatlinburg, Knoxville and Pigeon Forge); 3. Missouri (St. Louis, Branson, Kansas City, Springfield and Osage Beach); 4. Texas (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Padre Island and Austin); 5. Illinois (Chicago, Galena, Springfield, Champaign and Peoria); 6. Arizona (Phoenix, the Grand Canyon, Tucson and Sedona); 7. Ohio (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo); 8. California (Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Palm Springs); 9. South Carolina (Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, Charleston, Columbia and Greenville); and 10. Georgia (Atlanta, Savannah and Columbus).

It's time to hit the road.