PORTLAND, Maine -- AAA Travel projects 41 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Independence Day holiday weekend, a 1.9 percent increase from the 40.3 million people who traveled last year and a nearly 14 percent increase compared to the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

The New England region will be particularly busy with 2.1 million New Englanders setting out for a holiday weekend getaway a 2.5 percent increase over 2013. The majority of travelers will be celebrating their freedom with a road trip, with more than eight in 10 (34.8 million) choosing to travel by automobile, the highest level since 2007.

The Independence Day holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday, July 2 to Sunday, July 6.

Highlights from 2014 Independence Day Travel Forecast include:

  • Willingness to take on credit card debt, not an increase in income, is responsible for the increase in consumer spending.
  • Nearly five million more Americans are expected to travel for Independence Day than for Memorial Day.
  • Travel volume for Independence Day has grown four out of the past five years and is expected to be more than six percent higher than the average of the past 10 years.
  • Holiday air travel is expected to decrease 0.6 percent to 3.1 million travelers from 3.12 million last year.
  • Travelers will encounter airfares five percent lower than last year and car rental costs that remain consistent with last year at $58.
  • Hotel rates at AAA Two Diamond hotels are 15 percent higher than last year and Three Diamond hotels are nine percent more.

"With school out for summer, the Fourth of July holiday is typically the busiest summer travel holiday, with five million more Americans traveling compared to Memorial Day weekend," said Pat Moody, manager of public affairs, AAA Northern New England. "In line with tradition, most travelers are celebrating their newfound summer freedom with an all-American road trip."

An increase in consumer spending is primarily due to increasing credit, rather than rising incomes. Consumers have been hesitant to add to their credit card balances the past several years, but continued improvements in the employment picture and rising home values means they are starting to feel more comfortable taking on debt. In addition to consumer spending, a boost in consumer confidence and the employment outlook are driving more Americans to take a road trip.

"Steady improvement in the economy has spurred increased consumer confidence and spending," continued Moody. "Optimistic Americans are more willing to take on debt this year, dusting off their credit cards to pay for a much-needed Independence Day getaway."

Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans The average price for regular unleaded gasoline was $3.66 for the first half of June, comparable to last year. At this time, many decisions on travel have already been made, and budgets set aside. A possible increase in gasoline prices leading up to the holiday weekend typically means consumers will allocate more of their budget towards travel expenses and cut back in other areas. The current price for a gallon of gas is $3.68 compared to $3.48 on July 4, 2013. Motorists in Northern New England will likely find pump prices ranging between $3.66-$3.75.

Travel expenses mixed According to AAA's Leisure Travel Index, hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase nine percent from one year ago with travelers spending an average of $178 per night compared to $164 last year. The average hotel rate for AAA Two Diamond hotels has risen 15 percent with an average cost of $137 per night.

Weekend daily car rental rates will average $58, the same as last year.

Airfares have declined five percent with the average round-trip, discounted fare for the top 40 U.S. routes costing $215, down from $228 last year.

AAA's projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight. The Colorado-based business information provider teamed with AAA in 2009 to jointly analyze travel trends during the major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades. More information including an infographic for the AAA / IHS Global Insight 2014 Independence Day Travel Forecast can be found here.