Cars stopped in traffic one northern state parkway.

Cars stopped in traffic one northern state parkway. Credit: Newsday/Paul J. Bereswill

The number of Memorial Day travelers is expected to increase this year, after dipping slightly in 2011 due to high gas prices.

AAA's annual holiday weekend forecast projects 34.8 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home Thursday through Monday, up 1.2 percent from a year ago.

The same is true for New York, where almost 2.2 million people are expected to travel, up 0.5 percent from last year.

Eric Stigberg, spokesman for the regional AAA Northway office, said the actual results may outperform expectations because gas prices have fallen further since the state survey was conducted.

The average gasoline price in the Capital Region is $3.83 per gallon, Stigberg said Thursday, down from $3.98 per gallon a year ago.

Still, Americans are finding ways to conserve cash by staying closer to home, cutting entertainment dollars or planning shorter trips, according to AAA.

More travelers are also choosing automobiles as their mode of transportation, while air travel continues to decline.

The vast majority of New York's holiday travelers, almost 2 million, will go by car, up from last year. The number of New York air travelers is expected to drop 6 percent to about 150,000.

Stigberg said the trend bodes well for the region.

"It's a great region for auto travel," he said. "There are a lot of things that are within a couple hours' drive."

Kate Johnson, director of the Warren County Tourism Department, agreed.

"We're within a day's drive for 60 million people," Johnson said.

She said local expectations are high for the holiday weekend -- as well as the summer season -- following a strong 2011.

The department released its 2011 visitor survey this week, which showed the following results for the full calendar year:

- 3.2 million people stayed at Warren County lodging facilities;

- 708,600 people stayed at campgrounds;

- 3.9 million visited the area for a day trip;

- Almost half, or 47 percent, of visitors were New York residents, and another 20 percent were from New Jersey;

- The average stay was 3.37 days, up slightly from the prior year but below the running average;

- And about 82 percent of guests made advanced reservations.

Heading into this season, Johnson said the Tourism Department has seen an increase in usage of its website, which was redesigned last year, and office staff are hearing optimistic feedback from business owners stopping in for promotional materials.

However, weather is among the biggest factors in the success of the season for Lake George businesses, especially as more travelers stick close to home and plan last-minute.

This holiday weekend, there is a chance of afternoon thunderstorms most days, with warm temperatures in the mid-70s and 80s.

Before heading out, check Newday's traffic map.

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