FUEL PRICES DOWN
The average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in the Chattanooga area is sharply off from last year:
Month ago: $3.27
Year ago: $3.32
INDEPENDENCE DAY TRAVEL
Number traveling: 42.3 million, up 4.9 percent
Traveling by car: 35.5 million, up 4 percent
Traveling by air: 3.2 million, up 9 percent
Average distance traveled: 723 miles
Median holiday spending: $749, down 7 percent
Source: AAA, projected numbers compared to 2011 statistics
THE WEDNESDAY EFFECT
This year, the Fourth of July falls on a Wednesday. That is projected to have an effect on when people travel:
Today - 25 percent
Saturday - 16 percent
Sunday - 13 percent
Monday - 11 percent
Tuesday - 19 percent
Wednesday - 16 percent
Today kicks off the longest Fourth of July holiday travel season possible, experts say.
Because Independence Day falls on a Wednesday this year, vacationers are spreading their time off across the entire week, upping the number of travelers expected to hit the road in the coming days.
"It's allowing for more travelers and it allows for more flexibility," said Jessica Brady, spokeswoman for AAA auto club.
Basic workplace principles will be a large contributor to what AAA predicts will be a nearly 5 percent increase in travelers this year over last. When two people in the same department want to take a vacation, one is usually stuck covering for the other. With the Fourth on a Wednesday, one co-worker can leave today until the holiday and the other can start their vacation on July 4.
Talley Green, spokeswoman for the Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park, said the Fourth is always a big holiday season for the attraction, and this year looks to be no different.
"There's a lot of options when the Fourth of July falls in the middle of the week," she said. "It's kind of a win-win situation for those vacationing and the attractions."
The park will have fireworks displays both Saturday and on Independence Day, typically a big draw for Lake Winnie.
"We're traditionally pretty busy on the nights we do fireworks," she said. "The weather looks to be in our favor. It's going to be nice and hot, so we're hoping for a great turnout."
Within Tennessee, 5.5 percent more residents plan to travel this year than last.
Vacationers to the Chattanooga area typically drive rather than fly. Nationally, the number of Americans driving around the holiday is expected to increase 4 percent and dominate the country's travel choices.
That seems to be working to Chattanooga's favor.
"We're comfortable and confident we're going to have a good Fourth," said Bob Doak, president and chief executive officer of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It's really one of our biggest holiday weekends of the year. It's in the heart of tourism season in a time when people traditionally think of taking a vacation."
Doak expects gas prices dipping below $3 a gallon may inspire visitors to spend a few extra bucks at local businesses in the coming weeks. Restaurantgoers may spring for an appetizer, or spend a little more money in the Rock City gift shop.
AAA goes so far to predict the low prices may influence travelers' decision on where to go.
Knoxville resident Margaret Laconca and her husband got their travel in early this year. They came down to the Raccoon Mountain RV park for a week-long getaway, beating the Fourth of July rush.
Laconca has been traveling via RV since 2002. She said she was glad to see the dip in prices, but her philosophy -- and that of most RVers -- is to not worry too much about the price at the pump.
"If you're going to travel, you're going to travel," she said. "If they're going to RV, they're going to do it anyway."