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AAA predicting record number of July 4th drivers

Despite sky-high gas prices, AAA is predicting a record number of July 4th drivers.

The automotive and trip-planning group's annual forecast for the July 4 holiday weekend says that 42 million Americans -- more than ever -- will take a road trip of 50 miles or more.

That's despite gas prices hitting a record earlier this month. The national average per gallon on Monday stood at $4.98, just pennies off the high of $5.02 reached a week earlier.

A combination of vacationers and commuters could drive travel times to double the normal length at peak points on Thursday and Friday evenings, traffic experts at Inrix said.

The best time to travel from Thursday through Friday is early or late in the day, Inrix projected. It said congestion on Sunday and Monday should be lower. July 4 lands on Monday this year.

People determined to hit the road still have ways to at least ease the sting of gas prices. A few strategies include:

• Bypass stations just off major highways

"It's usually best not to use the stations right along the interstate," advised Ellen Edmonds, manager of AAA public relations, in a recent interview with CNN Travel. Instead, "drive a few miles down the road. Look for residential areas or remote rural areas."

• Get stingy at expensive gas stations

If you're running real low on gas and you're stuck in an area with jacked-up prices, by all means, pull over to refuel. Just don't fill up all the way. Pump enough gas to safely get to a location where stations generally charge less.

• Consider a "nearcation"

There are options between settling for yet another staycation and an epic, cross-country road trip that would bust your budget. It's the "nearcation." Think about places closer to home yet far enough away to feel like a bona fide journey.

While the roads will be packed, fewer Americans will be flying for the holiday, AAA expects.

It said the 3.55 million people projected to take to the skies over Independence Day is only 7% of travelers. That's the lowest share since 2011 when the economy was still rebuilding from the Great Recession.

AAA says airfare is about 14% more expensive than in 2021.

The fare-watchers at Hopper say prices paid this month are down about $20 from the average in May, but attributes that to travelers purchasing less expensive fall flights. The rate for an average hotel room is 23% higher than last year, AAA said.

Altogether, AAA said travel demand is "not tapering off" despite the higher expenses.

"People are ready for a break and despite things costing more, they are finding ways to still take that much-needed vacation," said Paula Twidale of AAA Travel.

CNN Travel asked Kathleen Bangs, a former commercial airline pilot and spokesperson for FlightAware, what travelers can do to brace themselves for cancellations and delays this summer.

She offered these tips based on a conversation she had on Monday with an employee at a major US airline:

• Leave cushion time

Don't travel on the day of an important event. Plan to arrive at least one day early.

• Apps are your friend

If your flight is canceled, reschedule your travel on the airline's app. You're likely to be able to rebook faster and you'll have access to seats that would probably be filling up as you waited on the phone.

• Use a carry-on for essentials

Pack anything you'll need within one or two days in your carry-on. Don't check prescription medications or other essentials.

• Stay considerate

Don't take your frustration out on customer service employees. They aren't making the operations decisions.

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