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Summer of the road trip: Vacations are back

Updated: May. 7, 2021 at 1:22 PM EDT
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(CNN) – Hui Zhang said she needed a reset after working from her home in Washington for more than a year.

Her solution was to book a weekend getaway in rural Virginia – a place close enough to drive because she thought flying was too risky.

“I just need to pause a little bit. I just need to refresh my mind,” she said.

Joan Hulvey runs the centuries-old cabin, which is now rented out for 16 weeks straight on Airbnb.

“Pretty much booming,” she said. “It stays booked just about every night.”

It’s just the latest example of a summer travel season that could feel more like life before the pandemic.

The U.S. Travel Association says 72% of Americans will make at least one trip this summer.

“It’s very close to what we normally find. We find going into summer, 75 to 80% of Americans say they’re planning on taking a trip away from home,” according to Roger Dow with the travel group. “This summer is going be really a comeback for travel.”

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has relaxed its travel guidelines for those who are fully vaccinated, overseas flights and Caribbean cruises are still bogged down in pandemic restrictions.

That’s why experts say prepare for the summer of the road trip.

“I’ve had people call me and said, ‘I just got to get out of the house. I’ve got to get Tim out – he’s driving me crazy,’” Hulvey said.

Gas prices are already going up, in part, because demand for driving is coming back.

The average price for a gallon of gas has increased 60% in the last year. In some places, it’s as high as $4 per gallon.

“While summer travel is not going to be what it was in 2019 – it’s not going to exceed pre-pandemic levels – it’s going to be close,” according to Jeanette McGee with AAA.

KOA Campgrounds says this year’s bookings are 20% higher than 2019.

Yosemite National Park is so popular that it’s now requiring reservations.

In Hawaii, rental cars are in such short supply that some have taken to renting U-Hauls instead.

One study says the top destinations include beaches and cabins for a summer travel season that’s about to look like no other.

“You can’t get a rental car. You can’t get an RV these days,” Dow said. “People are taking to the roads in the good old American road trip.”

Domestic air travel is still down about 40% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The destinations seeing the most growth are areas with lots of outdoor activities like Montana and Utah.

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