A near-record Labor Day weekend for road travel

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Little of what I heard on cable TV news over the long weekend began to answer the question: How is the sour economy affecting Labor Day travel?

Some TV analysts kept quoting an AAA survey that predicted road trips would be down 13 percent this past weekend compared with a year ago.

But it was a mistake to compare against last year. Labor Day fell much later on this year's calendar than last year's. Most families already had their kids in school this year and couldn't whisk them away for an extended vacation as they often did last year.

This Labor Day weekend was predicted to be the third busiest for road trips in a decade and the busiest holiday weekend of the year to date, according to the same AAA survey of 1,300 travelers. But the TV news shows always prefer the gloomiest view.

If you got caught in any of the highway traffic bottlenecks, then you know that there was a lot of road-trippin' going on, especially considering that our economy is still sagging.

Some possible reasons: Gas is about a buck cheaper than it was a year ago. The federal "cash-for-clunkers" program—putting aside whether it was good or bad policy—put an additional 700,000 vehicles on the road, and many travelers probably wanted to take them out for a long weekend. The weather was gorgeous in much of the country. My gut instinct is that when the final, actual numbers are tallied—instead of mere predictions—this past weekend will turn out to have been one of the busiest for budget travelers in a long time, all things being equal.

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