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Road trip! Great escapes for Labor Day weekend

Make the most of Labor Day this year by packing up the car and escaping for the weekend.
Image:  Big Bend National Park
There's a reason Highway 1 is iconic, and if you haven't seen the breathtaking views from the California coastline, it's the only way to do it.
/ Source: Forbes

The long, lingering days of summer are starting to come to a close, and lazy weekends and warm-weather getaways will soon be nothing more than memories. Before you know it, you'll be back running shuttles to soccer practice and shoveling the driveway. Unless, of course, you plan one last summer fling.

Make the most of Labor Day this year by packing up the car and escaping for the weekend. With a map and a bit of wanderlust, you can manage to make summer linger for a few more days. That is, if you plan it right.

National travel advocacy group AAA has seen an uptick in car travel this summer over last year, with a 5% increase in trips taken over Memorial Day weekend, and a 17% jump in car travel over the Fourth of July. During this year's Labor Day weekend, AAA predicts 31 million people will hit the road, a nearly 10% increase from last year. Most of those travelers will get behind the wheel: 91% of travelers intend to drive, while only 5% will fly.

It makes sense, since driving is often less stressful then flying. "We can't ignore the fact that the air travel experience has become less attractive," says Geoff Freeman, executive vice president of the U.S. Travel Association. "The hassles of flying — security delays and cancellations — are a contributing factor to finding alternative ways of travel."

With gas prices stable and consumers keeping a tight grip on their wallets, road trips are an attractive option for those looking for an inexpensive getaway. "For a larger family, there's a definite cost savings over flying," says AAA spokeswoman Heather Hunter. "Our travel agents are reporting double-digit growth [in services provided] over last year."

Once you've decided to get behind the wheel, you've got to figure out where to go — no easy decision when you've got the wide-open American road in front of you.

You could take the last days of summer to help revive the tourism industry along the Gulf of Mexico, which has suffered staggering losses following this summer's oil spill, despite BP's injection of $70 million to promote travel along the coast. "The Gulf Coast is and has been open for business," says Freeman. "And one of the blessings in disguise in the oil situation is that it's brought our attention to many destinations that we wouldn't have thought about otherwise."

So skip those amusement parks in central Florida and head west to the panhandle instead. The drive along the coastline from Tallahassee to Silver Springs as Highway 98 weaves through animal refuges and citrus fields, kitschy mermaid shows and the remnants of early Spanish settlements. Want wildlife? Watch out for gators and turtles at Wakulla State Park, or snorkel with manatees at Crystal River Archaeological State Park. For the latest travel news, and for opportunities to help with the cleanup, visit

Mark the 75th anniversary of Blue Ridge Parkway, the most visited National Parkway in the country, by taking part in ongoing celebrations that stretch from West Virginia to Tennessee. Over Labor Day weekend, festivals will fete everything from beer to poetry, folk life to kite-flying, all set among some of the most beautiful mountains in Appalachia.

For more spectacular views, Big Bend National Park's 30-mile Maxwell Scenic Drive supplies dusty ranches of long-ago rangers, terra-cotta cliffsides and a jaw-dropping expanse of sky that's revealed each evening to exhibit a sea of stars that puts any planetarium to shame.

Of course, if you're hearing the call of that open road as loudly as the rest of the country, you may not find them as open as you like. AAA's Heather Hunter says that the best way to avoid getting snarled in traffic is to plan an early departure, check roadways for potential construction and try to plan around peak travel times and anticipated delays.

And don't get frustrated if you do get caught in traffic. In the event of a problem, Hunter suggests that you try to "stay patient, be calm, and stop for the night if you have to." Just think, staying overnight extends your summer by one more day.