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Gas, hurricanes and plane ticket prices affecting fall travel plans

By Aisha I. Jefferson

When it comes to choosing vacation destinations this fall, the hurricane season, rising gas prices and airline ticket prices will play a bigger role than people want in where they will travel, according to travel experts.

Travel expert Edward Hasbrouck, author of "The Practical Nomad" travel book series, said people can expect greater increases in air fares and in hotel prices in the coming months in this country than elsewhere in the world. Hasbrouck cites Hurricane Katrina evacuees, along with potential Rita evacuees, being displaced in hotels across the country who could cause prices to increase because room availability may be low.

Hasbrouck also predicts Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines filing bankruptcy on Sept. 14 will shake things up some.

"The direct effect of the bankruptcy for both the airlines in bankruptcy and other airlines is likely to be higher fares," Hasbrouck said.

Travel expert Candyce H. Stapen, on the other hand, said it is hard to judge whether Delta's bankruptcy will affect ticket prices, but said buyers should beware.

"I would be cautious about booking a flight on Delta right now because nobody's going to know if they're going to be running or not," said Stapen, who specializes in family travel and has authored 26 books, including "National Geographic Guide to Family Adventure Vacations: Wildlife Encounters, Cultural Explorations and Learning Escapes in the U.S. and Canada."

But the threat of high airfare prices is not keeping Clayton and Henry county residents home this fall.

Assistant manager Joyce Thompson with AAA Travel Agency in Morrow, said many Clayton County vacationers travel to the Smokey Mountains, or to the New England states to watch the leaves change colors. Thompson said Walt Disney World in Orlando is another popular spot for families desiring to vacation this fall season.

Stapen, agreed with Thompson, saying normally in the fall, people have a love affair with their cars and want to look at foliage. Some travelers will choose to drive rather than fly because it is less expensive, but rising gas prices have dampened some driving plans, Stapen said.

That is why Stapen suggests that families wanting to travel should consider staying in-state. She suggests they visit state parks and living history museums, such as The Port Columbus Civil War Naval Center or Historical Westville in Lumpkin, Ga.

Travel consultant Sha Hetzler with Lighthouse Travel in McDonough pointed to Savannah, the Forest Hills cabin resort outside Dahlonega and the north Georgia mountains as close destinations that Henry County residents are traveling to.

Hetzler said many people like to go to the northern part of the state to view the leaves changing colors. She said her agency considers driving four to eight hours to be within driving distance, with many people departing for Port Canaveral in Florida or the port in Mobile, Ala.

Stapen said the Internet is a good source for searching for great deals, and said Orbitz.com is a site that should be considered.

Travel experts said choosing the best time to travel all depends on where vacationers are headed.

Early October is good for those who are not concerned with gas prices, and desire to drive to the Northeast to look at foliage, Stapen said.

But if you are looking for a good deal to the Northeast, and don't mind that trees are bare, Stapen said early November, before Thanksgiving, is good because the ski season has not started yet, and hotels, even good ones, may be in a slump.

Stapen said traveling to Disney World in the fall is recommended because theme parks generally are less crowded during this time than in spring.

"You'll be less stressed with your kids. Just pick a hotel that has an indoor pool," Stapen said.

Although Disney World is a hot spot, Stapen said travelers should be leery about traveling to southern Florida until the hurricane season is over. Stapen said travel to the Gulf Coast region should be avoided as well. The hurricane season typically lasts from June 1 to Nov. 30.

While McDonough resident Lee Wheeler hopes her husband gives her the OK to book their vacation for them to Cancun, Mexico next month, she isn't worried too much about traveling to that region during hurricane season.

"I will not travel if it's bad (weather)," Wheeler said, adding that she will purchase travel insurance that will allow her to cancel her plans for any reason prior to departure.