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Gas prices: The true enemy of travel - Curt Yeomans

I once saw a female gas pump, in full dominatrix gear, whipping a naked Uncle Sam.

OK, it was actually a somewhat lewd cartoon that was meant for publication in newspapers, to lampoon the powerful hold foreign oil has on the U.S. I forget how I came to see it, because this was a few years ago, but I remember it was NOT in a newspaper (in case you were wondering).

Sadly, the image somewhat describes the relationship between gas prices and travel.

As we all know, gas prices have been on the rise lately. On Thursday, Atlantagasprices.com listed $3.37 per gallon as the average price of regular gasoline in Atlanta, with $3.43 per gallon shown as the national average. Auto club AAA's web site shows the national average a year ago was $2.70 per gallon.

Much has been said about the likely causes of the rising gas prices, with political unrest in the Middle East being one of those suggested reasons. Regardless of the cause, the outcome is still the same. People are going to start curbing their driving habits when prices get too high.

A few years back, gas prices pretty much hit their ceiling when they broke the $4 mark, but now, there has been talk that gas could go as high as $5 per gallon. I hope not. That would be the worst possible thing for travel all around.

How many people truly want to spend the bulk of their travel expenses on fuel? I don't know too many people who would be willing to do that.

If you are weighing flying versus driving to a vacation spot, my suggestion would be to use AAA's fuel cost calculator web site -- fuelcostcalculator.aaa.com/.

You can go to that web site, and enter a little bit of data, such as where you're starting your trip from, where you're going, and what the make, model and year of your car is. It will then tell you how much you will spend on gas during your trip. For example, if I drive my car to New York City and back, this web site tells me I will end up spending $250.76 on fuel. That is a lot of dough spent on fuel.

So, what does this mean for travelers? Just one word: Staycation. I know. I know. It's a dreaded word that the serious traveler hates to here, but how many people want to spend all their vacation money at the gas pump?

If you insist on traveling long distances right now, you're going to have to play the game of finding the best deals. I have found it is sometimes possible to get a great deal on a nice hotel, if you wait until just before you travel to get your room. You will likely have to make concessions, however, such as taking the room that faces the hotel storage area.

When it comes to food, you will have to cut back by going to fast food joints more often than steakhouses. You also might have to cut out one or more of the expensive sites that you wanted to see, and replace them with cheaper, hidden gems.

If you insist on going the distance for your travels right now, I searched and searched, until I found some advice for you. I had to go back to a 2008 article from "Travel + Leisure" magazine, from back when gas WAS over $4-a-gallon. Some of their suggestions were old pieces of common knowledge, such as drive 55 miles per hour instead of 70 miles per hour, and don't do "stop and start" driving.

Some of "Travel + Leisure's" other tips, however, included using cruise control when possible, because it burns less fuel, switching to a synthetic motor oil, since it is possible to get slightly better mileage from it, and cracking the windows open slightly while using the "re-circulation" feature on the air conditioning unit.

So, in summary, it is possible to travel in this time of rising gas prices, but you will just have to play the game of smart-planning. Good luck!

Curt Yeomans covers education for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.