July 4th travel rolls on, a little close to home

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 3, 2010

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Standing in line on hot asphalt waiting to see the Liberty Bell, Don Shelley couldn’t help but think that, if the nation’s economy were better, he would be basking on a beach in Hawaii.

Shelley, of Mesa, Ariz., turned 50 on Friday, and his wife had planned to take him on a surprise trip to Hawaii. But they decided to take a much-cheaper trip to the birthplace of American independence, where they could see some historic sites for free and pack lunches.

‘‘This is just as much fun,’’ Don Shelley, a high school principal, said as he waited with his wife and three children, ages 12, 17 and 20, adding that he remains optimistic about the national economic recovery and still hopes to get to Hawaii — someday.

Email newsletter signup

The economy is in the doldrums, it’s time-consuming to fly anywhere, and fireworks displays nationwide are being downsized or canceled. Millions of people are expected to hit the beach, visit tourist attractions or watch parades — even more than last year — but many are still scaling down their trips or traveling by car instead of flying as they look to stretch their dollars.

The travel weekend comes on the heels of Friday’s report by the Labor Department that employers cut 125,000 jobs in June, the most since October 2009, making it the latest evidence that the economic recovery is slowing.

Though unemployment dropped to 9.5 percent — the lowest level since July 2009 — from 9.7 percent, the dip was the result of more than 650,000 people who gave up on their job searches and left the labor force. People who are no longer looking for work aren’t counted as unemployed.

In Chicago, Naomi Saunders and Paul Cosby said they planned to scale back this year’s family Fourth of July meal and wouldn’t be making special trips to the grocery store.

‘‘The cookout won’t be as large,’’ said Saunders, who has a temporary job with the Census Bureau. ‘‘It’ll be like a regular meal.’’

The couple planned to splurge by taking their older son to the Taste of Chicago, an annual food festival, for his 11th birthday, but even for that they bought their tickets ahead of time to save cash.

AAA said that of the 34.9 million Americans expected to travel this holiday weekend, most would go at least 50 miles or more, and mostly by car — about 90 percent.

The figure is 17.1 percent higher than last year, when 29.8 million went somewhere else, but it’s still lower than the 37.8 million who made travel plans in 2008.

The economy kept Tommy Aaron and his wife, Jessica Infante, of Egg Harbor Township, N.J., close to home — but not off the beach.

They were enjoying their trip to Point Pleasant, on the Jersey Shore, with their three teenage children but admitted they would have rather been in a more ‘‘luxurious location’’ for the holiday weekend.

‘‘It would be fun to be in Aruba, Hawaii, you know, some tropical location, but the reality is we’re watching every penny,’’ said Infante, 42. ‘‘And this is a fun place to be that doesn’t cost us an arm and a leg.’’

Aaron, who works in the casino industry in Atlantic City, and Infante, a saleswoman in a clothing store, said they aren’t struggling financially. But Aaron said he knows no one is immune from the possibility of unemployment.

‘‘It can happen in an instant,’’ said Aaron, 45. ‘‘We have a mortgage, the kids will be starting college soon, it costs more to buy things — we’d be foolish to spend money on major trips or other luxuries right now.’’

Some, however, said they hadn’t changed their plans at all.

Michael Stevens, 62, of Baton Rouge, La., booked a trip to San Francisco last week, in part to take his mind off the ravaging effects of the oil spill along the Gulf Coast. Stevens, a caterer, said the spill’s effects were depressing, not to mention the summertime weather in Louisiana.

‘‘It’s just hot and miserable,’’ he said.

So, economics notwithstanding, he planned an excursion with his wife to the seaside town of Sausalito, Napa wine country and Muir Woods — and the area’s famously mild weather. He also planned to watch the holiday fireworks from Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

‘‘It’s just like one of our favorite cities in the world,’’ Stevens said. ‘‘It’s like New Orleans.’’