Despite higher gas prices this year, 34.9 million Americans -- just a bit higher than last year -- will travel this Memorial Day to kick off the start of summer.

This year's slight 0.2 percent increase translates into 100,000 more travelers than the 34.8 million who hit the road and flew the skies a year ago between May 26 and May 30, says AAA Southern New England -- CT.

As expected, auto travel continues to be the most popular mode of transportation for American vacationers and in its annual Memorial Day travel survey, AAA reports that 6 out of 10 travelers says rising gas prices won't impact their travel plans this year.

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But of those travelers who say fuel costs are an issue, 70 percent still plan to jump-start their summers with an affordable trip by cutting back in other areas of their travel budgets: They'll economize on spending, or they'll take shorter trips.

Of this year's overall 34.9 million travelers:

Approximately 30.9 million (88 percent) -- the overwhelming majority -- will travel by auto, a small decline from the 31 million who drove last year.

Approximately 2.93 million (8 percent) will fly, even though airfares are expected to increase 14 percent. This year's flying public reflects an 11.5 percent increase compared to last year's 2.63 million travelers; and

The remaining 3 percent plan to travel by other modes of transportation such as rail, bus or watercraft.

Travel originating from the New England region is expected to remain the same over the Memorial Day holiday compared to the holiday last year with about 10.9 percent of the population traveling this holiday. Automobile travel from the New England region is projected to fall by 0.9 percent compared to 2010, while the forecast for air travel is expected to in-crease by 10.9 percent.

Other Travel Tidbits ...

According to AAA's survey, Memorial Day:

Holiday airfares are expected to be 14 percent higher than last year with an average lowest round-trip rate of $201 for the top 40 U.S. air routes.

Hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase 5 percent from a year ago with travelers spending an average of $148 per night compared to $142 last year.

Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels can expect to pay 10 percent more with an average cost of $109 per night.

Weekend daily car rental rates will average $38, just $1 higher than last year.

The average distance to be traveled by Americans, who don't consider or care about the impact of fuel prices is expected to be 792 miles, a 27 percent increase com-pared to last year's 626 miles.

Median spending is expected to be $692, a decrease of 14 percent from $809 last year.

AAA's projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight. The Boston-based economic research and consulting firm teamed with AAA in 2009 to jointly analyze travel trends during the major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades.

The complete AAA / IHS Global In-sight 2011 Memorial Day Holiday Travel Forecast can be found at AAA.com/news.

AAA Southern New England is a not-for-profit auto club with 40 offices in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, providing more than 2.8 million members with travel, insurance, finance and auto-related services.