AAA, the American auto club, projects 36.1 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home during the Memorial Day weekend, a 1.5 percent increase from last year.

Kicking off the summer driving season, more than eight in 10 Memorial Day travelers drive to their destination. The holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, May 22, to Monday, May 26.

"A long and unusually harsh winter gave many Americans the travel bug," AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins said. "Combine rising temperatures with signs of an improving economy, and travel for the holiday should hit a new post-recession high."

Although an increased number of people plan to travel during the holiday weekend, more than half — 57 percent — of travelers in the Southeast still need to finalize their travel plans, such as hotel reservations, car rentals and similar measures, according to an AAA survey.

"Hotel and car rental reservations are filling up fast for Memorial Day," AAA spokeswoman Jessica Brady said. "Now is the time to make your Memorial Day travel arrangements to ensure you get what you want for the price that fits your budget."

In Tennessee, AAA estimates that 687,434 residents will travel by car and 54,248 by air during the holiday weekend.

Locally, big crowds are expected for Brimstone Recreation's White Knuckle Event and Trails End Campground's Full Throttle Event. Country stars Cole Swindell and Chase Rice will be in concert at Brimstone Friday and Saturday, while Craig Morgan and Sammy Kershaw will be in concert at Trails End.

According to AAA, economic improvements are helping to spur travel growth.

"Consumer spending, disposable income, consumer confidence and the employment outlook are trending up, which is welcomed news for the travel industry," Jenkins said.

While gas prices have been rising in recent months — topping out at an average of $3.50 per gallon in Tennessee earlier this month — AAA expects that most drivers will pay lower gas prices by Memorial Day weekend due to rising supplies.

"With many plans already made and budgets set, it is unlikely that gas prices will have a significant effect on travel plans compared to a year ago," Jenkins said.

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