By Elizabeth Dilts
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The number of drivers taking to the road for Memorial Day weekend will hit a 10-year record as travelers gear up for summer after a severe winter, travel group AAA forecast on Friday.
Roughly eight in 10 Americans will take road trips over the holiday weekend, encouraged as well by a steady economic recovery, rising consumer confidence and slightly cheaper gasoline prices over last year, AAA Chief Operating Officer Marshall Doney said in a statement.
"The winter blues appear to have given Americans the travel bug and a case of cruise cabin fever as travel for the holiday is expected to hit a new post-recession high," Doney said.
The group's annual forecast found 31.8 million drivers would travel 50 miles or more on the U.S. holiday, which falls between Thursday, May 22, and Monday, May 26. That would be an increase of 1.2 percent from 2013, and the most since 2005.
The number of flyers will rise 2.4 percent to 2.6 million leisure travelers.
Overall, AAA expects 36.1 million people to travel during the holiday, a 1.5 percent increase over last year and the third straight year the group saw a rise.
The holiday forecast is based historical travel volume and economic drivers including employment, output, household net worth, gasoline prices and travel trends.
With ample commercial crude stocks in the United States, AAA said it expected average gasoline prices at or slightly below $3.63 per gallon, near the $3.66 level the group projected for last year. It found a slight risk that prices could rise if the crisis in Ukraine escalates or if U.S. refiners encounter unexpected maintenance issues.
"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," a AAA spokeswoman said in a statement.
The same was not true for airlines. The group found airfares have risen more than any other major travel expense as the average discounted round trip for the top 40 U.S. routes increased 6 percent to $227 from $215 in 2013.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Dilts; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)