(AAA)

Jake and Noah know exactly how many sandcastles they're going to build.

"Five big ones and 400 million little ones," the brothers said.

Listing all their plans for Cape May, N.J., Jake, a 4-year-old West Manchester Township resident, spoke for himself and 3-year-old Noah when he explained why he's looking forward to the next 10 days.

"Vacation is so fun because you get to swim in the ocean all day and play in the sand and swim in a pool. You get to swim all day," he said.

Their parents, Tim and Julie Ahern, are also excited for vacation.

"I think we started planning this vacation as soon as we got home from vacation last year," said Julie Ahern, who gave the boys some snacks while their father filled up the gas tank of their Nissan Rogue.

The family's vacation started Friday, and they won't return to York County until Sunday, July 6.

They're among the 41 million travelers AAA expects to hit the road during the holiday, which the auto club defines as Wednesday through Sunday.

It's a 1.9 percent increase from the 40.3 million people who traveled during the same week last year and a nearly 14 percent increase compared to Memorial Day travel.

The reasons: The uptick is the highest level of travel since before the recession, and it's not because people have higher incomes. They're just more willing to use credit cards, according to AAA.

"Steady improvement in the economy has spurred increased consumer confidence and spending. Optimistic Americans are more willing to take on debt this year, dusting off their credit cards to pay for a much-needed Independence Day getaway," said Marshall Doney, chief operating officer for AAA.

It's definitely a much-needed and much-deserved trip for Marilyn and Joe Buczkowski, the York Township residents said. "We haven't gone anywhere for eight years. We waited til our kids' college (education) was paid off, and now we're going," Joe Buczkowski said.

The couple left for Myrtle Beach, S.C., early Saturday morning and plan to return early July 6.

West York resident Mike Howard also left for the beach on Saturday, with plans to meet family in Bethany Beach, Del., for the holiday week.

"I usually take vacation around the Fourth so I can get an extra day off," he said.

Regina Kerns, a North York resident, said she and her family decided to go to Ocean City, Md., this week for the same reason.

"It's really nice that the Fourth is a Friday this week because you get a three-day weekend. We don't always travel on the Fourth, and haven't gone on vacation for two years, but the three-day weekend helped convince us," she said.

Gas pices: Something all the local travelers might find in the southeastern and eastern state is lower gas prices.

On Friday, the average price for a gallon of gas in York County was $3.73, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report. That's a penny more than last week and about 40 cents higher than last year.

But prices in Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and South Carolina are all lower, according to Gregg Laskoski, senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy.

GasBuddy released a report Friday showing the highest gas prices since 2008, but many states are still lower than Pennsylvania because of gas taxes.

For example, Pennsylvania's gas tax is 60 cents per gallon, while South Carolina and Virginia have a gas tax at 35 cents per gallon. Maryland's gas tax is 45 cents per gallon, Delaware's is 41 cents, and New Jersey's is 32 cents.

"They may not want to leave their vacations, but at least they won't pay as much for gas on the way back," Laskoski said.

— Reach Candy Woodall at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.