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Memorial Day is the (unofficial) start of summer and many Americans are heading out of town for the long weekend.

How many?

The motor club and leisure travel organization AAA expects 34.9 million Americans to take a trip of 50 miles or more this holiday weekend.  That's up a fraction from the 34.8 million last year.

Gas prices are taking their toll.  The number of travelers planning to drive will drop slightly to 30.9 million.  Yet, automobiles are still the preferred mode of transportation for American vacationers and, in its annual Memorial Day travel survey, AAA reports that 6 out of 10 say that rising gas prices won't impact their travel plans.

Nationally, air traffic is up 11.5 percent this Memorial Day weekend over last year, even though both airfare and hotel rates have raised.

A small minority, 3 percent, will travel by rail, bus or watercraft.

Originally called Decoration Day because of the practice of decorating soldier's graves with flowers, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service.

It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868 in commemoration of the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic.  In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Monday of May.

Now, it is unofficially known as the start of summer.

Here's Some Tips for drivers this weekend:

Wear your seatbelt and drive within the limit.  State patrols love to comb the sides of the highway over the holiday weekend to make their quotas.

Go easy on the pedal.  When you punch the gas or slam the breaks you use more gas.  If you're on the open road use cruise control, a steady conservative speed saves fuel.

Check your tires before you make a long trip.  If your pressure is off, you will use more gas and could find yourself in trouble down the road.

Take the extra junk out of your trunk.  The excess weight causes your car to use more gas.

Don't have any plans yet?  Here are some ideas:

Travel to Washington D.C. and Tour some of the city's many memorials to fallen heroes.  You can also attend the always-poignant ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

Join in the observances at a military base or cemetery near you. Check your local paper, or call the closest military base, American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars post to find out what's happening, when, and where.

Remember those who fought and lived to tell about it by taking some flowers, books or cookies to a nearby veterans' hospital.

Start the season off right by having your annual beginning-of-summer barbecue.

Spend the three-day weekend at your favorite getaway.  Just make sure to take a little time out from the fun and games to reflect on the day's real meaning.

Go to one of these Memorial Day events across America.