By John Dias

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Summer travel season is in full swing.

Last year, the pandemic put vacation plans and 4th of July parties on hold. But as we kick off the holiday weekend, we’re seeing a surge in celebrations.

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CBS2’s John Dias spoke with a couple from Long Branch, New Jersey who had their Harley packed up and ready for the trip to Vermont.

“It’s a lot better being able to get away this year and not having the constraints,” Kevin Wampler told Dias.

They’re far from alone. Since COVID restrictions have now eased up in most vacation destinations, across the country travelers say they have a new sense of freedom this Independence Day weekend.

“I’m 75. I haven’t seen anything like the last year, and it’s nice to be set free,” Wayne resident Don Donadio said.

“Everything is open again, I’m not talking to you with a mask on,” said Boston resident Peter Clay.

“I feel great. We all feel great that we’re going,” said Fran Ianoue, of Rhode Island.

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AAA predicts 3.5 million people will fly during the holiday weekend — a 164% increase over last year. But the vast majority of Americans will reach their destination by car, especially in the Tri-State Area. More than 43 million people are planning to hit the road — a July 4th holiday record.

“There is the revenge travel phenomenon happening,” AAA Manager of Media Relations Robert Sinclair Jr. told Dias. “We’re seeing a lot of people that might not normally travel for the 4th of July are taking a trip.”

That’s despite a huge spike in gas prices. The national average is up almost 90 cents a gallon compared to last year. Locally, it’s up even more, experts say due to an increase in the price of crude oil, lack of truck drivers and the demand.

“A lot of gas stations are having problems remaining wet,” Sinclair said. “The old rules of high school economics — when demand goes up, price goes up.”

That couldn’t stop these grandparents from taking their grandkids to Long Beach Island for the weekend.

“We just needed to get away,” grandma said.

“We’re really happy to be able get down, because we’ve been locked down for a long time, so we’re getting ready to do a lot of fun stuff.”

Experts say pack your patience, especially when driving home. While Friday is expected to be a busy time to travel, Monday afternoon will be just as bad.

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AAA also says vehicle maintenance should be top of mind. The company anticipates more than 460,000 rescues will be needed this weekend.

John Dias