If you have plans for this Memorial Day weekend, you might want to leave early. In fact, if you can swing it with the boss, leaving today might be a good idea. There could be more people traveling over the next few days than any previous Memorial Day weekend in a decade.

For this, the unofficial start of summer, about 720,000 Marylanders are expected to jump into their cars and travel at least 50 miles between today and Monday, according to a AAA Mid-Atlantic forecast released yesterday, that's up 5 percent from last year. An additional 58,000 will travel by air, up 2.1 percent, and 24,000 more by other means (cruises, trains or buses), which is 4 percent lower than the year before and the first such decline.

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Around here, that'll mean plenty of trips to Eastern Shore beaches and Western Maryland's mountains. It could also mean day trips in the immediate area, taking advantage of a picnic in the park or just a day of visiting a nearby town. Aside from a chance of thunderstorms Monday, it looks like the weather is going to cooperate.

AAA officials attribute the overall increase in travelers to gas prices that are nearly $1 lower per gallon than this time last year. And though costs have risen recently, the transportation advocacy group says this better economic news will translate to a more positive consumer outlook. Typically, AAA officials say, a good Memorial Day weekend bodes well for business the rest of the summer.

We hope that's the case. Economic recovery is built on confidence and the willingness of the consumer to spend money. While we think more people traveling is certainly a good start, the best economic news will come once we see whether people spend money once they get to their final destinations. In other words, the question is whether this travel translate into more spent at hotels, restaurants, retail outlets and other similar places. The answer could prove to be the real boon of increased travel.

Until then, the best advice might be to simply enjoy the long weekend. Make sure it gets off to a good start by avoiding being on the roads during peak travel times and by getting to your destination safely. It's been a long, cold winter; we've earned a long, warm break. After all, Tuesday will be here before we know it.

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