High fuel cost ground students

As summer comes to a close, it seems that the rising cost of gas has impacted more than just driving habits.

Students and study abroad program directors expressed concern that both student vacation plans and study abroad programs this summer have been hindered by increasing costs.

Richard Russo, director of UC Berkeley Summer Sessions, said rising travel costs affected the number of students choosing to go on travel study this summer.

Enrollment in travel study programs dropped from about 450 last year to about 350 this year, Russo said. He said the increased cost, coupled with the weaker dollar, most likely prevented some students from going abroad.

Students say travel costs have impacted their summer plans.

"I was thinking of driving to the Grand Canyon this summer, and the cost of gas kind of killed that plan," said Nicole Thomas, a UC Berkeley senior.

Thomas said she has even worried about gas expenses on the trips she has made to San Diego from her home in Orange County 100 miles away.

She said with current gas prices, it costs the same amount for her to fly to Berkeley as it does to drive.

But as energy prices continue to rise, car travel is not the only form of transportation facing increased costs.

"Airline prices have gone up remarkably," said Terry Regan, president of Berkeley's Northside Travel.

Due to increasing fuel costs, some airlines have retroactively added fuel surcharges to tickets sold months in advance, when the surcharges did not exist.

"Some people are shocked at the prices," Regan said.

Carolyn Sweeney, owner of Going Places, a travel agency on Shattuck Avenue, said airfares to Europe have been increasing over the past five years by about $100 a year, but this year they increased by about $400.

Campus study abroad programs are facing increased costs as well.

"It's certainly a concern of ours," said Jan Kieling, administrative director of Berkeley Programs for Study Abroad.

In some cases, students have scaled back plans to study abroad.

"I think some students are looking at the cost and choosing to go for a shorter period of time," Kieling said.

Travel agencies say that many airlines are choosing to schedule flights less often and to fewer locations in an effort to deal with the increased expenses. Regan cited that some airlines are now providing limited flights out of Oakland International Airport.

Travel agencies said they had not yet seen a decrease in business due to these increased costs, but have instead seen other reactions.

Liezel Martin, a travel consultant at Going Places, said she thinks more travelers are bundling their vacation plans together. Instead of taking separate trips to visit family in New York and to go to Europe, people might plan a single trip in which they would spend a week in New York and fly from there to Europe, Martin said.

Martin said since flights to Europe have seen the most dramatic increase in price, other locations such as South America, Australia and New Zealand are gaining popularity with travelers.

Kieling said students also have increasingly chosen to study abroad in South America, where the U.S. dollar is stronger, and to places where the cost of living is less than in Europe.

"We're trying to look for the positive in a difficult situation, and direct students to less well-traveled areas," she said.

Valerie Woolard reports for UC Berkeley's The Daily Californian. The Daily Californian is partnering with Campus Politico for the 2008 elections.

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