By Joseph O'Leary
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Americans plan to spend less, travel more and have plenty of cookouts over the Independence Day holiday this week, according to surveys.
Spending for the July 4 holiday is expected to be down 12 percent, according to a Visa poll released on Sunday, dropping to an average of $191 per person.
Two-thirds of all Americans plan on a simple cookout, according to a National Retail Federation survey released in June.
But both surveys showed a significant minority of people will not celebrate at all -- Visa survey said 21 percent and the retail group said 10.6 percent.
The retail federation projected that 67.6 percent of Americans plan a cookout or barbecue, while 48.5 percent will watch fireworks. Some 12.6 percent planned to travel or take a vacation over the holiday.
Cynthia Brough, a spokeswoman for the American Automobile Association, said the organization is projecting 42.3 million Americans will drive 50 miles or more during the Independence Day holiday, up 4.9 percent from last year.
Lower gas prices, at $3.33 a gallon nationwide compared with $3.55 a year ago, are a factor in the longer drives.
Despite economic concerns, "What the survey indicates is that Americans have an appetite for travel...," Brough said.
Median spending on trips, according to the AAA, is expected to be $749 per person, down 7 percent from last year's total of around $800 per person. "While more people are traveling, they're economizing," Brough said.
The drop in spending is not limited to travel costs. Some 43 percent of Americans were not planning to buy any patriotic merchandise, including flags, apparel and decorations, compared with 23 percent who were, according to the retail survey.
Midwesterners will spend the most to celebrate the holiday, laying out an average of $211, while those in the Northeast will spending $40 less, the Visa survey found.
According to Jason Alderman, senior director of global financial education at Visa, the holiday is bigger in Midwestern cities and towns, while Northeastern cities have more concentrated gatherings and firework displays.
The distance Americans will travel this year will rise by 150 miles to an average of 723 miles per traveler, and 18 percent of all trips will be in excess of 1,500 miles, an increase over last year's 10 percent.
Factors contributing to the increase include air travel and the holiday falling on a Wednesday, which allows many Americans to extend their long weekends into trips as long as nine days, including two weekends.
Eighty-four percent of those traveling will do so by car; 8 percent will fly; and 8 percent will travel by train or cruise ship.
(Reporting By Joseph O'Leary; Editing by Greg McCune and Ciro Scotti)