Gasoline prices have dropped 6 cents a gallon in the past week, are more than 20 cents lower than they were a month ago and nearly 31 cents cheaper than they were a year ago at this time.
Still, you won't see much celebration at the gas pump as drivers fuel up for those long trips at an average of $3.66 per gallon in Nebraska. Coupled with climbing prices for everything else, from groceries to taxes and utilities, saving gasoline is a great way to stretch the summertime vacation budget.
Don't sell Nebraska short when it comes to vacation time.
Gov. Dave Heineman and other state officials are promoting See Nebraska Week May 5-12 to make the point, and they have a good point. From 27 stops in 2010, the 2012 Nebraska Passport program has grown to 80 stops this year, organized into 10 special interest tours: culinary, culture, family fun, festivals, golf, GROW Nebraska, parks, unique accommodations, water adventure and wineries.
Pick up a souvenir passport from one of the participants and collect stamps from each location. Complete an interest tour, and you get a Passport T-shirt. Collect 25 stamps, win a GROW Nebraska gift card. Get 40 stamps and receive a Canon Powershot digital camera, and have your name thrown into the hat for an Apple iPad drawing in October.
This year's passport promotion destinations include Sehnert's Bakery & Bieroc Cafe in McCook, as well as the 51st Annual Wilber Czech Fest, The Prairie Club golf course in Valentine, Lake McConaughy Visitor/Water Interpretive Center in Ogallala, High Plains Homestead in Crawford, Pawnee Plunge Water Park in Columbus and Mac's Creek Winery & Vineyards in Lexington.
The promotion also touts Nebraska's scenic byways, waterways and recreational trails, tours of the state's 25 wineries, local festivals and other special events, farms and ranches offering hunting and other sporting opportunities, Nebraska's eight state parks and 65 state recreation areas.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, tourism is the third largest industry in the state, behind only agriculture and manufacturing, generating more than $4 billion a year. Total travel expenditures in Nebraska have increased by more than $2.4 billion from 1990 to 2011.
The Division of Tourism said tourism accounts for more than 45,600 jobs statewide in the areas including bed-and-breakfast owners, outfitters that provide canoeing and kayaking along the Niobrara River, taxi drivers, hotel employees and people who work at attractions around the state from Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo to Minden's Pioneer Village.
This year, consider driving a little less and enjoying Nebraska a little more for your vacation. Check out VisitNebraska.gov, www.nebraskapassport.com, www.facebook.com/visitnebraska on Facebook, @NebraskaTourism on Twitter and www.youtube.com/nebraskatourism on YouTube.