When it comes to vacations, recent years have shown a growing gap between high- and low-income families.

When it comes to vacations, recent years have shown a growing gap between high- and low-income families.

Local travel-related groups say they have observed a nationwide trend that the Associated Press attributes to the current state of the economy. Rising home prices and an improving stock market are encouraging the wealthy to take bigger and longer trips, while stagnant wages and high rent is keeping others closer to home.

Sandi Flickinger of Advantage Travel Agency in McPherson said although travel has remained fairly steady, she has seen a change in the habits of families in recent years. Middle-class travelers, for example, are seeking trips that get the biggest bang for their buck.

“There are people who are going to take the big trips no matter what,” she said. “And then there’s those who used to spend more and are looking for the bargain. If they go, they want everything they can possibly get.”

Kathy Hawkinson of Ask Your Travel Agent in McPherson said news regarding mishaps cruise ships and higher gas prices has not caused families to cancel their vacations. However, she has seen the gap increase between vacations for high- and low-income families.

Many of those who can afford more lavish vacations are baby boomers who are using inheritance to travel once their kids are grown and moved out. Those who have money to spend are traveling every year and are planning more elaborate outings.

“There aren’t enough fancy things for all the people that want them,” she said, referencing top suites on cruise lines.

Across the board, however, priorities are changing.

“I think that fewer people are about clothes and possessions, and people want to go places,” she said.

“I do think people are more aware of things in the world because they see these places, and they want to go there.”

Marci Penner of the Kansas Sampler Foundation, said this kind of awareness has increased travel in the Sunflower state in recent years. Websites and social networking has allowed smaller Kansas towns to be the focal point of day trips for families that can’t afford a larger vacation.

“It’s long been my thought that people will visit Kansas towns if they know what’s out there and when things are happening,” she said. “Kansas towns just believe more that they have things to offer.”

Popular destinations within the state’s borders are the Underground Salt Museum and the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Maxwell Wildlife Refuge near Canton, Rock City near Minneapolis, Mushroom Rock State Park near Ellsworth, and other locations.

Penner also has noticed an uptick in bus tours throughout the state, as well as members joining the Sampler Foundation’s Kansas Explorers Club.

WenDee LaPlant of the Kansas Sampler Foundation said while they have been touring the state during the past year, she has seen many ways in which Kansans can appreciate staying close to home.

“I think people just have to challenge themselves to look at their region differently,” she said. “They can see a nearby community in a different way than they’ve experienced before.”

Contact Jenae Pauls at jpauls@mcphersonsentinel.com and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel.