How Americans plan to travel for Memorial Day this year

Americans plan on traveling for Memorial Day in much higher numbers than they did in 2020.
Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle—Getty Images

Gas prices are nearly $3 per gallon and could go even higher. The number of people getting vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus is plateauing. But none of that compares to the built-up wanderlust of Americans facing their first temperate three-day weekend of the year.

AAA says more than 37 million people will travel 50 or more miles from their home between May 27 and May 31. That’s a 60% increase over last year, the lowest travel volume on record for Memorial Day.

It’s a big jump—and will certainly make for some crowded roads—but it’s still 6 million fewer travelers than in 2019. However, AAA says it’s a signal that as the year rolls on, vacation is atop everyone’s mind.

“This pent-up demand will result in a significant increase in Memorial Day travel, which is a strong indicator for summer, though we must all remember to continue taking important safety precautions,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, in a statement.

So where are people going? The usual playgrounds.

Orlando and Las Vegas are the two top destinations for both road trips and AAA Travel bookings. Myrtle Beach, S.C., Denver, and Nashville complete the top five road trip destinations. Honolulu, Anchorage, and Colorado Springs, Colo., placed third through fifth in overall bookings.

The majority of people—around 34.4 million—will travel by car, despite the threat of even higher gas prices after the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, says AAA. Two and a half million are expected to board airplanes (six times as many as last year), while 237,000 will opt for bus, train, or other transportation methods. That’s going to result in rush hours like we haven’t seen in a while.

A portion of Atlanta’s I-85, for example, will see three times as many delays on Thursday, May 27, between 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. local time. Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., will also see extra traffic snarls that day. Detroit, Houston, and Los Angeles can expect delays on Friday.

“Although vehicle trips are down as much as 40% in some metros, afternoon congestion is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. With the holiday travelers added to the typical afternoon commute, drivers in the larger metros should expect longer delays heading into the holiday weekend,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Travelers should anticipate delays starting on Wednesday and continuing through Memorial Day. Our advice to drivers is to avoid the evening commute times and plan alternate routes.”

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